The Magnificent Five ride again

It’s awesome to be a part of a group of seven friends (the Magnificent Seven, in fact) who have been friends for almost forty years. A few years back, we decided to get together every year to play board games and generally catch up on everything. It’s been a great tradition, and this year our destination was Omaha, where Aron lives.

I figured a road trip would be a ton of fun– I find that I often enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I did the math, and it was roughly a twenty-hour drive from my house to Aron’s. The trip would take me through eastern Montana (which seems endless at times), Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and finally Nebraska. With stops to eat and charge the car, I was looking at around twenty-four hours. But hey, I have the time, so on a Tuesday morning I set out.

That day I drove a total of sixteen hours. It wasn’t really all that hard; on the interstate the Tesla practically drives itself (I use “autosteer” because I don’t have “full self-driving”, which is a sham anyway). And at each charging stop, I could stretch my legs and take a catnap for the fifteen or so minutes it took. With nothing else to do that day, it was easy to just cruise down the highway jamming to some tunes and watching the scenery roll past. I pulled into a rest area around midnight, inflated the air mattress that fits in the back of the car, and went to sleep. Surprisingly, sleeping in the car wasn’t too bad.

The next day, I found something fun at one of the Tesla charging stations:

It’s a little Hot Wheels Tesla (blue like mine!) with a tag that you can scan to report where this little car has “traveled”. You take the car with you and leave it at the next charging station. What a cool idea.

On Wednesday afternoon I rolled into Aron’s driveway and greeted the gang. The first thing he showed me was his amazing custom-built gaming table. This thing is sweet. It’s felt-covered, lighted, has handy cupholders and personal trays (for all your pieces), and even converts into a “regular” table.

He had it made a few years ago, and if I played board games as much as he does, I’d consider getting something similar myself.

Although we spent time at the house, we also had a separate Airbnb rental (long story) and enjoyed hanging out there. We played a lot of games.

I discovered there was a Potbelly sandwich shop just a few miles away, and I insisted on going there for lunch. I loved the one we found in Seattle back in May. Aron’s a good sport so he joined me.

But of course the main reason we get together– and the best part for me– is just spending time together. We laugh about old times (as in, the 1980’s) and catch up on new things. We tell jokes and pick on Dirk and eat great food and taunt each other during games. What I love about this group is that even after almost four decades, we’re still the best of friends.

As always, the days wound down too quickly and we had to part company. I braced for another twenty-four hours back to Montana. This time, I cruised for eighteen hours in a single day! Naturally I stopped at Wall Drug along the way…

… not because it’s amazing (it’s not) but because there’s a Tesla charging station just down the street.

Somewhere in South Dakota I saw a staggering thunderhead rising in the distance. There had been some storm alerts on my phone, but I left it behind as I continued along the highway at 80mph.

Another night in the car at a Montana rest stop, and another few hours the next day, brought me back home. There were plenty of fond memories, and I’m excited to see these guys again next year.

Second time, first time

Three years ago, some of our Colorado friends showed up. This year they came back for a second time… although technically now they’re Utah friends. And they were joined by our other Colorado friends, who visited for the first time. These are the yahoos we’ve spent time with on multiple trips around the West over the years, and it was a lot of fun to get the band back together again.

The first order of business was, naturally, Glacier National Park. Even though it’s mid-July, there hasn’t been any wildfire smoke and we could enjoy a brilliant view.

With three years of Glacier experience under our belts, Pepper and I knew what sort of itinerary to suggest for the group. We started at St Mary Lake and went down to the shoreline to enjoy lunch beside the chilly water.

It was only a matter of time before Kurt took the plunge. Fully clothed. Yep, it was really cold… even in mid-July.

We hiked up to Virginia Falls, and I continued practicing my waterfall photography.

Jason did the same, but got a little more creative.

So many waterfalls!

At the top of the trail, Virginia Falls never disappoints.

While I was busy snapping photos, Aaron was doing something he called the “Mario Dance” on a rock below. I’m not sure what that means.

After Kurt and I did some cliff-jumping at St Mary Falls, we snapped a group photo near Logan Pass. What a glorious day in the Park.

Back at the homestead, the next few days were filled with board games, pool, ping-pong tournaments, spikeball, and a lot of good food. Skunk was popular, as always.

