End of summer lake fun

As we rounded out our trip from the Northwest expedition, we made met up with my Dad and step-mom at Alcova Reservoir in Wyoming. There were fires all over the Western side of the country and it was tough to breathe and see. Didn’t stop us from having a great time though!

Eric played “king of the dock” with the kids.

We had a blast being tossed around on Big Mable!

Boating on a lake is my happy place, always has been, and this weekend brought back some of the best warm fuzzy childhood feels. Eric, Joe, Jill and Ethan all fished, unfortunately with no catch, but there was almost always a pole in the water trying.

Heading South

After Bonners Ferry, we were on a mission to make it South to meet Tiffany’s Dad and Chrisma at a lake and then to the Denver metro area for Tiffany to work and us to switch out summer stuff for winter stuff.

Our first stop was another fairgrounds in a place called Moscow, ID. It was a relatively quick and uneventful stay, but we did have a nice little bike ride to Idaho University. Tiffany thought the place felt like Hogwarts with its vividly colorful sunset and interesting architecture.

After Moscow we went to Boise and Idaho Falls, for one quick night each. We weren’t too impressed with those towns, so we quickly got out. On our way leaving Idaho Falls though, we went past Shoshone Falls. It was an oasis in the middle of a desert-like landscape and was a great place for a picnic and walk to break up the day’s drive.

Speaking of picnic, Tiffany has a “no eating in the car” preference. We stopped along the side of the road and she made peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. As she was putting everything away, her open-face sandwich slid down her arm, skidded on the stitching on the leather car seat and landed on the not-so-clean floor mat. Everyone got a good giggle out of the ironic karma of it all.

About 12 minutes from our destination for the night, we had another exciting tire blow out. It blew out on the couch slide side this time. Our poor Liberty looks like she’s been off-roading on some very low clearance trails. We need a giant band-aid. Eric got us all fixed up and back on the road. We’ve realized that duct tape really is quite the useful tool on the road.

The next day we landed at some National Forest Service land just outside The Grand Tetons. Gabe and Jill have a checklist of setting up and tearing down that they are getting very good at executing!

This little slice was a welcome sight after staying in what equated to parking lots for over a week. We had been irritable and tired and we realized part of it was that we had not been in nature for a while to recharge ourselves. We tend to be at peace spending our evenings stargazing and sleeping to the sound of rushing water from the river. We’re learning these little things about ourselves and it’ll be a guide for our adventures in the future.

This site was gorgeous, or as Jillian says, Goblin Core. The flowers and butterflies felt unreal, there were so many varieties of both!

Since it was a hot summer day, we went down to the river for a dip. It was so cold that it made our legs numb, so instead of swimming, we just waded.

Undesirable as it may be to him, Eric actually does need rest sometimes, so I begged him to do that while Jillian and I played in the water. He hides his stillness misery well.

After dinner, Eric held Jillian in his arms and they danced to music from our little boombox by the fire.

On our way out of the Tetons, we went down a steep 10% grade mountain and had our very first pull over to let the brakes cool moment. Chief and Liberty were fine, but the brakes were pungent. The view was worth it though, such a pretty drive. Those Tetons are definitely otherworldly.

History Lessons in Mining and Early Western Life

We attempted to go to the statue Our Lady of the Rockies, a bright white marble statue of Jesus’ mother, Mary, that stands watch over the vast Berkley Pit, but the only way to get there is to take a tour, so we opted to do something else. In Butte and Anaconda are known for their part in mining, especially copper. They’ve memorialized the mining industry in many ways around the town. There are smelter stacks, headframes above old mine shafts, crucibles, statues, and memorials all around the area. Eric, Joe, Ethan and I all went to the first ever smelter location (which failed, but still standing) and did an old serious-faced style picture.

To learn about more of the history of the area, we went to the largest history museum in the US, the World Museum of Mining, in Butte, MT. They recreated some of the town’s buildings and on some of them, put information about the people who lived and worked in them.

The Orhan Girl Mine shaft is still standing today and it was possible to walk around and touch the items used during mining. It was a pretty cool museum, but I did have ideas for what I believe would be improvements.

On the way back from the museum, we got hungry and tried Taco John’s for the first time. It was ok, but a friend told me I ordered incorrectly, so we’ll have to try it again.

We picnicked at the park and played on the playground. They had THE most fun swing EVER there. It was like a seesaw. They were slippery and SO much fun!! Gabe was making Jill squeal!

“F” if for Flowers, Floats, Fourth Festivities and Fire

Enjoying more time in the gorgeous forest just outside Yellowstone; not sure we’ll ever tire of this neighborhood. Joe makes an almost daily round of taking pictures of flowers in the different light. The forest floor is literally carpeted in these beauties, such a great time of year to visit!

We’ve held marshmallow roasting competitions, because why not make a competition out of everything? The “perfect” mallow to us is a crunchy lightly golden brown exterior with a gooey fall-off-the-roaster center. Our level of competence in marshmallow roasting is definitely increasing.

