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Our Yurt Raising, Unpacked.

Well that was one crazy weekend. My knuckles are swollen, I wake up nightly to myself unconsciously scratching the mosquito bites on my legs, and I’ve got a handful of cuts and bruises that will last me a few weeks. But at the end of the day, you know what? We have a yurt! (See our progress as it happened on my Instagram account, here.)

I will say the whole experience was, for the most part, smooth. It was hard — yes. It was time consuming. But it was fun! And SO AMAZING that we had friends come out and help with various parts of the raising. Mikey, Dad, Brandon, Andrew and Louise, Chris… we could not have done it without you. Diaun, the homemade mojitos and jalapeño poppers might have been our saving grace on Saturday afternoon. To Sonny, your generosity is so appreciated, letting us borrow your tools and trailer… Ron, your circular saw helped us right when we needed it. Beth—your responses to our frantic text messages (what screws do we use on this part?!) were critical. All the kindness from our support network here in Montana is slightly overwhelming… we can’t wait to return those favors.

I have a few observations about this weekend that got me thinking about how I can adapt to yurt life.

First — and foremost, planning ahead. We ran into this a few times concerning the need for electricity for the chop saw and the circular saw… imagine, you have to drive from our house all the way up to the yurt (about a 5 minute drive, depending on how slow you go with the trailer) and back down every time you need electricity. After making that trip twice because you forgot something at the house, you start thinking ahead and planning things out. Plus, we try to be conscious that even that small drive, back and forth with our Durango sucks gasoline. We may have a Greasecar, but our little VW Golf doesn’t pull a heavy trailer/hold walls and tools and lumber as well as our Durango (which is an automatic gas guzzler) can.

Another thing — yurts are totally beginner friendly. With a little common sense and again, planning ahead, I really think anyone can do it. OK, I feel that we had a bit of an advantage… not because we bought a used yurt that had everything cut to exact proportions for us already (I actually think in some ways that made it harder to force the puzzle pieces together). Our advantage came from first disassembling the yurt from Beth’s property, and then being able to build it within a month of that time. The pieces were still fresh in our minds. But even if we hadn’t done that, we would still have been fine.

Initially, we called Hayes, the owner of Shelter Designs in Missoula, and asked him if we could hire him for the yurt raising. There are a lot of moving parts, and Hayes is a great crowd organizer… he knows what needs to get done (obviously, he does this for a living). When Sean asked him, Hayes basically said (paraphrasing here), “I’m pretty busy this summer, but I think you guys can handle it. I’ll send you a DVD.”

I thought… A DVD. Really? What are we doing here, baking a cake or raising a yurt? But when we actually watched the DVD, we knew Hayes was right. It explained everything from start to finish, with super detailed instructions… exactly the things Hayes would have been telling us had he been here. So we would do a few steps on the yurt, and then watch some DVD on a laptop… go back to yurt stuff, have lunch, and watch a little more DVD. That got us through it. That DVD was the key to building our yurt. Welcome to the YouTube generation, people.

I’ll post a few photos here that I didn’t post on Instagram this weekend.

Mikey, placing the cable through the tops of the lattice walls:

The cable is made to fit our 30-foot yurt EXACTLY. Thus, it takes a bit of time to wiggle it through the lattice walls perfectly enough for this hook to actually lock.

Brandon, Sean and Mikey, prepping to lift that ring (at their feet) above their heads and start placing the beams, which connect to the outter lattice walls. This is the most dangerous part of a yurt raising… those beams are heavy!

A nervous smile from me on the ground. My job was to run around the yurt like a crazy woman, handing the guys one end of a beam, and placing the other end of the beam on the cable in the precise spot. Luckily, we only had a few tense moments, one of which involved a beam nailing me in the arm. I’ve got a massive bruise to show for that one.

Until the first five (maybe six) beams are up, it’s super tense because someone always has to be holding that ring up (which weighs a ton). It was a lot of arms-over-the-head action for those guys.

Remember what I said about things being difficult when everything is already trimmed for you with a used yurt? Yeah… things get a bit dicey when you’re trying to fit the last pieces of the puzzle into the mix. We used a pulley system (thanks, Brandon!) to pull the center ring westward so that we had room on the east side to ease the last few beams into place. After all was said and done, IT WAS LEVEL!

Once the beams are in, it’s fun to put on the white lining (1st layer) and the insulation (2nd layer). Although, we were pretty lucky the sun was behind a cloud during this part… that insulation is like one big sun screen!

Here was the HARDEST part of the day. Even harder than putting in the beams. That crescent roll up there is the outer canvas of the yurt and it weighs a million pounds. Maybe not a million, but it sure seemed like it. It took 4 of us to hoist it up to the scaffolding, and then a lot of grunting and groaning to get it out of the center ring and onto the roof. I won’t even go into the madness involved with trying to spread that thing out around the yurt. Again, if you’re building a NEW yurt, your canvas comes nice and folded — presumably ready for you to flop it out on top. With ours? It was a bit of a jumble to get it looking good. It took us HOURS. Just on this part.

And after getting the top on, we had to then put on the side insulation panels and the side canvas panels. They were heavy, but nowhere near as heavy as the top. This part was also difficult because our yurt is so high off the ground, and we had to use lean-to ladders (as opposed to the A-frame ladders) to get as high as the top.

Then there was a dome, being pulled up the outside to the top:

And then, behold the yurt in all her glory. Still a few things to be done on the exterior like trim, etc. (and we’re adding the skirting asap this week), but on the whole she’s looking good.

Daisy is looking forward to the day the yurt has either carpeting or a soft bed for her to lay in. Other than that, she enjoyed her weekend. (Thanks Louise for the great photo!)

 

 

The Yurt Raising is Upon Us

As we begin to prepare for the yurt raising this weekend, anticipation courses through my veins. My thoughts are consumed with, “What will this be like in the yurt?” and “What do I really need for the yurt?” and “How can I downsize even further before the yurt?” The thing is: We are consumed with so many things. We work all day to make money… to buy things that we don’t need… because we’re trained to think “This Feels Good Because I Earned It.” We’re trained to think that the size of our homes and the value of our cars are a reflection of how “good” we’re doing in life. To clarify, I’m not saying we should all downsize to Tiny Homes and stop supporting local businesses. I’m suggesting that perhaps, there’s no need for this mentality of excess.

