I guess the sunsets are nice…?

For the past two weeks, we’ve had a thick haze hanging over the lake. It’s smoke from fires in western Montana and central Idaho, and without much wind or any rain, it’s just stuck. It’s a drag not to be able to see across the lake, and our guests haven’t been excited about going out hiking since there aren’t any views to speak of.

That said, the sunsets have been very orange of late…

Keeping up with the Johnsons

Sarah and Grant came to visit this week. I’ve known Sarah since college, which makes her a friend of some thirty years. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, so it was great to spend our days doing Montana stuff.

There was Glacier, of course.

We tackled a couple of hikes, totaling around ten miles. Unfortunately it’s been smoky this week, so the views in the park weren’t as impressive as they usually are.

We hit the lake– another must-do activity around here– and they both learned to paddleboard.

Grant spent a bit more time in the water, if you know what I mean. But eventually he was looking good on the board.

Another day, another hike… this time in Jewel Basin, where we covered about six miles to Twin Lakes. We all wore swimsuits on the hike, planning to enjoy a nice cooldown when we arrived at the lakes.

As it turned out, the air temperature was comfortable for hiking, but not really hot enough that we felt the need to take a plunge to cool off. Also, the water temperature was maybe 50 degrees. But hey, I’d worn my suit all that way, so I figured what the hey and jumped in. Sarah sat on a rock and watched, probably thinking I was crazy.

We played games, shot pool, watched movies, and had a grand time.

Next year we’ll take a backpacking trip through the Boundary Waters with them. Until then…

Asphalt FTW

We’ve lived here almost three years, and I’m pretty sure I’ve complained about our driveway a hundred times during that span. There are just so many frustrating things about it. When it rains, there are huge channels and ruts that develop:

So we end up out there literally raking the gravel, which is tedious and exhausting. Then it rains again, and the ruts are back, and our car bottoms out as it bounces its way through them.

Over time, the gravel washes out and wears away and we’re left with exposed bedrock, giving quite a bumpy ride:

Of course there’s also the issue of snow and ice, which can’t really be helped, but plowing the driveway is difficult and has occasionally required us to shovel almost twenty tons of snow just to prepare for the plow.

It’s actually funny how literally everyone who comes up our driveway for the first time– friends, neighbors, contractors, deliveries– comments about what a nightmare it is. Many can’t believe we spend the winters here.

After three years of frustration and comments and complaining, we finally decided to look into paving the entire thing with asphalt. I was shocked when I found out the company I’d contacted could do the job a week after I talked to them! We signed on the line and the crew went to work.

The first step was laying gravel on the entire driveway. Because it was such a mess, and had eroded so badly, they laid a lot of gravel. I think it was six inches deep in places, and wider than what we’d had. After that, they spent two days with a steamroller, compacting it down to a nice smooth (relatively speaking) road of crushed rock. Here’s Johnny coming down the hill in his steamroller:

As we walked along the gravel, we wondered if maybe that would’ve been good enough. No need for the extra expense of asphalt? Earlier I’d spoken with a different contractor who recommended gravel but admitted it would require maintenance every few years, and would probably erode to the point where it would need to be redone after a few more. Seeing what this crew did, though, we wondered if that would’ve been a better choice.

Then it rained. And sure enough, even this six-inch-deep compacted smoothed gravel washed away. Once again we had ruts and runoff. Clearly gravel just isn’t the right choice for us. Asphalt it is.

The next day, the dump trucks started arriving and unloading piles of hot, steaming asphalt. The steamroller was back at it, this time with the foreman, Chad, at the wheel:

It took two long days, but they finished the driveway and headed off into the sunset. The blacktop looks amazing!

Snow plows should be able to clear it much more easily. Heck, because it’s black it should stay slightly warmer in the winter sun, maybe keeping snow from accumulating as much. Cars and delivery trucks should be able to come up with no trouble. Cruising down it, we don’t have crazy bumps and careful angles to avoid bottoming out. Nice! Naturally we wonder why we didn’t do this years ago…

After the storm

For the last few days we’ve had a weird mix of sunny weather and huge thunderstorms. It’ll absolutely pour rain, while the lightning flashes and the thunder booms, and then twenty minutes later the sun will be shining from a blue sky. Kind of cool, really.

The rain just stopped, and the clouds are breaking across the lake. It seemed worthy of a photo.

3,906 miles

A few weeks ago we went on a 3,388-mile road trip. That was a blast, and just the first of three epic road trips we’d planned for the summer.

