Another sunny, blue-sky day. But today it was 25 degrees… practically balmy! Naturally we decided to do some more hiking, this time at Glacier National Park.

Along the way we saw this guy enjoying the sunshine:

I’ve never been to Glacier in the winter. Who travels to northern Montana in January, right? But it’s gorgeous. Everything is blanketed in snow, and there are only like a dozen people in the entire park. The roads were nicely plowed and completely empty.

We stopped several times along Lake McDonald, which was calm and provided some beautiful reflections of the shoreline and distant mountains.

Rocks along the shore had really interesting icicles; we can’t figure out how they form little balls at the bottom like this.

I think that’s Edwards Mountain on the right. (Of course Thom would know all of the mountains by name.)

Hiking was interesting– there was a ton of snow on the ground as well as the trees, so it was like walking through a crazy winter wonderland.

As the sun sank lower, it treated us to an amazing sunset over the lake. Pepper has been working on her photography skills, so here she is taking the shot:

I’d like to think my Canon DSLR does a better job than her cell phone.

It was fun to enjoy another incredible winter day together. Soon we’ll strap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis…

Sun, crystal blue skies, and 20 degrees. Seems like a perfect day for a hike.

After a bit of snow the past few days, today was gloriously sunny. Pepper and I decided to head out for a hike. Initially we considered going up to Jewel Basin, which is well north of us but supposedly breathtaking. But practicality won out and we opted for a nearby hike just a few miles from our house. It’s a trail called Beardance and it winds its way up the foothills of the Mission Mountains, through the Flathead National Forest (the same forest that abuts our backyard).

It was pretty easy going for a little while, and despite the frigid temperature, we were quite comfortable. It’s amazing what some sunlight will do.

However, before long we ran into a bit of a problem. Trees had blown down– clearly during the Thanksgiving hurricane— and many of them were directly on the trail. Hmm.

We ended up doing a bit of bushwhacking to get around the fallen timber. At one point we had to turn back and take a different fork of the trail because there were so many trees in the way we couldn’t find an easy way around them (and didn’t even know where the trail continued from that point). It was a pretty crazy scene.

I was saddened by all these majestic trees on the ground, but Pepper just shrugged. “It’s a big forest.”

Indeed, there are still plenty of trees standing, and we found some beautiful areas.

I managed to do a bit of kameraspielen:

There were some really nice views of Flathead Lake, although they were actually pretty similar to what we see from our house since the trail winds up the same ridge that’s behind us, a few miles away. Still, it was awesome to get out for some hiking in mid-January.

Last week, Pepper and I flew to Arizona. Allegiant Airlines, one of the cheapest budget carriers around, happens to have biweekly direct flights between Kalispell (45 minutes north of us) and Mesa (15 minutes east of Pepper’s sister Jeanele). For around $200 we took a four-day trip on a whim.

At the Mesa airport, you climb on and off the planes on open-air stairs. I can’t help but notice their logo is reminiscent of a firecracker. Am I the only one who thinks a firecracker might not be the best choice for an airline logo?

Firecrackers notwithstanding, the flights were fine and the plane was a newish Airbus 320, not the twenty-seater turboprop I was half-expecting for a fifty-dollar airfare.

I think this is the first time I’ve been in Arizona in January, and it was amazing. Sunny and 60 every day. Now I understand why people “snowbird” there every winter. A number of people I met in Bigfork in September and October vanished to Arizona or southern Utah, and I don’t expect to see them again until at least April. Even though our winter here in Montana has been fairly mild thus far, it’s hard to beat sunny and 60.

Pepper and I went to Jersey Mike’s, which is one of my favorite sandwich shops. There’s only one of them in the entire state of Montana, and they’re not that good I’d drive hundreds of miles. But it was walking distance from Jeanele’s house, so we took a pleasant stroll and had awesome subs.

My brother-in-law David asked if I’d like to head out for some mountain biking. We went with two of my nephews, Kaleb and Luke, and had a great time in the desert. Here’s Kaleb on the trail ahead of me:

The entire landscape was peppered with enormous saguaro cacti. So cool.

Here’s one particular cactus that apparently couldn’t figure out up and down, and ended up getting a bit tangled in itself.

Another prevalent plant is the jumping cholla, which looks sort of like a large fuzzy bush from a distance.

Spoiler: it’s not fuzzy at all.

It has some particularly wicked spines which have microscopic backward-facing needles, so if one impales you or even gets caught in your clothes, it’s incredibly difficult (and painful) to pull back out.

After an hour and a half on the trail, we headed out for some disc golf. I haven’t played disc golf in almost six years, but it was refreshing to know my ultimate skills still come in handy. I easily beat David and Luke, both of whom play pretty often.