Sean and I watched a movie called “Tiny” last night, about the movement to live with less things and space, and live fuller in terms of experiences and relationships. Arguably (and I love this point) when there are less things to clutter our lives, we are able to focus our energy more on the things that matter — life. love. adventure. It’s a conscious decision to live that way, and one that The Minimalists also support.

Technically, our yurt - being 700 square feet without the loft, is just barely (sometimes not even) considered a “tiny home.” Folks living in 128 square feet, or 58 square feet can claim that title. In fact, Tiny Home-ers might call our yurt a Tiny Mansion. Nonetheless, it’s still a tent at heart lacking many of today’s common comforts. And for me, 700 square feet of living space, off-the-grid in a peaceful forest setting is just right for us in this moment. Follow our journey this weekend on Instagram. (And wish us luck!)

Here I am, pushing one of the last pieces of our insulated deck panels into place:

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I love seeing Sean smile like this, with a sense of accomplishment.

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Sean and Daisy, celebrating the Busby win when the deck was finished.

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Last night, testing out the first view through our french doors (frame). Photo credit: Louise Anten/Camera Shye Photography.

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Yurt in Montana Update - Demolition Complete!

During the past few weeks, Sean and I (along with a number of extremely generous friends and neighbors) finished the disassembly of our yurt from it’s former home, just 15 miles to the south of where we live. It currently resides in six parts: the first in our basement, the second in our home office, the third in our living room, the fourth in our storage shed, the fifth in the other storage shed, and the sixth in a storage container on our property. It’s hard to believe we finally own it, and it’s also hard to believe that someday it will sit on our land looking out across Whitefish and the Flathead Valley into Glacier National Park. And to answer the question I get from just about everyone: Yes, we intend to LIVE in the yurt. Full time. Seriously.

Find more about Montana life and our yurt journey by following our Instagram feeds: Mollie & Sean

Sean, working on the demo of the bathroom closet:

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When you purchase a second-hand yurt and are responsible for disassembling it, you have to label everything — literally EVERYTHING — so that when it comes time to put things back together, you can connect A to B and VOILA! Yurt happens.

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The view outside from the bathroom window:IMG_1949

The yurt interior after our first major demo day. Living room/bedroom walls and closets are completely gone. Drywall is still on the outer walls. Things are looking more empty.
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After everything was out of the interior, it was time to demo the exterior. Off come the layers:IMG_1861

Dave and Johnny, manning the scaffolding:IMG_1865

The Busbys, hopping on ladders to grab the canvas:IMG_1867

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Dave, manning the top of the scaffolding solo as we removed the roof rafters, one by one:IMG_1887

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Johnny, Beth (who we purchased the yurt from), Sean, Dave and Shelby. I would have been in the photo to make Sean look less awkward, but someone had to click the button:IMG_1930

Folding up the roof insulation:

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Rolling up the canvas “roof.” This thing weighs a TON:IMG_1954

We’ve probably taken 25+ trips from the yurt home with STUFF. After demo-ing the exterior, we had two large trailers full of goodies:

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After taking down the yurt piece, we had to take down the deck, which is made up of insulated panels:IMG_1956

 

After the panels were off, then we had to disassemble the foundation. Here’s Sean and our friend, Andrew drilling and crow-barring:IMG_1998

 

All that was left were the concrete footings:

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So long yurt. Till we meet again:IMG_9985

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And of course, apres yurt activities were in full swing. Like axe throwing. How Montana of us: 1926099_10152277946155804_9258107_o

Special thanks to Beth and Johnny, Dave and Shelby, Andrew, Emily, and Hank for all your help during this process. Hopefully you’re all not sick of hot dogs and beer — we’ve still got a long way to go!

Find more about Montana life and our yurt journey by following our Instagram feeds here: Mollie & Sean

 

#TBT (Throw-back Thursday) — Bye, Winter. It’s been real.

Just as suddenly as it came, winter in northwest Montana has gone - seemingly for good. Although the snow-capped peaks of Glacier National Park line the eastern wall of the Flathead Valley, the majority of the valley floor is becoming lush and green again. Birds are chirping, turkeys roam our yard, the daylight last longer and we find buds on the branches of larch trees and the lilac bush outside our home. While at one time, we dreaded the return of summertime while living in the hot, desert, today we welcome the changing of the seasons. As Sean says, it’s the only time in his life when he can remember looking forward to summer. As we ring in springtime from our corner of the world, I was stoked to find some photos on Sean’s computer from adventures to Glacier National Park and Tamarack Brewery in Lakeside, Montana with my best friend Lisa, and her hubby Dave taken last summer/fall. The weather was sunny and crisp that weekend, and the four of us ventured out in the Greasecar for a hike in Glacier and a tour of Flathead Lake.

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Life in the Round: Building a Yurt in Montana

After three months of relatively constant travel, life has finally slowed down enough for Sean and I to breathe, ski our local mountain, walk our property with Daisy in tow, and reflect on the next journey we’re about to take. So it’s with great pride that we announce our next adventure: We’re building a yurt!

I’m willing to bet you have some questions. Like, what the heck is a yurt and how did you decide to build one? Well. The answer is two-fold. This story starts at the end of 2012. Sean and I had just begun our journey as Greasecar owners with our 1977 Dodge Travel Queen motorhome that we purchased from our co-owners, Russ and Brittany. We’d gotten a taste of living simply on our drive to Alaska and back. Not only did we utilize a waste product (waste veggie oil) for our motorhome’s fuel and a natural product (Goal Zero solar power) for our electricity, but I think we learned a lot about using less in general. Living in small places, making do with what you have, and using the earth in ways it was intended to be used. (Editor’s Note: I wouldn’t recommend driving to Alaska with 4 people and a dog to figure these things out.)

The second phase of our yurt journey was a trip to Central Asia in December of that year. We visited a small, mountainous country called Kyrgyzstan near the birthplace of yurts (Mongolia) where being a yurt-craftsman is a highly respected, lucrative trade. Families depend on the sale of these structures to support themselves. A yurt — simply defined — is a round structure traditionally used by nomadic tribes in Central Asia. ShelterDesigns.net defines it a bit further: “A yurt consists of a round wall and a roof system that is free standing using a tension ring at the wall and a compression ring where the roof rafters tie together.” Some would call it a glorified tent:

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While in Kyrgyzstan, Sean and I fell in love with the symmetry and balance we found in traditional yurts. As opposed to the jagged, 90-degree angles of a traditional house, we felt more at ease in these structures where energy can travel with easy throughout the space. Keep in mind, these photos are of very traditional yurts — not quite the same structure we’re putting on our land (we’ll get to that in a minute). For now, I love this photo of Sean — it captures true happiness:

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If this family could sell three yurts a year (which they do — sometimes more), they will have enough income to not only survive, but fare extremely well in comparison to families of other trades in the village.

