Axolotl | April 27, 2022

My ten-year-old has been campaigning pretty hard for an axolotl.  An axolotl, for those of you who aren’t up on your Minecraft animals and/or exotic amphibians, is a carnivorous salamander that lives under water, has frilly external gills, and looks like it’s always smiling.  My ten-year-old is not getting an axolotl.

Ten wants an axolotl because he actually wants a dog – and if not a dog, a cat; and if not a cat, a guinea pig; and if not a guinea pig, a bunny; and if not a bunny, an axolotl.  The thing is, Ten is allergic to pet dander.  Really allergic.  Think, “Oh, just take a Claritin and you’ll be fine sniff sniff,” and multiply that by an at-home nebulizer and a punch card’s-worth of asthma-related trips to the ER.  If you’re up on your dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and bunnies, you’ll know that all of those have fur (and therefore dander)…meaning his chances of getting an axolotl are about 4,000-times more likely than one of those other animals, even if those chances are still zero.

His request for an axolotl also isn’t completely lost in the deep end of the pool because his dad and I have a habit of getting him guilt pets – and nothing makes us feel more guilty than having a kid with a health thing.  Ten’s first pet, for example, was the by-product of his needing tubes in his ears.  If you, an adult, got tubes in your ears it would be achieved in your doctor’s office with some numbing.  When Ten got it done he was three years old, and three-year-olds need to be put under so they don’t wiggle their way into some extra head holes.

If you’ve ever been under anesthesia, you’ll know that you need to sign all sorts of waivers about the dangers of said anesthesia.  As three-year-olds aren’t great at writing their names, it was up to me to fill out forms that read something like, “I understand that this surgery is completely elective and anything that happens as a result is because I suck at parenting.”  Then my little buddy was wheeled back for tubing, gripping tight to his favorite hockey card, which he opted to bring with him instead of a stuffed animal.  He waved that hockey card as he disappeared out of view.

Naturally, I burst into tears.  Kyle got the lucky job of guiding his weeping wife out to the waiting room, where he deposited me in a chair just in time for the nurse to pop her head in and say, “All done!”

Those eight minutes (five minutes for forms + three for the rest) were so traumatizing to me that we left the hospital and went right to the pet store, where we got three guilt goldfish.  We named the fish Randy, Ralphie, and Flick after the movie, A Christmas Story.  Our son, who was completely unphased about his earlier surgery, was equally as disinterested in the fish by Day 2.

Ralphie and Flick made it four months (which is three months and thirty days longer than any other fish in Silverman fishstory).  Randy, on the other hand, was a valued member of our family for seven years.  He lived in Ten’s bedroom, first in a small bowl, then in a mid-sized tank, and then in an aquarium roughly the size of a bathtub.  Despite the fact that Randy and Ten shared nearly equal square footage in that bedroom, they only interacted with each other once – when Randy decided to jump out of his tank, and Ten’s (who was four at the time) gut instinct was to cover him with a pillow.  Everyone, including the pillow, made it through unscathed.

The rest of the time, Randy was Kyle’s fish.  Kyle fed him, cleaned his giant tank, bought him toys, and acquired additional fish friends – all but one of whom met their watery graves at the fins of Randy, who turned out to be a bully.  Kyle also had to find babysitters to care for Randy when we went out of town because fish are a lot of work – like, you know, axolotls.

As much as Ten has promised to take care of any new pets, salamander or otherwise, Kyle and I are unconvinced that we won’t be tweezer-feeding worms to Little Cutie the Axolotl (Ten’s choice for a name) long after the boys have left for college.  We are also considering allergy shots for Ten, so as long as those work we should be able to make it through his adulthood without any guilt animals…but a guilt bike – I mean, the kid does have to get a series of shots – may be in his future.

The photo above is of Kyle with an artist’s representation of an axolotl.

This week’s news has a baby eating a pickle and a special birthday party.  Read on.

(Also, today is my mom’s birthday.  Happy birthday, Mom!)


