Make your own sunshine

It was a dreary weekend here in northwest Montana. The high yesterday was 53, I believe. It rained most of the day and the mountain near my apartment appeared dusted with a little snow (oh, it can’t be the end of summer yet, it just can’t be!). Rained and was chilly Saturday, too. Shawn came to town for the weekend and we did venture to the local farmers market. We bought celery, carrots and artichoke from our farmer friend Judy and pork chops and ground beef from the area’s longest-lived family-owned meat producer.

With the celery and carrots we made a delicious chicken and rice soup. When I cut the celery into little pieces for the soup, the smell filled the kitchen with its sharp smell. A prime example of why buying local food is the only way to go. Celery from the store tastes like nothing to me. This celery was vibrant. We modified  the original recipe we found enough that I have no qualms calling it my own (it only called for one stalk of celery and one carrot — we put in four stalks and about seven carrots, but then we do like our veggies).

And we bought the lovely hydrangeas you see above, of course. I don’t think buying fresh flowers from the farmers market is a waste, but rather aiding local growers and adding beauty to my home. I make do with silk blooms during winter, when shipping flowers from exotic locales is indeed wasteful, but during the summer I revel in flowers. I make it a habit to buy them as often as possible at farmers markets. I love them, they intrigue the kitties. Win-win.

Now isn’t that lovely? I placed the hydrangeas in the ripple vase Shawn bought me at Crate and Barrel and placed it on top of the side table/drawers that we refinished a few months ago. Complemented by a framed print I found on Sometimes a person must find sunshine inside themselves, inside the home, when all is gray without.


He just takes the tractor another round…

I’m working on an article for my newspaper about wheat prices. The drought and severe fires in Russia (affecting the Ukraine and Kazakhstan, also big wheat exporters) have driven the cost of the wheat commodity up about $1.50. Still not enough. But it’s something.

Spent several hours last night riding in a local farmer’s combine, learning about wheat and the business of farming in Big Sky Country. I’m a city girl, born and raised. My fiancé is a rancher’s son. I think we’ll end up somewhere on a farm someday (that’s the dream), so I’ve got a lot of making up to do. I learned that wheat kernels must be a dark amber color. If they’re white-ish, they’re too wet and not fully matured. The farmers around here are struggling with too much moisture — too much protein — which hurts the value of the crop. In “traditional” farming, everything must be the same. All the calves must look the same. All wheat kernels must be amber. Amber waves of grain, if you will. I think that’s one thing the organic industry has going for it. If there’s some variation, that’s OK, because that’s normal.

Something else I just loved about the evening: When I pulled up to the field where the farmer and hands were harvesting, farmer’s wife was there with their five kiddos. Farmer’s mother was there, and farmer’s father-in-law. All were gathered around the family SUV, eating dinner and enjoying huckleberry crumble. Delicious! Farmer’s oldest son knew everything, and I mean everything, about the combine I was going for a ride in. Darling. Youngest son was just a babe in arms, looking quizzically about. Daughters looked at me with shy smiles. A slice of quintessential Americana.

There was a storm moving in that later lit the night with jagged streaks of lightning (there’s been a number of fires reported after last night, but they’re little — for now). Hence the dark, heavy clouds behind the combine and tractor. It was Nebraska windy. I think I’ll be picking wheat chaff out of my ears for days. But oh, it was fun!

House made of sky

Yesterday, I hiked with a friend and sportswriter at a sister newspaper in the valley. We hiked the Huckleberry Lookout trail. The first mile is flat and wooded. We crossed a foot bridge suspended over a brook filled with glistening river stones. If there’s something I love about temporal presence, it’s the color of river stones. In water, they’re beautiful: rusty red, chocolate brown, aqua blue. Once dry, the stones are dull, boring. Sometimes it’s better to leave things be. Especially river stones.

After the first mile, the trail begins its ascent. It’s a solid climb until the crest of the Apgar range. More than once Dixie and I found ourselves panting for breath, paused in the shade of hospitable pine trees. A great workout, that hike. It’s 12 miles round-trip.