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In a yurt-focused family, everyone gets involved in the construction in various ways. The man of the house likely had the craft passed down to him through generations, and thus he takes on the construction of the exterior parts.

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Here he is coaxing the beams to bend ever-so-slightly to support the curved shape of the dome.

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Our friend, Azamat, is shown here translating with Sean about the whole process.

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The women are involved with creating the critical components of the exterior weather shield and the interior carpets and wall panels.

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These tassels (or “earrings” as they called them) hang in the yurt as a symbol of protection, when coming from one world (outside) to another (inside).

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This woman was showing us the woven mats that she and the other women in the family handmade:

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Here’s a close up of the woven pieces of the mat — can you imagine the depth of precision that goes into pattern-making?

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Outside, I found the device they use to weave the mats:

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So as you can imagine, we first strategized how we were going to get a yurt shipped from Kyrgyzstan so we could help support this family… until we discovered that shipping (and the energy output that goes with making that happen) was an absurd use of energy — just to get a yurt from A to B. So, we started squirreling away money wherever we could to buy a yurt in the states — waiting until the time was right. Once we had our land in Whitefish, we knew the time was coming. Plus, we knew that by investing our savings in a yurt and simplifying our lives, we will be able to rent out our current home to Whitefish visitors — creating additional income for our family. Win-win.

Then a few weeks ago — the time arrived. Sean had gone back and forth, up and down and in-between to determine what sort of “tiny structure” we were going to build on our land — tiny house, yurts, fire towers, tee-pees, etc. After months of research, hemming and hawing, he made it a full 360 degrees and landed back on a yurt… officially. As if the universe had been waiting for us to decide, Sean came across a pre-assembled yurt for sale on YurtForum.com 20 minutes from our home manufactured by Montana’s Shelter Designs. A Montana-made yurt available LOCALLY… and technically, we would be buying second-hand. It was perfect.

Then we met Beth (you can read the Daily Interlake story about HER yurt journey here). Oddly enough, Beth downsized that same year (2012) from her 3800-square foot home in Massachusetts for a 30-foot yurt that she built with the help of friends on property in Kalispell. Beth’s background is in sustainable design and she’s extremely passionate about this 2-year old structure — she is organized, smart and she built the yurt with all the “bells and whistles” that we would have wanted to use ourselves to assure it would be livable through Northwest Montana’s harsh winter months. A few life changes meant she needed to sell the yurt, and we couldn’t imagine a better match for us.

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We’ll show photos of the yurt interior in the coming months, but for now we can tell you some hard facts. The yurt is roughly 700 square feet of living space, plus a loft (300 additional square feet). It’s 1 bedroom (plus sleeping space in the loft) and 1 bathroom, fully wired and plumbed, although we’ll be looking into alternative methods such as solar power, a composting toilet, and rainwater collection. Here are a few photos we snapped on the top of our property, scouting out the location for our yurt with views of Glacier National Park to the east, Whitefish Lake to the northeast and the expanse of the Flathead Valley to the south.

Walking up (and keeping warm with my new favorite skirt, compliments of Skhoop):

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Here is the view captured in the warmer months:

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Sean, stomping a perimeter in the snow:

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Daisy doesn’t really know what a yurt is yet… but she says as long as it’s as warm as her Ruffwear Quinzee jacket, she’s into it:

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This quote I read recently from Melody Beattie sums up our yurt journey to a tee:

“While it’s fun to go on a trip, and trips often coincide with going to new places in our personal lives, we don’t have to load up the car and hit the road to find what we’re looking for. The places of power we seek are within us. Places of comfort, joy, wisdom, silence, healing, peace. The places we visit often reflect those qualities, reinforce them, remind us that they’re there. But the places, the locations we visit, are only mirrors, extensions of ourselves. The healing and magic we seek are not someplace else. They are within each of us.”

Cheers to the next adventure!

The Quest for the Perfect Butcher Block

My love for finding treasures dates back to elementary school, when I would go to rummage sales with my neighbor, Ally. It was so exciting - the thrill of the hunt! Sometimes for a purpose, and sometimes for nothing in particular. I bought so much junk… Caboodles, doll houses, trapper keepers, books, T-shirts, jewelry—the list goes on and on. Today, garage sales might be the only place 25 cents goes a long way. But yet, I was inspired then just as much as I am today when I shop for decor for our home at vintage shops.

There’s something so satisfying about browsing through vintage wares, selecting an item for your home and then actually seeing it come to life in your house as a recycled treasure—and it’s not something your friends will have. It’s completely unique to your home. Nearly all the furniture in our home is from vintage/thrift stores or things that have been handed down to us from family. I feel this is one of the ways I satisfy my love for decorating, and my new-found desire to recycle things (like our waste veggie oil-powered cars!).

When I went to the Vintage Whites Christmas Market recently in Kalispell (one of my favorite events that comes around a few times a year!), I wanted one thing, and one thing only: A butcher block. When I found it? It was like a movie where the clouds part for a moment and a beam of sunshine illuminated the butcher block of my dreams. Lo and behold, it was handmade by a man in Bozeman and fastened to a frame of recycled barn wood. So much more satisfying than buying one in a big box store:

These white jars for flour and sugar are also thrifted from the Vintage Whites Market.

In the spirit of Christmas shopping, I wanted to share more photos from this great event. If vintage shopping isn’t your thing, maybe these photos will inspire you to try it… You never know what you’re going to find! Whether you have a purpose or none at all, the thrill of the hunt is the object of the game. Happy holiday hunting, and more importantly, happy holidays!

I’m so stoked on this jewelry from Poisonberry. It’s made in Montana (obviously) and there are so many cute pieces. I met owner and artist, Britt McGillivray at the show and was blown away by all her merchandise. If you live in Montana, you probably need one of these necklaces. Just sayin’. Click here to view the Poisonberry Jewelry website.

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Sorry, I know these aren’t vintage wares, but these cake pops were so cute!

How we came to own a grease-powered RV

I remember the conversation like it happened yesterday.

