Tom and Goldberry

It’s official. Ben and Rachel came up with my all-time favorite Halloween costumes this year.

For those heathens who don’t recognize these two, it’s Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry, from The Lord of the Rings. Tom is an enigmatic character who is as awesome as he is confusing. And honestly, Ben is the only person I know who could pull this off so well.

20826

I admit, it was a little weird to move into a house that didn’t have a mailbox. I guess I kind of figured everyone has a mailbox, but in this case, the former owner didn’t. That meant when we’d give directions to our house, we’d have to say things like “our driveway is across the street from the red van”. Yes, the red van. But a couple weeks ago, the red van– which had been parked there literally since March– was gone! So now our directions became, “our driveway is across the street from the mailbox that has a lawnmower sitting on it”. Yes, a lawnmower. Sitting on the mailbox.

But finally we bought a mailbox and a post. We talked with George, our mailman, and had the utility companies spray-paint the area so we know where the conduits are, and installed an honest-to-goodness mailbox.

Now maybe we can tell people “it’s 20826” and that’ll be good enough.

O Canada

On Tuesday, Pepper and I drove up to Canada. We figured heck, it’s right there.

No, really we went up to attend the temple. The nearest temple to us is in Cardston, Alberta– a drive of a little more than three hours. It was built a hundred years ago, and dedicated in 1920.

After crossing into Canada, I had to switch my car to metric, so naturally I felt like I was flying along the highway when in fact I wasn’t going very fast at all.

Cardston is a small town of roughly 3,500 people. They have about half a dozen restaurants, including the iconic A&W. Apparently A&W is to Canada what Subway is to America: pretty much everywhere. We had lunch there, and I remembered why it’s been about two decades since I ate at A&W. The burger was, in a word, “meh”.

After spending some time in the temple, we stopped by to visit Grandma Claudia.

She lives across the street from the temple, and her granddaughter Cindy is a good friend of mine back in Longmont. Months ago, when Cindy heard that we were moving to Montana, she told us her grandma lived up in Cardston, so we figured we should meet her. We had a fun visit and chatted for a while. She told us she was sorry she hadn’t prepared dinner for us, but that we were welcome back any time. So now we have a new Canadian friend!

On the way home, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous.

The long line of mountains is the eastern edge of Waterton National Park in Canada, which becomes Glacier National Park when you cross the border. Now that winter is approaching, some of the high roads are closed, but we’re excited to visit both parks in the spring and summer to explore all those majestic peaks.

Touring

Today, we didn’t have anything really pressing to do around the house (for a change) so we decided to take advantage of the nice fall weather and explore the area a bit. People tell us about local landmarks, but we have no idea where they are, so we figured we need to start getting the lay of the land.

First we stopped at the house of our new friend Allen, who lives about a mile down the road. We needed to borrow a post-hole digger to install our mailbox, and he happened to have one. He was picking apples from his orchard when we arrived, and for the next forty-five minutes he took us on a tour of his orchard, houses, boathouse, and dock. Some of the houses on his property were built in 1913; the newest was in 1996. A massive tree crashed through the roof in the Great Windstorm last month, crushing one of the trusses. I guess we were fortunate to just have some damaged gutters and shingles.

Anyway, Allen took us down to the dock and the magnificent view of the lake. I snapped a few photos.

When he asked (as many people do) why we moved to Flathead Lake, I told him about our trip to the area back in 2001. At some point we found a dock alongside the road, and walked down to it. I distinctly remembered Alex and Kyra having a great time running along it:

Since that day in 2001, I’ve been thinking about living here, and now it’s happened!

After our tour, he gave us a big box full of fresh-picked apples (which were delicious) and of course the post-hole digger. We thanked him and headed up the highway. I saw a field of cattails and decided to stop.

Most of them had already “exploded”, spreading their seeds, but Pepper grabbed one that was ripe and particularly plump. It’s a lot of fun to squeeze it and blow the seeds everywhere.

We continued north, eventually reaching Echo Lake. Several people had told us about it, and we wanted to see how it compares to Flathead Lake. It’s quite picturesque:

Houses line the entire shore of the lake (which is pretty small, at least in comparison to Flathead Lake). The water was very still, which made for some pretty reflections:

After walking around for a bit, we drove through the forest and eventually turned out at a hiking trail alongside Flathead Lake. Part of the trail wound down to the shoreline, where we watched the sun drop toward the horizon.

Now we know a little more about the area, and enjoyed a gorgeous fall day. Mission accomplished.

Green?!

Since it’s Halloween season, I bought a bag of Tootsie Pops at Walmart the other day. When I opened the bag, I was horrified.

Green Tootsie Pops? What the heck flavor is that? I mean, brown is bad enough (no one likes the brown Tootsie Pops) but green is terrible. What’s the world coming to?

Goll dang it

There’s an old boat languishing alongside the highway, and Pepper and I think it has a great name: the Goll Dang it Nancy.

I’m not sure I’ll ever own a proper boat, but now that I have a jet ski, maybe I should bow to nautical tradition and name it. I’m thinking of calling it the Unsinkable II.

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.