Literally Greener

Saturday afternoon, I was jolted from a peaceful reverie by the blaring wail of a warning siren. I raced to the window, looking for the source of the ear-splitting racket, convinced I’d see either an approaching tornado or an incoming ICBM, but the sky was thankfully clear. A few moments later the sirens quit and, because nobody else in the complex came bolting out of their apartment in a panic, I figured there was nothing to worry about. Curious, I pulled up Google and learned that Rapid City routinely tests their emergency sirens on the first and third Saturdays of every month at the stroke of noon.

Good to know.

Of course, it would have been better to have known this in advance. Pre-freakout would have been nice! But whatever. Life in the Midwest has been a series of adjustments and new ways of thinking. It’s all part of the learning experience.

One thing it has not taken us long to learn is the fact that you cannot leave home without liberally applying both sunscreen and mosquito spray. The first week here, I got so many bites on my arms and legs I lost count. And they itched like crazy. Turns out the mosquito population has exploded this year due to all the rain.

Fortunately, I haven’t gotten sunburned, but that’s probably because I’ve become more acclimated to the sun thanks to all the walking I’ve been doing the past few years, much of it in the middle of the day. I will tell you that the sun feels more intense here, thanks to our 3,200′ elevation. We are closer to that hot flaming ball of gas than we were living at sea level, and it’s noticeable. So too is the humidity, but it’s also a bit unusual this year due to all the rain we’ve had.


Early this morning, the silence was shattered by a different sort of noise when a pretty decent thunderstorm rolled through shortly after 4 a.m. It was accompanied by lots of lightning and thunder and a torrential downpour that lasted a solid hour. Over an inch of rain fell, adding to an already-impressive total for the year. The grass really is greener on the other side, folks. Literally! Interestingly, there had been no mention of thunderstorms in the forecast, so we went to bed completely oblivious of the fact that bad weather was moving in.

It amazes me how quickly the weather can change here, and how unpredictable it is. In the PNW, the forecasts are pretty reliable because there aren’t a lot of surprises and storm systems are easy to track as they make their way across the Pacific Ocean. People still grouse over the occasional bust, but 9 times out of 10 if they predict sunshine, you end up with sunshine.

Here, I’d say the forecasts are right maybe 5 times out of 10. And conditions change so rapidly! It can be perfectly clear at 3 p.m., and by 4 p.m. you’re ducking for cover because golfball-sized hailstones are plunging to earth and you’re caught in the open. (To be fair, this has not happened to me yet, but I kind of feel it’s only a matter of time.)

And I love it.


The weekend was hot, and because of that, we kept it low key. Actually wasted Saturday watching movies inside our gloriously air-conditioned apartment after an early walk around Canyon Lake Park. I rarely like to stay home, but I have to admit it was a pretty fun day.

Sunday I ran errands for a few hours. My goal was to find a computer desk so I could set up a home office. Good news: I found a couple of cheap ones at Goodwill. Bad news: they looked like cheap ones from Goodwill. The price was right but the condition was wrong, so I finally caved in and bought a new one from Target. It only cost $69 and while it was pretty basic, this was a good thing: I did not need a desk with a pull-out keyboard tray or built-in CD slots like the ones at Goodwill. I certainly didn’t need a desk that was stained with year’s worth of god-knows-what, either. So: money well spent. I also picked up a folding card table and a couple of chairs as we found it pretty challenging playing Cribbage a few nights ago without a table. Problem solved! And it will double nicely as a dining table should we end up with guests who don’t want to eat dinner from TV trays, as is our custom.

I spent the afternoon assembling the desk and am pleased to report this was a success. Ho-hum, you might be thinking, but you have no idea how poor my mechanical skills are. I once put together a grill and the wheels were upside down. Don’t ask me how, but to this day I have never lived that down. Afterwards I enjoyed a little wine and pizza. We were looking for something new to watch and saw that “Deadwood” was available to stream with our Amazon Prime membership. Score! I’ve been curious about the HBO series for a long time and it seemed like a logical and appropriate choice given its setting in the Black Hills, and the fact that we’re planning a trip to Deadwood this weekend. We watched the first two episodes and were immediately hooked. Now we’ve got 34 more to keep us busy the rest of the summer!