Sean came home one night in January, 2012 and told me the news: He and Russ found a 1977 Dodge Travel Queen Motorhome for sale and they wanted to split the purchase, fix it up, put in a waste vegetable oil fuel system and drive it to Alaska and back with the four of us—Russ, his wife, Brittany, Sean and me.

Oh, I shouldn’t worry about the fact that the motorhome was older than me…by 11 years. And that I hadn’t seen it. And that it might have a wood burning stove coming out of the roof. The original engine had been replaced by a newer Dodge Cummings Turbo Diesel engine… And the engine alone was worth more than the guy was asking for the whole vehicle. Oh, and Russ thinks its a good idea.

So. What’s a girl to do? As in most instances when Sean has made up his mind, I agreed. What did we have to lose? Russ had agreed to be the brains on the project and to put it simple, Russ doesn’t do “impulse purchases.” All we needed to do was show up and do what he asked.

And so, for the next 5 months, we (and by we, I mean mostly Russ) fixed up the ole Travel Queen into a legit motor vehicle that ran off waste veggie oil. Russ worked hard… I mean, really hard to get her in shape for our May 29th departure. Sean and Brittany handled the plumbing (with only a few slight explosions of fecal matter from the previous owner—true story), I handled some interior painting, and Britt sewed seat cushions like a maniac. Big thanks to my dad as well for some carpentry work. And so began our 32-day adventure from Utah to Alaska and back.

Today, we’re the proud owners of the Travel Queen, and another waste veggie oil-powered VW Golf. Sean’s got a whole grease filtering setup in our basement, and we’re hooked on this alternative fuel system, especially to satisfy our love for travel around the country.

Russ, making pictures (large format black and white) from the top of the Travel Queen (TQ):

IMG_7905Filtering waste veggie oil into the Travel Queen tank from Wasabi Sushi in Whitefish during our Travel Queen adventure (before Sean and I moved to Montana):

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Sean, filtering waste veggie oil from Wasabi Sushi in our basement today:
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Top 5 Reasons to Ski Whitefish Mountain Resort

It’s official. I wrapped up my first “Opening Weekend” at Whitefish Mountain Resort. For those who don’t speak ski-town, that’s code for “the weekend the resort opens.” Unlike Sean, Whitefish is the first resort town I’ve ever lived in. He’s lived in Steamboat Springs, Whistler, and grew up in Southern California, near resorts like Mountain High and Big Bear. Me? I grew up on Nordic Mountain—a whopping 265 vertical feet of sweet Wisconsin “powder.” (Emphasis on the quotes.) Whitefish Mountain Resort’s 2,305 vertical feet provide a bit of an upgrade as my “home mountain.” The entire mountain was open for the big weekend due to the heavy winter weather we’ve had in the last month. Although Sean and I do a ton of backcountry, it was fun to ride the steel horses to the top instead of relying on our own two feet.

Here are the top 5 reasons we love to ski Whitefish Mountain Resort:

5. The Snow Bus. No ride? No 4WD? No motivation to drive up a mountain road? Whatever your reasoning, the Snow Bus is for you. Making stops across Whitefish before heading up to the resort, the Snow Bus is a free ride to Whitefish Mountain Resort for anyone who needs it. With the last bus descending after 10pm through April 5th, you can ski all day, have some brews at the Bierstube and head down to town without having to get behind the wheel. Click here to see this season’s schedule.

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4. Beards feel at home. In other places, children may say “Stranger danger!” to this man. In Montana, children envy this man. In all seriousness, the Montana crowd is incredibly welcoming, interesting to chat with, and facial hair abounds. As Sean says, snow is an insulator. So are beardsicles.

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3. Less crowds. More to ride. Northwest Montana is like America’s best kept skiing secret. Don’t tell them we told you… but the resort has all the personality and terrain of Colorado or Utah, and none of the crowds. Couple that with double digit negative degree temperatures for opening day, and we practically had the mountain (and all its sweet terrain) to ourselves:

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2. The Views. I know everyone probably thinks their home mountain has the best views, but Whitefish actually does. No other resort can say their Summit House looks directly into the Crown of the Continent—Glacier National Park. And when the snow covers the trees and the clouds lift for a day, GNP is in full majestic force to the east. You’ll also hear the trees referred to as Snow Ghosts, because as the winter progresses, they are covered by layers of snow and rime (ice) from the humidity in the climate here. Eventually, all green is covered and they’re big, billowing ghosts scattered across the mountain.

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1. The après ski scene is rad. Whether you stay up at the mountain to experience the glory of the Legendary Bierstube, or you mosey on down Big Mountain Road into town for a brew and some french fries at the Bull Dog Saloon, your experience post-ski is going to be a good one. Cheers to a great season!

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The road to the Polebridge Mercantile

The snow is falling in northwest Montana, and we’ve wasted no time getting after some deep powder turns. Whitefish Mountain Resort opens this weekend and the incredible local backcountry scene beckons with each inch of snowfall. A few weeks ago, after one of the first snows, our friend, Emily and her dog, Daisy (yep, same name as our dog), made the journey with us to Polebridge and the Polebridge Mercantile.

The word “journey” is no exaggeration. Polebridge is a remote, off-the-grid (literally, electricity-free) town on the western border of Glacier National Park, along the North Fork of the Flathead River. The sleepy town can be accessed through Columbia Falls, toward Glacier, then veering off toward Canada on a windy, gravel road—in our case, snow covered road. One hour and thirty five minutes from Whitefish, it’s a worthwhile investment to go to Polebridge in the summer. In the winter, it’s a darn-near commitment. At some point along the road, your cell phone loses reception completely and at the same time, you can taste the sweet Huckleberry Beer Bread, fresh Meatball sandwiches, and sweet pastries that await at the generator-powered Polebridge Mercantile. It’s become one of our most favorite places in Montana.

After fueling up at the Merc, we fastened on our skins and headed out along the Forest Service road with the dogs (Daisy, Daisy and Ava) for a ski-jour. It’s amazing to experience the beauty of a remote, mountain escape like this one. Sean and I laugh when we refer to Polebridge as our “escape” because generally speaking, Montana is our escape. But sometimes, even when you live in paradise, your mind craves a day away in the mountains in a place like Polebridge. (The lure of a fresh-baked huckleberry bear claw helps, too!)

Along the road to the North Fork, the tips of the baby trees were dotted with tiny snowballs:

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During the drive, Emily noticed a wolf in the distance headed to the river. We were lucky enough to pull over in time to snap photos.

