Last weekend, I was casually shopping around Uptown Minneapolis with a couple friends of mine when Crystina got a call from her brother. Through the one side of the conversation I was hearing, I gathered that he was in South Dakota and needed help of some kind. She got off the phone and explained a story that felt like it could have been the premise of quite the movie plot – her brother had driven two of his friends over 500 miles to Deadwood, South Dakota on a road trip bachelor party, and lost his keys. Since it was late afternoon on Saturday, the soonest he could hope to get a replacement key made was Monday morning. Of course, they had to work on Monday, and they needed to stop in North Dakota to pick up one of the guy’s kids.
It didn’t take much convincing for me to decide that Matthew and I could drive out to the rescue. I’d lived in Minnesota for 6 years, but still hadn’t seen any of Western Minnesota or the Dakotas. And – I admit – I have a low threshold for needing a reason for a road trip. With the help of Crystina, we gained entry into his house and located his spare key. I stopped at home, charged up devices, and Matthew and I set out for what was a bit of a longer journey than I had originally realized. We were headed for Deadwood, which is almost as far as going to Wyoming or Montana from here.
And in this weekend’s episode of Unplanned Roundtrip Adventures, South Dakota (and perhaps Wyoming, Montana, instagr.am/p/OfQhr3uacS/
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 18, 2012
We finally started driving at about 7 PM. It didn’t take long before we were in that part of Minnesota where there aren’t all that many people all too often. I had never been to that part of Minnesota, actually, and thought it was awesome when I saw my very first red-and-white-highway-closing arm used for times when heavy snow forces the state to close the freeway. I’ve been here long enough to know that happened every now and then, but didn’t know there were permanently-installed mechanisms to help enforce the closures. And then, it got dark. Nothing very eventful, just a really gently setting sun. Not very long after that, we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom and some food not far from the border with South Dakota.
Sunset clouds instagr.am/p/OfZJL_OaUO/
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 19, 2012
Since Matthew and I got the Jeep Liberty after his old car caught fire on I-494 (not kidding) we’ve consciously not eaten in it unless it was a non-messy food and we were parked. We decided before we left we would suspend that rule until we got back. Great idea. Matthew got a smoked sausage on a hot dog bun with barbecue sauce, and only ate part of the bun. He was driving, so he handed me the rest to throw out the window “for the birds” – you know – because birds just go CRAZY for barbecue sauce. Well – the bun decided it liked it better inside the Jeep, and came back in the window and wedged itself between the seat and my back, barbecue sauce and all.
Threw a hot dog bun out the window for the birds. It flew back in. Condiments ensued.
— Jason (ツ) (@jayysenn) August 19, 2012
Soon after, I noticed the font was different on the road signs, which was my clue we had crossed the border. We then drove through Soiux Falls, and knew the rest of South Dakota was likely to be a lot less fascinating, especially at night. It did not disappoint. We swapped positions, and I drove into the night with Matthew drifting in and out of sleep. It was so dark that I couldn’t tell what kind of land I was driving through. Since I’d never been to the state, I really had no idea what it was, and it was a little creepy. It could have been rolling hills, mountains, flat prairies, anything, and I was none the wiser. I could see about a foot on each side of the pavement, and there was one car at a time coming the other direction every five or ten minutes. The best comparison I could think of to this kind of driving was a treadmill. The road was definitely moving beneath me, but the rest of the world seemed to be standing still. I then opened the sunroof and was in pure awe and disbelief at the look of the night sky. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere, and I had never seen such a dense view of stars in my life. The night sky is one of the few things I don’t like about living in an urban area, but even growing up in a rural area, this was simply beyond what I had previously comprehended.
After quite a bit of driving, I saw a sign for an exit to a scenic overlook. My hip was hurting, so I thought a stretch could do some good. I pulled in, turned off the car, woke Matthew, and stepped out into the night. Being in such a dark place was even more amazing than just seeing it through the sunroof. It was so dark it almost felt tangible. While Matthew setup his DSLR to try taking a few photos of the stars, I used the LED on my phone to walk around until I found a path leading to a fence. Even shining the light over the fence, I couldn’t see a single thing – the darkness was just too heavy. I know only that I was in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. I made my way back to where Matthew was, and then another amazing first experience happened – wolves. I heard wolves howling from far away in every direction. It was the kind of beautiful thing that comes completely unexpectedly and goose bumps just cover your body.
We finally got to Deadwood just after 5:00 in the morning, and the party trio were still awake, waiting on us. The lady working at the hotel (who seemed to be a receptionist, janitor, and hotelier all in one) called over “the Monkeys” and we were met with some giant appreciative hugs (Monkeys, you ask? They got in trouble the night before for jumping on the beds). We spent a while talking and laughing a little further into the morning, then all caught a nap for a couple hours. After that, our ways parted again. Matthew drove through the day, as we caught side trips into Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, and the Badlands National Park. Later on, driving through the prairie, I noticed a lot of different ways that farmers stack their hay, as it’s that time of year. Yes, that was about the most exciting thing after we left the Badlands.
