Dakota Thunder vs. Salem Sue

North Dakota is weird.

Don’t get me wrong. I like weird! I’m the guy who drove miles out of his way to check out Carhenge, after all. I’m simply making an observation.

If you’re wondering what makes North Dakota weird, let’s start with the state’s odd obsession with giant animals. During our weekend visit, we paid homage to both the world’s largest buffalo and the world’s largest Holstein cow.


Dakota Thunder, the pride of Jamestown.


Salem Sue. Don’t ask me to explain the veins because I have no freakin’ idea.


You could see Sue from miles away on the interstate. We had to pull over and check her out!


DT looms large over the landscape, too.

I haven’t bothered to verify either of those claims, but make no mistake about it, each is unequivocally pretty damn big. I’m not sure which I liked better, Dakota Thunder or Salem Sue. Both were located on ridges with sweeping views of the surrounding prairie, so that was a draw. And they both satisfied my kitsch-loving heart equally.

Overall, we had a good time. Lots of driving, but also, lots of hanging out with our blogging friend Karri and her best friend, Ryan. We hit the road Friday at 1:00 for the six-hour trek to Jamestown. The first 3/4 of the trip was over two-lane county roads with a ratio of about 100 cows to every person. The good news? I was able to drive 80 mph most of the way, which shaved about half an hour off our travel time. We didn’t hit an interstate until we got to Mandan and connected with I-94. Jamestown was about another hour from there. We finally rolled into town around 8:00, having lost an hour to the Central time zone. Karri and Ryan beat us by about 30 minutes.

After checking in and freshening up, Tara and I walked over to a taphouse (fancy name for “bar and grill”) conveniently located between their motel and ours. We timed it perfectly because they were just walking up to the place when we got there. I’d told Tara I wanted to mess around with them and asked her to play along, but my wife cannot keep a straight face to save her life. I introduced her as “Tu-Rah” in a high-pitched voice and hoped to keep up the charade for at least half an hour, but “Tear-Uh” started laughing right off the bat and outed me. The jig was up before it even got started.

I need to teach my wife how to develop a poker face. A p-p-p-poker face.

You never know what a person is going to be like in real life after only knowing their online persona, but Karri and I go back more than 15 years (!) and I was pretty confident we’d get along just fine. Sure enough, we found her to be very outgoing and bubbly. Sure, she talked funny (being Canadian and all), but she was our kind of people. She and Tara really hit it off. Ryan’s a good guy, too. It’s hard to explain their relationship to outsiders; Karri is married, but not to Ryan. She visits him in the U.S. for three weeks at a stretch twice a year (he lives in International Falls, Minnesota – the icebox of America) and he makes the trip north to hang out with her and Pat, too. It’s an unconventional friendship but completely innocent and works for them. She calls them her “mantourage,” lol. Ryan seems quiet and reserved, but man, he’s got this deadpan humor that catches you off guard when he decides to let loose. At one point he said something so goddamn funny I literally spit my beer out. Karri pointed out later that he was actually reading aloud something I had written, but he was doing it in a funny voice and I just lost it. He and I are similar in many regards – certainly from a humor standpoint.

It’s a good thing we all got along so well, because we spent an awful lot of time together. Closed down the taphouse Friday night, then met up for breakfast at Perkin’s Saturday morning and didn’t part ways until 13 hours later (minus a 30-minute break to freshen up). We drove around Jamestown, visited Dakota Thunder, went shopping at Goodwill (because what else is there to do in North Dakota?), killed a few hours in a little pub downtown, and hung out in their room for a few more hours talking and laughing. We ended up ordering Domino’s for a late dinner before finally calling it a night around 11:00. Said our goodbyes then because we were hitting the road bright and early Sunday. Long drive home and all.

We took a longer route home because we were initially planning on detouring through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but when we got there it was overcast and cold AF and actually started snowing a little, plus Tara had forgotten her camera and Rapid City was still another four hours away. We’re planning on coming back and making a weekend of it – taking our time exploring the park as well as the Enchanted Highway and spending the night in Dickinson. Possibly this summer if time permits, but we’ve got a house to move into and lots of work to do there, so we’ll see how that pans out.

We finally got home around 3:00 and still had to do our grocery shopping, so we drove to Safeway, but not before swinging by our house first. The For Sale sign had an “Under Contract” banner on top and that was a beautiful sight to behold. The sellers cashed our earnest money check and our realtor has a signed purchase agreement, so it’s all pretty official now. We’ve scheduled a home inspection for Wednesday morning, so barring anything unforeseen (knock on wood) things will really start moving fast.

