What’s in Store

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The title of this blog is as much a statement as a question in regards to our house insurance claim thanks to the incredible amount of snow & ice we fought against this past winter.

 

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One of many photos of one of many adventures on the driveway with Big Red last winter

For a quick recap, we got buried a couple of times after days and days of heavy snowfall. It rained hard for almost 24 hours each time and then it froze. Our roof eaves took a beating and I chronicled it all with photos, social media posts and this blog.

I sent our insurance agent some pictures in early February, which was when I realized water was leaking down inside our walls and beneath the wood stove in our living room. (For the record, I’m not going to mention people’s or company names. Not yet, anyhow. I’m trying my best to protect them but if they don’t do the right thing I am willing to use my voice & platforms to drag them through the mud. Its not my style but it may end up being all that I can do.)

 

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One of the pics sent in early Feb of the water coming down our living room wall

Our agent is a friend who lives a couple of hours north of us. They didn’t get the amount of snow that we did but he could appreciate our situation, knowing that our community is fairly well-known for high snow volume. He initiated a claim the next day and the adjuster showed up a day or two later.

Since then I’ve shared the sheer joys of having heavy duty fans and enormous dehumidifiers running around the clock in our large house. I’ve shared my excitement at having strangers rumble through our world removing walls, ceilings and privacy. We laughed as we moved part-way into the guest bedroom and I’ve even started an entry in our guest journal.

 

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Some of the mitigation happening on that very same wall.

I wrote to our insurance agent and the adjuster expressing concern that the snow removal that was occurring as I typed was likely destroying some of our professional landscaping and plant life around the house and was told that we’d address it when the snow melted.

That made sense.

Which is why I okayed the offer of a second snow-removal effort with heavy machinery and large, beeping pieces of equipment after another dump of snow.

 

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Cleo inspecting the remains of our front lawn & plant life after the melt. Damage is from heavy equipment used to move snow/ice off of the roof and away from the house.

Since then the drama has evolved over payments and one of our two mortgage companies. Our primary mortgage holder has required form after form after form to be submitted by ourselves, our adjuster, and/or the restoration/construction company our adjuster chose out of Missoula.

The snow removal and mitigation that was done back in February totaled over 21 thousand dollars and the insurance check to cover that is stuck somewhere in limbo thanks to said mortgage holder. The main delay with it all has been the fact the mortgage company has never let us know, after each submission, when something else is required. (If I could bill for my time spent on the phone during all of this I would have the 21 K right now!)

With every call to the mortgage holder I then emailed or called the adjuster as well as the restoration company to let them know I was doing everything I could to get them their money. With all that I went through as a business owner I can certainly appreciate when you aren’t getting paid for work that was done!

 

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The lawn beneath the mountain ranges of snow has actually collapsed!

While leaping into a brand new job with a sparkling new career I’m trying to learn, and with Alistair back in Bismarck, the mortgage holder required even more paperwork and signatures and formal letters on actual insurance company letterhead 3 weeks ago. They also needed paperwork from the county stating why our ‘street’ name changed in 2007.) Each and every step, form or signature takes a minimum of 3 days as I  have to email or call whoever is involved and then they have to find or sign or complete whatever it is that’s been requested and then they send it to me and I figure out which department of the mortgage company to send it to. Throw in a mid-week national holiday to complicate the movement of things.

 

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Me, helping out at Clearwater Montana Property’s 4th of July celebration as our trailer passed by in the local parade!

After 2 weeks of the latest round of craziness our restoration company threatened to slap a lien on our house, which didn’t sit particularly well with me.

Alistair and I dealt with this in our long-distance style and without going into detail we got a personal check sent the next day to the restoration company and the lien will never be mentioned again.

Our funds are still held hostage but I’m really hoping that this week the mortgage company will have everything they could possibly want and they will release our funds.

This is what I mean by the title of this blog being a statement and a question. I’m sharing what’s in store and I’m also wondering about it at the same time.

The money isn’t the main issue right now, though, because I know its there and I know, eventually, they will run out of things to require (if they ask for my first born I’m hooped!) and the money willarrive.

 

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I could seriously use some of this right now!

Last week, my Knight in Shining Armor got home and I greeted him with one of those “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news” statements. After 10+ hours on the road he chose the good news.

I cheerfully shared with him the fact I had learned, 30 minutes prior, that our adjuster had finally approved a full new roof. This is significant for every reason we can all come up with and has been in discussion for months. Every quote came in really high because of the size and scope of the project and our adjuster seemed to struggle with an answer.

They also approved the deck, which wasn’t really in question because, lets face it, the deck is a wreck!

 

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Top part of the deck is lower than the bottom… 

The bad news?

Apparently there is an exclusion clause in our insurance that states there will be no coverage for lawns, landscaping, and trees.

The quote our adjuster got for that (20 grand) is included with everything but then its crossed out because, obviously, our adjuster had thought it would all be covered until he found that clause.

I’ve since emailed our adjuster and shared our concerns. I get it that insurance companies have the right to mitigate further damage but they don’t have the right to destroy our landscaping. And I never, ever would have approved the second round of snow removal months ago (because as you all know, I can handle a bit of snow!) if I knew nobody was going to take responsibility for wrecking our lawn and shrubs.

 

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Water dripping through the T&G this winter

Nevermind that nobody seems to know what we’re going to do with the ceiling tongue & groove damage or the beams in the kitchen sunroom.

