Dodging Snowflakes & Bullets

Holy crap. Has it really been almost two weeks since I updated my blog?!

I blame the government. With the shutdown now ancient history, business is booming – just as predicted. I kinda wish Trump had stood his ground a little bit longer! (Ha, not really. I do wish he’d walk off the side of a cliff or something, though.)

Work has been so busy, in fact, I stepped back in time and bought myself a planner. As in, an actual paper organizing system and calendar. I’ve got a smartphone app, of course, but experience has taught me that I just can’t/won’t/don’t use it to keep myself organized and on track. Maybe that’s because every time I pick up my phone I’m either scrolling through Instagram or playing Words With Friends. Regardless of the reason, the ol’ calendar app just wasn’t cutting the mustard. Instead, I found myself lugging a notebook around and digging through piles of paperwork on my desk. Who knew I was so endearingly old-fashioned?

The solution, then, was to research planners. I looked at everything from no-frills At A Glance calendars to fancy Day Timers with all the bells and whistles. I hated the idea of shelling out $25 for a disposable calendar I’d have to replace in January and was equally uncomfortable paying upwards of $90 for a leather-encased, refillable organizer. I settled instead on a Tul discbound planner. I’d never heard of such a system before, but it turns out they are quite popular – and rather ingenious! They utilize expansion discs that allow you to add, remove, and rearrange pages to your heart’s content. Kind of like a mashup between a three-ring binder and spiral notebook, but without any rings to open – the pages just slide into place magically. Best of all, the whole thing comes incased in a nice leather cover and calendar inserts are only $9.99. I think this will be perfect for my needs, even if it does make me feel a bit like it’s 1993 again.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad thing.


Today was President’s Day, and it’s one of the few times in my adult life I haven’t had to work. I’d like to say I took advantage by doing something fun, but the high temperature was only 8º so that’s a big, fat NOPE. But I wasn’t slogging my way through RFP hell, so I still consider it a win.

We made up for our do-nothingness today on Saturday, anyway. Despite 6″ of fresh (and still falling) snow, we did a bit of exploring in the Black Hills, driving through the always-impressive Spearfish Canyon and checking out a little town smack dab in the middle of nowhere called Silver City. The drive home was a bit rough, as we encountered near-whiteout conditions on the interstate with lots of blowing snow, but fortunately the road was dry.

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By the way, we are way above average in terms of snow this winter. As of this morning Rapid City has had 40.1″; the normal season-to-date is 20.6″ so we are just about double where we should be. Sure feels like it, too – especially this month. 14.5″ through yesterday (we should only have 3.0″ by Feb. 17). I’m not complaining, though. This is exactly what I wanted.

Further evidence that moving to Rapid City was the smartest thing we could have done? Tara found out last week that her former employer in Vancouver, WA is looking for a buyer for their mortgage division and portfolio. They are getting out of the home-selling business, which means if we had stayed in the PNW and somehow figured out a way to buy a house, we’d be screwed. Tara would be facing unemployment and who knows where she would have ended up or whether we’d be able to make ends meet. It was already a struggle, and she was earning big bucks. I can’t imagine the fear and uncertainty we would be facing.

I’ll take a little (okay, a lot) of snow and cold and a concealed weapons-loving governor over the stress and anxiety of trying to pay the bills back there any ol’ day.

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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?

Untangled and Frozen

This popped up on my Facebook memories feed yesterday, and I had to share with an update.

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I have never worked for a company that celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so when I learned that PSI follows all Federal holidays, to say I was thrilled is an understatement. I’m used to a long, nearly five-month stretch between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day without a break. Now, I’ve got Monday off, and we’ll be closed for President’s Day, too. This is much appreciated considering I won’t be eligible for any paid vacation time until 2020.

Granted, the weather won’t be conducive to doing anything fun and exciting. But I consider not working fun and exciting, so bring on the holiday!

Last week was pretty productive. I completed my first proposal; this one is for a road improvement project on tribal land in South Dakota. Bids are due Wednesday at noon, and they expect to have a decision within the hour. Fingers crossed that we land the contract, because this government shutdown is putting a serious damper on business.


Remember my unabashed love for Dot’s Pretzels? Well, my blog post caught the attention of somebody who works in their corporate office, leading to the following email exchange:

Dot’s Employee: I just got done reading your take on Dots Pretzels. I will say I have never ever heard of Dots pretzels described as you have described them. And I must say I agree with you 100% on that. Not just because I work for Dots pretzels in the KS location, but because it’s TRUE. Just thought I would share my 2 cents and say thank you for the great word of mouth.
Mark: Thank you. They really are that good and deserve heaps of praise! I’m happy to spread the word. How lucky you are to work there.
Dot’s Employee: I printed a copy of your review and its hanging in the break room. Thank you again for the awesome review. The Dots family really appreciates it. 
Mark: Oh, wow – thank you so much! Does the Dot’s family appreciate it enough to send me free pretzels for life??

There was more; he gave me the inside scoop on a new product that will be hitting the market soon, but I’d better not say any more. I’m just happy that Dot’s is the type of company to reach out to the consumer.


Saturday morning I was half-asleep when Tara poked me on the shoulder. “Do you feel like taking a ride up Skyline Drive to catch the sunrise?” she asked. Despite the fact that it was 10 degrees out, I agreed to untangle myself from our warm and cozy bed. 20 minutes later we were standing atop a hill overlooking a frosty, snowy Rapid City. Were we freezing our asses off? Yep. Was it worth it? Totally.

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It was an interesting week weather-wise. We had freezing fog for two days, which coated our trees in a thick blanket of rime ice and hoarfrost. That was followed by a little light snow on Friday. The scenery around town was spectacular.

