10 Things I Love About You

I woke up Sunday morning and asked Tara, “Hey, wanna move to South Dakota this week?”

Fortunately, she was down.

So: here we are. Moving week. Four more days! It still feels surreal, even though Tara’s last day at work was Friday and mine is Wednesday. This is the final push! She’ll be busy packing and cleaning this week while I somehow try to keep my focus on work. I expect only limited amounts of success there. Sorry, boss. There’s a great adventure awaiting us and I don’t know how I’ll be able to not think about it. But I’ll try.

We pick up the U-Haul on Wednesday after work. Thursday we’ll load it, and Friday we hit the road. It’ll probably be around noon. BTW, Sydney is back to her normal self (whew!) so we’ll have a cat to entertain for 1,250 miles. But after last week’s scare, that’s a good problem to have.

I will, of course, blog from the road. I want to chronicle every moment of this move. It’s not often you do something like this in your life; I’ve often wished the internet existed in 1994 when I left California for the PNW. It would be fun to read about that journey now and look back on everything I was feeling. Memories can be fickle.


We took a whirlwind trip to Tacoma Friday night/Saturday for one last visit with Tara’s family before we move. She and her mom wanted to get matching tattoos, so while they were getting inked up my friend/coworker Candace, a Tacoma native who happened to be in town, showed me around her old stomping grounds. The attraction I wanted to see most was Stadium High School, which famously served as the backdrop for Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julia Stiles, and Larisa Oleynik’s high school characters in the 1999 comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s a great movie, one of my favorites, and both the school and its setting on Point Ruston in the southern Puget Sound are gorgeous. I have no idea how the students there focus on schoolwork.

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My high schools looked nothing like this.

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You’re just too good to be true/can’t take my eyes off of you…

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We got home late Saturday night after visiting with Tracy, David, Anne, and Anthony. Sunday was a full day; we drove down to the Columbia River and walked to Shanahan’s for brunch. Detoured through the farmer’s market on the way back, then drove to IKEA, where we bought a couple of bookshelves to hold our burgeoning record collection. It might seem silly to buy furniture right before a big move, but the closest IKEA will be six hours away in Denver, so it made sense to purchase them now. Did a little packing when we got home, then headed to my parents’ house for a Father’s Day Hawaiian dinner with my folks, aunt and uncle, cousin, and Audrey. On the way over we saw ominous looking clouds the color of granite piling up to the east, and even though the forecast called for sunshine, a line of thunderstorms rolled through and for two hours we were treated to lightning, thunder, heavy downpours, and gusty winds. It was quite the storm. This type of weather is pretty rare in the PNW, but served as a great primer for the crazy Great Plains storms we are sure to encounter on a regular basis.

With approximately 100 hours to go before we drive away, I wanted to play off the theme of this post a little and look at a few positives. Yes, I am super excited for our move, and looking forward to a brand new life in the Midwest. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate many things about this remarkable area I have been fortunate to call home for so many years. So without further ado, here are 10 Things I Love About You, PNW.

  1. Beautiful scenery. Between the evergreen trees, snow-capped mountain peaks, and cascading waterfalls, this place is like a little slice of heaven on earth, gorgeous year-round.
  2. The Pacific Ocean. The coast is often my salvation, and I’ve gotten spoiled knowing the ocean is a mere 90 minutes away.
  3. Great food. Between the delicious fresh seafood, the most amazing berries on the planet, and the wide variety of great restaurants – not to mention the food carts – it’s amazing I don’t weigh 400 lbs.
  4. Progressive politics. Yeah, I’m a bleeding heart liberal. Yeah, I know South Dakota is a red state. Somehow we’ll find a compromise, I am sure.
  5. A mild climate. I prefer more dramatic weather and am looking forward to lots of snow and thunderstorms, but there’s something to be said for the fact that it’s rarely too hot or too cold here. Sure, it rains a lot, but it’s usually more of a steady, light mist and northwesterners never let that get in the way of having fun.
  6. An excellent music scene. If you enjoy concerts, you will never run out of options here. No wonder we’ve seen so many shows, ranging from intimate performances in small venues like the Doug Fir Lounge to outdoor shows on grassy amphitheater lawns and national headlining tours in 19,000-seat arenas.
  7. Hiking and camping. We’re big fans of the Great Outdoors, and the sheer number of hiking trails and campgrounds is mind-boggling. Thankfully we are moving to a place where these things are also abundant.
  8. Farmer’s markets. I don’t want to lump this in with “food” because the markets – some of them, like PSU, open year-round – carry so much more than fresh produce. The farm-to-table movement is huge out here, and when that produce is in season, there’s nothing better than filling your bag with fresh fruit and veggies.
  9. Portland. It may have lost its luster over the last few years, but Portland is still a great city with a lot to offer. I will miss so much about PDX: Powell’s Books, Voodoo Doughnut, Music Millennium, the Saturday Market, and the best airport in the U.S.
  10. Seattle. The Emerald City has long been a favorite weekend getaway. Touristy or not, Pike Place Market alone is worth the trip. Let’s not forget Beecher’s Cheese, the Mystery Coke Machine, and the view from Kerry Park.

I didn’t put “family” because they would top the list regardless of where they lived. Places don’t define people; people define places.

Fortunately, because they do live here, we’ll have many visits to look forward to in the future.

Countdown: 4 Days

 

 

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This Looks Familiar

Six years ago, shortly after Tara moved out here, we took a drive and came across a couple who were stuck in the snow. We helped them out of that jam by enlisting the aid of a guy with a pickup truck and a tow hitch who happened to be camping nearby.

In an odd twist of fate, yesterday Tara and I took a drive and came across a couple who were stuck in the snow. We helped them out by enlisting the aid of a guy with a pickup truck and a tow hitch who happened to be camping nearby.