Now that I’m in the realty world (notice I didn’t write, ‘reality’ because, in all honestly, life has felt pretty surreal for 12 months now), I know that if we ever go to sell this home we will have to disclose this large insurance claim. That makes it harder for a buyer to secure great rates on insurance which effectively lowers our home’s overall value.

Add to that the fact that our lawn and landscaping looks like ass unless we fork out 20 grand to fix the stuff that was destroyed by people we didn’t choose who were hired by a restoration company chosen by our adjuster thanks to a claim we never requested.

 

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What our gorgeous landscaping looked like in June of 2017.

I’m hoping our friend, the insurance agent north of us, can help us make sense of what’s in store. He was out of the office all this past week so hasn’t had a chance to respond to any of this. He would only be finding out about the lawn & landscape issue and our subsequent displeasure now. He’s a heck of a good guy and we talk Labrador retrievers often and I hope he can go to bat for us on this.

And I’m not complaining. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a huge deal. I’m just putting some stuff out there and sharing Fyfe Life for the insanity that it is at times. I’m enjoying my new office and colleagues and I’ve got a lot of support from everyone on this real estate adventure.

 

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Practicing for when my new desk would arrive.  It eventually did & I’m typing at it right now.

I’m on “floor” duty today because summer tourists could actually walk in and want to learn about or even see properties and local homes. Tomorrow we will talk with our agent and hopefully move forward into what’s ahead. And hopefully I’ll never have to disclose company names and slag them to my readers and my homeowners who ask for my advice because that just isn’t my style.

An ambulance just went roaring past our office with its sirens blaring.

It reminds me that someone and their family are having a way worse time today than I could even imagine.

The sun is out and summer has arrived. Alistair is already on the golf course and I’m hoping I can meet him there again after work to play a few holes.

And our guest room is really quite nice so with the distractions of a new career, the optimism that our friend will help guide us in a way we can all agree on over the next few days, the beautiful properties I hopefully get to show people, a cuddly dog and 3 cats who provide comfort and peace just by letting us pet them and our shared wacky sense of humor, we are going to be just fine.

 

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One of our agency’s incredible view properties I get to share!

To paraphrase the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, though, we, as Canadians, are very polite. That doesn’t mean we will allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. We will stand up for ourselves when it is appropriate to do so.

So, again, grab the railings and hang on.

You never know what’s in store in Fyfe Life!

 

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“The Look.” Cleo’s thoughts on the whole insurance claim. (Photo by Merielle Kazakoff, one of our evacuation party attendees of last summer when she visited 2 weeks ago!)

 

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How we’ll get through all of this!

 

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Alistair’s favorite ‘float’ during the parade. 

 

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Another stunning, private property I got to preview last week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epic Winter… or, More Stories for the Christmas Letter

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Fun on the horse trailer yesterday! (Note: non of the figure skating photos that follow are mine.)

Lots of zany things happen on the Fyfe farm and I’ve happily shared a lot of them with you all. When one goofy moment or accident has occurred during our more than 20 years together Alistair and I often said, “that’s a story for the Christmas letter.” This epic winter is one more story.

The tremendous snow load coupled with two heavy rain episodes over the past 2 months has made for extremely difficult and damaging conditions. Old time locals are quick to point out that they had snow amounts like this 20 and 30 years ago but what is drastically different is that back then it got cold, everything froze and remained frozen until late February or March. You can handle snow situations like that.

But when we got the first and then second rain events after dumps of snow this winter it created a horrid layer of soft slush that made plowing a real challenge.

And then more snow!

 

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Some of “the Crew” hard at it.

Sadly the rain also caused buildup in the troughs where sections of our enormous roof meet at 90 degrees and snow wasn’t able to slide off like other areas of the roof and for the first time in 11 years, we have ceiling, wall and possible floor damage.

As the snow melted it had nowhere else to go but inside our ceiling and then down the insides of the walls. This was discovered when I kneeled in front of the wood stove one night and my knee was sopping wet.

Enter the insurance company (I sent pictures more for record, not expecting them to leap into things so quickly.) Our adjuster was out the next day and within 2 days we had a restoration company as well as a snow removal company descend upon us.

 

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Living room- you can see the drywall damage on the back wall.

And now we have a few of these bad boys scattered throughout the house with large fans surrounding them. It sounds like we’re living in an airplane hangar in most areas of the house.

 

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Master bathroom

Thankfully our house is large enough that we can escape quite comfortably to the main guest room which has no damage and no big, blue DriEaz unit and fans whirling away. The cats were put off the first 24 hours but they’re both curled up by the woodstove right now, which has its own DriEaz and fan-friend right there.

Unfortunately our landscaping took a hit with all of the heavy equipment that was up here to move snow from here to there. Part of the problem is the size of the house & yard but after 2 full days of rumbling, back-up beeping and hauling snow, most of the house was cleared  out.

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Mountain of moved snow with Alistair for perspective. Back-yard “view”.

Until this morning when another foot lay on the ground to welcome another wintery day.

And more snow is falling and Big Red’s engine block heater is dead and today it decided to get cold & windy and a part on the huge red snowblower broke and Alistair has had to widen the driveway back & forth with the tractor bucket and twice he’s got trusty Big Red stuck and twice Big Silver was able to winch him out and our back deck is completely busted under the weight of the snow from above as well as the snow from our roof and we don’t know what insurance will cover and Restoration Dude actually said, “those walls are going to have to go.”

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The 1st time Big Red got stuck last week (thank-you, Big Silver, for the pull!)

 

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Today’s shenanigans. Note the new snow on top of the vet box today!