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The snow covered road proved to be too much for our low-riding veggie-oil VW Golf (free fuel = easy trip). We had to turn back on the first attempt with the Golf because of the deep snow drift in middle of the gravel road. During the short time we drove along it, the VW’s undercarriage surely got a nice snow scrub! We turned around and headed home to get the Durango, and then headed all the way back to make the full trip to Polebridge. That shows you how dedicated we were to accessing this special place!

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Fuel for the day (and the coming week!)…

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The Mercantile is the heartbeat of this tiny town—featuring not only the baked goods, but necessities and Montana trinkets for tourists and locals alike.

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The Merc is well-known for the aforementioned huckleberry bear claws:

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Although most of the day was cloudy, we could see the tips of Glacier National Park in the distance on our way out.

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In the excitement to warm up after a long tour, Daisy and Ava were slightly tangled in the back of the car. A good laugh for the end of a great day.

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Thoughts on love… and marriage

During our first few months in Montana, I struggled to adjust. You see, back in Central Utah, we had a limited number of things to do with a limited number of friends with limited accessibility. Montana is the opposite, with opportunities around every corner. And yet, my instinct was to work through the day and most of the night because that’s what I was used to.

First off, yes: I am a slight workaholic. Being connected via iPhone is a blessing for productivity and a curse for having a life outdoors. It doesn’t help (but also helps a lot!) that I love my job running a business. With so many things to experience and a full time+ job, I couldn’t figure out the puzzle. And although I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered the art of work/life balance (do we ever?), I will say one of the most valuable pieces of advice Sean has given me is so simple.

Family First.

However that resonates with you. At the end of the day, family (for me, its the man I chose to spend my life with) is my constant. My true north. That guiding force that keeps me motivated day to day. He loves me through my struggles and cheers me on in my triumphs. I am extremely fortunate to have a flexible job that I love, but without my family, the work… the setting… the life… it all lacks meaning.

I learn from Sean constantly—he pushes me to be detail oriented with our finances, to be a mountain woman who can start good fires in our wood stove, and to get outdoors and live with a sense of spontaneity. I push him to be consistent with emails and organization, to seek independence on home projects to boost his confidence, and to pursue his passions again after years of working the daily grind. Together, we continue to strive to understand each other and love one another in the ways we need to be loved… and I know someday I’ll look back and laugh at the challenges we have today versus the challenges we’ll have 10 years from now. But through it all, it is my hope that we will continue to put our relationship first.

In the meantime, all this talk of marriage reminds me of my friend, Lindley. Lindley and her fiance Jared are getting married in December, and I was fortunate to be invited to her wedding shower recently, hosted by Megan (who you might remember from #OurAdventuregram Episode 1). These photos document just a small portion of the love, laughter and well wishes that were shared that day.

The bride to be:

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Megan did such a great job of playing host. She came up with all sorts of afternoon cocktails for the group… so classy!

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We all had to help Lindley by writing date night ideas on painted popsicle sticks, each with a theme: Fancy Pants, A Night at Home, and Go to the Mountains.

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And this… I LOVE this part. Sharing recipes! The best way to start a new life together is with good food!

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A hug for Megan from the mother of the bride:IMG_5744

A reminder to fill out the recipe cards:IMG_5781

A creative take on the recipe card:

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The consequences of being too “Montana”

On occasion, business takes Sean and I to Vegas. Like anywhere with traffic and lots of pavement, this is not a place we would choose to go on our own accord. However, when work summons—we go.

Thus, this weekend we found ourselves at Mandalay Bay for dinner… and a few drinks… and—long story, short—met this extremely nice gentleman who had just proposed to his fiancé at the Vegas version of the Eiffel Tower. This gentleman, who I will call George, taught us about Fireball Shots (aptly named for the burning sensation in your chest for 20+ minutes afterward), and brought us along into an ice bar with his friends and fiancé, complete with rummage-sale fur coats, Russian hats, and trays of vodka shots. We hadn’t planned on meeting someone like George, so we did what anyone in Vegas would do, and we hung in his posse.

Eventually, George informed our group that it was time for “Lights Nighclub,” the highly anticipated climax of an evening in Vegas. For those who haven’t been, it’s a high intensity nightclub with the ambiance of a Cirque du Soile show… and liquor. We followed George—who was beaming because of his deluxe reservation and bottle service awaiting us at the club. We hopped in the special “table reservations” line until we heard someone address Sean, “SIR! Yes, you sir, with the beard. No sandals allowed.” Sure enough, Sean was clad in a beard, flannel shirt, gray jeans, his signature beanie… and his favorite SOLE sandals. We were turned away at the door because Sean didn’t meet the dress code expectations. #Fail #NotReallyAFail

Later that night, after we were settling down in our room, we Googled the nightclub. The website said: Dress Code: Upscale fashionable attire. We do not permit: hats, sandals, flip flops, gym shoes, shorts, oversized clothing, jeans with holes, chains, or athletic wear of any kind.

Turns out, you can take the Montana Man to Vegas, but you can’t take the Montana out of the Man… (and yes, I forced him to pose for this photo.)

Mountain Khakis Teton Flanel Shirt:

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Our First Snow - a lesson on appreciating the forest & cultivating the trees

Well, it’s official. Our first snow in our new home has come and gone. It’s November in Montana, and dare I say it…winter is here! And while our hometown has changed since last year, Sean’s giddy feelings about the “first snow” have not. It’s like watching a kid on Christmas… except “Christmas” isn’t a set date. Christmas could happen any day—so when it does, it’s that much more of a surprise.

If you know Sean, you know he was SnapChatting the moment it started to dump:

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For the past two weeks, northwest Montana’s forecast has been calling for “snow” every other day… but until this Sunday, NOTHING came. Sometimes it would say a 90% chance of snow in Whitefish—and still, nothing would happen. Seeing Sean on those days is like seeing a kid on Christmas who gets the wrong Lego set from Grandma. Angry, but not really angry because Grandma’s just trying to do her job, and Grandma does what she wants. So when the snow finally started coming down in earnest, Sean was as happy as could be. You can’t see it in the photo above, but he’s got a massive grin on his face.

I walked around the perimeter of our home the morning after, snapping photos of our first Montana snow. Looking at all the beautiful, snow-covered trees and seeing the sliver of morning light coming from the east, I recalled a lecture I heard recently, and I reflected on the forest surrounding our home as it applies to life.