In addition, we watched some movies in a home theater, played darts and foosball, I learned a new board game (Splendor), and we spent time just sitting around chatting. It was a good time all around, and given the cheap and convenient travel arrangements, I expect we’ll do it again soon.

I keep telling myself I’m going to start writing again. It’s something I did as a kid and into my college years, but I haven’t written anything for well over twenty years. “What will you do with all that time in retirement?” people ask. Amongst other things, I tell them I’m going to write.

I have a novel in my head. Well, maybe not a full novel, but at least the beginnings of one. And every time I’ve thought I’d start writing it, I found myself sketching out a few more ideas instead of actually building prose. It was a stalling tactic, and I knew it. But Pepper had a good idea the other day: she suggested that instead of writing the whole novel, I start out with smaller goals. “Write a snippet”, she said. “Just a piece of the story.”

Well, today I actually did it. I sat down this morning and hammered out a snippet. It’s one scene from the novel that seems clear in my mind. By the time I finished, I had almost 5,000 words on the page. Not too bad for a first effort.

Over the next weeks and months, I hope to put together some more snippets. And who knows, at some point they might come together into a coherent story…

I used to make New Year’s resolutions.

They were nice bulleted lists, fairly specific, and basically ideas I had at that time for things I thought would be cool over the course of the next year. As the years passed, the number of bullets dropped, the specificity gave way to somewhat vague goals, and the overall theme was more about longer-term visions. After a while, they degraded into one-sentence phrases that might be called “mission statements” to a business: platitudes meant to inspire behavior, but nothing really actionable. And then I just stopped altogether.

So today, as a new year and a new decade appear on the calendar, I find myself thinking again about resolutions. And I decided that I’d rather reflect on the past year, and consider how it might shape the year to come.

2019 was, to say the least, a banner year for our family. We had a lot of major “life events” through the course of twelve months: Kyra returned from her mission, Zaque left on his; I retired from my work at Zing; we took an amazing family trip to Hawai’i; Alex got married; Pepper and I moved a thousand miles to rural Montana. Taken alone, any one of these things is a pretty big deal. But combine them into a single year, and you’ve got a lot going on! Fortunately it’s all good stuff, and now that everyone is settled into missions, marriage, and Montana, I feel like I can take a deep breath and contemplate what comes next.

Retirement’s been interesting, that’s for sure. I’m 47 years old, and if my math is right, I can spend the next 50 years without needing to work at a paying job. Does that mean I will? Not necessarily– I really enjoyed the work I did, and the people on my team, and it’s possible I’ll go back to that in some capacity. For now, though, it’s been nice to not have to worry about checking my email constantly or making sure invoices are getting paid or hiring someone. I’ve been retired for six months now, but the first three were filled with vacations and moving and saying goodbye; the following three were settling into a new place and figuring out all the ways living in a forest is different than living in a city. Finally I’ve come to a point where I don’t have a huge list of house projects, and nothing major to prepare for. So it’s time to actually “start” my retirement, I guess.

And that means finding things to do. Without ultimate games to fill my calendar, I need to figure out a new way to stay in shape. Showshoeing and cross-country skiing are on the list, and I plan to do those in the next month or two. In the summer it’ll be hiking and kayaking. I may get into yoga. And Pepper hints about racquetball.

Then there are hobbies. I feel like I’m making (slow) progress on photography, and plan to spend more time learning to take and process better pictures. That’ll mean getting out for hikes and backpacking, or even just some long drives into the mountains. I have some ideas for web sites and programming work that have been on my mental back burner for years. I’ll carve out some time for them. I plan to read more. And I’ve been saying for years that I want to put pen to paper, so to speak, and rekindle my writing. It’s time to do that.

Finally, there are family and friends to consider. Many people have told us they plan to visit during the summer season. Although it’s often easy to say things like that, when you confront a thousand-mile drive and consider the logistics of a full-time job or a gaggle of kids, that becomes a lot harder. Still, our home is always open and I truly hope we have plenty of visitors throughout the year. Similarly, we plan to travel to see people, and despite the distances, we now have the time to go on leisurely road trips. I’m excited about that.

When the summer comes to a close, it’s our plan to serve a mission together. We’d talked about doing it in 2019, but the craziness of the past year proved to be a bit much. Instead, we elected to settle into a new life and then venture outward again. As of today, our plan is to serve for six months (roughly September to March), come back for a summer or two, and then serve somewhere else for another six. Rinse and repeat. What a great opportunity to experience different places and sacrifice our time to bless the lives of others. I’ve been given so much, and I want to give something back.