West Fargo’s Ellis Bonn is now Internet Famous after trying her first pickle. (KVRR)

Or the 31st time, the Dickinson State University Agriculture Club spent a day showing pre-schoolers through third-graders all about ag. (Dickinson Press)

Bismarck’s Marcus Ell had a “one hundred” (on a scale from 1-10) birthday after his mom put out a request on Facebook. (KX Net)

Mersiha Arapovic is Mandan’s first female firefighter. (KFYR TV)

Let’s Be (Official) Pals!

Sign up for the weekly North Dakota Nice email and get a story and the news delivered to your inbox once a week (and never more than that).

Heavily Meditated | April 20, 2022

I don’t want to brag, but I am exceptionally good at worrying.  If there is a real (or assumed) situation, issue, non-issue, or potential future scenario in need of a place to settle in, my brain is always open for business.  It’s fortunate to be riddled with anxiety because it means that I get to wake up in the middle of the night and re-evaluate every word I’ve ever said to another human being, which is an efficient use of time that would normally be wasted by sleeping.

There is an interesting social phenomena called “prevalence-induced concept change,” which states that – in its simplest “I’m-not-a-scientist-don’t-take-my-exact-word-for-it” form – when a person’s actual problems are reduced, they will redefine other non-problems as problems so as to keep the quantity the same.  Or, in other words: if you don’t have anything to worry about, you’ll give you something to worry about.

Which is what happened to me.  I’d finally reached the point (knock on wood, knock knock) where my kids, husband, job, home, hobbies, and nighttime skincare routine were all in a good place.  With nothing to stress over, my brain went on the hunt for something new.  It all came to a head – pun intended – when I found myself having full-blown panic attacks every time my six-year-old told me a kid was no longer his friend (if you’ve never been around a first grader, you should know this happens 1000x times a day).

I decided to take my crazy down a couple of notches through the practice of meditation.  And by “decided,” I mean my best friend told me I needed “Xanax, meditation, or both.”  I opted to start with meditation.

There are many, many forms of meditation.  There’s Guided Meditation, in which a whispery voice tells you what you should be thinking.  There’s Mindful Meditation, in which you are fully present with your own thoughts (yikes).  There’s Metta Meditation, for sending good thoughts to other people; Focused Meditation, for going all in on one of your five senses by staring at a candle or rubbing a rock or whatever; and Mantra Meditation, for those who like to repeat a word (presumably not a swear word) or sound over and over again.  There’s Yoga Meditation, which is what it sounds like; and Movement Meditation, which is Yoga Meditation for people who stink at yoga.  There’s Visualized Meditation, and Zen Meditation, and Chakra Meditation, and Sound Bath Meditation, and Transcendental Meditation, and meditations for basically every type of spirituality under the sun.

The reason why there are so many types of meditation is that the goal is to control your mind instead of it controlling you…and your mind isn’t always a good sport about it.  For example, I fell asleep during my first three tries at Guided Meditation, and I spent the entire session of Yoga Meditation thinking about how I was going to do laundry when it was over. 

What finally worked for me was Breathing Meditation (what it sounds like: breathe in, count one; breathe out, count two; breathe in, count one; etc).  I was physically at my son’s hockey practice but mentally in a work situation that had happened hours before – I figured I could either breathe for three minutes or just leave the building, since I wasn’t there anyway.  Wouldn’t you know it, I calmed down.

While I still do Breathing Meditation, I’ve also started Mantra Meditation because…well, I like it (I use the phrase “Release” because my husband and I like to shout it at one another when we’re overthinking things).  Some people meditate for like an hour at a time; I think I’ve maxed out at thirty seconds.

Anyways, I feel better.  I haven’t entered a new state of conscious being, but at least I’ve stopped wallowing in a sea of anxiety every time I get an unimportant text message.  One day, I’ll realize that none of it is important; or I’ll get a prescription for Xanax.  Maybe both.

The photo above is of what I think I should probably look like when I’m meditating.  Truth be told, I’ve never meditated like this in my life (usually I’m just walking around or living my life; I’m not exactly a crackerjack meditator).  It took me five minutes to get my feet like that.  Those house plants usually live in the kitchen.  Also, I was sitting on a slippery blanket and kept sliding forward.