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Today we are going to grab brunch and then kick it in the bar to watch playoff football. With the Broncos never even in conjunction this season, it’s tough to get excited. KC is a division rival, I’m not a Los Angeles fan, and Tom Brady’s had enough success. So…let’s go, Saints! I guess.

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?

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.

Perfect Script

It gets dark so early this time of year, it’s barely 3:00 and the shadows are already lengthening. Especially on overcast days like today, when there are no shadows. It’s almost time to turn the lights on! Or, better yet, plug in the Christmas tree.IMG_20181126_174901_751.jpg

Gotta love the holiday season!

And it’s definitely beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Friday I hauled our harvest decorations to the storage unit, swapping them out for our Christmas bins; Saturday morning, we decorated the apartment. Right about the time we got the tree all decked out, it began snowing. Big, fat flakes that quickly covered the ground. The snow did not let up until after dark, which made the tree lighting ceremony and Festival of Lights Parade in downtown Rapid City especially festive. Between the ice skaters, Santa Claus, holiday lights, and falling snow, it looked like a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We couldn’t have scripted things any better.

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It was a tad cold, especially with a brisk wind blowing, but we spent a lot of time warm and cozy inside Firehouse Brewing and, later, the Wobbly Bobby Tap Room. There’s nothing like hot artichoke dip to take off the chill. That, and a few Manhattan cocktails.

The parade was pretty impressive, I might add. There were about 90 floats, and it took a solid hour for them all to roll on by.

By the time the snow finally tapered off we had a couple of inches on the ground. Not a huge amount, but it’s stuck around for several days thanks to below-freezing daytime highs. Today is the exception; it managed to get up to 54 degrees. But the weather is turning colder again this weekend, and there’s a potent winter storm system that is going to hit somewhere on the Plains. The track is still uncertain at this point. We could potentially see a lot of snow, so we’re keeping an eye on the forecast because we are planning a weekend getaway to Pierre, the state capital, to see this. A little snow wouldn’t be too big of a deal – my only concern is a lot of snow (and wind). There are 191 miles of freeway between Rapid City and Pierre, and navigating that stretch during a blizzard would not be fun. We have until tomorrow to cancel our reservation without losing the deposit, so hopefully we’ll have a better idea of what’s going to happen by then. If not, well, I guess we’ll go – and be prepared for an adventure.

 

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In other news, we have really been getting our money’s worth out of Netflix lately. We have a very basic cable package in order to save $$$, and I was mourning the loss of a bunch of favorite shows because we don’t get AMC, Discovery Channel, A&E, Bravo, Food Network, truTV, etc. But we have offset those losses with “Ozark” and “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Ranch” and “The Final Table.” Add in Hulu, and campy-but-good classic sitcom fare like “Perfect Strangers” and “Blossom,” and we haven’t been lacking in things to watch.

Gotta run – darkness is descending. Wish us luck this weekend!

A Taste of Winter

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Autumn in the Black Hills sure was beautiful for the two whole weeks that it lasted.

I kid, I kid. But we definitely had a taste of winter this past week. For three straight days the temperature never climbed out of the 30s – our highs were colder than our average lows for the date! And we got 2.8″ of snow, as well. I knew it could snow in October around here. I just didn’t think it actually would!

Just when all hope of ever seeing fall again was nearly lost, today was sunny and 56. Couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day. And next week we’ll be pushing 70. Such is life on the Great Plains.

I’ll be back with a proper post next week. For now, enjoy the snow pics. Especially you, Ron!

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Downtown Rapid City

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Wilderness Park across the street from our apartment

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Canyon Lake Park

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Did global cooling kill the dinosaurs?

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So beautiful!

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We sat beneath this willow on a hot July afternoon and dipped our feet in the water

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Clashing seasons

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I should have packed a picnic lunch!

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

The Shadow Never Lies

I had an unexpected snow day today!

Well, not exactly. I still worked. I just did so from the comfort of my recliner at home, thanks to a rare late February snowstorm. How rare? It’s been 23 years since we’ve had this much snow (3.5”) after Valentine’s Day. And they’re predicting more tonight. What a strange winter it has been. We were in the 60s a couple of weeks ago and it looked like Spring had arrived early. When Punxsatawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter at the beginning of the month, I thought to myself, the groundhog has lost his freakin’ mind. 

But the shadow never lies.

It actually snowed pretty much nonstop all day yesterday, but the temperature hovered right around 34 degrees and the ground was too warm for anything to stick. After sunset the temperature dropped and the snow picked up, so Tara and I found ourselves walking around outside right in the midst of the heaviest of it. I call that “South Dakota research.” This morning when I opened the blinds in our bedroom, I was greeted with the following sight:

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Gorgeous, huh? The sun was rising next to Mount Hood, and its rays cast a warm glow on the snow-flocked branches. Even Tara seemed to enjoy the magic of last night’s snowfall (or at least pretended to). Normally I’m the one gushing over frozen precipitation while she is rather blase over it all. We may just have turned a corner.

The funny thing is, Rapid City got a bunch of snow on Monday and I was jealous. Not anymore!

We got an email from HR this morning stating that the office was technically closed and we could come in at our own discretion or make alternate arrangements with our managers. I was planning on working from home anyway, because there is absolutely no need for me to do this job in an office (hint, hint!), so that worked out nicely. I’m always more productive working from home anyway. Got an early start too, so I’ll be logging off at 3:30 and heading to WinCo for groceries. Not because another storm is bearing down upon us; Wednesday is just our designated grocery day. Hopefully the store isn’t a madhouse.

Countdown: 122 Days