Oftentimes, the day-to-day gripes overshadow our “big picture.” We feel obstructed from achieving our mission in life because we’ve got a bunch of seemingly meaningless stuff to do first. Metaphorically speaking, we focus on the forest, when we miss the trees standing right in front of us.

I believe we should know what the forest looks like, meaning our “greater picture,” or our “purpose” in life. Not our job, but rather what is the true talent we were put on the earth to do? We should never lose sight of that, and similarly, allow that forest to change as our lives change with us. In the meantime, our day-to-day focus shouldn’t be on that forest, but rather on each tree, one at a time… cultivating each with love and kindness. We must pay attention to the small things—our trees—that put us in the right place at the right time. Because in the end, when we look back, we will see that it was the trees (however meaningless they seemed at the time) that got us to where we are.

“Don’t focus on the mountains all the time. Focus on what makes the mountain whole.” —Levi Lusko

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Fall Colors at 114° West

Having moved to Whitefish in March, I’m still in that phase of awe as we transition through new seasons in our new home. Although I took these photos weeks ago, the fall colors in this part of the country are still spectacular, and the crisp, cool air is a refreshing change, preparing us for winter—which is just on the horizon. Not much longer and we’ll be on skis again!

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These trees are called larch trees, and while they look like pine trees, this breed sheds their needles every fall. Before that, they turn a blazing shade of yellow. It’s like being surrounded by yellow Christmas trees! (Brittany: Not as good as hot pink Christmas trees, but close.)

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Fully recovered from her incident with the bear, Daisy enjoys every opportunity to soak up the season: DSCN0047

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This view is from our bedroom—straight into Glacier National Park.

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I gave a tour of our 10 acres to my friend Courtney a while back, who writes a Montana style blog called 114° west (www.114-west.com—as Whitefish sits at 114 degrees longitude). As a style blogger in my former life, the fashionista in me envies Courtney for her ability to put together stylish yet incredibly Montana-esque ensembles. Born and raised in Whitefish, Court is one of the most genuine women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in this new chapter in our lives. Plus, her outfit in these photos is the perfect compliment for fall in the northwest and the changing of the season.

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Adventures in our own backyard: Picking for Huck Pies

One of the reasons Sean and I were initially drawn to Montana was the abundance of outdoor activities at our disposal. At any given moment (in any given season), we could be paddle-boarding in Whitefish Lake, backcountry skiing in Glacier National Park, cycling the hundreds of road biking routes through the lush valley, mountain biking the muddy paths of the Whitefish Trail, or hiking up Big Mountain. I’ve got literally hundreds of photos of various activities we’ve done—I’m determined to post them here to showcase Montana’s magnificence!

In the last few months, we’ve hiked at Whitefish Mountain Resort a number of times, and about halfway to the summit is a vast clearing where the bushes are absolutely packed with massive huckleberries. Our friends mentioned how they’d never seen huckleberries that big—even after living in Whitefish for many years. When our friend Chloe visited from across the border a few weeks ago, we couldn’t resist taking our Canadian friend on her first huck-picking mission. In return, she baked us some delicious huckleberry hand-pies. We begged her to stay and continue baking for us, but alas, she retreated to Canada where she is currently perfecting her recipes.

In these photos, you’ll notice Ava—the black and white dog—who belongs to our friends Russ and Britt. They are currently teaching abroad in Beijing (you can read their stories here!) and we’ve got little Ava in our care for a few months. The best part is Ava came with a dog pack from Ruffwear (find here). She’s a bit of a mountain beast with an endless supply of energy—carrying her own water, snacks, frisbees, and poop bags. Sean’s pack is the Osprey Kode pack (find here).

Our happy Canadian friend, enjoying some classic American berries.

These bushes were literally weighted with berries!

This jug looks empty here, but we managed to fill the entire thing that day, plus two more containers! Visor by Mountain Khakis (find here). Top by Polarmax (find here).

Although Ava looks slightly annoyed in this photo, she is growing accustomed to getting her picture taken frequently in Montana. And she knows that a good photo session is typically followed by her favorite activity in the entire world: Frisbee.

Snacktime with a view at Whitefish Mountain Resort:

Mmm… huck pies! So good we couldn’t even wait for the camera before digging in:

Montana. It’s not just Paradise… it’s Bear-adise

Prior to our return to Montana, our neighbor had been sending texts and emails recounting various bear sightings on our property. Apparently, the apple tree in our yard is quite the scene for the black bears in the ‘hood. Sean has also been reading articles in the local paper for months about all the bears in Whitefish this season. A quote from the Whitefish Pilot read, “Bear expert Erik Wenum says at least one bear is roaming the streets of Whitefish at any given moment.” So, as soon as we pulled in the driveway yesterday, I headed over to our neighbors’ to get the scoop and meet their new puppy (adorable 8-week-old Golden Retriever). On my way over, Sean shouted, “Do you have the bear spray?”

“No! I’m just going to the neighbors,” I called back.

Sean was a minute behind me, bear spray in tow. After meeting the pup, I ran back to the house for something (sans bearspray) and just as I was calling Daisy to come into the house, a heard a rustling in the bushes just up the hill. Not a second later, I had Daisy inside and watched a small black bear 40 feet away from me, saunter away up the hill. It didn’t even acknowledge my presence. The bear disappeared from my view, and as I came to my senses, I realized our VW Golf Greasecar was sitting JUST at the base of the hill, not 10 feet from where the bear had been.

Let that sink in: Greasecar + Bear = tasty treat and car demolition. I looked closer and realized the windows were wide open. The trunk was full of sweet-smelling waste veggie oil. It was go-time.

I ran to the car (sans bearspray), bear still slightly in sight in the distance, backed it out of the area and drove it around to the front of our home to the safety of the garage. Luckily, I didn’t see the bear again after that, but WOA. Talk about a “welcome home” party!

Afterward, Sean and I spent about 30 minutes picking fresh, wild raspberries from the bushes lining the road that runs through our property. There are smashed down spots in the bushes where you can tell a bear has been sitting there, doing the same exact thing in our absence. By picking two big bowls of the sun-ripened fruit, we hoped to deter a few bears from returning.

This guy had the same idea… he ran off down our road before we started.

Even Daisy enjoyed the fresh pickings!

On Mollie: Polarmax Spring 2014 top (similar here) Mountain Khakis Anytime Skirt.

Dog’s first raspberry:

On Daisy: The Ruffwear Quickdraw Leash (aka The Best Leash on the Planet for On-the-Go Dogs).