My sister was checking in on me and asked how I was coping. She was giving me permission to lose my shit but I told her the truth.

I’m good.

That might not be the case if Alistair weren’t here, or if we had lost power for any significant amount of time, or if the pet food and my wine supply were getting low but, really, things could be so much worse.

And the Olympics are happening which is a huge part of my inner peace and happiness right now even if tears are streaming down my face every night I watch figure skating.

 

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Team Canada for the gold in the team event!

There have been awesome highs and incredible lows. The medalists themselves have not been surprising although there definitely have been some skating surprises!

The pairs event saw medal hopefuls, Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot from Germany in 4th place after their individual short program. She looked like she was going to rip his throat out with her bare hands during their interview and he was pale, obviously shaken and absolutely silent. Aliona has competed in 5 Olympics. She got 3rd at the last one and her partner wanted to move on to real life afterwards. She basically hand-picked Bruno and trained, no, groomed him to be an Olympian of her caliber.

 

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Pairs finalists- no surprises here but a nerve-wracking way to get to this.

And they won the long program with a touching, stunning, emotional performance and tears flowed and nobody was upset with them standing atop the podium. Sui & Han, the youngsters from China with their own tale of injuries, highs and lows were 2nd with a mistake in the long and Canada’s Duhamel & Radford finally stood on an Olympic podium by themselves.

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This picture says it all at the outdoor awards ceremony.

While I never wanted to see that glaring yellow and black polka dot dress from the skaters representing Russia, it was heartbreaking to see Evgenia Tarasova fall to pieces as their marks came up after their long program. It was uncharacteristic to see them falter during their skate, particularly when they had been in second place after the short.

Skating is like that. Ice is slippery.

 

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Nobody wants to see exceptional athletes falter at the Games

The world joined me in watching Nathan Chen struggle mightily in his second short program of these Olympics. Slips, shakes and wipe-outs, the quad king faltered so horribly that he was in 17th place after his individual short program and in obvious shock in his interviews.

He had had to wait to skate following Yuzuru Hanyu’s fabulous, perfect short program, the cheers and screams of his fans, the tossing of every Pooh-bear South Korea could sell onto the ice, the gathering of said Pooh-bears, the announcement of Hanyu’s 111-point score (!!) and once again, the shouts and applause from his pronounced fan base. Normally when you skate 2nd, you hang right around the ice surface, you keep your skates on and you don’t cool down. I think he started to cool down and it was too long, too loud and too amazing of a break when he heard that score.

 

He laid low and his coach, Rafael Artuniun let him work things through with gentle encouragement and the next night we watched him make history with a routine packed with 6 quads (5 were outstanding!), style, charm and finesse. He won the long program after being such a mess the night before.

 

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Nathan and Coach Rafael after his brilliant, record-breaking long program.

Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan, the reigning Olympic champ after Sochi 4 years ago, stood on the top step on the podium again even though Chen’s freeskate outscored his. Hanyu has a quirky quality about him and his confidence, training and sheer talent got him through an injured ankle (kind of an important part of a figure skater’s body) and the media circus that followed him.

His teammate, Shoma Uno skated well enough but also made just enough of a mistake to win the silver medal, a first for him on Olympic ice. He still looked petulant on the podium at times; I’m not sure if he envies Hanyu’s following or his gold medal but Uno often appears annoyed at his placement unless he’s standing up top. I don’t know him, though, so maybe he’s just shy. Regardless, he’s a beautiful skater and deserved the scores he received.

 

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Spain’s first bronze medal in Olympic figure skating! 

Rounding out the top 3 is the talented, charming Spaniard, Javier Fernandez. This one got me crying again because of all that he has done to promote figure skating in Spain. He didn’t know how to train or even glide across the ice let alone project emotions to an audience when he signed on with Tracy Wilson & Brian Orser in Toronto but he worked hard and he never gave up. He’s won World titles so its no shock to see him here but its touching and its tender and he was just so. freaking. happy. to win bronze.

 

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Men’s Olympic medalists!

Tonight the Beautiful People will take to the ice in Ice Dance. Everyone skates to the same beat and one pattern of their routine will be the short-pattern Rhumba but the routines will all vary significantly. The men will all likely have low cut tops and the moves will be sexy and flirty and we’ll all hold our breath as the twizzle sections begin. I can’t wait.

Alistair continues to move snow from here to there as I type and hopefully we’ll get Big Red into town for his new engine block heater to be installed this week.

We will wait & see what our restoration crew says tomorrow after these dehumidifiers and fans ran all weekend and then we’ll wait & see what the insurance company says and where we go from there.

 

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We did it! 

Through it all we’ll continue to share on social media (@tanyafyfe on Instagram) with grins and smiles and Aloha music playing in the background. There’s no point getting upset with the weather- there’s not a damned thing I can do about it so might as well have some fun and just be patient in moving snow from here to there.

Maybe if they made snow removal an Olympic sport, Alistair and I would be favored gold medalists. Would we represent Canada or the US, though? Now THAT would be a story for the Christmas letter!

 

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Training for Olympic snow shoveling!

Think positive thoughts for Tessa & Scott, the ShibSibs, Cizeron & Papadakis, Hubbel & Donohue and all the great skaters who will Choctaw, twizzle and sizzle their way through their short dances tonight. I’m sure I’ll be crying.

 

Enjoy the heck out of the ice dancers and then the ladies afterwards later in the week. Congrats to all the athletes in every sport for making it to the pinnacle of sport in PyeongChang. The Olympics are ON!