Almost makes one wish for continued hot weather.

Almost.


Today I headed over to The Garage, the coworking space in downtown Rapid that I mentioned in my last post. It’s a very cool building with lots of brick, metal trusses, and arched ceilings. Just like the last place I worked. Hmm…I seem to be drawn to these types of spaces. There’s even a record player in the middle of the room and a stack of albums from Black Hills Vinyl. I was tempted to drop a needle on the groove and rock out, but I have no idea what the protocol is there and it seemed like that might bother the handful of people working there. IMAG6481

When I walked in this morning I was welcomed, given a quick tour of the facility, and handed the wi-fi password. Kelsey pointed out the free coffee – sourced from Harriet & Oak across the street, as luck would have it – and I was all set. There were plenty of desks and tables available, so I plugged in, slapped on my headphones, and got to work. I was super productive, churning out about eight articles over the course of six hours. I even ended up with a free lunch; one of the regulars brought in leftovers from his 4th of July picnic and I was invited to partake. The pulled pork, potato salad, and baked beans hit the spot. I chatted with him for a bit and exchanged pleasantries with a few other guys there. There are about six to eight regulars, it seems, many of them with private offices in the back. I felt like a bit of an outsider, but everybody was friendly and I really enjoyed working there. Best of all, they never even collected my $10 drop-in fee. I can’t justify paying $150/month for a lease at this point, but if fortune smiles upon me and I end up with enough work to make a real go of this lifestyle, I’ll seriously consider it. I actually felt like I “went to work” today, and being around other people made it feel like a real job.

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We are currently grilling pork kebabs and enjoying a couple of drinks. I’ve discovered a local beer called Fernson that I really like. I despise beer in general, but do have a soft spot for sours and their Curio tart ale pushes all the right buttons. We’ve got another episode of “Deadwood” lined up and, wouldn’t you know it, those clouds are beginning to build up over the Black Hills again.

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Love the one on the right.

Life is good, guys.

 

 

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Homeless Crisis Averted

I am happy to report that we will not be homeless in Rapid City.

Not that I actually thought that would happen, but I will admit that I flew into a quasi-panic the other day when I realized two things:

  • How close our moving date is
  • The fact that we had no idea where we would be living

Tara and I are compatible as hell, but we do have different approaches to life. I’m more of a planner, while she prefers to fly by the seat of her pants. Sometimes this is a good thing; turning down random dirt roads like we did last weekend can lead to adventure. But when you are pulling up stakes and moving 1,250 miles away, I personally think it’s important to know you will have a roof over your head. Some things you just don’t leave to chance, ya know?

We booked a Super 8 Motel in Rapid City for six nights, with the vague plan of having a list of places we wanted to look at when we got there. But I was never comfortable with this, because too much could go wrong. What if there was no availability? What if we did not qualify for a lease due to underemployment? People kept asking me for a forwarding address, and when I couldn’t give them one, I became a nervous wreck.

Luckily, Tara got scared, too. She suggested a few days ago that maybe it would be a good idea to have a place all lined up before we hit the road after all.

HALLELUJAH!

So I jumped on Craigslist, like, right that second. Spent a few hours combing through rentals. I was looking at everything: apartments, townhomes, houses, teepees. Nothing was off the table. The only real requirements? They had to be cat-friendly and have at least two bedrooms. As much as we want to buy a house NOW, we’re going to need some time to settle in, and I assume we’ll have visitors. A/C was high on the list of amenities as well; ours went on the fritz here and we were without for a couple of days this week. That was unpleasant enough, and we live in the temperate PNW. If you want me to admit that I’m a hot weather wimp and spoiled, FINE.