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Here are the apples on our tree… not yet ripe, but they will be soon. And when that time comes, let the pie-making begin!

Someone is excited to be home:

Plaid: The Official Uniform of Outdoor-minded Folk

My first memory of my wife (Mollie) before we started dating was the outfit she wore on our first official meet up. We met at a funeral of a young boy named Jesse (full story here); I had flown out to Wisconsin mid-winter to give his eulogy. A day after the funeral, I had a run in with Mollie while I was still in Wisconsin. She was wearing a red plaid shirt that instantly caught my attention. (She tells me now that the pattern is called “gingham.”) I took keen interest to this shirt and of course to Mollie. A few thoughts went through my mind:

  1. Cheap Italian pizza tablecloth cover
  2. Lumberjacks
  3. Pizza sounds good, we should eat some
  4. The outdoors

Many of my close friends know me as reserved and shy in front of new people, unless we share a common interest. As I was caught off guard by this beauty in plaid, I was left scrambling for things to talk about without making a fool out of myself. Luckily, of those thoughts that shot across my mind, plaid reminded me of the outdoors and I was able to start a conversation to seek common interests with Mollie—which thankfully, she had.

Following my return to Utah a few days later, Mollie and I stayed in touch via phone and quirky text messages daily. I wasn’t sure where any of it would lead, and neither was she. I wasn’t making any plans to move to the flat vastness of Wisconsin and she knew that. I am severely horizontally challenged, I needed mountains and Wisconsin did not have those.

But what it did have was Mollie and she had plaid, the official uniform of like-minded outdoors people. That was just the bait I needed. She had told me she spent many years as a backcountry camp leader/backpacker/adventurer in the far northern parts of Wisconsin before becoming a professional “fashionista” in the city of Madison. She loved the adventure life but had since lost her way in the hipness of city life that followed her UW-Madison college career. I also couldn’t blame her for making such drastic life changes as that is what college is all about: trying new things, exploring, etc. And she did just that—she turned away from a rural, summer camp life, ditched her Wisconsin accent, and adopted the lights and glory of fashion life. She was living the dream that many city girls wish they could have as a style editor of a women’s magazine. She had become accustomed to life’s little luxuries such as eating fine dining instead of cooking Ramen in backcountry tents. Why would anyone want to leave that?


Mollie and I on a ski expedition in northern Norway. Polarmax’s antimicrobial scent free Maxride PMX Team Shirt keeps my wife happy and loving me even on the longest of expeditions and lack of showering;
Photo: Andrew Meehan

Fortunately, I connected all the dots and recognized her hidden cry for help. Her damn plaid shirt was shouting to me, “take me out – get me back outside and into the vertical world! Let me fly again.” After months of debating the rescue of Mollie’s inner spirit, I mustered up the courage to invite her out west. She flew out to visit my (at the time) pathetically furnished dirtbag bachelor pad that included a giant bean bag, lawn furniture for chairs, dining table, mattress, dog kennel, and my year-round fake Christmas tree with ornaments still hung.

As I nervously waited at the baggage claim at the Salt Lake City airport, I finally saw Mollie once again after so many months. She was rocking a plaid shirt and I knew then and there my life was about to change drastically.

Now a few years later we are very happily married and living in the resort town of Whitefish, Montana sharing a home mortgage on 10 acres of land. Far from the big cities, Mollie’s plaid shirt enjoys the night’s stars and a faint fireside scent. Mollie has since adopted many more plaid outfits into her life, while selling off the last of her deemed, “girly girl clothes” on E-Bay to the many girls remaining in the big cities. Lawn furniture no longer fills an empty house, but instead a back porch where it properly belongs. The Christmas tree was packed up and ornaments wrapped in bubble wrap long ago. Our house is filled with shabby-chic mountain cottage décor and the rooms are organized with boxes upon boxes of our combined dirtbag gear. Her high heel shoes have been replaced with sandals, ski boots, hiking, biking, and climbing shoes. And our only child thus far is our sweet dog, Daisy. Life has become much simpler and we openly share common goals to keep our lives as adventurous as we can while also reaching into what we believe is our own personal human spirit. We are a husband and wife team embracing the plaid life together in order to experience the real world.

The plaid life. Mollie: Mountain Khakis - Women’s Peaks Flannel Shirt, Women’s Canyon Cord Pant, SOLE’s Women’s Sigh custom footwear; Sean: Mountain Khakis - Men’s Peaks Flannel Shirt, Men’s Teton Twill Pant - Broadway Fit, SOLE’s Men’s Exhale custom footwear. Photo: Andrew Meehan


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When the plaid is on - its time to work. Our expedition filmer/photographer, Andrew Meehan, is all business in the arctic circle of northern Norway; Sean: Mountain Khaki’s Men’s Alpine Utility Pant. Camera recharged and powered in the backcountry by Goal Zero Sherpa 50 with Inverter Solar Recharger Kit. Photo: Chloe Vance

Fresh out of a skittles package - Mollie and I work to match the midnight sun’s everlasting sunset in Norway’s northern reaches with Sessions Outerwear and a fresh layer of Aloe Up. Mollie: Icelantic’s Oracle Ski, Osprey’s Aura 65 Pack, G3 Alpinist High Traction Climbing Skins, Wigwam’s Snow Force, Outdoor Technology Crackalope Yowie headband Sean: Icelantic’s Gemini Splitboard, Spark R&D Splitboard Bindings, Anarchy Heist Goggle, Osprey’s Atmos 65 Pack, G3 Alpinist High Traction Splitboard Climbing Skins, Wigwam’s Snow Xenon Pro. Photo: Chloe Vance

Epic Time Crunch

For 28 days, I’ve accepted the challenge to write every day. Find more on my motives here. See how far I’ve come here. Today’s topic that I chose from Jenni’s list at Story of My Life:

What scares you most?

To be perfectly honest, I’m afraid of not having enough time.

Spreading myself thin is something I’m good at. It stems from my inability to say “no.” I have an innate desire to get involved in everything. I read a magazine, and I think OH OH! I could totally write for this publishing group. They need me.

Um, yeah. Except that you have a job.

Or I’ll talk to a friend who wants to start up a website and I think OH OH! Let me help you create it and run it on the back-end—we’ll do it together!

Um, yeah. Except that you have your own website.