 

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Alistair can compete in the combined event: snow-removal and ice sculpting!

 

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Yesterday, outside our front door after “the Crew” finished. There’s over a foot of new snow back there now, though. 

 

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Waiting to be winched out of the pile of snow today!

 

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We managed to find some Aloha yesterday once all the work was done. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cook’s Winter

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My first-ever attempt at Risotto the other night!

It has already been one of “those” winters and its not even February yet.

I’m certainly not complaining, though. Alistair was here for his 2 weeks and he widened our long driveway and opened up the back so we can easily bring wood to the back deck for the wood stove. And he cleared the top of the driveway so Cleo, Jockey and I don’t have to walk in carved-out paths to get anywhere.

 

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Opening up the path to the garage!

The chain on the big snowblower broke so his efforts to move snow from here to there slowed for a couple of days but he was back in business once it was repaired.

We got the vent for the dryer dug out from under a small iceberg and I don’t have to air-dry everything anymore! Within the iceberg was the shovel he forgot he’d placed there to remind us exactly where the vent was in case we got “a bit of snow.”

 

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He found the vent! And the shovel we forgot about!

And even though I’ve had to plow with Big Red twice since he left just days ago (including this morning, thank you, Mother Nature), I really don’t mind because its not coming down like it did a month ago and I have my Hawaiian tunes to enjoy while I shove snow off to the side of the road.

I’m not minding being somewhat home-bound this winter because I have an online course I’m playing with, there has been a lot of figure skating and PGA golf on TV, I’m pretending to hit the treadmill again and there is that awesome cooking course that has lessons and classes available at all times!

 

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Right outside our front door…

Just last night I did a short lesson on how to store and cook with herbs. I’ve used herbs all my cooking life and we have had great success in our ND garden with them but I still learned a few things last night and I’m inspired to try a few recipes.

Just like I was inspired to finally try my hand at risotto a few nights ago. I had done 2 lessons on risotto but I wasn’t able to get the right rice in our little, local grocery store. After our monthly trek to Missoula, however, I came home with Arborio rice and was ready to go for it.

I never like to make brand-new dishes when Alistair is here, though, because our time together is limited and we make so many great dishes that we love- no point trying something on the off chance it doesn’t turn out.

 

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My first risotto!

And you know, it was good but it wasn’t great. I was patient and got the creamy texture that is desired but there were still a few grains that had too much bite to them. And the dried mushrooms were shiitake, not cremini like the recipe called for and I think they were a bit overpowering. It wasn’t bad, though, and it made for an alright meal.

Its not just me getting on the Rouxbe bandwagon. When Alistair was delayed in getting here thanks to the weather, he watched the lesson on making your own Hollandaise. With nice-looking salmon brought home from Missoula last week he turned on his cooking skills (with the lesson pulled up on the laptop, of course.)

He clarified his butter, I made a shallot-white-wine-vinegar-white-wine-tarragon reduction and he created the creamiest, most yummy Béarnaise I’ve ever had!

 

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Alistair… clarifying the butter. Reduction in the bottom right dish.

Sure, it takes a lot longer than opening up a packet of Béarnaise mix and adding milk and butter and you’re glued to the stove while making it but, wow, what a difference!

And we “had” to buy the double boiler in the photo in order to clarify the butter. I’ve upgraded both of our kitchens with stainless steel pans, a new steamer, soup pots, and gobs of utensils. Not unlike when we took up golf and I  need a new wardrobe only in the case of cooking, our kitchens got the new duds. It has been worth it.

My cream of mushroom soup made from scratch was delightful and maybe even better than the cream of asparagus soup I’ve made a couple of times. The stir fry sauce with velvetted chicken had just the perfect salty kick and crunch to the veggies (oyster sauce- who knew?) The steamed salmon with lemon & dill was simple and yet something I had never tried. And the Mexican Red Rice, which I made using a real rice pilaf method (rice is cooked in a blended mixture of tomatoes, garlic, onion and broth) has been a repeat a few times already!

 

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Mexican Red Rice

Not everything has been a success. The short ribs were just ‘meh’. I’ve smoked myself out with olive oil when I ran out of grapeseed. I’ve had a couple of pan sauces that went down the drain vs down the hatch. And there was one seriously undercooked chicken breast that just didn’t pan out.

But more than not, things work out and I’ve gained confidence to actually create things myself.

Like the amazing “Chicken Tanya” I created just before Alistair got back.

 

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Chicken Tanya on its maiden voyage to my tummy!

I pan seared the chicken breasts and created lovely sucs. I sautéed shallots and then deglazed with white wine. I added a bit of garlic with sun-dried tomatoes & fresh thyme and reduced it all (patience is key with reductions, I have learned.) Then I added chicken broth and reduced it all before adding a touch of cream. Served over a good quality pasta, this dish was incredible. And it was all from my own head which is probably why it tasted as good as it did.

 

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Driveway work a couple of weeks ago.

So while our house is buried in snow I’m not wallowing in lonliness out here in the middle of nowhere. I’m keeping my brain busy as well as my body even though my heart aches because we’re closing in on the one-year anniversary of losing Loki and I still can’t believe that UB is gone and 14-year old Cleo has been stumbling a bit lately and I’ve noticed more grey hairs beneath her eyes and 17 year-old Sport is thin but ever the lover.

And the Olympics are on the horizon but I’ll save my pre-Olympic skating buzz for next time.

I have chicken out for supper tonight that I’ll steam with lemon and thyme. I’ve made that one before and its quite tasty.

