Study in blue

The Lake was looking particularly blue this evening…

Howdy, neighbors

Coming home from town today, I was just about to turn into our driveway when a mama black bear sauntered across the road right in front of my car. Her three little cubs followed.

My photo is terrible because I had to grab my phone and shoot through the windshield, so I only caught the last two cubs before they disappeared into the trees.

They were all headed uphill toward the national forest (and my house!) but I didn’t see them again when I pulled up to the garage. I told Pepper about them; she just shrugged. “They’re only black bears.” Yeah, I guess it’s the grizzlies we need to worry about.

To the stars, horribly

Pepper and I went to see Ad Astra last night. That’s Latin for “to the stars”, and the plot synopsis sounds really cool:

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.

Wow, the survival of our planet! The nature of human existence! And our place in the cosmos! That seems really interesting and, dare I say, epic.

But, alas, the movie was awful. It was boring, plodding, didn’t uncover any secrets, and ended on a slightly positive but completely nonsensical note. If I had to rewrite the synopsis, it might sound something like this (warning, spoilers):

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to talk some sense into his insane, murderous father. His journey will involve sabotage, killing innocent people, crazy baboons, and eventually a pointless conversation with his long-lost dad, who promptly commits suicide.

What a waste of two hours and fifteen bucks. I think even Brad Pitt is still looking around to see if he can find something meaningful in this movie.

LEDs FTW

One thing I’ve been working on at the new house is replacing all of the old incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. It feels like a herculean task because there are so many lights here… the party room alone has 42 floods! But I love the satisfaction of removing these gigantic heavy bulbs and replacing them with smaller, lighter, far more energy-efficient ones:

The old one on the left draws 90 watts of power. The new LED one on the right gives off just as much light for 8.5 watts. That’s an order of magnitude less power. Multiply by 42, and our parties won’t break the bank on the electric bill any more!

Of course, there’s an up-front cost as I buy a couple hundred LED bulbs, but theoretically they should last the entire time we live here (and then some), so I won’t have to change another bulb, ever. Definitely worth it.

Cosmo and Pepper

When I sit back and reflect on this whole move to Montana, I can’t help but realize everything about it is crazy. We didn’t really have a compelling reason to move at all. We left behind friends, a place we loved, activities we loved, a nice house, and basically our entire lives. Not only that, we moved to a remote area, miles from a town and thousands of miles from family. We bought a house that’s far too big for the two of us (everyone assumes we “downsized” now that we don’t have kids living with us). And along the way we bought a car, a pair of jet skis, and gave away almost all of our furniture. Oh, and I quit my job.

Crazy.

I figure it’s a weird mid-life crisis or something. At least, as Laralee pointed out, I didn’t leave her for a younger woman. Or buy a super-expensive sports car. In fact, as far as mid-life crises go, it’s been a darn good time. She and I are going through all this craziness together, and she’s arguably doing the majority of the planning for it.

As long as we’re hitting the big red “reset” button on our lives, we decided to assume new identities along the way. Now that we’re in Montana, we’re no longer Jeff and Laralee. We’re Cosmo and Pepper.

Yeah.

It all came about a few weeks ago, when she and I were sitting on the couch in our family room (the couch is the only piece of furniture we actually kept, unless you count a piano as furniture). Most of our house was packed up, so we didn’t have much to do as we waited for Moving Day. She turned to me and said, “What if we come up with new names for ourselves in Montana?” I was a little taken aback, but it sounded like a fun idea. Perhaps more surprisingly, it was an idea coming from her. Most of the time I’m the one who thinks up the strange things we say or do. So I nodded, and she followed up with, “I think I’ll be Pepper. What will your name be?”

I wasn’t really ready for that, so I thought on it and eventually came up with Cosmo. We laughed about it, not sure how serious we were, but I think both of us were toying with it in our minds, wondering if we could pull it off. I mean, those are some fairly weird names, and unlike pretty much every nickname in the world, there’s not a story behind them or a long history or some reason we can say “Oh yeah, everyone calls me Cosmo.”

Fast forward a few weeks, and we arrived in Montana. The first time we’d meet people in the area would be at church, the day after we moved into the house. As we were driving to church that Sunday morning, I asked “Are you sure we’re doing this? Because once we introduce ourselves, we’re committed.” She agreed, and we walked in the doors and officially became Cosmo and Pepper. Sure enough, we introduced ourselves that way and a few people raised an eyebrow, but we went with it. When I called contractors to come to the house for some projects, or set up an order at Home Depot, I was Cosmo. And so on.