This week’s news has an amateur meteorologist, a one-day mayor, and a snowmobile taxi service.  Read on.


Mandan’s Ronda Gustafson turned her hairbrush into a microphone and became part of North Dakota’s newest storm team. (KFYR TV)

Watford City third grader Brocktyn Devlin has been elected as the city’s Mayor for a Day. (McKenzie County Farmer)

You may have heard that we got a lot of snow last week.  In Dickinson, Kari and Jeff Maas helped over a dozen essential workers get around town, courtesy of their trust snowmobiles. (KFYR TV)

It’s the anniversary of the Flood of ’97, and in honor of the dramatic rebuilding and revitalization that has occurred over the years, here is a series of photos from when it all happened. (Grand Forks Herald)

Thank you to Voyage Minnesota for featuring North Dakota Nice on their site! (Voyage Minnesota)

Let’s Be (Official) Pals!

Sign up for the weekly North Dakota Nice email and get a story and the news delivered to your inbox once a week (and never more than that).

The Great Scotcheroo Debate of 2022 | April 13, 2022

I had a completely different story lined up for this week, but my friend Corey and I had…let’s call it a “situation”…regarding Scotcheroos and Special K Bars – after which he commented, “I bet this is going to end up on your blog,” and after about the third time he said it I thought, “Yup.”

First, however, we need to discuss the products in question.  Both Scotcheroos and Special K Bars are dessert bars.  Both are made by mixing rice cereal, peanut butter, sugar, butter, and corn syrup, and then spreading that mixture out into a pan and topping it with a layer of chocolate and butterscotch.  Also, both are served in Tupperware between sheets of wax paper (if you ever go to a restaurant and see one on the menu, the chef had better come out with his grandma’s favorite Rubbermade or the whole thing is a lie).  The only difference between Scotcheroos and Special K Bars is the type of cereal; Scotcheroos use Rice Krispies, and Special K Bars use, obviously, Special K.

Speaking of similarities, I want to reiterate that one point: Rice Krispies and Special K are rice cereals.  Special K has 117 calories per serving; Rice Krispies has 126.  Rice Krispies is the #13 most popular cereal in America; Special K is #12.  The major distinguishing feature between the two is the shape: Rice Krispies looks like puffy rice; Special K is puffy flakes.  My guess is that Special K Bars were invented after some mom went to make Scotcheroos and took one look at the empty box of Rice Krispies and the full box of Special K and figured, “Meh, close enough.”

Corey and I attended our ten-year-old sons’ hockey tournament (Just in case you missed that apostrophe, I want to clarify that Corey has a son, and I have a son, and those two completely individual children play on the same hockey team.  I don’t want this story to turn into some weird secret dad thing) this past weekend in Hudson, WI.  On Friday, all of the team’s parents put our completely individual children to bed and then gathered in the hotel breakfast area for a little evening chat.

The breakfast nook at this particular hotel was an acoustical phenomenon, in that the combination of zero soft seating, ample hard countertops, and a pitched ceiling made even the smallest whisper bounce off of every surface and into the ear drums of anyone sitting in the room.  Our team’s parents were sharing the room with another team’s parents, and even though everyone was talking at an appropriate volume, the overall effect was like a race track on No Muffler Day.  As I have the type of excellent hearing that makes my husband say, “You should really go to an audiologist,” I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying.

At some point, one of the moms went to her room and brought back a Tupperware container with a red lid and sheets of wax paper.  She stood in front of the group and said something that sounded to me like, “My mom made either Scotcheroos or Special K Bars if you want one,” and then passed around the Tupperware.

A few years ago, I attended a presentation on nutrition at which my major takeaway was that people over the age of 35 shouldn’t eat past 8:30pm.  The time was 10:15pm when I was handed that Tupperware, and so I felt the best course of action was to just shove the whole bar in my mouth – think Will Ferrell in the movie Elf when he eats the cotton ball – so that my 42-year-old body didn’t know what was happening.  As I maowed down the peanut buttery-chocolately-butterscotchy goodness, a tiny part of my brain thought, “Yum, Rice Krispies.”

