In-tents Weekend

Wow. It’s June now. Meaning we are rapidly approaching our one-year anniversary in South Dakota. Yet, living here still feels like a novelty. I have no idea how that is possible.

It’s going to be a pretty busy but exciting week for us. We officially close on our house at noon on Tuesday. There is some debate over whether or not we’ll get our keys right away; Tara says the title company has to record the deed first. In any case, we’ll have them within a day, which means we’ll have a lot of work ahead of us over the next month. We plan to spend most evenings and weekends at the house stripping wallpaper, painting, cleaning, mowing, and planting. Need to get those things done before all our flooring is installed (scheduled for the end of June). Then, maybe we can actually think about moving in. We are already planning on simple dinners we can make over there, supplemented with takeout.

Also this week: my company is hosting a Nurses of Excellence awards banquet Thursday evening, and I’m traveling to Ellsworth AFB on Friday to meet with a group of people about some great programs they are offering military kids. And the summer issue of our parenting magazine lands. I’m exhausted just thinking of all these commitments.

Knowing full well this would be our last free weekend for a while, Tara and I decided to go camping. (Actually, I’d made the reservations back in March, before we’d even started looking at houses. The timing was just fortuitous.)

We almost bailed at the last minute. The weather last week was nuts – heavy rain caused flooding along Rapid Creek and the surrounding streams. Just when the waters began to recede, we had heavy thunderstorms roll through on Friday afternoon. Lots of rain, lightning, and hail. I was stuck in my car in the Safeway parking lot about an hour before we were scheduled to leave, waiting for the storms to die down. Cancelling was on my mind, believe me, but I didn’t want to be out the $60 reservation fee or the six bundles of firewood, five bags of ice, rack of baby back ribs, etc. we’d already purchased. There was a break in the action around 7:00 so we finally took off, not really sure what the weather was going to be doing at Sheridan Lake.

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This is why we almost cancelled our trip.

Fortunately, it was doing nothing. It was actually a lot nicer in the Black Hills than in town. Still, we rushed to get our tent set up just in case, and started a fire just as the sun was going down. It was a much later start than I would have liked, but the weather cooperated all weekend – other than a couple of distant rumbles of thunder and a few sprinkles Saturday evening, it was fine. That first night was cold, though. Pretty sure the temperature bottomed out around 40º and we were in a tent. Tara and I haven’t slept so closely to one another in a long time, lol.

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Check out that blue sky! No filter needed.

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Bloody Marys are a camping tradition of ours.

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Saturday morning hike in honor of National Trails Day.

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Does this plate scream summer, or what?!

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Saturday evening sunset over Sheridan Lake.

Overall, we had a great time. Broke down camp early and were back home before 10:00. An hour later it was storming like crazy: more lightning, thunder, rain, and hail. We really dodged a bullet!

That’ll most likely be our only camping trip this year, with all the work we’ll be doing on the house.

But you know what? BRING IT ON. We’re both eager to get a little dirt beneath our fingers so we can start this next chapter in our lives!

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Week One Done

My first “week” at the new job is now in the can and I am loving every minute of it! I put week in parentheses because it was actually three days, but starting on a Wednesday had its perks. Namely the preceding long weekend.

More on the job in a second.

I wanted to take advantage of the extra days off, so on Monday I hiked Black Elk Peak. Second time I’ve done so since we moved here, and I couldn’t help but marvel over how much things have changed since my trek to the peak last July. That first hike coincided with our one-month anniversary in South Dakota, Tara was about to start a new job, I was still freelancing full-time, and we had exactly one year left on our apartment lease. This time around, I reflected on how much we have thrived since moving here. These first 11 months (yes, it’s been that long already!) have been very good to us. Tara has a job she enjoys so much she actually looks forward to going to work; we are in the process of buying a house; I am debt-free and just started my own dream job. We hoped moving to Rapid City would be a good decision. In retrospect, it has actually exceeded our own wildest expectations.

Tuesday wasn’t nearly as exciting – unless you are the type of person who enjoys hanging out and watching a plumber do a sewer scope on your new property. At least I got to spend some more time in our new house. The irises in our backyard are in full bloom now and look beautiful!