I’m not giving up on the risotto, either. I think I need to go to a more basic one, though, and skip the mushrooms & onions. Just work on the rice to create the creaminess all the great risottos have. Maybe with shrimp and peas.

 

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A fun scallop & tomato concoction I created before Christmas. 

There is much to look forward to in the world of Rouxbe. Home made pasta is up there. I’m holding out but almost ready for the long course on living a plant-based lifestyle. I think I need the Olympics out of the way before I begin that because it, like the course I won last year that got this whole thing going, will take me a few months to get through.

I’m keen and interested, though, so it will be great. Here’s to old dogs learning new tricks and being open to a lifetime of learning! And a never ending winter that is tailor made to cooks and chefs!

 

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When life hands you lemons….

 

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A neighborhood and historical tragedy. An old school house buckled under the weight of the snow this winter and finally gave way.

 

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Plowing in a blizzardy white out a couple of days ago. Huzzah!

 

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The risotto might not have been perfect but my mise en place was top notch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See Ya, 2017

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Outside our front door today. More on Snowmageddon later…

There were times this past year when it seemed that 2018 would never arrive. Moments or days or situations that will forever be associated with 2017 could have weighed so heavily at times but, thankfully, Alistair likes to laugh at life as much as I do.

Not that we laughed all of the time.

The spirit world grew rich this year in January and November when Loki and then UB crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I have cried rivers of tears over both of those losses and our entire way of living changed each time.

 

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UB and Loki a few years ago

March had a lot of snow and I developed a pesky little pneumonia but it forced me to stay home, plow snow and finish my third novel. A silver lining to everything, right?

Of course 2017 will always be the summer of the Rice Ridge Fire that threatened our entire community on both sides of the mountains. It was a day-to-day experience for so many people and families and the business district took a huge hit from the loss of tourism, which is what Seeley Lake relies on to stay alive during our long winters.

 

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The pilots were our tourists this summer!

Bitterness and anger remain for a lot of folks for a fire that just wasn’t managed correctly from the beginning.

We were lucky in that we have a farm and acreage and big trucks and great friends and we were able to take our pets with us to Bismarck for a full month during the fire.

While a lot of things were bad about the fire, I think, perhaps, the worst part was the fact we all put our trust in our hired forest officials to do their job and save our town. Why did such a little fire have to turn into a public health and economic behemoth of a monster that raged over 160,000 acres and lasted over 3 months?

 

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the night we decided to get out… MMK’s photo

Thankfully no homes or businesses burned but that doesn’t mean businesses weren’t lost. I hope beyond hope that each restaurant, salon, and service can stay open this winter and thrive into 2018’s tourist season. Our little Chamber is re-focusing with new members and if everyone sticks together and supports one another we will see hundreds of out-of-state license plates clogging up our highway by Rovero’s and the Ice Cream Place yet again!

 

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Normal summer shenanigans in western Montana

My bling thing continued to provide a sparkly distraction to my world. I actually hit $60,000 in personal sales and I’m just 2 months shy of my 3-year anniversary with the company.

The company is going through some growing pains and major changes right now, though, and I’m not sure where I will fit in the new plan. I still love the jewelry but the company is focused on growing the number of merchandisers and recruiting and that’s just not my thing.

 

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Some of the bling (not my photo)

Doing direct sales for the first time ever has taught me some business skills and things I never learned on the ice or in the vet clinic and I have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people and make women feel absolutely beautiful when they wear the jewelry. (There are one or two men out there rocking our men’s leather wraps, too… I’m just saying…)

 

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I earned these this month! Super cute, not even on sale yet!

 

2018 will begin the blogger and media outreach we are planning with the Jenkins group we have hired for my 3rd book, Secrets Abound in Missing Lake.

If you’ve read any of my Missing Lake series, you know that the teens are tasked with making sense out of songs that their hippie English teacher assigns them. Its a sub-plot in the book but its a fun one as I explore songs and artists that I like and try to think how my various characters would analyze things.

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My books (Photo from Dr.Alison, who got the books for her daughter!)

For the 3rd book I went out on a limb and chose a lesser-known artist with an even lesser-known song to challenge both myself and my characters. The artist is Matisyahu and the song is Hard Way.

The really cool thing about this is that Matisyahu and his peeps are coming to a small theatre in Missoula, which is an hour from here, at the end of February.

He’s coming to Missoula!!!!!!

Tickets are already purchased for the small show (the only one in the state) and I’ve reached out hoping to meet him. Maybe he can sign my book!

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Just about into 2018….

And just when I thought we would skip through the last few days of 2017 without any drama, Mother Nature happened. And she happened, like she often does in the middle of nowhere, Big Time.

We have learned living in both Montana and North Dakota to take warnings about thunder storms and snowfall very, very seriously. The people in charge of those things usually are on top of it, knowing that either situation could mean life or death out here. (Tornado warnings are pretty spot-on in North Dakota, too.)

So when we looked ahead at weather reports, Alistair decided to head back to North Dakota a day early, leaving me to fend for myself during what was supposed to be quite the epic storm.

And it was.

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this was after the 1st day. My walk path the UPS guy must have used the night before!

I’ve never minded being up here alone because Alistair has me well set up with machinery to move snow from here to there, particularly Big Red, our ’96 one ton Dodge Ram. And we stocked up on wine and food in Missoula a day before he left and pet food supplies are full and we had brought 2 tractor buckets full of wood over to the house as well.

