Thursday, September 14, 2017

Things I've Learned This Week

1. When you come across a bison in the woods, it is every bit as unnerving as you'd expect.

2. I moved many things that I should have thrown away. On the other hand, my donation pile is only getting bigger.

3. Like many, I've been thinking back on 9/11 and where I was that day (early morning band practice), which led to a strange trip through the things I do and do not specifically remember. I remember the Gulf War, although not when it started (I was in first grade). The explosion of Columbia was a huge deal, as I was in class at an engineering university. (We watched the coverage all day in the dorm common room.) Bin Laden's death (while I was packing for my summer).

But what I've realized this week is how many people -- kids, in my book -- I know that have no memories of any of these things. Kids who worked for me were born after 9/11 or Columbia. Kids who have memories of those don't remember Columbine -- and more to the point, no memory of what school was like before that.

It's wild.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


"This wasn't how this year was supposed to go."

I don't know exactly how many times I've said that in recent history, but do me a favor. Keep going and read that sentence again with my intended tone. It's not a whine -- it's a slightly bewildered but hopeful phrase, as though what became reality might actually be an improvement on what was expected.

"This wasn't how this year was supposed to go."

I've had a lot of catch-up conversations in recent history that have started with, "So have you moved yet?" Each time I get to back up in the year and fill whoever it is in on exactly how the last few months have progressed, and each time I'm a little more baffled. Yes, I'm still on hold (as far as I know). Yes, I'm looking for other jobs in the meantime. No, my patience isn't infinite.

No, I don't actually mind staying in Rapid City. In fact, the summer has been quite fun.

This wasn't how this year was supposed to go -- I was supposed to have moved to a new city in a new state and started a new job by now. I was supposed to be spending my 9-5 hours at a desk and my other hours finding a social life. I was supposed to be trying to find weekends to come up to Rapid and visit while Mia Sorella and Jay were here, and balancing a new gig with time off to make it to a big family wedding.

"Supposed to."

Instead, I've been finding myself curiously afloat -- living in a basement, sure, but picking up odd jobs here and there and getting creatively frugal at times. I've been cooking and baking with increased frequency. And I haven't had to miss anything -- a camping trip with my brother, an entire month with my sister, a family wedding that turned into an extended weekend. Oh, and the eclipse.

While it took some time to get to the point of peace (April was a rough month) and I'm not a big fan of The Great Unknown that I've been perpetually peering into, it has managed to be a pretty good year. Even better, I've been able to find some new structure.

Now, I'll spend a day each week surfing job sites and filling out applications. A couple days working through classes on Coursera. At least one day hiking (usually). Here and there, a day or two with one of those odd jobs. And there are evenings for dinner and beverages, concerts and random road trips.

So yes. It's not been what I expected.

Not even a little.

And yes, I find myself speculating about what it could have been.

But for the moment? I don't think I'd trade it.

That's about the best I could hope for, I think.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Ms. Fix-It

This is a broken car door handle.

It's been a thorn in my side for a few years now. Why? Well, at one point I would have said it was too expensive to fix and therefore it was very low priority.

Recently, however, I needed to replace my front brakes. Let's talk about things that are too expensive.


This time, though, I realized I had the time to take care of it myself, and after a fair bit of research (that is, watching videos on YouTube) I realized I could probably do my brakes myself. A few parts, a couple hours, and voila -- brakes!

Which is what brings me here today.

You see, I'm not really a DIY person (whether that was car stuff or other stuff) and there are a lot of things out there that I used to only purchase. Over time, however, I've realized how much of it I can take care of myself in a shorter time for a lot less money, whether it's fixing something or making something from scratch.

I'll admit, I have an unfair advantage: I am unintimidated by mechanical things and I have no fear of pushing buttons. This isn't knowledge of mechanical things, mind you -- it's just a lack of fear. It's not true for everyone. As I start walking through my usual process, you might not get past step two and that is just fine. But if you can keep going, it's strangely rewarding to know that you took care of it yourself.

So here we go.

Step One: Identify the problem/task.

With any luck, this is easy. ("My door handle is clearly broken" or "I need new brake pads" or "I want a coffee table.") If the problem is unidentifiable, take it to a professional -- this is where "random clunking noises" or "something is on fire" often falls.