To celebrate Independence Day, we went out to eat at a cute little Mexican cafe on the Snake River. After a too-filling lunch, we went outside to explore the area a bit. There were SO many people! It really felt like a happy summer afternoon. People were using kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, inner tubes, and anything else that they could float on the river. The water was calm and probably only a few inches deep on the edges. Toddlers splashed around with their life jackets and laughter and chatter filled the air.

After lunch, we went to the hospital to have Ethan’s stitches removed, and then hit up the town for some holiday fun. The kids jousted, raced, bungee-d, bounced, and generally got stinky kid sweaty and hot, then cooled off with some shaved ice.

On the way back to camp, we saw a moose standing in the river. I had to pull over and get a pic. On the way back to the car, Joe says, “Ha! That’s ironic! A moose in the Buffalo river!”

Although it’s fuzzy, Jillian looks so stinkin precious in this picture it had to be shared.
The colorful flame was mesmerizing!

The next day we decided to make campfire donuts for breakfast and then go for a float on the river in a raft. The river was shallow in spots, so we had to do a bit of pushing, but it was a really cool way to spend the late afternoon.

We saw hundreds of wildflowers and beautiful river foliage, a moose, a beaver, cranes, seagulls, a very talkative orange-spot-wing-bird, a bunch of large fish in the water, a teeny minnow in our raft next to Eric’s feet (Jill wanted to keep it as a pet, we named it Meryl and set it free) and thousands of hungry mosquitoes.

At the end of the float, our whole crew was confident in their paddling abilities. I’m getting excited about the possibility of some whitewater rafting!

Yellowstone Part 1

Another gorgeous drive took us even further North near Henry’s Lake, a spot about 15 miles outside of the West entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Tanks were filled and we were thoroughly scrubbed and showered and ready to go off grid and boondock again. Eric navigated us to some BLM land and we landed a jackpot site. The spot was definitely the most beautiful we’d stayed at to date. We couldn’t see or hear any neighbors and we had plenty of space to explore, scrounge up firewood and hang our hammocks. The temperature was a lightly breezy 70 degrees, partly shaded and very few mosquitoes. Ethan decided to chop a fallen aspen tree into small bits with the hatchet for wood to whittle and Joe quickly made his way into Eric’s hammock, claiming it as his spot.

Jillian, Gabe, me and for one round, eve Ethan, played gin rummy around the little outdoor table and relished in the beauty of our new location. Gabe was the big winner this time.

In addition to the hammock Joe decided was his, we have a two-person hammock, so the rest of us get to use that one.

After the kids all tucked in their bunks, Eric and I gazed at the stars, softly talking about how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of life. It really is incredible how many stars there are when a person is able to escape from most light pollution.

The next day we decided to be tourons. We drove through Yellowstone, enjoying the beautiful scenery, Eric happily sticking his head out the window like a dog.

We chose to see the geyser, Old Faithful, erupt. The kids are learning one of the values I want to instill. I always say, “let’s leave a place better than we found it” when it comes to trash. Without even being prompted or asked, sweet Jillian picked up a piece of trash and thew it away. The bear-proof box stumped her for a bit, but she got it. I was so proud. We stood around wagering when the next eruption would come. None of us had cell service there, so we were just guessing based off of hunch. Eric was won the wager. Most of us thought it was an amazing sight, Ethan said it was “meh”. Stinker.

On the way out, a Yellowstone employee was taking down the flag and Eric’s good American side had to go help. It was sweet and the employee appreciated it.

The drive through the park back to our campsite we saw a huge herd of buffalo grazing by the river. It was absolutely idyllic.

The next day, after I did a bit of work, we went on a hike. It was Jillian’s first hike and all of the kids ROCKED it. The trail started at some of the colorful thermal pools and led back into the heavily-mosquito-ed woods. It had said it was easy/moderate, but there were definitely a few parts that were intimidating for beginners. I was so proud of how well everyone did. When we got to the falls, we were happily rewarded. I felt like I was in a movie. Ethan, Joe and I went to the base of the falls where a hot spring met the falls and created hot tub pools. We soaked our feet for a few minutes and looked around at the splendor around us. I felt like I was in a fantasy movie scene. We went back to Eric, Gabe and Jill and ate our packed lunches.

Gabe was thrilled about the whole wheat bread on his sandwich so he left it on the ground. Squirrels quickly grabbed it and started chowing down. Joe was able to grab the bag back, but those little thieves got a nice little snack of pb&j!

On our way back to the parking lot, a pair of squirrels chased each other RIGHT next to my ear and I of course squeaked so everyone got to make fun of me the rest of the hike. I also found a sloth in a tree stump, do you see it?

Everyone was nice and tired from the hike and Gabe even took an uncomfortable looking little kid style nap in the car.

The next day Joe and Eric went fishing. The fishing licenses, along with almost everything in the Yellowstone are much more expensive. We were determined to fish our two paid for days. Although we did not catch any of the infamous HUGE trout, we did get to see a pretty spectacular sunset.