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Yesterday  morning… after I had “cleaned off” Big Red…

As predicted, the snow started to fall.

And it kept falling.

And sometimes it picked up in intensity and other times it just fell.

Most of our community has been without power for some length of time. There is a young couple in Seeley Lake who have been without for 3 days now and a friend north of town with an electrical line down on her driveway so not only can she not plow, she can’t leave her house.

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The snow piled up along our kitchen windows. This isn’t the ground floor.

Our power has been on and off but, for the most part, I have been extremely lucky.

There has been 1 avalanche already along the highway that Alistair travels through Lincoln, MT on his way back to ND. Nobody was injured but it closed the highway for half of a day as crews worked in the falling snow to clear it up.

And while this is life in the mountains of Montana, I have never seen such a snow event in my life. I’ve seen it accumulate but not in one 3-day event.

I plowed twice daily with my newest Hawaiian singer, Keali’i Reichel singing and chanting about sunshine, love, and Aloha in the warmth of Big Red’s rumbling cab. I got good and stuck at one point and contemplated melting down but I managed to channel that energy into getting myself unstuck.

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My first run up the driveway yesterday morning

I was able to create a path out to the main road yesterday, at least, which was my main goal despite all the plowing I had done the days prior. We are the last house on a long driveway and if I want to connect with the outside world I have to be on top of things. I don’t like the idea that I can’t get out if there’s an emergency or an ambulance can’t get in.

So I pushed the road open and then it snowed through the night and this morning I cleaned it up as best I could.

Its not my finest plow work but there is a road.

The problem is that I’ve run out of room to put the snow so it feels a bit like a narrow tunnel in places but, hey, its a road.

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Tidying it up as much as I could today.

I’ve also been shoveling to get the other trucks out and that has re-awoken some muscles in my arms and back that I had forgotten about. Either that or I had just kept them in check by playing golf all summer & fall. Regardless, they are talking to me and I’m glad to have Ibuprofen around.

But I’m done shoveling for 2017.

I think I’m done with 2017 in general.

As much laughter and silliness and as many wonderful friends & family we got to see this year, I’m totally cool with moving forward and letting any issues with 2017 disappear along with the calendars.

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Today’s handiwork. Not going to be using “Big Silver” anytime soon….

For now I’m going to bundle up in my warm, purple ski suit and take Cleopatra down the flat driveway for a walk and later I’ll make a yummy shrimp pasta and curl up on the couch with my ancient bestie, Sport purring away in my lap and maybe we’ll make it to see the ball drop and maybe I’ll even try making myself a Caesar before I switch to wine and maybe my family will call or I’ll call them. Alistair will call but he has to work all day tomorrow after working a very long day today, so we won’t talk late.

I shall sip wine and whole-heartedly welcome a new year with new dreams, new goals, new friends, new challenges, and a surprise or two up my sleeve.

Its Fyfe Life.

May you close 2017 with joy and embrace the New Year with a welcoming heart.

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Cleo helping me shovel today

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Sport, 17 1/2 years young… my new Couch Time partner at nights.

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I was fine with the amount of snow we had before this storm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasons of Change

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Today at the Fyfe Farm- can’t wait for the lilacs!

While the seasons change throughout the year I am always most amazed at the transformations that occur when winter turns to spring.

It is probably more profound for those of us who live where there are four dramatically different seasons. That’s not to say I wouldn’t relish life if someone offered me a home on Kauai but I do think I would miss the changes.

The transition of spring to summer feels sleepy and easy. And the change from summer to fall sometimes sort-of sneaks up on you but it usually has no drama. And then fall turns to winter but by then we’ve probably had a bit of snow and cold and the wood stove has already been running for weeks.

Its not the case this time of year.

 

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Spring in western Montana

After a long winter that had more than 3 feet of snow on the ground with days and days of plowing the roads and splitting wood and realizing I had to plow snow again, the changing season is a welcome relief.

Its beautiful, really.

There is actual warmth radiating from the giant, glowing yellow orb in the sky which has brought all of the snow off our heavily-burdened roof tops and is taking its toll with the subsequent melt. The creeks are high.

 

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The creek that runs past our house.

 

Dark, murky water bubbles and churns next to our house, breaching the creek walls and spilling out onto our still-snowy pasture at the far end of the field. I can hear it churning along even when I’m walking the dogs down our gravel driveway that is finally drying up.

The driveway that I plowed endlessly this winter.

 

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The back driveway this winter. We try to keep this one open, too.

We are the last home on the road so if I want to have access to the world its up to me to keep things open. I don’t mind the plowing at all. I have my trusty old friend, Big Red and his kick-ass blade to shove snow from here to there. The Dodge Ram we designed as our wedding gift to each other in 1996 has served us well over the years and even if he had to be plugged in every night during the winter it was worth it to feel him shimmy and rumble and hear him fire up in the frigid mornings after another 7 or 8 inches of snow had fallen.

 

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I love you, Big Red!

It isn’t just a visual awakening that occurs when winter takes off her snowy coat and welcomes the spring. The smell of the pine trees when we snowshoe and now hike out back is magnificent! Its profound how sudden the scent seems to appear although the trees have obviously been there all winter.

The dogs seemed fascinated by the scents they were detecting on one of our first treks after a lot of snow had rapidly disappeared. UB, in particular, was almost clingy with us. Had the melt uncovered mountain lion and bear scents? Had the neighborhood wolves left markings that had been hidden all winter only to be revealed on one sunny afternoon?