So here we are. We’re committed. Thom asked how “serious” we were, like whether we’d use those names on our bank accounts or legal documents. Nope, these are just nicknames. For financial and legal and “official” stuff, we’ll still be Jeff and Laralee because we’re not going to actually change our names. But to everyone else, I just smile and say “Oh yeah, everyone calls me Cosmo.”

House projects

With some help and advice from Thom last week, I made progress on a few house projects. I’ve learned that I’m pretty much an idiot when it comes to electrical wiring. After two failed attempts to wire a sensor switch, I finally gave up and walked away.

Of course that leaves things like this…

Ahh, there’s nothing like some live wires hanging out of the wall where a switch used to be…

Mistriss of the chainsaw

We were considering how to handle the fallen trees laying across our yard and against our house. Thom and Katie grabbed our little electric chainsaw and went to work trimming branches off the one against the house. After a bit of work and some planning, we were able to get it off the house with only minor additional damage to the gutters.

During the ordeal, La was thinking “Hey, that’s my chainsaw… I’d like to give it a go.” So afterward, she grabbed it and started hacking at one of the fallen trees in the front yard.

She made short work of the smaller branches, and then managed to cut the trunk into a series of chunks. Now we have a nice stack of firewood!

Throughout all of this, we realized that since we literally live in a forest, we should probably get a serious chainsaw instead of this little limb-trimmer. Now we’re shopping for something bigger…

Sluggo

I found this guy sitting on a mushroom in our yard. That’s gotta be the biggest slug I’ve ever seen.

Adult kids

It’s fun to have kids. And in some ways it’s even more fun to have adult kids. We had a great time seeing Alex, Kyra, and Kaitlyn last week.

Water like glass

The last time (well, the first time) we took our jet skis on the lake, the water was pretty choppy. We couldn’t really open up the throttle because we were banging against the waves every ten feet or so. But today I noticed the water was really smooth. Some parts farther out were so calm they looked like glass.

As the sun set, it was gorgeous.

It’s still hard to believe this is the view from my front porch. Pretty awesome.

It’s supposed to be fall

Welcome to Montana, where it’s September and the temperature is 30 and it’s snowing like crazy…

“It’s never like this!” say people we ask. “Normally we have a beautiful fall that lasts until the end of October!” Hmm. I’m not convinced.

Then again, when I moved to Colorado in 1995, I remember that on the first day of fall we got almost a foot of snow. I actually have a grainy photo of that fateful night:

So I’ll hope it really is a freak occurrence, and that fall will come back soon.

Timberrrrrr

We spent a few days in Idaho for La’s mom’s funeral. The weather forecast for the weekend called for unseasonably cold weather and snow throughout northwest Montana and parts of Idaho. There were also high-wind warnings for our particular area of the Flathead Valley. La commented that she hoped nothing happened to any of our trees, and I shrugged it off. Those trees have been standing for decades, right?

Well, when we came home we found our driveway completely blocked by one of those decades-old trees.

We climbed out of the car and went up to the house, where we discovered two other trees down. One of them clobbered the east side of the house:

Apparently the winds exceeded 60mph in areas… there were many of them laying across power lines along the highway, and despite my confidence in our trees, it was kind of shocking to lose three of them.

Unfortunately we know exactly two people in Montana: Mario and Mike. Mario took care of mowing our yard during the summer, and Mike handled our sprinkler system. Not knowing quite what to do, I called Mario and explained we had a tree blocking our driveway. He was out of town, but assured me he’d call some guys and they’d take care of it. Sure enough, within the hour two men showed up with chainsaws and a front loader.

They made quick work of the tree, clearing a path for us. Now we have to deal with the clean-up and figure out how to get these monsters out of the yard…

Jet skis!

Ever since we decided to live near a lake, Laralee and I have been talking about buying some jet skis. We’re excited to have kayaks, and eventually some paddleboards, but neither of those compare with the fun of zipping across the lake on a water-propelled rocket.