This time, my final destination was Carthage Missouri, where my good friend Dirk had recently moved. He was hosting this year’s “convention” of the Magnificent Seven (although only five were attending). Air travel is such a drag these days, so I decided to give the Tesla some exercise. Our first stop was Utah, where we stopped to visit with some Colorado friends who had moved to Utah only a few days earlier (making them, I suppose, ex-Colorado friends?). We’re a good-looking group:

Although of course this is more our speed:

After a day to see the kids, I left Pepper at the Villa and headed east alone. The first stop was Denver; I hadn’t been back there since we moved away three years ago, which means I hadn’t seen my friend Dave and his family since then. We enjoyed a long dinner at Maggiano’s (boy, I miss that place!) and sat around chatting for hours. When it was time to go, we posed for what felt like some kind of formal portrait.

And then cracked out the real poses.

Onward to Kansas! The I-70 corridor through the middle of the state was exactly as I remember it. Flat.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up a guest: when I stopped to charge the car I noticed a two-inch pin of metal jutting out of the tire. Yikes.

I struck out twice at tire shops around the small town. “There ain’t really any Teslas ’round here,” drawled one of the tire guys. It was starting to look like I’d be spending the night in a hotel while I figured out how to deal with the tire. Luckily a third shop was still open– it was after 5pm by then– and could replace my tire immediately. My wallet was $250 lighter but I could continue on my way to Wichita, where I met up with my college buddy Brad and his family. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of decades, but we had a good time catching up.

The last leg of my journey took me into Carthage, which is a dinky town in southwest Missouri. In many ways it reminded me of Bigfork, although the population is at least four times larger so there’s a bit more to the place. For the next five days, the Magnificent Seven Five hung out and had an absolute blast. We’ve all known each other since we were about thirteen, which means we have an endless list of inside jokes and “remember that time…” stories.

We also played board games. A lot of board games.

There was poker (of course) as well as many, many hands of Sparts. And every night we stayed up far too late talking and laughing. Finally the convention came to an end, and we went our separate ways.

We’ve already tentatively decided next year’s convention will be in Las Vegas. Another road trip? Probably.

There was still a lot of road between me and home, so I headed back toward Utah. Along the way was another stop in Denver to see Kendra and Glen, my college friends.

Continuing west brought me across the Utah desert, which is always beautiful in a desert-ey way. A magnificent storm was brewing on the horizon, bringing much-needed rain.

Back at the Villa, I had a few days with the kids. I’d been on my road trip for nine days, and Pepper had planned to spend those days visiting friends and family in the area, and hanging out with the kids. As it turned out, she spent most of those days in bed feeling terribly sick. She was better by the time I returned, and we were able to have a bit of fun.

There were some board games, of course. We played Sparts and Here to Slay and even Sheephead.

How about that hair on Zack? He’s decided to let it grow and see what happens. It’s pretty impressive.

The time flew by, and eventually we had to say goodbye so the kids could get back to their jobs, friends, and the start of the new college semester.

3,906 miles and three weeks later, we pulled into the driveway. The trip had been awesome. And in a month there’ll be another.

The revolution begins

We’re lazy.

Cleaning our house takes considerable effort, and we finally had enough friends tell us how much they love their robot vacuum cleaners. After some research, and an opportune deal on Amazon’s Prime Day, we picked up a robot vacuum of our own. Today I put it to work.

It doesn’t look very exciting, and it’s kind of slow, but it roams the room and maps out the floors (distinguishing between hardwood and carpeting) quite well. After about an hour and a half, it had finished cleaning our main floor. And I had to admit, it did a great job. After letting it charge up a bit, I carried it upstairs and set it to work there. From now on, we’ll just have to tote this guy between floors and let it chug around for a while. Sweet!

Of course, this is how the robot revolution begins. First they vacuum your carpets, and before you know it, they’re plotting to take over the world. But despite the existential risks, laziness wins out.

Cleaning

I was sweeping ash off the concrete around the house, and Ollie insisted on helping. He did a great job sweeping the… rocks?

I thought that would satisfy him, but he promptly walked over to the (rock) sidewalk and continued his work…

If only kids were this helpful when they’re older!

Harvest

The cherries are finally ripe!

This season got off to a slow start, with some cold, wet weather in May and June, but our trees are looking great. We went down and loaded buckets full of the deliciously sweet fruit. Here’s Alex picking a bunch:

This year we’re officially classified as organic. Last year was considered “transitional”: although we sprayed with organics, the previous year involved traditional pesticides. After hauling three buckets up to the house, Pepper and Kaitlyn went to work washing and sorting them.

Then they made a fantastic cobbler while I headed out to drop off bags of cherries at several friends’ homes. It’s become an annual tradition to share our bounty with people around us. We still have plenty in the fridge:

Unlike past years, this time we’ve arranged things so we have a picking crew coming, and then we’ll sell the crop to a guy from Missoula. If things go to plan, we’ll actually cover our costs for a change! We love the fruit, but given the amount of money we spend every year maintaining and supporting the orchard, they’re the most expensive cherries ever. Fingers crossed…