 

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Snowshoe trek with UB… (not the day he was so worried)

Not all of the scents are lovely, however. Like the overpowering smell that takes over when we drive up to our mailbox, which is located next to the neighbor who is calving in a small, wet, condensed area.

Or the unmistakable smell of skunk that wafted through the truck as I passed yet another neighbor’s often-targeted house. These are definite scents of spring.

A smell I miss is that of our woodstove. We’ve let the stove go out for the season.

 

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All done for the winter.

The reliable and steady source of incredible, comforting warmth is cool and quiet now and there are no animals congregating at its hearth. When we first moved here 10 years ago, Oscar, Chorney, Boomer, Sport, Cooper and Mulder could be found alongside Cleo throughout the winter on the carpeted stairs next to the stove.

I’ve laid there myself on cold evenings when I was chilled to the bone and Alistair was in Bismarck, wrapped up in any combination of cats and dogs.

Its the stove Loki laid in front of when I joined her and we spooned one last time before she eventually took her final breaths there.

It will sit silently, unobtrusively for the next several months until it is called to duty once more and I won’t smell the smoke from the burning wood which provides a heat like no other.

 

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Just last week.

With the changing seasons comes a change in our activities. The snow shoes and snowmobiles both got some love last week when Alistair was here. If you are an outdoors enthusiast, this is the perfect place to live (once you’ve got the wood split and the driveway plowed). We try to make the most of our incredible landscape.

 

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Our “back yard” forest a couple of weeks ago.

We didn’t make it to the ski hills around us, though, because the transformation into spring was happening even more rapidly in Helena, where the golf courses began to open. Our season has begun!

 

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Also last week!

With the change in our activities we noticed more changes in our own lives. This was the first spring we could drive the hour and half there and play a full, guilt-free 18 holes and then enjoy a lovely supper out before heading home. The previous 2 years, when Helena’s courses opened before any others nearby, we could only do the driving range. Or a rapid 9 holes with a cart.

Loki’s needs, which were never, ever resented, precluded us from being gone from home for so long. I initially felt sad that I didn’t feel any guilt but then I chose to enjoy both our memories and our new ability to spend the full afternoon there.

And I even made par on the par 3 16th hole. Another ball for the wall!

 

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New pink ball-for-the-wall!

Another aspect that makes the turning of winter into spring profound for us is how we manage the farm and day-to-day chores or activities. Something so simple as footwear or outer wear becomes completely different and takes up significantly less time.

There’s the long pants and possibly long johns. The turtleneck. The vest. Maybe the CarHartts. The big heavy coat or the double-layered jacket (depends on whether or not I’m splitting wood). The scarf. The toque. The gloves (the choice again depends on the wood thing… or maybe the hay thing).

Then there’s time you need to start the trucks (if they start) and let them run so that they will be warm and the engine will run smoothly. And don’t forget to unplug them before driving off!

 

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Big Red needed plenty of time to rumble in the driveway before we would get going.

Now, though, as spring has made her entrance into our world, none of the rigs are plugged in and going outside is a matter of slipping some shoes on and maybe a light jacket. If the wind is blowing I’ll grab the toque but only so my hair doesn’t fly around.

Our lives are dramatically different when spring comes around.

And this year, some of the changes are of our own design but they’ve added to the profound feeling that things are really, really different now.

Klaus is gone.

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Klaus… our Jetta… enjoying his final winter on the Fyfe Farm.

 

Our 2009 VW Jetta was part of the emissions lawsuit that was settled late last year. After Klaus made the annual Christmas letter 2 years in a row we were more than happy to send our little car back to VW.

It took a bit of time to organize it all but early last week Alistair fired his old friend up one more time and off we went to Missoula.

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He didn’t seem overly upset about it, either.

And for the last time I followed the little grey hatchback in a different vehicle and although I didn’t feel melancholy I definitely flashed back to several of our treks between Montana and North Dakota over the years. Some changes can definitely make me smile.

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Following Klaus through the middle of Montana in 2015.

One more change putting a smile on my face most of the time is Jockey’s transition to being an indoors kitty. It wasn’t right keeping him by himself in the barn after we had lost Georgia before Christmas so the slow process of making sure everyone got along began and he’s camped out at my feet right now as I type.

 

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He found the bed pretty quickly!

 

 

He’s an enormous cat with big sharp claws but he had kept them sheathed until Sport must have pissed him off. I haven’t witnessed any altercations but Sport showed up with what looked like a bad attempt at a pierced ear the other morning.

Oh, Jockey.

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Sport, today, after several days of antibiotics, doing quite well.

Jockey is making the most out of being a “domesticated indoor cat” and everyone is adapting to the changes.

The changes in the season and the changes in Fyfe Life.

The sun and the ground are warm, the horses are shedding their long winter coats, the color green is peeking out from where the snow has melted and spring is upon us. I’m wearing less layers, the heavy boots aren’t being worn as much, the trucks aren’t plugged in and the wood stove is silent.

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Outdoor reminders of other seasons.

While its still cool enough to have a chicken noodle soup cooking in my crock pot right now I can finally see the bon fire pit and imagine sitting around a smoky, starry night with a wine glass in my hand and UB and Cleo playing in the creek.

And I think of when we had 4 dogs by the bonfire and 3 barn kitties to lock in at night and 5 dogs at the Dog Days of Summer and so many cats to line up every day for soft food and the ferret cage sits there, empty, and the freezer is ridiculously full and I miss couch time with Loki and I feel bad about not feeling guilty when I visit a good friend in the hospital and another good friend for lunch before finalizing the VW buy-back yesterday.