I’d looked on Craigslist a few times over the spring and summer months, but didn’t find any for sale that I liked. I also looked into dealerships up in Montana, hoping to find an end-of-summer deal, but struck out there as well. Just a few days before our big move, though, I found a listing in the Denver Craiglist for exactly the models I’d been hoping to buy. They were in good shape, had been upgraded a bit, and came with a sweet trailer.

Although we had a busy week (loading, driving, unloading, and sending Zaque on his mission), we decided to take a look anyway. After some discussion and negotiating, they were ours!

La modeled on one of them, although it’s not quite the same when it’s parked in your garage:

She towed them all the way to Montana, behind my big moving truck, and then we watched the weather. It was cold and rainy on our first few days, but today dawned clear and sunny. The forecast called for 60 degrees, and of course the water is around 55 degrees, but with wetsuits that would be enough.

We drove down to Yellow Bay, the nearest put-in point, and maneuvered the trailer into the water. It’s a good thing it’s late in the season, because no one was around to see us botch a few attempts before finally getting everything lined up so the jet skis were in the water. Then we cranked them up and headed out on the water.

La’s is actually a little “better” than mine because it has the Trixx sport package and a few other nice add-ons, but they’re both a ton of fun. It was a bit breezy, so there were waves, and we couldn’t go much above 30mph. At that speed, though, we were literally wave-hopping and catching some air as we cruised around.

Our wetsuits kept us completely comfortable. It was a beautiful day to be on the water.

We were leaving for Idaho the next day, so we had to pack them up and cover them against the impending snowstorm. Hopefully we’re not finished for the season, though…

Old haunts, new haunts

For our last meal in Longmont, Laralee and I celebrated with a lunch at Nicolo’s Pizza.

They’ve been in business for about fifteen of the seventeen years we’ve lived in Longmont. Since they’re only a block away from us (an easy walk) and they have amazing pizza, we’ve been frequent diners there. Their pizza is probably the second-best I’ve ever had (behind Alex’s Pizza in Rolla).

Over the years we’ve come to know the owners, Jean and Kent, as well as their kids Jason and Eric (who now run a separate brewpub in town). We had a great farewell conversation with Jean before heading out.

Once we arrived in Montana, we stopped for lunch at the Lakeview Bar and Grill in Polson. We’d been here back in March when we were first scouting the area, and they have great food. Laralee asked to take my picture as we were leaving:

Our waitress, who we remembered from March, asked if we wanted her to take a picture with both of us. We didn’t, but we introduced ourselves. Her name is Laura, and she welcomed us to the area.

That evening we went to the Old Bridge Pub in Bigfork, where we’d also dined back in March. They have great pizza (not quite as great as Nicolo’s, though).

Since Bigfork is a small town, we decided we’ll visit all of the restaurants in it. It’ll take a little time, but I’m excited to find some new haunts.

The move

After months of planning, and weeks of tough goodbyes, we did it. We moved. We dropped Zaque off at the airport, picked up our truck at U-Haul, and started loading. It took all day, and finally we crammed everything we own into a twenty-foot truck. It was good to get help from a gaggle of friends who stopped by in the evening to load the few remaining pieces of furniture and then toss all the random stuff on top. There was another round of goodbyes, and we went to sleep on the floor of our now-empty house.

Driving a twenty-foot truck, towing my car on a fifteen-foot trailer, was pretty intimidating at first. I took really wide turns in Longmont, although once we hit the interstate it was considerably less stressful. The drive to our new house took us north on I-25 through Wyoming, then west on I-90 through Montana, so it was highway almost the entire way.

Laralee followed in her car, and this was pretty much her view for two straight days:

I was pretty happy when we crossed into our new home state.

There were some adventures pulling into gas stations and maneuvering into a parking spot in a crowded hotel lot, but we made it. When we arrived at the house, it was cold and raining lightly, which isn’t great for unloading.

But we emptied the truck in good time, then loaded it up again with some things left by the former owners that needed to be taken to the dump. After dropping off the truck, I was happy to be in a small, maneuverable vehicle again!

With three grueling days of loading, driving, and unloading, it was a real treat to wake up the next morning and see the amazing view from my new front porch.

Now we have at least a few weeks of unpacking ahead of us, but it’s good to be settled again. Let the adventure begin.

Get ready, Oklahoma

With Alex and Kyra as examples before him, Zaque followed in their footsteps by choosing to serve a mission. This morning we took him to the airport and said our goodbyes.