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Not so beautiful? The video of the sewer scope. I’m grateful for the YouTube link (I guess?), but if I never see a hose snaking 80′ through a sewer pipe again, I won’t complain. There is one potential future issue thanks to a rogue lilac in the front yard, but nothing we need to address immediately. Everything is on schedule with the purchase; we got the appraisal back on Wednesday and not only are we on track to close on time, but the sellers are actually wondering if we’d consider an early closing. We can’t do anything until I get my first paycheck from EGMRC on the 31st, but we’re down for closing after that if we can. It just gives us more time to start tearing down wallpaper and painting. We expect to have flooring estimates back sometime next week.

Knock on wood and everything, but do home purchases ever go this smoothly?!

Wednesday was my first day at EGMRC, and I will admit, I was a bundle of nerves. I think that’s pretty much par for the course anytime you start a new job. Fear of the unknown and all that. But within minutes of walking through the front door, I felt right at home. They had my workstation all set up and were configuring my computer. I got a tour of the office, filled out paperwork, and was set loose. I ended up proofing/editing the upcoming summer issue of our parenting magazine and knocked out an article, too. That’s the nice thing about being a writer: there isn’t a steep learning curve. I was happy to start contributing immediately.

About those workstations: they’re just about the coolest things ever. I liken them to cubicles on wheels; they’re partially enclosed for privacy, and because all the electrical outlets are ceiling-mounted, you can roll them around anywhere you’d like.

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Other cool things about the office: the exposed brick, the wall of glass windows, the conference room made out of a shipping container, and the popcorn machine. Yeah…I’m totally digging this place.

The first half of the week was pretty warm. Our high on Wednesday was 85º! After work, a brief but rather intense line of thunderstorms rolled through. The clouds looked wicked and otherworldly.

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Then yesterday, a really strong thunderstorm moved through downtown right around lunchtime. It was right on top of us at one point because a bright flash of lightning was followed immediately by a resulting thunderclap so loud the building shook and the lights flickered. Wild stuff. One other thing about EGMRC: they are a very dog-friendly office. The owner and several employees bring their dogs in every day (on Thursday, there were six of them – and there are only nine employees). Those poor dogs were freaked out by the thunder yesterday.

After work we stopped by Paddy O’Neill’s for drinks and a bite to eat. The rest of the weekend will be pretty low-key by design. This will likely be our last non-busy weekend for the rest of the summer. Tara is working for a few hours this morning, but then we are going to watch movies and hang out at home. The weather has, once again, taken a dramatic turn; it is rainy and only in the low 40s today. There is even more snow in the forecast, though it shouldn’t amount to anything. Some spots in the Black Hills might see a few inches.

That’s all the happenings for now!

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.

 

 

Sensory Overload

We have done so much exploring the past week, I’m experiencing sensory overload. In the best way possible.

When I last updated, we were about to head out into the Black Hills to check out Sheridan Lake, despite the fact that a Severe Thunderstorm Watch had been issued for the area. Sure enough, we encountered ominous looking clouds the moment we left, and experienced some thunder, lightning, and rain on the way to the lake. And when we got there, we were treated to the following sight:

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Those storms weren’t so bad, I thought. Little did I know they were only a preview for the main event. There was no cell service up there, so I could not access my trusty Doppler radar app. Had I done so, I’d have seen this line of severe thunderstorms bearing down on us.

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Maybe ignorance is bliss. Thinking we were out of danger, we were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery around the lake.

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Daylight was fading, so we eventually headed back to town. As soon as we had service again, I got a weather alert about the approaching storms, so we did what any sensible person would do in this situation: headed for the highest peak in Rapid City with metal tripods in gear so we could take pictures!

OK, in retrospect maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But we were hardly alone: there was quite the crowd gathered up at Dinosaur Park, watching lightning flickering constantly over the Hills as the storm approached. Soon it was all around us and thunder was booming overhead, so we decided to pack it in. Tara got this fantastic shot:

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It started raining just as we reached the truck, and for the next 90 minutes the storm raged on, with nonstop lightning, thunder, and heavy rain. We ducked into Buffalo Wild Wings for a late dinner, and even over the noise from the crowded bar, we could still hear it. What a fun night!