OH: “You can learn a lot about someone based on how they lay their hay.”
— KATrGEEK (@KATrGEEK) August 20, 2012
I picked up driving at dark again, and got us most of the way home before Matthew finished the trip. We got home at 5:00 in the morning, and successfully made it to work that day, and the whole week after. There’s of course a lot more to the trip than I can describe here (or that you’d have the attention span for) but I really cherish the time spent with Matthew, the awesome things we experienced, and being able to help a friend in need. I can’t wait to join up with the party trio soon to fill each other in on the details of the second half of our trips!
You can find more photos on my Twitter or Instagram.
Bonus: Video of Bison encounter by the party trio on their way toward Deadwood. Enjoy!
I was told by a friend how much I reminded her of her late uncle, the most selfless person she knew. The next morning, someone told me they thing they notice most about me is that I always think of others first. It made me think (for once about myself) and I realized how often people ask me how I’m always so happy, and that the answer lies greatly in my prioritization of others.
So – what is happiness, anyway? I’ve said before that the little things are what matter most. I’ve also told you about BFF Night, one night a week where my best friends gather at my house, I make dinner, and we eat and play games. I had a moment a few nights ago at dinner that reminded me of my idea of true happiness. Matthew and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Kwan’s, run by the cutest couple you could ever possibly meet, hands down (By the way, I had no idea they had a website until I just looked, in case I could link you there. I’m suddenly very excited in a geeky kind of way just to know they’re online). In the corner, there were two middle-aged women eating dinner together. They were the kind of women you’d likely hear about from Garrison Keillor – very Minnesotan, and very full of stories that were hilarious – even if only to them. I couldn’t help but hear nearly every word they said, all the way until they parted ways and left the restaurant. Their conversation wasn’t itself anything worth writing about. They weren’t really that funny. They were just normal-lookin’ and slightly above average. What struck me though was their clear spiritual connection that showed signs of great strength that only comes from being close with someone for a long time. It reminded me of people I have in my life that mean so much to me – and how sometimes we’re pretty much in our own little world where everything is funny and life is good.
I realized what I want in life is to be able to go to a sparsely populated hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant when I’m 54 to meet someone I can laugh and smile with for an hour or two. Someone who’s there to listen to my life and tell me about theirs. I thought about my life right now, and couldn’t help but smile when I saw that I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have met people I believe will still be in my life decades from now, and that I can share those kinds of moments with. Although I live about 1,300 miles away from where I grew up, and just as far from all of my family (and I do miss them dearly every day), I’m surrounded by amazing people who ensure my happiness as much as I do theirs. Why? Because I think of them often. They’re top of mind every time I think of myself – because they’re part of me. That for me is true happiness. Your happiness may come from a different place, but for me, that’s all I need.
How do YOU define happiness?
I recently watched an episode of In the Life on PBS called “Orgullo Latino” (which you can read about here).
While I am not Latino (my family heritage is almost entirely German), the Latino culture plays a huge influential role in my life. My tastes in food, music, and art, among other things, often have as many or more roots in Latino culture than my Southern US upbringing. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good gravy biscuit as much as the next North Carolinian, but pastelón? Mofongo? No contest.
I digress (record scratch).
The episode mentioned the recent Time cover story “Yo Decido.” Seeing it presented by this episode about the unique struggles of the LGBT Latino community spoke to me in a way it hadn’t before when I first saw the article. Before, it had been about the power of the Latino vote in the upcoming presidential election. This context, however, reminded me how important it is that people in Minnesota know what they are voting for with the marriage amendment on the ballot.
Of course I will make my voice known by voting, but that’s only the price of admission. What’s most important is making sure people know who I am, and who my family is. When people don’t have context to know what effect this will have on real people they know, it’s unlikely they’ll find the motivation to vote, or to make the right choice when they do. So I believe my real power is in telling my story. By doing so, I will influence others, and then, truly, Yo Decido.
The last time I wrote, I shared the only fun dream I’ve had since I stopped taking tizanidine. While it was a fun year or so of nightly hallucinogenic-induced REM delusions, my liver said it wasn’t happy and was considering seeing other people. So, we talked it over and he decided to stay if I’d feed him differently. So, we now have a daily diet of baclofen. While so far my migraines are at bay, It’s not keeping all the daily headaches away. I still have times my head hurts so much I can’t see my computer screen at work, and times that my eye muscles ache if I move my eyes in any direction (for those of you who aren’t familiar with my story, I have ophthalmoplegic migraines that paralyze my eye muscles, and once left me cross-eyed for two months [read here]).