Step Two: Do some research.

Seriously, everything is on YouTube. If something on your car has broken, someone else has already dealt with it. If you've decided you want fancy rock work done in your bathroom, someone has instructions out there on how to put that up. It's all there.

Read whatever tutorials and watch whatever videos you find from start to finish. You'll know if you can deal with it or if you want to invest the time. If you can, proceed to the next step.

Step Three: Make sure you have the parts and tools needed.

Sounds self-explanatory, right? Don't skip this step.

Step Four: Block out the time.

And for crying out loud, be realistic. Whatever instructions you found, make sure you at least double the expected time frame. Triple it if you haven't done anything like this before.

Step Five: Take a deep breath and get moving.

It's not that scary.

Step Six: Acknowledge that sometimes it IS that scary.

Okay, fine.

Step Seven: Stay organized.

Take notes, keep track of parts, and take pictures along the way if it helps. I've labeled things with sticky notes as I've gone along if there were enough parts. I'll take before and during pictures as reference points so I don't cross wires when I put stuff back together. That kind of thing.

I mean, it's a long standing joke, but you won't like the panic when you get done and have a new "spare" part sitting there, mocking you.

Step Eight: Realize that the step in the process that you thought was going to be the shortest and easiest one is the longest one.

Seriously, removing door panels was a lot more muscle work than I expected.

Step Nine: Don't be afraid to call for reinforcements if things get wonky.

No, really.

Step Ten: Keep going.

This is more important when you're making something new. Do yourself a favor and don't leave a project half-finished for six months. The guilt is ridiculous. (In related news, I still have some random wood that's supposed to be a bench.)

Step Eleven: Abruptly realize you're done and that wasn't so bad.

I like this step.

I don't think I mentioned that both door handles were broken. Seriously, I should have done this years ago.

Step Twelve: Bask in the moment when you get to toss an old bad part.

Step Thirteen: Take a moment to reflect and add up your own costs.

Was it worth it? Did you save money? Was your time well-spent? Did you learn something new? Was it, "I hate cars and never want to do this again?"

The fun part is ... this can apply to a lot of things. This has been my process for everything from that brake work to sewing a dress to properly cooking a turkey to making my own cleaning solutions. There have been times where I've gotten done and realized it wasn't worth the effort -- so I never did it again. And there have been multiple projects where step eight bit me and I got stuck there.

But hey, I've learned something every time.

Especially today ... when I could hit the lock button on my keys and it actually worked. Wonderful.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Three weeks ago, I sent a text off to the Machine. "Want to go watch the eclipse with me?"

His answer was immediate and straightforward: "Yes."

Being me, this wasn't the first time I'd thought about it. I'd been half-planning for months what I might do for The Day, based on where I thought I might be living at that point. As far as I could tell, I'd be close to the path of totality no matter what -- the question was more about how much free time I might have.

As it turned out, I didn't have to worry about the time. Even better, as Monday neared, my crowd grew.

First was the Machine. Then, Ashli realized she was starting work here on the 22nd. Finally, I met Mikah Meyer, a record-setting traveler who happened to be in the area with no firm eclipse plans as of nine days ago.

The team now assembled, we started debating our options.

Rapid City happened to lie two to three hours from the path of totality, with many options for where you might choose to land. Heck, the town itself was at 95%, which wasn't so bad, either. So we discussed ... Nebraska made the most sense. The Badlands would provide excellent photos. Wyoming was a pretty okay option.

That is, until Saturday night. With storms or clouds forecast for much of the area we'd considered, we realized Lusk, Wyoming, was our best bet.

And so it was that we assembled in a parking lot on Monday morning and headed southwest.

We were ... not alone in this decision.

This road has never seen this many cars at once.

Traffic was slow at times but kept moving, and we reached our destination a little after 10AM. Lusk was busy but didn't seem swamped -- we shared a field on the south side of town with only about twenty people. 

We pulled out food, settled in ... and waited.

We didn't have to wait long for things to start.

We started to notice things after 11. It was almost smoky outside, the strange effect of the sun setting above us instead of on the horizon. Things took on a green haze, then a blueish one. The temperature noticeably dropped.

And around 11:48, we hit totality.