Once we were finally home for good we fired up Saturday Night Live (Adam Sandler killed it BTW), plopped down on the loveseat, and relaxed for the first time in days. And then some very weird things started happening…

First, the living room lamp turned on by itself. It’s got a three-way bulb and you actually have to turn the switch three times to get it to cycle through all the settings. The weird thing is, it turned on to the middle setting. I thought maybe the bulb was loose so I checked that, but nope – it was screwed in pretty solidly. A little while later, right in the middle of SNL, the TV switched itself to Netflix. “What the hell is going on?!” I asked, perplexed. As soon as the words left my mouth, there was a loud bang from the kitchen…but nobody was in there. We just looked at each other, perplexed. Tara joked that it’s the owner of the house we’re buying. She did just pass away, after all. I’ve had experiences of this sort in my life before, but never in that apartment. Tara swears she heard strange noises in the middle of the night, too. Hmm…

It’s my last week of work here at PSI. Everybody is in really good spirits because we just landed a huge five-year government contract worth a LOT of money. It’s the elusive big break they have been seeking for 10+ years and will completely change the face of the company. Kind of bittersweet that I won’t be around to see them reap the rewards, but at the same time they will be adding a lot more staff and you never know how things will shake out in the long run. I’m happy for them and also happy for me, for landing this great new job opportunity.

It’s a win/win for us all.

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.

You’ve Been Johnnyburgered

Many years ago, my dad’s cousin Johnny came out for a visit  when we lived in South Dakota. He and Johnny are the same age and were very close growing up on the mean streets of Trenton; theirs was a friendship that continued into adulthood. Johnny is a real character. Always wears his hair greasy and slicked back, smokes like a chimney, and is the pickiest eater I have ever met. The only type of meat Johnny ever ate was beef. This would drive my mom nuts anytime he came out to visit, as it strictly limited our menu, forcing her to either make him a separate dish or devote a week to cooking nothing but red meat.

During that South Dakota visit, my parents decided to pull a fast one on Johnny. Guessing he’d never be able to tell the difference, my mom made buffalo burgers one night and presented them as angus beef. Johnny was sitting there at the dinner table, plowing through his burger with gusto, none the wiser, when my dad cleared his throat.

“How’s that burger, Johnny?” he asked.

“Delicious!” Johnny replied, never pausing from his chewing.

My dad then let the hammer fall and told his cousin that what he thought was beef was, in fact, bison. Johnny was surprised, but to his credit, finished his burger. This trickery didn’t suddenly turn him into an equal opportunity carnivore or anything, but probably made him a little more cautious when sitting down at the dining room table in our house from that point forward.

bison burger

How’s that burger, Johnny?

Ever since, I’ve thought of these little food switcheroos as “Johnnyburgers.” In fact, I’ve turned the noun into a verb when describing this act of subterfuge. One time when my kids were young, I snuck some vegetables into their spaghetti sauce. Audrey and Rusty were Johnnyburgered!

Just last week I Johnnyburgered Tara. When it comes to coffee, she is very choosy over what she pours into her mug. It’s gotta be Costco’s Kirkland brand Medium Dark Columbian Roast. Which was all well and good when we lived within spitting distance of not one, but two, Costcos, but the nearest one now is 346 miles away. Suffice it to say, that’s a long way to go for coffee! We stocked up before our move, and still have several cans left, but we go through coffee pretty quickly. The day is sure to come when we run out of the Kirkland Medium Dark Columbian Roast. Keenly aware of this, I decided to pick up a can of Maxwell House at Safeway last week when I spotted it on sale for $4.99. The next morning, after stealthily substituting Maxwell House for Kirkland, I asked my wife, “How’s that coffee, dear?”

“It’s good!” she replied.

“Would you say it’s good to the last drop?” I asked, unable to resist their gimmicky advertising slogan.

When she replied in the affirmative, I told her – rather gleefully, I might add – “You’ve been Johnnyburgered!”

To her credit, she wasn’t upset over the deceit. I think she realizes, too, that our precious coffee resources are dwindling faster than Trump’s approval rating, and certainly isn’t opposed to finding a different brand we can procure more easily. But after a few days of drinking the Maxwell House, she decided it was “too bitter” after all. I dunno about that…I think my wife doth protest too much…but, that’s fine. Back to the drawing board it is.

There’s always Folgers!

We had a nice weekend. The weather has been very pleasant, so we took advantage and hiked 5.5 miles on Saturday morning. Saw a movie in the afternoon, “First Man.” Two thoughts: man, Buzz Aldrin was a dick. But Neil Armstrong wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy either. I had no idea he suffered from so many inner demons. I googled him afterward and while most of the scenes in the movie were based on reality, the…








first man

…part where he landed on the moon (I warned you I was giving away secrets!)…

OK, kidding. You probably already knew that unless you prescribe to conspiracy theories. I’m referring to the scene where he threw his dead daughter’s bracelet into a crater on the moon while shedding a tear. Turns out that was totally made up to heighten the emotional factor  in pure Hollywood style. And that’s fine. Never go into a “true story” expecting a completely true story!

After the movie, we went to Chili’s. Casual dining chain or not, I have missed that place! All I can say is, fajitas. (Well, I can also say Presidente margarita.) Good stuff!