The Party House is so great for company– plenty of room for everyone to have space and do their stuff, while we cook and eat and hang out.

Lake days are always a hit, and the kids remembered how much fun the jet skis are. They’re a little older now, and Lexi is a little less crazy (but only a little).

Holland Lake is a frequent destination for us, so we headed there as well. It was a gorgeous day: sunny but not too hot, despite the time of year.

Hey look, more waterfalls!

The end of the trail provides a great view, but the Mission Mountains in the distance were looking a bit hazy. To the south (left, out of the shot) there was a brownish tinge to the sky. We later learned there was a massive wildfire near Seeley Lake, not too far from where we stood.

One evening all of us went outside to admire the sunset. It was absolutely spectacular. I took the following two pictures within a few minutes of each other– it was incredible how the sky went from pink and blue to orange and grey. It’s worth noting I did not adjust the colors in these shots.

We miss so many of our Colorado friends, and it’s always great to have them come up to visit. This was a fabulous week.


This year, the cherries are ripe a few weeks earlier than last year’s harvest. It’s hard to tell from year to year how things will go, but the good news is we can work on the harvest during the two days (!) we have between our family reunion trip and our next guests.

It’s been a hot few days (which is actually good for ripening the fruit) so we took advantage of the cooler mornings. We spent about an hour picking.

Behold, the fruits of our labors! (Hah, bad joke, I know.)

That’s about twenty-five pounds of cherries, the result of cleaning out two trees. Since we have 94 trees, I figure we have at least half a ton of cherries overall. Back at the house, we washed all of them.

Then I bagged everything for my traditional deliveries to friends. This time I made a fun little label for the bags:

Everything went into the refrigerator for the next day’s deliveries.

On that next day, I moved all the bags into a cooler with some ice blocks. Ready to roll!

I made a list of friends who I’d visit with a bag in hand. There were thirty-two of them, scattered all over the Flathead Valley. Off I went. By the end of the day– nearly seven hours later– I’d delivered to twenty-four homes. Several people weren’t home, and I admit I skipped a few others due to time constraints. After all, we still had to get things ready for our upcoming company!

It’s become a fun tradition to package and deliver cherries to friends. Usually we end up chatting a bit. Sometimes it’s just a quick doorstep conversation, and other times I’m invited in for a nice lemonade or something, and we talk for twenty minutes. Good times.

Family reunion, part 2

After our time in Wyoming, we headed to Idaho for the larger family gathering. This is a biannual event, last hosted by us, and it brings together (almost) all of Pepper’s siblings, many of their kids, and some of their kids’ kids. I still remember the first reunion I attended, almost three decades ago, where there were around sixty people. Sixty direct relatives! Just learning names was a challenge, especially when one brother goes by either Bill or Russ, depending on who’s referring to him. Fortunately, in those three decades I’ve learned most of the names.

On the morning of the big day, we had a few hours to blow before meeting up with the crowd. We and Tara’s family decided to swing past Storybook Park, which is an awesome public park near where Pepper’s parents used to live. Our kids loved going to Storybook Park and climbing on all the towers and bridges.

Zack and I were astounded– and pleased– to discover the park still has an operational merry-go-round. I’m not talking about some fancy new plastic “safe for all ages” contraption; I’m talking about the old-school “use centrifugal force to fling everyone to their deaths” spinning metal disc. We had a grand time getting dizzy.

The ladies were more tame, choosing instead to use the swings. It was funny to see three adult women swinging while younger children watched, mystified and wondering when they’d get a turn.

After a while we decided to play Groundies, which is an old kids’ game where one person is “it” and can run around anywhere– including the ground– in an effort to tag someone else. The rest of the participants are required to stay on the playground equipment, never touching the ground. It was a hoot. Here are Pepper and Zack, watching for Emi as she tracked us.

We probably played for an hour. Again, there were a bunch of small children who were playing off to the side, watching warily as a bunch of fully grown-up adults climbed around on the playground. Honestly I feel a little bad about that now. But hey, how often do grown-ups get to do that sort of thing?

Before we left, I felt like I just had to ride the combine. Rural Idaho, right?