I found a place that looked promising enough. It’s a condominium complex on the far western side of town, practically right up against the Black Hills – where we want to be. The units are two stories, so you don’t have to worry about noisy neighbors upstairs. They’ve got A/C, allow pets, and there’s a 28-acre park and wilderness area right across the street, complete with hiking trails. So we filled out the application this morning, paid a processing fee, and consented to credit and background checks.

Within 30 minutes, I got a phone call from the leasing agent letting me know we were approved. And wouldn’t you know it, they have a 2-BR unit available on our desired move-in date, June 25. The day after we arrive. She quoted me a price that was a little higher than we wanted to pay for a 12-month lease, but they had a special going on: sign on for one extra month, and the rent dropped $73 a month, perfectly in our price range. So we took the plunge and put down a deposit to reserve the unit. For the first time in my life, I have an actual address in Rapid City, South Dakota!

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This will be home in ONE MONTH.

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Wilderness Park, directly across the street.

Suddenly, there’s a HUGE burden lifted off my shoulders. Granted, renting a place sight unseen requires a leap of faith, but with Google maps – especially satellite and street view – it practically feels like I’m strolling through the neighborhood. And it looks pretty nice. Even if it isn’t, well, we’re only on the hook for 13 months. After that, we’ll be good and ready to buy a house. Oh, and best of all, our rent is $600/month less than we are paying here.

I knew there was a reason we decided to move to the Midwest!

Countdown: 28 Days

From Chinook to Chislic

I came across an article in Portland Monthly last week on bierocks, a Midwestern staple that resembles a glorified Hot Pocket. Apparently I am not the only one who has never heard of them because Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize the word, underlining it in red and suggesting I really mean “bureaux.” I do not, MS Word, but thank you for assuming I am an idiot.

In any case, the article was an eye-opener. It made me realize that not only will the climate in South Dakota be quite different than what I’m used to; the food scene will be equally foreign.

I’d already learned of chislic when researching the area. No, MS Word, I do not mean “Chasidic.” Get over yourself already. Chislic is a dish of deep-fried cubed meat served on toothpicks. It’s like a shish kebab, but without the fancy skewer or vegetables. Chislic is a regional specialty of our soon-to-be home state.

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Can’t wait to dive into a heaping plate o’ this!

I’m kind of excited to try some new foods I’d never heard of before. There is a wealth of Midwestern cuisine just waiting to be discovered. Thrillist came up with this list of the most popular dishes there (bierocks and chislic are both represented) and I have to admit, I’m genuinely curious.

It’s a good thing I like meat and cheese. Just sayin’.

Regional cuisines have always fascinated me. No childhood trip to New Jersey was complete without tomato pie or Tastykakes (butterscotch Krimpets, please), and in Hawaii, kalua pork, huli-huli chicken, and hot malasadas were staples. The PNW has its own go-to foods; salmon, huckleberries, hazelnuts, and the infamous geoduck. Trust me, if I can choke down something that phallic-looking, chislic will be a cakewalk.

I’m curious what some of my Midwestern readers’ favorite local dishes are, so if Jess Witkins and Bijoux care to weigh in, I’d love to hear their thoughts!

Actually, I want to hear about your favorite regional dishes, wherever you hail from. What is something you enjoy eating that the rest of the country might not be familiar with? Bonus points if Microsoft Word tries to correct you.

Countdown: 83 Days

Not Montana

I was in the kitchen at work the other day and one of the RMs walked in for a cup of coffee. “So, I hear you’re moving!” he said to me. “Montana, is it?”

I corrected him, but couldn’t help chuckling over it later. I get this all the time; people know I’m moving to the Midwest somewhere, but can’t quite put a finger on the proper state. They’ll guess all the states surrounding South Dakota, but never seem to land on that one. It’s like they’re throwing darts at a map of the northern U.S. and seeing where they land. I have heard that I’m moving to North Dakota, Wyoming, and Minnesota, too. Even my good friend Heidi mentioned how different Grand Rapids, Michigan, is going to be. More than once. But she later admitted to thinking of the Midwest as “one big glob” anyway.275_5564b464d3a0c7.40098105_mw-map-poster-white_1500x

And maybe it’s just my imagination (running away with me), but I’d swear there is often an underlying note of pity in their voices, as if I’m being forced into something I do not want. Like I’ve drawn a short straw and am being exiled to a far-off land where it snows a lot and there are more bison than people. When I tell them no, this is a good thing, I’m leaving on purpose and looking forward to the change in scenery, a glint of relief appears in their eyes, followed by the inevitable question, “Why there?”