That brings me back to the present. Here I am, looking out at the beauty of the forest and the lake outside my house, thinking about how incredibly grateful I am for the chance to experience all this. I spent years planning it, and with a little luck and a whole lot of providence, it actually happened. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. But here I am, and now it’s time to take these next steps.

2020, here I come.

With Kyra visiting, Pepper’s been experimenting with some new hairstyles. Today, she wore tight braids (think cornrows but not quite) and then let her hair down before we went out for a New Year’s dinner. This was the result.

It’s kind of fun, but I told her it would probably look better with longer hair. To my astonishment, she agreed. Maybe this means she’ll grow out her hair? A guy can dream.

For many years, Zaque has refined his artistic skills working with an oft-neglected medium: Silly Putty. One of his recent creations was a replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial:

This week he sent me a picture of a T-Rex wearing a top hat and monocle. Because, why not?

I admit I liked this one better:

The kid’s got talent…

I thought a mushroom brush was the pinnacle of weird but strangely useful things I had never heard of before. But I was wrong, because tonight Pepper bought a banana stand at a thrift store.

I was informed that bananas sitting on the countertop go bad so much more quickly than those hung from a banana stand. In her defense, the thing was a buck twenty-five, so it’s probably okay to let her splurge on something that brings her such joy.

Apparently when you live in Montana, everyone has expectations about things you own. A truck, a chainsaw, and a gun are standard fare around here. We checked one of these off our list when we bought a chainsaw. And today we sort of checked off another when we opened a mystery Christmas gift and discovered a rifle.

After scratching our heads a bit, we realized that our niece Tara had sent us a BB gun as a joke. Something about being “mountain folk” and “scaring off the critters” that roam our property. After a good laugh, we went outside and practiced. I pulled out my old BB pistol from college, which had been in a box for a few decades until I’d needed it for a certain Christmas card.

Even Santa got in on the action:

Kyra and Kaitlyn were crack shots. They nailed a glass bottle and a box of eggnog, respectively. (You can even see the holes if you look closely!)

It was surprising how powerful this little guy was. We were shooting across the courtyard, which is a distance of maybe forty feet, and the BBs were going straight through our targets and landing somewhere in the forest.

Alex took out a root beer can, and posed with his trophy. He either looks like a Sears clothing ad, or some kind of NRA poster boy.

Of course we have no plans to get a “real” gun, and I still love my Honda Civic and don’t want to trade for a truck. I guess we’re not true Montanans just yet.

Three months after he left for his mission, we were able to chat with Zaque. Although missionaries are allowed to call home more frequently than in the past, he told us before he left that he’d likely only call on Christmas and Mother’s Day (the two days missionaries could traditionally call). True to his word, he dialed us up today and we had a great time talking to him. This photo doesn’t do justice to the 75-inch screen he’s on:

We swapped stories and heard about his latest adventures. We opened gifts and enjoyed the ones he’d sent to each of us– all of which he’d squeezed into a box about the size of two decks of cards. And one of the gifts was a deck of cards, so there’s that.

He’s doing a great job in Oklahoma, working hard and having fun. I’m really proud of him.

So, until Mother’s Day, peace out, Elder Schroeder!

In keeping with tradition, this year’s Christmas card was a little different than most. After some thought, Pepper and I decided it was time to change the front to only include the two of us. In addition to celebrating our new empty-nest-erness, the logistics of creating a single photo of all five of us would be a challenge since we’re in three different states. I decided to go with a James Bond theme, and this is what I ended up with:

Personally, I think the shot is great. And the tag line– Christmas… Merry Christmas— combined with the little gun beside “2019” made it seem obvious it’s a play on Bond. Heck, I even used the fonts from Spectre and Goldeneye, although it would take a very distinguishing eye to recognize that. But many people completely missed the joke. A few thought we were about to have a “duel” and walk ten paces. Others thought we’re just gun fanatics showing off our firearms. Hmm.

Anyway, we packaged up 300 of these puppies and sent them to family, old friends, and neighbors. Our list seems to grow longer each year, and it’s always gratifying to get feedback from people about how they love the cards.

In return, we received a healthy number of cards from near and far:

I just saw an article about how physical Christmas cards are actually more meaningful these days, since so many people elect to send greetings via social media or email. So the tradition will continue…

Since this is Kaitlyn’s first time spending Christmas away from her family, we asked if there were some traditions her family enjoyed that she’d like to share with us. After some thought, she told us about their Christmas Eve dinner. They prepare a meal similar to what the Jews might have eaten in Bethlehem: chicken, flatbread, olives, some fruits and cheeses, and wine.

Pepper and Kaitlyn spent much of the afternoon preparing everything. We sat on the floor (on cushions) at a low table, and ate by candlelight. And of course we used our fingers.