Eventually we made our way to the reunion proper, where we were warmly greeted by the fifty or so relatives gathering at the shore of the Snake River. Don and Mel have a house on the river, with a sweet pavilion and dock on the water. We spent the day paddleboarding, swimming, boating, volleyballing, spikeballing, and generally hanging around catching up with one another. In the evening, we were treated to dinner on Don and Mel’s incredible patio, which they’ve constructed over the years until it’s become an area that can comfortably host a party of fifty people.

Later we had the traditional “family auction”, where everyone donates useless junk from their homes and we all bid outrageously high sums of money for it. The money goes into a fund that’s used to buy food and other stuff at the next reunion. It’s actually a pretty good system, except for the part where we end up taking home someone’s useless junk. As is tradition, Doug was the auctioneer while Nancy held up the wares and pressured people into bidding on them.

It had been a long day, but a fun one. As night fell, a few of us descended on the local Dairy Queen for a bedtime snack. Lily wanted one last selfie with us, although she looks more scared than happy with her cone.

The reunions are always a blast, and I’m excited that the next one will be in Phoenix. In January.

Family reunion, part 1

“Why don’t you come join us at our cabin this summer?” is a question that’s music to my ears. Who wouldn’t want to relax at a cabin in the wilderness for a few days?

So we did! My brother-in-law Dave has a family cabin in beautiful Star Valley, Wyoming, and we spent the week up there. For the first time in my life, I rode a horse…

Dave took me up the canyon, and it was a gorgeous quiet evening as we followed a horse trail through the forest. My horse, Fitz, stopped to nibble on grass every fifty yards, but he was great. Here’s my saddle-eye view:

We rode for about two hours, which was perfect. I wasn’t sore, but after another hour I probably would’ve been.

Pepper took Fitz out the next day.

The days were pretty hot, but we took advantage of the area to go on some walks. I can’t really call them “hikes” because they were either along gravel roads or ATV trails in the canyon. Pepper has an app on her phone that identifies plants, which is a lot of fun when you’re on a trail and wonder what flower that is, or what type of fern you’re passing, or whatever. So there were a lot of pauses on our walks as she pulled up her app and then triumphantly notified us what plant we were looking at. I don’t remember any of them.

Back in the air-conditioned comfort of the cabin, I made friends with my nieces and nephews. Well, actually they’re my grand nieces and nephews. Although I know all of my in-law siblings’ kids, I admit I don’t know all of their kids. There are simply too many of them, and we only do family reunions every other year. So in this case, it was the first time I’d really spent any time with this group, and I literally had to be reminded of all their names on the first day.

But later that day, we were fast friends.

It was funny how much all these little kids wanted to hang out with me. They argued about who got to be on Uncle Cosmo’s team for a game of Skip-Bo or Go Fish. They pushed each other out of the way to get a turn to sit on my lap. As a result, most of the games looked like this:

I only had Dirk and Bella in that moment; Lily (in turquoise on the right) had apparently hopped up to get a snack or something. It’s tricky to have three kids on your lap at a time!

They insisted on a selfie with Uncle Cosmo.

That’s Bella, Tally, Dirk, Lily, and Veja. What a crazy group. I actually had a ton of fun getting to know them, and wish I could see them more often. One morning all the adults were going to head out for an adults-only trip, and I offered to stay at the cabin to watch the kiddos (because someone had to stay back). Everyone said I was asking for trouble, but I figured it would be a blast. It turns out several of the kids ended up going with their parents, and I was left to babysit just two of them. So we played games and had snacks and went on a long walk.

On the left is Mason, who was born the same day as Ollie. He probably outweighs his cousin by twenty pounds, though… he’s kind of a chunk, while Ollie seems to have no body fat. At the time I took this picture, we were gathering flowers to make a bouquet for their mom. It was fun.

Speaking of their mom, we had a good time at a nearby lake one afternoon…

We were kayaking and paddleboarding. The weather was pretty warm, but the water definitely wasn’t. I jumped in a few times, because that’s what you do on a lake, but I didn’t spend long in the water. It was cold enough to take your breath away.

My nephew Ty, doing teenage stuff, managed to slice open his foot right to the bone. He and Luke paddleboarded back to shore where we figured out some first aid. That was when we realized we weren’t really prepared for this sort of thing… we had a couple of Band-Aids, but the cut was big and deep (and dripping blood). Fortunately another family on the shore noticed us, and brought over a proper first-aid kit with some gauze and tape. After that I told myself I’d be more prepared in the future… you never know when something like this might happen.