He looks pretty sharp in that suit! And the haircut helps. But despite his missionary look, he’s still the same goofy Zaque we’ve always known.

Yesterday he told me privately, “I know Mom is going to try to cram 18 years of advice into my head just before I leave.” And sure enough, as we sat at the gate waiting for his flight to board, Laralee gave him some last pieces of advice. Eat your vegetables, drink plenty of water, be nice to your companions, and so on.

Finally it was time. We hugged him and told him we’d see him in two years.

Now he’s Elder Schroeder! I’m sure proud of this fine young man.

Goodbye, couch

I saw this on the internet the other day, and in light of our impending move, it gave me a good chuckle. A young girl wrote a goodbye note for her family’s couch, which was being retired.

In the last few weeks we’ve made plenty of trips to charities, friends’ homes, and the dumpster. To all that furniture we gave away, I say, “I hope you will live a great life”…

Cookies!

Zaque and I have a tradition of making chocolate-chip cookies and delivering them to friends around town. Since both of us are leaving in a few days, we decided to do it one last time. We made a list of our good friends, and since it was kind of long we had to make two batches. He made the first one and showed me his “patented” technique.

Apparently when you add the chocolate chips (he uses the small ones), you lean into the mixer to really get everything churning well.

For my batch, I used the larger (and slightly more bitter) chips. I also tend to have a higher chip-to-dough ratio; in Zaque’s cookies, you may take a bite and not get any chips at all. I feel like that’s just wrong. But anyway, we baked everything and they turned out great.

Since we’ve packed up all our “nice” plastic plates, we didn’t have a way to present them nicely. We ended up shoving them into plastic bags and delivering them. Fortunately the presentation isn’t all that important when you’re getting a surprise bag of freshly-baked cookies.

Zaque’s friend Makenna has asked him for the “secret recipe” several times over the years, so he wrote it for her and included it in the delivery:

I think my favorite part is the measurement of the chips:

You gotta measure the chocolate chips with your soul. Add ’em ’til you FEEL that it’s good.

Interestingly, the “secret recipe” is the Toll House Cookie recipe found on the back of every bag of Toll House chocolate chips… except we seem to use shortening instead of butter, and we add a tiny splash of water. I’m not sure why, but it definitely works because the cookies turn out great.

It was fun to make a round of deliveries one last time. Laralee mentioned that she’s “getting tired of goodbye-ing”. It’s hard to leave behind such good folks. Maybe the next time they enjoy a chocolate-chip cookie, they’ll think of us.

Kyra’s friends

When we moved to Longmont in 2002, we met Hannah and Alex, two girls living on our street who quickly became Kyra’s best friends. They were 4 and 6, respectively, with Kyra in the middle at 5. They grew up together, inseparable, and all became fine young women. Rare was the day when one or both of them weren’t at our house.

Kyra moved away to college, and then served a mission in California, but Hannah and Alex continued visiting. They’d hang out with Laralee, who was essentially their second mom. Heck, sometimes I’d come home from work and Hannah would be on our couch reading a book, but Laralee was gone with Zaque or something. Hannah felt so comfortable in our home that she’d just come over unannounced to spend time with us.

So even though these two are Kyra’s friends, they’re just as much Laralee’s friends. It’ll be sad to leave them. Today they came over for our last pizza and movie night in Colorado (and yes, Kyra’s in Utah at college right now). We had fun watching Harry Potter. Hannah had dropped by earlier in the day to spend the afternoon with Laralee:

It’s been really cool to be a part of their lives and see both of them grow up. We’ll definitely miss our two other daughters.

Last day of “freedom”

Tomorrow Zaque will be set apart as a full-time missionary, and he’ll need to start acting like a missionary. That means he won’t be watching movies or playing video games or doing other activities missionaries aren’t allowed to do while serving. So even though he doesn’t leave until Wednesday, he has a few days living that way before he gets on an airplane to Utah.

Today he asked me whether it’s okay for him to text and Snapchat with his friends over the next few days. I said sure, but that watching movies and playing video games probably won’t work. Then I asked what he’ll do today, and without missing a beat he replied, “watch movies and play video games”.

True to his word, he played video games with friends for fourteen straight hours. Since most of these friends are already at college, I’m not sure how he convinced them to spend their entire Saturday doing that, but I guess he’s pretty convincing.

It’s almost midnight, and he’s still going strong…