The next day was the 4th of July, and I was feeling especially patriotic this year. Maybe because we live in the City of Presidents now. Plus, here in the heartland, people are more unabashedly pro-America than on the West Coast, so that probably rubbed off on me, too. Normally we spend the holiday lazing around home, but this time we decided to head downtown and check out the festivities at Main Street Square. Really though, it was just an excuse to bar-hop our way around town. At least everything was within a few-block radius, so we didn’t have to worry about driving.

This gave us a great opportunity to check out some of the local bars (Firehouse Brewing, The Brass Rail, Independent Ale House), and we even played video games at Press Start. They had Tempest! My favorite game ever!

Afterwards we headed over to Founder’s Park to check out the city’s fireworks display. We had no problem finding a place to park right across the street; we spread a blanket out on the grass and enjoyed the show.

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It was such a fun holiday! Way better than staying home, that’s for sure.

Thursday felt downright tame in comparison. I went back to work, but instead of hitting Harriet & Oak or the library, I just worked from home. And had all my weekly assignments finished by noon, which means I’ve essentially had a long weekend ever since. It’s hard to wrap my head around this; almost feels like I’m getting away with something I’m not supposed to! I think the secret is, I’m just really productive when there aren’t other people distracting me. I’m going to check out a coworking space downtown called The Garage on Monday; they have a variety of different memberships available, including daily, weekly, and monthly leases; these give you access to a table or desk, wi-fi, and bottomless coffee. It’s worth the $10 drop-in fee to me, since I spent at least that much at the coffeeshop, and this way I won’t feel like I’m not supposed to be there all day. Should this freelance/independent contractor thing pan out, I might just consider signing up for a space there. At least that way I’m surrounded by other creative types, and it will feel more like “going to work.”

Friday we drove around town checking out various houses Tara had found, just to get a feel for the different neighborhoods. We are pretty much in love with this part of town, the northwest side, so when we do buy we’ll probably focus our efforts here. At least it would make our move a lot easier.

Because it was a hot day, we drove out to Pactola Reservoir in the afternoon. This lake is massive, and even though the temperature was pushing 90 degrees, the breeze coming off the water was refreshing. Plus, there were baby ducks and geese!

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We came home, listened to records, played cribbage, and grilled buffalo burgers and corn on the cob for dinner. Spent quite a while chatting with our neighbor, Cici. She is super friendly (like everybody in the Midwest), and I can see us hanging out with her and Tyler, her boyfriend, in the future. Funny, we spent four years in our last apartment and never got to know any of our neighbors.

Today is going to be really hot – they’re forecasting 100 degrees – so we got up early, took a nice, long walk around Canyon Lake Park, and are planning on holing up the rest of the day, enjoying our A/C and watching movies.

Enjoy your weekend!

I Don’t Give a Damn for the Same Old Played Out Scenes

I’m sitting in our apartment on a rainy, cool Saturday afternoon in Rapid City, listening to records and enjoying a Fernson tart ale. Our friend Heidi commented that it’s funny we had to move to South Dakota in order to experience rain. No kidding! It’s been a very wet month here, with over 6.00″ of rain in June, about triple the monthly average. Hell, that’s an impressive total even by Portland standards in the middle of winter. No wonder it’s so ridiculously green!

The cool weather is a relief after a couple of hot days, though. We were also working our asses off, which didn’t help matters. After four nonstop days of physical activity, we were more than ready for a break, so we declared Friday a day to play.

Our first stop was Harriet & Oak, the coffee shop in downtown Rapid City that we first visited on our trip last October. We grabbed a table and ordered delicious coffee drinks and breakfast burritos. I am planning to spend a lot of time at Harriet & Oak, starting on Monday; they’ve got wi-fi and a nice little upstairs lounge with comfy couches and cozy tables, so I intend to take advantage and work from there at least once a week, as I do not yet have a desk or home office set up. It’ll be the perfect distraction-free “office” space for me!