We met one other person on the hike, a man from east Texas. And boy, y’all, did he sound like he hailed from east Texas. I admire his bravery, though. I dare not hike alone in Glacier National Park for fear of the bears. Dixie and I saw bear scat, but no bears (we like it that way). We might of heard one, but whether it was footfalls in the bushes or just the wind, we’ll never know.

Before climbers can reach the lookout building, they must walk along the ridge of the mountain. Along the spine, the trees bend east, as is knelt in supplication toward the sunrise. It’s windy atop the peak. Downed logs are gnarled with the abuse from weather. Yet even in such precarious places, life remains. Moss grows on the old wood and wildflowers find refuge in the shadows of trees.

A recent college grad named Luke is this year’s fire lookout. He lives in the one-room building. His walls are windows. Gives new meaning to the phrase “a room with a view.” There was not a cloud in the sky Wednesday for as far as the eye could see. Just the blue dome, unreachable and so close.

While I’d part with my right arm for a view like Luke’s, unless I had Shawn to keep me company I’d probably go mad as a lookout. A person can stare all day into the landscape, surrounded by it and totally separate. The wind rustles in the walls of the lookout building. The silence without wind might be overwhelming. Luke said he doesn’t get lonely because 15 people or so come to the lookout every day. He’s got cell phone reception and Internet access. Friends and family visit. A train of pack mules comes to visit every few weeks bearing food. Still, in between the people, I think he has a lot of time alone with his thoughts. Sounded as though he likes it that way. Said he’s writing. Wouldn’t get specific, but he won’t be the first lookout to write a book.

“It’s amazing how much the same view can change every five minutes,” Luke said. “This place is very alive. It’s very dynamic.”

After spending 45 minutes or so on the summit, interviewing Luke and scarfing down our sandwiches, Dixie and I made the descent. The above is a shot from the lookout of the trail down the spine. On the right side of the frame, the North Fork of the Flathead River and the North Fork Road are visible.

The expansive view from the top of Huckleberry Mountain afforded a panorama of the Livingston Range, pictured above, which follows the North Fork river valley up to Canada, about 30 miles distant. Dixie and I could also see Flathead Lake, 50 miles south. So many acres of forest between us and everywhere else. Filled with birds, moose, elk, deer, bears and marmots.

I tell you this: if you need some perspective, climb a mountain. Sit on top for a while and just be. Then walk back down. You’ll feel better, I promise.

Going down was much easier. We munched on huckleberries (ssh! don’t tell!) and stretched out our strides. Cold beer awaited us at the end, which makes every hike even more worth it.

Telling stories

The first thing I noticed was the smell.

Be happy, dear readers, that this column doesn’t come equipped with Smell-O-Vision. I’m talking about the stink that comes from mountainous piles of garbage.

The second thing I noticed was the heart-breaking poverty. Suddenly the smell didn’t bother me so much.

I’m talking about the Garbage City in Cairo, Egypt. Three years ago I spent a summer living in Cairo and writing an article for the Egypt Daily News — an English-language newspaper affiliated with the International Herald Tribune — about educational opportunities for the Zabbaleen, the “garbage people.”

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Sitting pretty

Several weeks I ago, I picked up four chairs at a consignment store for a reasonable price. The catch: the chairs were in pretty rough condition, having likely never had any love. The stain was chipped and wearing off, and the cushions (that’s a misnomer — the chair seats have no real cushion) have seen far better days. But the chairs have nice curves and beautiful carved roses on the back rest.

So this weekend I refurbished one of the four. The other three will follow, likely one chair at a time. First, I sanded the remaining stain (there wasn’t much) off the chair. I used 150-grit sandpaper and because the stain was in such shabby shape, sanding was a breeze. After sanding, I wiped away the excess dirt and grime with a wet rag.

Since the chairs haven’t been well-cared for, I applied several coats of wood conditioner to moisturize the wood. I used MinWax. Although the pre-stain wood conditioner says it works best when followed with stain, I didn’t have any trouble following with paint.