It’s okay. Everybody is well-intentioned, and I understand their curiosity. People in the PNW tend to be snobs about where they live. I don’t begrudge them for this; the upper left corner of the U.S. is beautiful, the climate temperate. A lot of people want to move here, while those itching to leave are in the minority. This makes me the weird exception to the rule.

By now I can recite my stock answer in my sleep. It goes along the lines of, my dad was in the Air Force, I went to high school there, loved the area, I want a simpler and cheaper way of life. That does the trick nicely.


Tara is headed home today and should be back by early afternoon. I’ll be glad to see her. A friend asked me today how I enjoyed my bachelorhood, but really, it was uneventful. I mostly watched a bunch of documentaries and cooked foods she would not like. This is what a forty-something party animal looks like, I guess.

My Saturday hike was definitely the highlight. While my last post might give you the impression that the whole hike was one big winter wonderland, that’s not the case. The first couple of miles were green and damp. Here’s proof.

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Countdown: 87 Days

What’s a “Swinged Cat,” Anyway?!

Like most states, South Dakota has several different nicknames. Most are not surprising. It is called, among other things:

  • The Mount Rushmore State
  • The Coyote State
  • The Sunshine State
  • The Blizzard State
  • The Land of Infinite Variety

But one nickname stands out from the pack: South Dakota’s most unusual moniker is the Swinged Cat State. Wondering where such an odd name came from? You can thank (or blame it on) this guy:

mellette

That’s Arthur Calvin Mellette, the first Governor of South Dakota. In 1890, the state was experiencing a drought. Mellette was doing his best to persuade settlers to stick around. While in Chicago on a trip in which he was attempting to secure financial aid, Moses Handy, an associate of Arthur’s and a newspaperman, turned to his friend and asked, “Well, governor, how is South Dakota?”

Mellette’s response?

Well, South Dakota is a swinged cat, better than she looks.

The term “swinged” is an old colloquialism meaning “singed” or “burned slightly.”

The next day, the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper ran a story about Mellette, governor of “the swinged cat state.” And the rest is obscure history.

I’ve been blogging, on and off, for the better part of my adult life now. The platforms have changed, but writing is the one constant in my life. Since 2009, I’ve been posting semi-regularly on WordPress to Mark My Words. That blog has followed me through many ups and downs in my life and contains memories galore. However, 2018 promises to be a year of change like no other, and I feel it’s time for a fresh start.

Welcome to Swinged Cat. This blog will chronicle the journey of me and my wife, Tara, as we leave behind the Pacific Northwest and head 1,200 miles east, to the Great Plains of South Dakota. I lived in Rapid City many years ago and never imagined I’d ever call it home again, but if there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the old axiom, never say never, holds true.

If you’ve been following me on Mark My Words, first off, thank you. Please go ahead and bookmark this site instead. That 8+ years’ worth of content isn’t going anywhere, but I will be shifting the focus of the blog to business-related articles.

Swingedcat.com (I kind of love the name!) will be my new home for personal posts and more. I have a few goals in mind here: I want to write more frequently, even if my posts are simple one-sentence asides. Or random thoughts. Inspiring quotes. Photos. Reposts of interesting articles. I want to focus more on the attractions of South Dakota, once we get there. The things we eat and drink, the places we go, the crazy weather we are sure to encounter (“Blizzard State,” remember?). But most of all, I want to document the experience of uprooting my entire life, at the not-so-tender age of…never mind…and start fresh. It’s big, and exciting, and a little scary. And I’m pretty sure it’ll be entertaining, too.

So thank you for following along. Buckle your seatbelts…it’s going to be a crazy ride!

Countdown: 132 Days