I still don't fully have the words. It was incredible. It was two surreal minutes in an ocean of time as the world went dark and all the birds in the area abruptly decided to fly south. We had 360 degrees of sunset and a strange chill.

And after all too brief a time, it was over.

There are so many other descriptions out there that are so much better, but I can still say -- easily -- that this was one of those experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I understand why people hundreds of years ago would have thought the world was ending. I [mostly] understand why there are eclipse chasers.

And it's possible I looked at the map for the 2024 eclipse and thought, "Maybe I could make that work."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Planning For the Eclipse

All right, folks. I'm very curious.

Who among my friends has eclipse plans?

And what are they?

This falls into the category of "things I should have been planning for awhile ago but I'm just now getting to it since it appears I'll have the free time," and while my eclipse experience may be a little ... we'll say spontaneous, I know many of you have official plans. Parking spots reserved. Lunches you plan on packing. Heck, a few of you don't need to make plans because you live in that totality path.
So I'm curious. Are you making any special plans for August 21st?

For those of you who want to learn more, check out NASA's official page (and laugh with me a bit over their website, which seems not quite as state-of-the-art as I would expect). Here you can find maps and times, places to find eclipse glasses, and great ways to explain the science of the event to your favorite non-nerd.

Now, to figure out where I'm going ... I'm so close to the totality path...

Friday, August 4, 2017

July In Review

July was a month of people.

Actually, it was so much more than that, but trying to narrow it down to a few events has proven fruitless. Bear with me. There are a lot of things to summarize.

It started with a trip to Minneapolis. Some sightseeing, food and beverages while visiting the Admiral, then a big family wedding...

Wedding survivors!

And then Mia Sorella and Jay turned up.

They had a month of in-between-ness and turned up in Rapid. Which among other things meant a lot of cat pictures.

And some enjoyment of Rapid City's downtown.

And all of the food.

Then Shorty joined us for some Pokemon.

There was boating, biking, and hiking to be had as well.

The sand mines by Deerfield.

The Strato Bowl from a new angle.

Then, just for fun, I had a mess of other friends turn up. All on the same weekend, too.

The weird part about this is that I don't have any pictures of you, Ashli. What happened there?

Finally, there was also a family reunion.

Heck, that wasn't even all of it. I've got so many pictures of meals and wine, of short hikes and open fields, blurry pictures of the Badlands going by, and even more goofy selfies. There was the fire on the 4th, the long drives, and nights spent talking until the wee hours of the morning.

It was a full and complete month, in other words.

And I'm still a little amazed that everything fit in 31 days...

Thursday, July 20, 2017


This is the most beautiful place on earth.

There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary...

- Opening lines of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Every place you visit sticks with you in some way. Sometimes it's a specific thing -- the fo Sometimes it's negative (I have no need to return to Beijing) and sometimes it lingers (twelve years later, I'm still thinking about Saint Petersburg).
od, the people, an experience, a building.

And sometimes, you find yourself browsing the job listings, looking for a reason to stay.

I first stopped in Moab on my way back from Oregon. As it turned out, two nights in the desert were perfect for a body and soul to recover from a week and a half on the road. Sadly, my second stop was two full years later, a mere pit stop between the Grand Canyon and Denver for lunch and a stretch.

They were only tasters, but I knew I wanted to return.

Bear with me, now. I've been struggling to write this piece for the last month because quite frankly, I don't know how to convey exactly how awesome the trip was.

I suppose I'll start from the beginning.

In the middle of May, my brother called. He had a road trip in mind immediately following his graduation in Denver and he wondered if I wanted to go along. "I'm headed to Moab."

Now, we'd talked about doing this for years. As I am perpetually in flux right now, I said sure, provided something crucial didn't come up. Heck, I was even going to be in Denver for that graduation.

Lo and behold, June arrived and I found myself prepping for a return to the desert.

The trip to Denver was a story in itself; there were three carloads coming from the general Hills region, but none of those would return with the same occupants. My parents and I left at midnight, a mere ten hours before Shorty's graduation. After a long, dark drive, a surprisingly entertaining and interesting ceremony, some family time, and then some much needed sleep, Shorty and I packed up a car and aimed west.