Sunday we drove out to Prairie Berry to stock up on wine. They were having a great sale on their Pumpkin Bog (pumpkin/cranberry wine – yes, it’s good; no, it does not taste like a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbuck’s): one bottle cost $17.00, two bottles cost $17.06. I mean, how could we not?!

It’s a wonder I didn’t walk out of there with a case of the stuff…

Blast from the Past

First things first: I need a good oatmeal recipe. I’m used to buying Trader Joe’s frozen steel cut oatmeal. Looks like an oversized hockey puck, but it’s surprisingly delicious and simple to make: two minutes in the microwave, stir, another minute and twenty seconds, and dig in. However, there is no Trader Joe’s in South Dakota, so I’ve been struggling to find a decent alternative.steelcut

In case you were wondering, instant oatmeal in a packet is not a decent alternative.

I might add that Harriet & Oak makes an excellent oatmeal – probably the best I’ve ever tried – but it’s not always practical to run downtown whenever I want a bowl. I’d rather just make it myself (and save money in the process).

So I’ve gotta figure something out. I found a few recipes online that look promising. Like this one. But if anybody else has a go-to recipe, I’m all ears.

Tara’s birthday last Friday was nice, even if she did have to work. We met for lunch and spent the evening playing cards, listening to records, and eating pizza. Just like our old life in Washington, only we were serenaded with a thunderstorm this time. When Tara’s coworkers learned it was her birthday, they got her a cake. Nice gesture! Today marks her third day there but so far it seems like a good fit. It’s a far less stressful position than the one in Vancouver. Another benefit to living in a smaller town.

DSC_0044Our real celebration was supposed to be on Saturday. Her birthday gift was a room at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, something I’d booked four months earlier. We loaded the truck and took our time driving up there, detouring through Lead and hiking out to Roughlock Falls and back. When it came time to check in, Tara joked that it was going to be a great evening “unless they turn us away.”

They turned us away.

I wish I was kidding, but no such luck. Remember the thunderstorm that “serenaded” us the evening before? It was screaming at the top of its lungs out in Spearfish and caused quite a bit of damage. The lodge lost power Friday night and it was still out 19 hours later when we attempted to check in. That meant they could not honor our reservation. They’d tried calling me, but my phone number changed after I booked the room, so they weren’t able to get through to me. They did send an email, but that was mid-afternoon and we were already hiking a mile from the lodge by then. Plus, we had no cell service anyway.



I was devastated, to be honest. I’d planned this all so carefully and was proud of the fact that I’d booked us such a great getaway. To her credit, Tara was unfazed and suggested we find a Plan B. We had read about a cool, retro 1950s-themed motel in Custer that we wanted to check out someday, but I figured the odds of snagging a last-minute room on a Saturday night at the height of tourist season in a town within spitting distance of both Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore were slim to none. Somehow, luckily, I was able to get a room and salvage her birthday weekend. So we regrouped in Lead over a couple of drinks and a plate of onion rings and then drove the hour and thirteen minutes south to Custer.

The Rocket Motel certainly lived up to its hype. It was unbelievably cool! Vintage decor throughout, right down to the furnishings and tile. And it was one of the cleanest motels we’ve ever stayed in. Plus, the bed was super comfortable. You might say the place was firing on all cylinders! We wandered down to a bar and grill the manager recommended for a bite to eat, then went back to the motel. They had a covered patio and since the weather was perfect, we brought out wine and a cribbage board and played until the chilly night air drove us inside, where we played some more. I have to say, as far as Plan Bs go, this one was killer.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a little cafe downtown before checking out. Drove through Custer State Park next, stopping at the Mount Coolidge fire lookout tower to take in the views before heading to the Wildlife Loop.

That certainly did not disappoint! We were two-thirds of the way through and had seen the usual prairie dogs, burros, and pronghorn antelope, but hadn’t stumbled across any bison yet. And then we rounded a bend and there they were. Everywhere. There were hundreds of them, as far as the eye could see. It was a breathtaking sight, and reminded me of the scene in “Dances With Wolves” where they crest a ridge and find a veritable sea of buffalo in the valley below.

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If you’ve never been to Custer State Park and driven the Wildlife Loop, do it.

All in all, it was a pretty great weekend, even though it didn’t go as planned. But in some ways those are the best kinds of weekends, aren’t they?

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July has been unusually cool and wet. It’s weird to have triple the normal precipitation and high temperatures 15-20 degrees below average while the PNW is roasting through an extended heatwave. Sounds like they’re about to find some relief just as our temps are warming up to seasonal norms.

These next couple of weekends are going to be low-key, because the 2018 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (we have learned locals call it simply “the rally”) is about to commence, and with that comes a lot of noise and streets crowded with bikers. They’ve even put up temporary traffic lights throughout the Black Hills to help control the throngs of people. It’s great for the local economy, but not so much if you want to get out and do things. Or so we’ve heard.

I see a lot of movies in our immediate future.