As our time in Star Valley wound down, I was told the Red Baron was the place for shakes. A group of us put it to the test.

Indeed, the shakes were pretty great. So was the cabin, and especially the time with family. We’re hoping to make this an annual tradition. Because hey, who doesn’t like hearing “Why don’t you come join us at our cabin this summer?”

Back so soon?

Last year the Gundersons stopped in, and we had a great time together. Apparently the kids enjoyed it so much that they begged to come back this year. (Or at least that’s the story their mom told me… maybe she was just flattering me?) In any case, they did, in fact, come back!

Jet skis were the first order of business. Rhys and Brooke absolutely loved zipping around the lake. It was tricky to ride with them at times because they always sought out the waves and wakes to bump across and catch some air (which is, admittedly, the right thing to do with a jet ski). Here’s Rhys showing his dad how fast they can go…

… while Brooke shows me how sharply she can turn.

Then it was time to break out the tube. It’s such a blast to have younger kids who get so excited about being on the water! And of course it’s a blast to whip them around on a tube until they go tumbling out.

I was thrilled to hear that Rhys absolutely loves the card game Dominion. It’s one of my favorite games, and when I showed him my collection of thousands of cards– I have every one– he was gobsmacked. We played many games together, and he roped his (somewhat hesitant) family into joining us.

Skunk was a hoot.

We played Skull and Survive and then I showed them King of Tokyo, which was an instant hit.

The cherries were almost ripe, which meant we picked and ate them, but they weren’t quite at their prime. No matter– people seem to really enjoy picking cherries in our orchard!

As always, the time flew past, and soon they had to leave to continue north into Canada to visit family.

They stopped in Glacier on the way, and I told them about the cliff jumping at St Mary Falls. Cindy reported back that all the kids jumped!

Right before they left, Brooke asked her parents if they could make this a “new family tradition” and come up to visit us every year. The answer was something along the lines of a classic “we’ll see” but I hope it happens. We love having these yahoos.

Moose bounty

While in Glacier last week, my friend Breea told her kids if they spotted a deer before she did, she’d pay them a dollar. If they saw a bear, the bounty was two dollars. And a moose was worth three.

We saw several deer (although Breea saw them first, so she didn’t have to pay). No bears or moose, though.

Until yesterday, when I spotted a moose feeding in the lake. My photo wasn’t the best…

… But I sent it to her husband as a joke.

And a few minutes later…

Thanks for the bounty, Breea!

The Adams Family

I’m sure they hear that joke all the time, but it was great to host the Adams (one D) family for a few days. Kendra and I go way back… and I mean waaaay back. We met in college in 1992 and have been friends ever since. She and her family have always wanted to visit Glacier, so naturally it made sense for them to make a trip up north and hang out with us for a few days.

Glacier was impressive as usual. The weather was spectacular, and despite it being the most popular weekend of the year, the traffic wasn’t terrible. We headed to St Mary Falls.

I should point out that Kyla (the 18-year-old daughter) agreed to cliff jump with me after our hike. We trucked up the trail to Virginia Falls…

… and on the way back down she was true to her word. The two of us jumped off the rocks at St Mary Falls into the glacially-fed water frothing below. Wow. It’s always surprising how cold the water is. Even on a hot July day, it was frigid. But always a good time.

We showed them a bunch of the sights in the area, including Bigfork’s main street (a tourist trap) where we took a picture with the Big Fork (get it?) and the kids picked up some hoodies to remember their visit. We enjoyed some pizza at Rosa’s (of course) and also had a dinner at the iconic Burgertown.

Back at the house, we broke out the spikeball set again and had some fun. Pepper and I felt like we were actually improving a bit.

I introduced them to Survive, a classic board game that really brings families together. And by that, I mean it’s somewhat like the way Monopoly brings families together. There’s no mercy, and it’s a brutal fight to the finish with plenty of back-stabbing. Kyla and Kendra are discussing some strategy here… probably talking about who to devour with a shark or something.

As with most of our guests, we taught them Skunk, which is a silly fast-paced chaotic game on the pool table. We had a lot of laughs and no smashed fingers, so I’d consider it a success.

The days flew by, and it was sad when they had to head out. We’re hoping to see them again soon…