What is that? Does anyone else suffer from chronic involved-ness? About a year ago, I decided I wanted to go back to school to get my master’s in dietetics so that I could eventually become a Certified Diabetes Educator. Everyone was pumped for me. I was pumped for me. It was a solid idea. Since then, I’ve been chipping away at my prerequisite courses before I can apply to the program … but I’ve hit a roadblock. I cannot get myself motivated on these last two courses. (Science courses, go figure.) They’re not on a set academic schedule, other than I have a year to complete them… and somehow, 9 months has gone by and I still haven’t completed them. It’s one of those things where I honestly feel that if I’m meant to go this route in life, the motivation will find me. Is that crazy?

And it’s not that I’m just sitting around doing nothing all day. I’m avoiding school because I’m too scared of not making enough time for the other things in life (arguably, the important things in life): our house chores, my amazing job, my happy dog, my bike, my yoga practice.. my incredible husband who loves me and wants to spend time with me. Someday, there will be little Mollies and Seans to deal with, too… and then how important will science class be? It’s a fear of letting people down, too. A fear of letting myself down.

Even when I’m on super fun adventures like this one, below, cycling the Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park, I hear in the back of my mind this little voice saying you could be studying… don’t forget!

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I could talk circles about justifying this fear of in either direction, but for now, for my writing purposes… I’m going to let this fear be out in the open, here on the Internet.

Sometimes, putting yourself out there is the first step to encouraging the solution to materialize. Here’s to solutions.

Lets Make Moves

For 28 days, I’ve accepted the challenge to write every day. Find more on my motives here. See how far I’ve come here.

If there’s one thing I know a lot about, it’s getting my way. When I want something, I have an uncanny way of getting it. No, seriously—I’m not sure you understand. It’s to a point where I focus on that one thing with all my energy. It occupies every thought I have… I’m constantly scheming about how I can get said “thing” and I won’t let up until I get it. It’s as if there is divine intervention at the very critical moment and then BAM. I get my “thing” and realize I knew all along I was meant to have it. [Insert obvious "That's what she said," comment.]

Sure, this talent can be applied to material possessions such as handbags, clothing, music, apps… I actually could apply my principle to Sean, too. On the day we met, it was like I knew. My world began to revolve around being closer to him because that was what I knew was meant to happen. Perhaps my decisive nature stems from my Type A-personality. Perhaps I’m just really in tune with divine intervention and my purpose here. Perhaps I’m just slightly crazy.

Aren’t we all?

Then, there was the moment we decided we were moving to Montana. I’ve written about that moment before—as we stood, yelling into the San Rafael Swell in Utah, so angry that we’d never get to the place we wanted to be… and then, as soon as we changed our attitudes—believing we really would move to Montana some day—it was as if every step we took was deliberately placed there for us to take… getting us one step closer. Now, here we are, living in our home in Montana, with a view of Glacier National Park to boot.

I’m not writing about this today to brag… rather, I’m writing about this in honor of this whole writing project. In honor of having determination. In honor of all those people out there (yeah, you!) who wish they had something—or someone—in their life, but fear they will never get it. Make a decision to fear less, and do more. Make moves to get to that place—however small, silly, massive or direct those moves may be. At least you’ll be going in the right direction.

And hey, if you never start, you’ll never get there. Here’s to making moves.

The following are a few photos from a recent climbing trip where we made some serious moves at Lake Koocanusa with our friends, Megan and Noah. This particular climb is called Room With a View. That behemoth of an RV on the right with antlers fastened to its side mirrors is our beloved Travel Queen.

#DaisyTheWeim makes moves too, as we enjoy our Crazy Creek loungers:

Staying charged, thanks to Goal Zero’s Sherpa 50.

 

Me, clearly making extremely graceful moves as I navigate my way under a massive ledge—please note my SMILE:

A quest through the Treasure State

In case you were wondering where the heck we are, I’ll tell you: Sean and I are currently on a camping road trip through Montana.

Why, you ask, would Sean and I would ever dream of living out of a car for two more weeks? Especially after being on the road, traveling the globe for the past three months, to Alaska and back in a 1977 motorhome, to Australia, New Zealand, and driving from Utah to Wisconsin…twice.

I guess you could call it a quest, of sorts… a quest to find that perfect place where we want to raise a family and grow old together. At 26 and 28, we’re still young… time is on our side. And yet, with our crazy winter schedule and Riding On Insulin taking off in a big way, we’ve been feeling more mobile, and we’ve officially got the itch to move out of Utah. Not tomorrow, or next month… or even six months from now. But sometime.

We know what we’re looking for—we’ve painted the perfect, mutually acceptable picture together. And after visiting Montana three times now, we have a strong hunch that “our place” is in this state.

So between Riding On Insulin email cram sessions, camp coordination, organic chemistry chapters, and blog posts, we’re hitting the pavement on a mission to find that perfect place before we have to head back to Utah and get down to business. Even if we don’t find it on this trip, we trust that when the time comes, we’ll know—and at least we’ve done our research!

Here is an awkward family photos in Red Lodge, Montana:

Daisy has discovered that there are plenty of things to sniff and hunt in Montana.

More photos outside Red Lodge… even though there was smoke in the sky from all the fires, you can’t help but appreciate the pristine beauty of this place:

At peace in Whitefish, Montana

I have found my heaven.

Montana is incredible—absolutely breathtaking, with perfect weather, mountains, trees, lakes, bike paths, nearby civilization and down to earth people. Montana has Canada in its backyard, access to national parks galore, and they actually have more than one bar AND more than one grocery store (gasp!) in Whitefish.

It’s perfect. I am completely at peace with this place.

Even the air smells delicious. Have you ever thought that about a place you’ve been? The air smells so good it’s almost like a perfume I’d like to bottle up and spray on myself everyday. Seriously, this morning on my bike ride I just couldn’t get enough air, and not because I was winded. I want to drink up every last molecule of this wide open space. If it were possible, I would like to bottle the scent of pine, lake, and sunshine in a nice little spray bottle and spritz myself with it when I need to have a calming moment.

Since arriving, I’ve experienced a bit of skiing (Yes, we skied in June!), a little bit of biking, and enough of the culture to say with confidence this is one of the places on earth I could grow old. My head is clear here. The sky is bigger here. I feel at home here.

The photo below was taken at Lake Louise in Banff National Park in Albera, Canada. Sean and I took a day-trip up there yesterday. I swear to you, this photo isn’t enhanced in any way. That is actually what the colors look like up here.

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