Moab has a population of around 5,000 (depending on my source, it seems) and sits along the Colorado River at a convenient break in the banks. It grew up as a trail and river crossing in the middle of the desert, then as a uranium mining town. Eventually, the mining moved on to potash (potassium salts) and two national parks were established -- Moab is the nearest town to both the hugely popular Arches National Park and the quiet and lovely Canyonlands National Park. Now, Moab draws a large portion of its revenue from the tourists, mountain bikers, hikers, and truckers that pass through.

This was a trip that would require liberal application of the two big travel rules.

Rule One: Take your time.
Rule Two: Talk to strangers.

We arrived late on a Friday, the heat of the day finally starting to dissipate while we searched for a campsite. As popular as the area is for outdoorsy types of many persuasions, we weren't exactly surprised when that search took a bit longer than we would have liked. There are numerous BLM campgrounds along the Colorado River; everything east of town was filled. We threw around ideas that would have put us out in the open for the hundred-degree days, but in the end our patience paid off -- we found a half-full campground southwest of town (where I'd camped before) and claimed a site that was fully in the shade by 6PM and partially blocked from the wind.

Next, dinner. Moab Brewery is a go-to for both of us, and we headed directly there. From that, it was a search for water (provided by an obliging city park) and we crashed for the night.

That first morning, Shorty headed for his mountain bike trails (because he's nuts) and I aimed for town. My first stop was the tourist center at the main crossroads because there were many things I didn't know and several maps I wanted to have in my possession. By the time I left, I'd made use of their wifi, met a native South Dakotan who happened to run the place (we can always find each other), learned where to hike and where to find water, and picked up a whole stack of maps from the silly to the serious.

After this, it was time to explore.

The city has a great network of bike paths that allow you to get around on two wheels pretty efficiently. While they get used by plenty of visitors, they're also commuter paths for the locals; I spent the better part of two days using these with my (new to me) bike without ever having to hurdle anything or worry about cars. It also gave me access to things I'd missed before -- city parks I had no idea existed (including one right on the river with a bouldering playground), fun views, Milt's.

The bike path gave me opportunities to ask more questions, too. I learned about Moab Cyclery, where they have a shower that you can use for $5 that doesn't come with a time limit. I learned that the wind we were experiencing wasn't entirely normal. I learned more shortcuts through town and where the locals go to stay cool.

The next three days flew. There was more biking, some exploration of Canyonlands, and so many more conversations.

There are stories about the swimming hole...

And this time, there was a real feeling of settling in. We changed campsites and moved to the Sand Flats Recreation Area, but we allowed ourselves to indulge in the town itself ... and like so many places, it only got better and better. By the end, it wasn't just the parks and trails that had me. It was the people, the attitude, the pace -- which was perhaps why I found myself browsing the help wanted ads as I drank my coffee on the last full day.

Oy. I'm not doing it justice. The full truth is that Moab could be multiple posts all its own, whether I'm talking about my enjoyment of National Parks or the fun camping innovations we discovered or my lessons in nighttime photos with my phone.

And of course, the specific trails and the things I need to go back and try. (No skydiving yet. Next time...)

More than anything, this was an oasis at an oasis -- the city in the desert, and a vacation in the midst of a lot of upheaval. It was a week of head-clearing heat and removal from the things that kept reminding me of what I didn't have.

And nothing beats a few nights in a tent to remind you of what you do have.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Things I Learned...

... By Throwing Out My Back

1. Problems build up over time. Spraining an ankle and limping funny for awhile, moving many stacks of boxes and furniture, uneven volumes of physical exercise -- all of it can come back and bite you when you dodge pets chasing each other while you're bent over funny trying to find something.

Sick days as an adult!
2. In related news, these are the times old injuries will haunt you.

3. Injuring yourself in a house full of people is much better than injuring yourself while alone. More embarrassing, but better.

4. I am very whiny when I'm abruptly helpless.

5. My family is a group of remarkably patient humans.

6. I like chiropractors.

7. Biofreeze is weird stuff.

8. Getting stuck holding still for a day or two isn't the worst fate, but I'm going to be relieved when it's over.

9. I can't imagine how people deal with this kind of thing on a regular or constant basis. It hurts too damn much for sanity.