Stop #2 was Prairie Berry Winery, about a 30-minute drive away in Hill City. We fell in love with their South Dakota fruit wines in October and have been ordering their wine by the case and having it shipped to us for the past eight months. It’s great to be able to go straight to the source now and buy whatever we want without worrying about paying for shipping. We even signed up for their wine club! We get four bottles hand selected by the vintner every quarter, and in return, a 20 percent discount on all purchases and access to members-only events. My parents will be proud! I feel like such an adult now.

We were most excited to visit the Badlands, and that was our next stop. Tara had never been and while I have gone too many times to count, it’s just about my favorite place on earth. Originally we were planning on staying until sunset so we didn’t head out until noon. It’s about an hour’s drive east down Interstate 90, thanks in large part to the 80-mph speed limit. We decided to stop in at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site first; this didn’t exist when I lived here last because, well, we were actually at the height of the Cold War, and some 1,000 nuclear warheads were hidden in underground silos beneath the Great Plains. We really enjoyed the visitor’s center and learned that they offer tours of an actual silo, but you have to make reservations in advance. Next time for sure!

The next four hours were spent exploring the Badlands. Words cannot describe the beauty and splendor of this majestic place, but pictures always help!

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It’s safe to say that Tara was impressed! (And don’t worry, Tracy – she wasn’t as close to the edge as it appears in this last photo.)

Despite the heat – it was about 85 degrees in the park – we did a lot of walking and hiking amongst the dramatic castle-like rock formations jutting up out of the prairie. Instead of hanging around until sunset as planned, we decided to head back around 5:00, because it had been a long enough day and the weather back home was turning ominous. But not to worry; I shelled out $40 for an annual pass, and have no doubt there will be many more trips to the Badlands in our future.

As we merged onto the freeway, the sky to the west was looking very ominous. We got a weather bulletin that there had been three tornados spotted in the Black Hills and there were reports of softball-sized hail, so we drove on with a mixture of trepidation and, I’ll admit, excitement. I have long been a weather geek and wannabe storm chaser, so I was both apprehensive and thrilled about the approaching storm.

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A few minutes into our drive we pulled over to the side of the road to take a few pics, stepped out of the vehicle…

…and HOLY SHIT. Those prairie winds were blowing so hard (we learned later they were gusting to 70 mph), they tore my baseball cap off and nearly knocked me off my feet. I went chasing after my hat and, luckily, was able to retrieve it before it blew all the way to Nebraska. We wisely decided at that point it was best just to get back into the car and drive home.

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The sky continued to darken, and streaks of lightning split the horizon.

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A few minutes later, the storm was upon us, and it was as though hell unleashed all its fury. Heavy rain started falling and, worse, quarter-size hail began pelting the Mazda. It sounded so loud I was certain it would punch a hole through the windshield at any moment, so we tried to take cover beneath an overpass but found half a dozen other cars already parked there. Fortunately the hail did not last long and we were able to continue on our way. There was rain and lightning the rest of the way to Rapid City, but that was nothing compared to what we had just been through.

The front page of this morning’s Rapid City Journal is devoted to the storm, and shows the damage these severe thunderstorms caused a few vehicles. One couple’s windshield was smashed in, so my fears were not completely unfounded! Man alive, if there was any lingering doubt that the weather here is more dramatic than in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all been erased after yesterday’s storm.

Today, by contrast, was much more relaxing. We hit some garage sales and ran a few errands. Picked up a cheap TV stand and a nice solid wood end table, and made a quick grocery store run to stock up on these fantastic Wisconsin cheese curds we discovered the other day. Tara was worried we wouldn’t be able to find Tillamook cheese in South Dakota, but I figured here in the heartland we’d have access to even better cheese. Sure enough, this stuff is the creamiest, tangiest cheese we’ve ever had. Our Safeway actually does carry Tillamook, but screw that. This stuff is so much better.

We’ve been here almost a week now and are settling in nicely. Rapid City is such a charming and friendly community, I think it’s safe to say we are enamored. Neither of us has any regrets about this move. As physically and mentally demanding as it has been, it was worth the hassle. It feels like we’ve arrived home.

And maybe in a few more days we’ll actually have everything in boxes put away.