Brown chicken brown cow

On our way to our next back yard, we went through Little America in Wyoming. I’d always wondered what it was exactly, and I’m sure since Covid-19 has changed the face of pretty much everything that we missed a lot, but it was like a really nice truck stop. They had some tourist items and we found two that fit Jillian like a glove. Ethan makes chimpanzee sounds, Jill’s sense of urgency sometimes aligns with a sloth’s.

In our setup of all this adventure, some of our inspirational bloggers/YouTubers recommended a membership for a thing called Harvest Hosts. Harvest Hosts is a network of farms, wineries, breweries and golf courses that allow you to stay on their property free of charge as long as you support their business by being a patron of their wares.

The drive to Shumway Farms was so beautiful. The clouds blanketed the snow capped peaks of Bridger National Forest, the green grass and flowers wrapped the hills and the sunlight that occasionally peeked through the clouds played with its spotlight. Joe drove the entire way, earning several of his remaining drive time hours to get his license, so I was able to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

It was a rainy, cold, and muddy setup at the farm, but we did it to the chorus moos, neighs and oinks.

Playing with the baby cows was incredible, and I was giddy. Their ages were days to weeks old, and they stay in their little pens until their old enough to join the others, generally about a month. They were so sweet. The three most talkative babies kept saying “Moo”, “Meh”, and “Mow”.

We went to their little store, purchased some ice cream and enjoyed being on a farm. Their ice cream is outstanding which is bittersweet because we wish we had access to buy it often! The locals were in and out of the store all day, I wonder how many of those people moved near Shumway to have access to it all the time?

The next day, we saw the chickens skipping their bouncy tail feathers around the farm and a rooster escort parading next to them. I got my obligatory pictures of a brown chicken and a brown cow, Jillian made a bright yellow dandelion bracelet, Ethan sat frustrated on the steps simmering about having to spend time outside while I worked, and Eric explored the different buildings and equipment on the farm.

Gabe saw me doing dishes and sweetly offered to help by drying and putting the dishes away. My heart beamed. He could have spent time doing something else, but he chose to help and spend those moments making a household chore a bonding experience.

That night, we watched how the farmer cleans and milks the cows and bottle fed the calves. They drank their milk so quickly we had all the calves fed in minutes. Joe sported his sense of humor by wearing the shirt, custom made by my friend who owns Riley Black Designs https://www.facebook.com/RileyBlackDesigns, with the quote from the movie Anchorman, “Milk was a bad choice”, while feeding them.

Then we looked over to see a pig outside its pen. The three farm dogs took a break from their tireless game of fetching and dropping rocks for us to throw and attempted to herd the pigs back into their home. One of the pigs headed for the road, one went over to the full-bellied calves, the quick one ran to the freshly milked cows, and the last one just ran around in circles seemingly confused by the dogs. Mr. Shumway calmly commented that they’d never been out before and devised a plan to get them back into their pens. The farmers grabbed the pigs’ bucket of milk and dropped the handle a few times so it would get the pigs’ attention. It worked, and all escapee pigs followed eagerly to get their milk trough filled.

We had a great time on our first Harvest Hosts adventure and we definitely will do more of them. The family was hospitable and kind and their raw milk, raw chocolate milk, ice cream, eggs and skyr were incredible! Here is their website if you are ever in the area (near the Tetons) and want to stop in and support them! http://www.shumwayfarms.com/

For some it’s the kitchen, for us, it is the table

For some it’s the kitchen, but for us, the table seems to be the heart of our new home.

I had forgotten what a dynamic gathering place a table can be until we didn’t have one big enough for all of us. At our last place, we had a square table and 4 chairs, so only 4 people sat at the table at a time, usually the kids, and Eric and I would stand at the corners during meals. We still gathered, but the after dinner chats didn’t generally include everyone.

I keep running across some of the most kind and generous co-workers on the planet, my current workplace included. We received some go-away/home warming gifts, one of which was a multi-functioning table. It folds up to be about 6″ deep and extends to about 5′ when folded out. My plan was to use this as my desk for work, dining table for dinners, and console table for charging devices at minimum that was easy to move around and pack up for move days.

I found the table I wanted and had it on my list of stuff to get. A co-worker decided she wanted to buy me an early birthday gift (literally 6 months away still) and purchased the table. We set it up and it’s perfect.

Our first dinner around the table was a windy night at Lake Hattie and would have been miserable to eat outside. We ate and laughed and got silly and then decided we should play Monopoly. Board games are one of my geek hobbies, I absolutely LOVE playing games with people around a table. In this heart-filling moment, I realized a table is so much more than just a place to set stuff. It’s a place where we are focused on each other, connecting, creating memories, sharing stories, and pouring our hearts out in meaningful discussions. I’m so grateful for this gift, thank you, D!

Jillian the slumlord, kicked all our booties at Monopoly after two days of playing

The next day, I was working at the table while it was in “desk mode” when I started hearing rolling laughter and giggles coming from the kids’ bedroom. I peek in the door and I see three kiddos sitting around their table, challenging each other’s quick-thinking memory banks with the board game 5-Second Rule. Since we were boondocking, meaning limited power sources and dead devices, they are being more creative in their entertainment sources. The optimist in me hopes they will grow to appreciate the precious human connections that can be made while sitting around the table.