After the conditioner dried (it’s quick — only ten or fifteen minutes, and less with such dry wood), I applied two coats of latex primer. I did this to ensure the stain won’t bleed through the paint. I allowed the primer to dry for several hours. It was an absolutely beautiful day for painting the chair. The sky was a brilliant blue, it was warm with a slight breeze and hummingbirds zipped past the porch, their wings buzzing madly.

Finally, I painted the chair with Martha Stewart’s Sunken Pool paint. It’s a lovely aqua blue. To make sure the rose design was still visible — a friend commented that if I painted in all the cracks and crevices the design might fade into the rest of the chair — I purposely applied the paint sloppily, allowing the primer and wood to show through. The design has taken on a distressed, antique look. Again, I let the paint dry for several hours.

I have to say, it was painful putting back on the ratty old cushion. The beauty of the body of the chair amplifies just how terrible the cushion really is. Anyway, I plan to add foam and recover the cushion in a pretty fabric. When I get to that (it may take me a while to re-do the rest of the chairs since the one took all day), I’ll make sure to post an update.

A little bit DIY

This is the set of drawers formerly known as the Lincoln Log drawers. I found them hideous. After taking quite a beating in a house full of college boys, I declared to Shawn that we were going to give the drawers a makeover. And boy are we glad we did. We removed the Lincoln Log handles, painted the drawers, stained the top and added new pulls.

Plus the project was an excuse to break out the belt sander. OK, borrow and break out the belt sander. As the saying goes, you don’t need a boat, you need friends with boats. You don’t need a belt sander, just friends with belt sanders. So Shawn sanded the larger surfaces with the belt sander and I followed with 150 grit sandpaper. After sanding, I applied wood conditioner to the top and then stained with MinWax English Chestnut. I primed the drawers and then painted them with a semi-gloss white paint (three coats). The project took about five hours, not including drying time.

Gorgeous! We’re proud that we re-made a set of sturdy drawers rather than going out and trying to buy something. We spent less than $25 on this transformation.

Flowers, fish and typewriters

I just had to take a picture of this because it strikes me as so lovely. The pink roses (my favorite – the flower of my sorority) are from my fiance, Shawn. The fish is a gurgle pot full of wine. When the fish is about half full, if one pours from it an air bubble lodges in the tail and when the pot is righted, the bubble rises through the wine to make a charming gurgling noise. I have yet to see someone not crack a smile after listening to the gurgle fish. The typewriter is a gift from my mother. She rescued it from a porch, where it had been abandoned for years. She cleaned it up and I’m trying to track down some tape for it to bring it completely back to life.

Here comes the stress

Editor’s note: I plan to include the column that runs each week in the newspaper I edit. It’s a little insight for readers on my job.

After attending not one but two weddings in Nebraska this past weekend, I think the whole getting-married-in less-than-three-months thing has finally dawned on me. This is the reason for wedding receptions: to unload the stress, which builds and builds over months whether it’s necessary or not, of planning a wedding.

As I sat in St. Teresa’s Catholic Church ogling at the unfamiliar altars and candles prior to friend Kristin promenading beautifully down the aisle, I realized that very soon I’ll be enjoying a similar walk down an aisle while everyone near and dear and about-to-be relatives looks on.

I sure hope I don’t trip. Or pass out. I’ve been to two weddings this year now where the grooms looked about ready to drop to the ground.

There’s just so many things we brides convince ourselves can and will go wrong. The dress won’t be perfect. The cake won’t be perfect. We’ll have bits of asparagus between our teeth in all the photos. We’ll look fat. The bridesmaids will suddenly morph into whiny banshees. The groomsmen will get sloppy drunk and ruin the evening. In short, even the most mild-mannered woman (this is not me) becomes a snarling control freak during wedding planning.

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Visitors boating on Many Glacier Lake

Hello! And welcome to my blog. This is a place for recording adventures, trials and tribulations, good works, photos, life updates and just about anything else.

I’m a newspaper editor in northwest Montana. I love to write, read, create and hike. I’m blessed that I live in a place where most people vacation. I consider bear and mountain goat sightings an every day event. Truly, who knew deer could be so fascinating?

Backflipping into the pool beneath Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine

Northwest Montana is beautiful and a playground for the adventuresome. Come back often for more photos and life updates!