Corey was the last person in our group to get the bars.  Despite the fact that I couldn’t comprehend anything he had said prior, the moment he opened his mouth I could hear him clear as a bell.  He said, “Scotcheroos or Special K?”, popped the lid, looked at the contents, said, “Special K,” and then closed it without taking one and handed it back to the owner (who left to return the container to her room).  This was what happened next:

ME: Those were Scotcheroos.

COREY: They were Special K.

ME: They were Scotcheroos.

COREY: They were Special K.

ME: I ate one.  You didn’t.

COREY: I could tell they were Special K.

ME: You could not. (Note: Scotcheroos and Special K both look like peanut butter bars with chocolate on top.)

COREY: I could.

ME, TURNING TO ANOTHER DAD: Were those Scotcheroos or Special K?

DAD 2, QUICKLY, HIS WIFE WOULD BE PROUD: I don’t know.

ME, TURNING TO A FELLOW MOM: Were those Scotcheroos or Special K?

MOM 2, THINKING FOR A MOMENT: I don’t know.

It was at this point that I realized that they might have been Special K Bars.  I mean, the major taste/consistency in both of those bars is peanut butter, and rice cereal is rice cereal.  This became even more apparent when the second dad, who had clearly been let off the hook, felt compelled to jump back in.

DAD 2: Why don’t you ask Kyle?

This is Man Code for, “Your husband is the only person brave enough to tell you you’re wrong.”  It was a safe strategy on his part; except,

ME: Kyle doesn’t know.

This was the truth, as Kyle was born and raised in Canada.  Canadians have their own bars – like Nanaimos, which are made with layered chocolate and custard and cake – and don’t need to bother with variations of Rice Krispie treats (in fact, Kyle has told me he didn’t have a chocolate-topped Rice Krispie bar until he came to the U.S.).  Also, up until 2014, Canadian Special K cereal was shaped like Rice Krispies.  So, like I said, Kyle wouldn’t know.

COREY: They were Special K.

ME: They were Scotcheroos.

At this point, the Tupperware owner came back, and I asked her, “Were those Special K Bars or Scotcheroos?”

AND THE WHOLE ROOM QUIETED DOWN AND SHE SAID,

“Oh, those were Special K.”

That’s the end of the story.  Dad 2 said I should have prepped my witness.  Kyle continued to not have any knowledge of the situation.  I apologized to Corey and he said, “You’re going to tell all of your readers that ‘COREY IS THE WORST’” – which I would never do because if you can’t fight over Scotcheroos and Special K bars and come out at the end as pals then there’s nothing left in humanity.  Plus, I am still really impressed that he could not only identify that they were Special K just on sight, but could also taste enough of a difference between the two cereals to not like one type of bar.

The photo above is of me with either a Scotcheroo or a Special K.  Only Corey and I will know for sure.

This week’s news has a bee camp, a powwow, and Jon Batiste.  Read on.


Dickinson’s Rachel Thompson will be both the only female (she’s 16 years old, by the way) and the only North Dakotan at the SkillsUSA Championships, which is a national high school firefighting competition. (Dickinson Press)

North Dakota’s volunteer Pollinator Habitat Ambassador Team has six members, including Williston’s Katherine Troutman – who is looking to put together a bee camp. (Williston Herald)

North Dakota National Guard Specialists Luis Alvarado and Gracin Clem saved five migrants from drowning in their attempt to swim the Rio Grande. (KX Net)

After a pandemic hold, UND’s is back with the 50th annual Time Out Wacipi, which included a powwow (and if you’ve never attended a powwow, you should mark your calendar to attend next year because they are amazing). (Grand Forks Herald)

Bismarck photographer, Shane Balkowitsch, was asked to take wet plate photos of Jon Batiste in advance of his big Grammy night. (Dickinson Press)

Let’s Be (Official) Pals!

Sign up for the weekly North Dakota Nice email and get a story and the news delivered to your inbox once a week (and never more than that).