My first attempt at designing a board game was pretty underwhelming. In my head the idea wasn’t bad, but when I made the cards for the game and attempted to play it, things just didn’t work out very well.

On my recent trip to Washington, I had six hours in the car each way when I could either listen to really loud music (which I did) or drive in quiet contemplation (which I also did). During those quieter times, I came up with the spark of an idea for a different board game. It had a few of the elements of my first aborted attempt, and as I continued to think about it, I felt like there was a hint of promise there.

Upon returning home, I wrote down the rules I’d invented. I needed some playing pieces to actually test the game, and despite my closet full of board games, I wouldn’t have enough for this. So I ordered a bunch of little “tracking cubes” and “meeples” from a board-game manufacturing company, and waited. They arrived a few days ago, which also happened to be when Julian stopped in for a visit.

I asked if he’d be willing to be a game tester for this game’s maiden voyage, and he agreed. We sat down, I explained the rules, and we started playing. We adjusted the rules a bit as we found what worked and what didn’t, and he had some good suggestions for minor changes. Here he is, contemplating his next move:

It probably took us two hours to play that very first game. The board got pretty busy after a while, with lots of little wooden pieces everywhere.

After it ended, we both agreed: it wasn’t terrible. Sure, there were some mechanics that weren’t quite right, and we couldn’t come up with a great way to tally up the victory points at the end. But considering it was basically something I made up during a road trip, I was pretty pleased.

We immediately started another game, this time using some significant changes Julian suggested. That game proved to be a lot of fun too– especially now that we sort of understood some strategy– but the endgame didn’t work out. Ah, well, we learned a few more things and can take them back to the drawing board.

So, I’m going to continue refining it. Maybe it will end up being a not-so-terrible game that I can introduce to my friends.

Oh, and I named it Hexteria. We’ll see if it sticks.

Smoke and water

Julian is visiting, and he wanted to do a bunch of “Montana stuff”. Sadly, there’s smoke drifting from the western wildfires, and everything’s been hazy for a few days now. We can’t even see Flathead Lake from our window!

But, he’s only here for a few days, so we decided to go out anyway. We headed up to Glacier. The day was amazingly calm, which made Lake McDonald as smooth as glass. Combined with the smoky haze, it made for a cool photo:

That one is facing south; here’s the view to the north:

Wow, the water was so clear! You can see the rocks right through it. I took a picture of them and adjusted the color a bit (for artistic effect), but you can’t even tell these are underwater:

Someone tested their cairn skills.

Because the water was so incredibly still, we couldn’t resist skipping some stones.

We continued onward, hiking up to Avalanche Lake. Here’s part of Avalanche Creek, which has some terribly cool carved red rocks:

A little further along the trail, I took a few more photos of the creek.

The view at the lake was a little disappointing with all the haze. The sheer mountainside in the distance just looked faded.

Julian enjoyed climbing around on rocks to get some good photos:

Here’s my amazing wife:

After hiking for a while, we made a few more stops along the river, and decided to finish with our traditional stop near the southern end of Lake McDonald. By now the sun was lower in the sky, and the smoke made for some incredible views over the glass-still lake.

A few ducks decided to cross the lake.

And of course we had to skip some more stones.

It was a great day to visit Glacier– I continue to be amazed at how different the park is each time we go!

Class photos

The coordinators for the seminary program asked all of the teachers to take photos of our students. In keeping with tradition, I brought a bunch of goofy hats and wigs to class, and handed them out. The results were awesome, of course. Here’s my class:

Let’s not forget my lovely team teacher:

Yep, it’s gonna be a good year.

Swan River

It’s another gorgeous day, and since summer is winding down, we felt like we needed to take advantage of the warm sun. We loaded up the yaks and headed to Swan River.

The water was like glass… in fact, it was hard to tell the river was even flowing, which was great because we paddled a few miles upstream and then came back. A few dragonflies hitched a ride with me; here’s one who sat on my bow for quite a while:



They say the number and extent of the wildfires burning in the western United States is unprecedented. I was amazed when I saw photos from California and Oregon, all taken in the morning or midday:

Our friends in Colorado tell us that ash has been falling from the sky (although the sky doesn’t have these hellish colors). Scary stuff.

Back in the saddle

It’s been a little over a year since I “retired” from seminary. After teaching for four years, it was bittersweet to be finished and moving on to different things. Well, we moved a thousand miles away, but apparently I couldn’t escape destiny. I was just called to teach seminary again. And in a super cool twist, Pepper is my co-teacher!

Class starts next week, so we’ve spent many hours in the past few weeks preparing, studying, and meeting all the youth and their parents. We don’t know many of them, so it was a good opportunity to introduce ourselves and get to know a little about each of them. It seems like a great group.

Today we went to the church building (which has been closed for nearly six months now) to set up our classroom. We’ll be teaching in person, which I think will be far better than hosting online lessons. Fortunately I was able to set up the classroom similar to how I’d done it in the past:

We’ll all sit in a big square, on the same level, where everyone can easily see everyone else (no staring at the back of someone’s head, or listening to comments from people in the back). I think it’ll be a welcome change.

I’m excited to return to my favorite calling, and start a new journey with these Montana kids. Let the new adventure begin!

Idaho… or is it Wyoming…

Pepper and I spent Labor Day weekend visiting her brother Doug and his family. They live on the Idaho-Wyoming border, on the west side of Grand Teton National Park. (Which means they’re basically “behind” all the amazing mountains you see in the park.)

We hiked up into the Targhee National Forest and basked in the views of the Teton Valley and the backs of the three main peaks.

It was a gorgeous day, and I was lucky to spend it with such a gorgeous woman.

We also went to Fall Creek Falls, which is a really cool rock formation where Fall Creek feeds into the Snake River. This is a view of some plants waving beneath the water, looking straight down from a bridge:

The falls cascade over a series of rock terraces, which means you can climb around and enjoy splashing in a bunch of little pools. Here are a few shots of the area:

Then we hopped on some mountain bikes and took an awesome trail through the forest along the Snake River. It was a ton of fun.

Two interesting things from our drive: first, as we passed through Anaconda, Montana (what a cool name for a town!), we saw a strange tower in the distance. Was it Orthanc? A weird smokestack? It’s on the hillside a little left of center in this picture, which Pepper took out the car window at 80mph:

Here’s a zoom of the photo; forgive me for the poor image quality. Cell phones and all that.

It turns out that’s the Anaconda Smelter Stack, the remains of a chimney built by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company over a hundred years ago. And it’s built entirely of brick, making it the tallest surviving masonry structure in the world. The Washington Monument would actually fit inside this thing! Pretty cool.

And second, on our drive back, the wonderful sunny 80-degree day turned a bit chilly and we drove for a couple hours through freezing temperatures and snow. The hills were dusted with snow; higher up on the mountains it was definitely deeper. Umm, it’s Labor Day… that’s not supposed to happen!

Overall it was a great trip and a fun way to spend a holiday weekend.