Baclofen, like tizanidine, is an anti-spastic, which is a specialized muscle relaxer. While some indications are similar, it’s a much different experience. The immediate difference with tizanidine was like putting glasses on for the first time; the world was suddenly a much clearer and verdant place. Perhaps the difference that stands out the most with the new drug is the side effects. I took a large dosage of tizanidine once every night which put me into a wonderful deep sleep, from which I awoke approximately eight hours later feeling refreshed and ready for anything (I had never felt that way in my life). Baclofen on the other hand I take four times a day, and in the beginning it altered my mood. Maybe a more accurate description would be to compare my chances of not crying at any moment during the first week to the chances a Tiffany lampshade would have in the HOV lane of I-35W at 5:13 PM on a Thursday. I cried watching the news whenever there was a story about someone who died (and that’s a lot). I cried telling my friends about crying. Yes, I even cried watching Star Trek clips on YouTube. I cried for over half an hour after watching the last 5 minutes of Voyager. Janeway said “We did it” with such a surprised tone, and I lost it. Totally lost it. So, I knew I had to find a way to fix it.
Recently, I got one of the early invites to Spotify in the US because apparently I have Klout on Twitter (thanks by the way to all of you who keep me typing away all day and night). I decided Music was the best way to artificially inflate my mood and started building some playlists. I started out with dubstep, which I listen to almost exclusively at work. When I need to focus and drown out the sounds around me, I play Daft Punk, Deadmau5, or Skrillex at full volume through my Altec Lansing earbuds. If you’re looking for affordable earbuds that successfully block out sound, try Altec Lansing. They’re so great, in fact, I had to be physically jolted to remove them in order to discover there was a tornado drill this past severe weather week. But, I digress.
It’s funny how music discovery happens. I added all of Susan Boyle’s music because while I followed the initial meme, I hadn’t followed up to see what she released, and I was curious (I’ve removed most of it now). The nobody-to-somebody story inspired me, and I then added Jackie Evancho. I had no idea I would enjoy arias so much. After consulting with friends and, of course, Wikipedia, I found out some of the most important arias and added them to a playlist. It’s changed and morphed over the past few weeks, and while it’s nowhere near comprehensive, and will never be complete, I’ve been really REALLY stuck on it. Would I have gotten so into this genre if it hadn’t been for the mood changes? Who knows (I don’t)? But I’m certainly enjoying this endeavor.
I also built a large playlist of showtunes, as I am quite the theater buff thanks to my good friend Rick, but I haven’t listened to it much since Mary Poppins made me cry during the second week of the new pills. The crying phase is over now though, and so is the initial drowsiness that was forcing me to take naps in the middle of the day. While I’m still having headaches, I’m working separately on other factors. I bought a Zeo to help me learn to sleep better (I’ll write about that soon) and I’m going to see a physical therapist soon to try getting some help for this neck of mine, which is the source of most of my head troubles.
I’ll let you know more as I continue by journeys (with migraine treatment and musical discoveries). In the meantime, if you have Spotify and are my friend on Facebook, let’s connect (my social profiles are linked at the top of the page)! Much of my music is public, and I’d love to learn from others and build my library.
A while back, I came up with a tagline for my blog that I feel expresses a lot about who I am: Hotdish & Sweet Tea. I’ve received plenty of reactions to this particular wordsmithing, ranging from chuckles to quizzical looks, and many have asked what it means.
I’ll start with sweet tea, as chronologically in my life it came first. I grew up in rural North Carolina. Where I was born, acorns don’t fall far from trees. Most people put down roots right where they are without looking very far beyond the horizon. Days are filled with hard work to make a living, and nights are spent in white wooden swings on wrap-around porches with a book in one hand and sweet tea in the other. Gently swaying forward and backward, you can hear bullfrogs, crickets, and other creatures singing their songs while the stress of the day just seems to melt away into the night. The hottest days end with storms and showers that cool down the Earth so you can sleep. If you’ve got a problem that relaxing into the dusk can’t handle, you’ve always got your neighbors that you’ve probably known your whole life to help talk you through it. Everyone matters, everyone is good at something, and nobody gets left behind.
Hotdish came next, when I moved to Minnesota. The differences here are immense. There are a lot of transients, and the general world view seems much broader. With 3.5 million residents, the Twin Cities is the nation’s 16th-largest metropolitan area. The majority of Minnesota, however, is rural. When the Winter hits, the way Minnesotans outside the metropolitan areas survive is based on the community. People make sure others are taken care of and not left cold or stranded. There’s no better way to warm up in the bitter cold of a Minnesota Winter than with a heaping portion of whatever hotdish someone has cooked up. It stays warm for a long time, and has no problem filling you up with its generous starch and meat. Originally used by farm wives to feed large families and church congregations, it remains a staple year-round at church gatherings, family reunions, and potlucks. No matter how easy most hotdishes are to make, you can always feel the love in every bite.
So what do you get when you add both together? Well, you get to indulge yourself while sharing with others. You find a mix of Southern Hospitality and Minnesota Nice. You remember both to work hard and to relax. You know that others around you need your love and support as much as you need theirs. Each bite of hotdish will make you feel at home in a place that adopted you, and no matter how far away you are from the place of your birth, one sip of sweet tea makes sure you never forget putting others first always seems to work out right.
In the literal sense of them both, hotdish and sweet tea really do go well together. If you don’t believe it, just come see me. I’ll make you some of both and chat until the dusk turns to dawn.