It was really cool. I think we’re going to make that a new tradition in our family as well.

Merry Christmas. Remember the reason for the season.

Today’s the day! Pepper and I are going to see the final installment in the Star Wars franchise on opening night. I saw this hilarious “spoiler generator” that pretty much sums up how the plots in the latest movies have been developed:

I looked out the window just now, and saw a cool view of the lake. It’s been snowing all day, and now the lighting really brings out the blue in the distant water. I like how it mixes with the white, green, and brown of the trees.

So I stumbled across this picture. Yes, it’s real.

It led to so many questions, like:

  • Where does your wedding ring go?
  • When you’re fingerprinted for a background check, which one gets skipped?
  • Can you ever really give someone “the middle finger”?
  • If you’re getting a manicure, do they charge 20% more for two extra fingers?
  • Can you type faster?
  • Does it feel weird to hold hands with someone?

And of course the obligatory reference to Count Rugin, who needs to have custom gloves made for himself:

After the Thanksgiving wind storm, we’ve been waiting a little nervously for a couple weeks while that huge tree loomed over our house. Today it was cut down, along with six other trees in the yard that were “compromised” and likely to fall on the house in any future storms.

How do you (safely) cut down hundred-foot-tall trees? Well, it’s a pretty cool process to watch. Travis, the arborist, used a bucket truck to slowly ascend this beast, limbing as he went up.

The bucket truck couldn’t quite reach to the very top of the tree– here it is at full extension. But I guess it was enough, because Travis whacked off the top of the tree.

After that, it was a matter of bucking the tree all the way down. He’d cut a foot-long length of trunk and toss it to the ground, where it would make a satisfying thunk.

With maybe forty feet left, he dropped down to the base and toppled the remaining trunk into our driveway. I was a little disappointed he didn’t yell “Timber!

The limbs and leaves went into an industrial chipper (the yellow machine above), and the logs– which are apparently called rounds in lumber lingo– went into a truck. Per our request, they’ll be donated to organizations around the valley who provide firewood for needy families this winter.

Trees near the house weren’t quite so easy; they had to be climbed. Travis put on some boots with massive steel spikes, a safety harness, and up he went. Again, he’d shave off limbs along the way.

It may not look all that impressive, but he’s probably eighty feet above the ground, and acts like it’s nothing. He wields his chainsaw with one hand, using the other to hang onto the branches and toss them to the ground so they don’t land on the roof.

It was sad to see a couple of the trees in a little grove in our backyard come down. They looked perfectly fine, but in his expert opinion, they were compromised and most likely wouldn’t survive another storm.

Here’s a good shot of Travis as he finishes limbing and starts working on taking down the crown of the tree.

I did some quick math. It took him around half an hour to remove one tree, and the bill for that will be a thousand dollars. That’s $2,000 an hour. Clearly I picked the wrong vocation! Even lawyers don’t charge that much. Then again, lawyers don’t come crashing through your roof during a storm…

Anyway, all’s said and done, and our yard is looking a little more bare. It’s a good thing we still have a gazillion (minus seven) trees in the forest all around us!

Every Halloween, I love buying Brach’s mellocreme pumpkins. For some reason they’re vastly better than “regular old” candy corn. Now here we are, mid-December, and I’ve finally reached the end of my bag of pumpkins. I guess I have to wait another ten months before I can have them again.

Pepper and I have slowly been improving at pool. Heck, we inherited a really nice pool table with the house, so we may as well use it, right? We play normal eight-ball, as well as nine-ball (which I prefer). Despite her repeated statements that she’s not very good, I can’t help but notice that Pepper wins at least half the time.

I took a few pictures (my so-called kameraspielen) of the action.

It’s a fun and easy way to spend ten or twenty minutes together. And we can actually tell we’re improving, which is nice.

Since we gave away most of our furniture prior to our move, we’ve been improvising a bit while we figure out what we’d like. A couple of weeks ago, Pepper and I found a nice dining set down in Missoula, and a (somewhat) matching coffee- and end-table set. We bought them, hoping to have them in time for Thanksgiving, but no such luck. They had to be shipped from Denver and then scheduled for delivery, and showed up the following week. Thus, we had Thanksgiving dinner at our 23-year-old table, sitting on Walmart folding chairs.

But now that the goods have arrived, they look fabulous. We have a nice table and chairs:

A couple of leaves expand the table to comfortably sit ten. We also have a coffee table for the party room:

And another coffee table and some end tables for the lounge:

I like how these tables incorporate some stone, which (sort of) matches the stone floor in the party room. It almost looks like it was intentional…