You know, after just having seen the movie The Endless last weekend, I’m hoping I am not stuck in some weird time loop myself.

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And much like that fateful day back in June 2011, we never did make it to our intended destination. But we came up with a solid Plan B and ended up having a blast anyway. How ironic that this funny thing that happened to us shortly after a big move happened to us again shortly before a big move.

The whole day was sort of unexpected, actually. I’d purchased Paul Simon tickets a few months ago, only to have immediate buyer’s remorse. Nothing against ol’ Paul; I like his music just fine. But you know what I like better? Money. Those tickets weren’t cheap, and we are going to need every cent for the move. So I placed an ad on Craigslist and, after a few tentative nibbles, was able to sell them Friday evening. I actually let them go for $20 less than face value, but I can live with that because it means an extra $150 in my pocket. And the truth is, the thought of dealing with a big arena show at the Moda Center and all that entails – parking, light rail, people – began to sound less appealing the closer the day got. Selling them was a relief in more ways than one

With no concert to plan our day around, we improvised and instead of spending a day in Portland, we decided to drive out to Guler Ice Cave and Trout Lake, both in Washington. Unbeknownst to us, there was still quite a bit of snow on the road at that elevation, and it soon became impassable.

Tell that to the couple in the RAV 4 who were hopelessly stuck.

They were nice though, and while we tried to help them dig out, it wasn’t happening. So we backtracked a bit to a couple we’d seen camping a little ways down the road. When we explained what was going on, the guy chuckled and said, “They’re stuck right past that fallen tree, aren’t they?” Turns out he’d already pulled somebody else to safety in that same spot earlier in the day.

Poor guy probably spent half his day towing people out of the snow. I bet he picks a more secluded camping spot next time.

With the ice cave and Trout Lake inaccessible, we simply turned around and followed the road in the opposite direction. I can’t say we were disappointed with that decision.

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We ended up hiking in the Trapper Creek Wilderness and stopped in Stevenson on the way home for dinner. When we got back we watched I, Tonya, which was fantastically good. Truth is stranger than fiction, that’s for sure.

All in all, it was a very good day. Even if there was an air of familiarity about it.

Countdown: 33 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

100 Days

Today is a momentous milestone. In exactly 100 days, we will be leaving the PNW behind and heading for South Dakota! Seeing that countdown timer drop to double digits tomorrow is going to be surreal.

We have slowly been preparing for the move, but that’s going to pick up steam very soon. Tara is talking about beginning to pack this weekend. Just items we hardly ever use, the stuff in the back of closets and in the far reaches of cabinets. But it’ll mark an important psychological start. What we have been doing for a while now is gradually stocking up on goods we won’t be able to find in Rapid City. I’ve got a box full of food and beverages tucked away.

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Yes, lots of salts. And vodka. That probably speaks volumes about my personality.

Since this is a new blog, I thought I’d take a moment today to talk about how we got here. I don’t mean in the birds-and-bees sense; I trust y’all know about that. More to the point, how – and why – we decided to leave behind Portland for a fresh start in Rapid City, South Dakota, of all places. If you’ve already read this, then you have some background. But no need to click on the link; this will be a standalone post.

It all began a long time ago, back when Ronald Reagan was President and MTV still played music videos…

My dad was in the Air Force, and received a new assignment that took us from Hawaii to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, just as I was entering high school. In the interest of keeping this as short as possible, I’ll sum up our three years there by saying my parents tolerated it, but I loved it. The Black Hills are spectacular. When we left in the summer before my senior year, I was basically devastated and begged them to let me stay, but that didn’t happen. We moved on to California, I graduated from high school and college, landed a job, transferred to the PNW, and never gave South Dakota much of a thought again.

Until 2011, when I took a solo road trip to Dayton, Ohio, another place from my youth. I had planned on staying two days in Rapid City along the way, but enjoyed my time there so much, I changed my itinerary and tacked on an extra day. Sorry, Cleveland – I had to give you up. I was quite impressed with Rapid City, surprised by its proliferation of cool restaurants, brewpubs, and quaint shops. Ohio might have been my ultimate destination, but Rapid charmed me the most. I famously wrote,

I was quite surprised to find a little slice of Portland in Rapid City: quaint coffee shops, a used bookstore, and this cool alleyway I stumbled upon that was decorated all over with graffiti and murals. I strolled through there, taking plenty of pics. Love it! I am enraptured by this place all over again, and want to enjoy every last drop of it while I can.

I can’t help but marvel, once again, over the beauty of this area…and abundance of natural attractions. I’ve often wondered if I could ever picture myself living in Rapid City again, and the verdict is in: yes, I could. I wouldn’t rule it out if the circumstances were exactly right.

Yet, I could never imagine how those circumstances would ever come together, and never seriously thought it would happen. Instead, Tara happened. We started dating a few months after that road trip, she moved out here, and we settled into a happy little life in the PNW.

Until we started looking at houses last year. Seriously looking, anyway. And quickly found that we’d been priced out of the market. While the exorbitant housing costs were the catalyst that made me half-jokingly suggest moving to Rapid City, they were really only the tip of the iceberg. The idea took steam once we talked about our growing disenchantment with the Portland area as a whole, and what once seemed like the most unlikely of scenarios, actually returning to a place that meant so much to me in my youth, became reality when we took a quick trip out there this past October and decided, over a plate of fried pickles – how very Mark and Tara of us! –  to roll the dice and make it official.

And now here we are, stocking up on salt and vodka, bringing home boxes from work, and contacting moving companies for quotes. It still feels surreal, and yet, this is as real as it gets.

Countdown: 100 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:

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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