As much as my life has always changed, this current changing season has brought me to a totally new phase in my life. Where many things are the same but I feel quite different. I don’t know why. More mature? Perhaps. Wiser, in some ways, less knowledgeable in others. More prone to tearing up at a commercial that features animals, that’s for sure.

I welcome spring and all the rebirth and growth and challenges in front of me.

Now, lets get those golf courses open!

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Clearly not struggling with the transition.

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Yesterday, finalizing the buy-back of Klaus.

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I’m envisioning it but its still going to take a few days…

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Bye-bye, winter! We’re ready for spring!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of “Those” Winters

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How to survive winter in western Montana.

I’ve certainly posted pictures of enormous snow drifts and buried hot tubs over the years. And I’ve shared many before & after pictures of our deck in Montana that would be buried overnight and require my little body to shovel as if there were no tomorrow.

I’ve also told winter tales of woe from our ranch in North Dakota, where the winds blow in unimaginably cold temperatures for days and you pray that you don’t get stuck and that your diesel doesn’t gel.

But this winter… this is one for the ages.

 

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Our barn in ND before Alistair could really do some work.

Its been particularly harsh in Bismarck because they have had two extended periods of extreme cold weather and a tremendous amount of snowfall. Usually the snow comes down and blows around. The drifts make travel and movement a challenge but the volume doesn’t often stack up.

Its stacking up this year.

Like it did in 1996/97 where everyone in North Dakota remembers trying to beat the swollen Red River with sandbags. They were unsuccessful and downtown Grand Forks, ND flooded.

 

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Image from 1997 Red River flood (not my picture)

 

Everyone in the state watched the largest city get buried in raging, muddy waters that were formed when the snow never seemed to stop that winter. Snow that was shoved to the sides of the road higher than our one-ton pickup, Big Red when we were at a hockey game in Grand Forks months before the flood.

 

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All that snow melted and it had to go somewhere (not my picture).

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, fire broke out downtown but nobody could get to it because of the floodwaters. North Dakotans are remembering this springtime disaster because the snow this year is much like the snow that winter.

 

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haunting aftermath of the flood and fire (not my photo)

Because nobody wants to see this again.

But we know that many precautions have been made and banks were reinforced so we are all hopeful to avoid that kind of nightmare.

Or the nightmare of 2011 when Bismarck flooded after heavy snowfall in Montana had to go somewhere.

It chose the mighty Missouri.

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Flooded roads and residential areas in Bismarck, 2011 (not my picture).

Families were evacuated, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed and an army of people and pets moved into our home with Alistair for most of the summer.

The Army Corps of Engineers will hopefully be more on top of things this spring so we won’t see a repeat this year.

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snow load and drifts on our ranch in Bismarck right now.

Because there’s a boat-load of snow and its only the middle of January.

Many Montanans say that the snow used to come down like it has all of the time in the “old days”. That people were shoveling and roof-raking all winter long. It was the price you paid to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and I guess we’re paying for it now ourselves.

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My view for much of this winter already.

I have it a lot easier than poor Alistair, though.

For starters, I can plow in the warm comfort of Big Red with Jack Johnson, Iz or Coldplay blaring out of the speakers.

I have the big tractor with the covered cab and more heaters and a radio for company.

I also only have one horse to care for here versus the dozen he must feed and protect in Bismarck.

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from our snow-blown deck in North Dakota last week

Which is a challenge when he’s not there for 2 weeks. Its a challenge when New Neighbor is clueless about our tractor (which does not have a cab, heat or music) and damn near destroys a rim as he tries to clean up the snow. And its a challenge when it feels like 60 degrees below zero and the wind has blown for 3 days while snow kept coming down but he still needs a road to get to the horses and to get to work.

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a challenge to get into the barn where the tractor is kept!

I got to post cute videos of me listening to a warming Hawaiian ukulele with the incredibly beautiful Horseshoe Hills just beyond our Montana dream home while poor Alistair froze himself for hours trying to make sense out of the mess in front of him.

A mess New Neighbor truly hadn’t helped with. A mess our postman refused to enter so we didn’t receive mail for a few days. A mess that was very, very cold.

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You have to have a path, right?

He had to stop 5 times during the massive snow upheaval to shiver and shudder in our heated tack room. He traded socks, toques and gloves and stuck his bare toes directly into the slots on the baseboard heater and hoped beyond hope that when the tractor sounded like it wanted to seize up thanks to gelled diesel that it was just messing with him.

Its not as if he has the splendor of the Rockies to look at while he’s trying to move snow from here to there.

He has the flat, white horizon. Its a treeless, dreary, almost depressing landscape when its like this and you recognize how Seasonal Affected Disorder can creep in.

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My stunning backdrop in Montana.

But this is why we do what we do.

Because he gets to call this place home as well and we can enjoy our time together with our pets, heated tractor and vehicles that hopefully all start.

Today Alistair has been back in the big, warm tractor snowblowing out our driveways that are now too tall for Big Red’s blade to push aside. He has the roads wide enough to land a plane on so I’m ready for the next dump of snow.

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Taking a break on the hay bales yesterday with UB, Cleo & Jockey

And we laughed a lot yesterday splitting wood with our electric wood splitter, playing with our remaining band of merry misfits, hot tubbing with toques on our heads and fires lit in the tiki torches he had to dig out.

We watched PGA golf on Oahu and smiled at the vast difference in landscapes while sipping martinis and wine, and we talked about the antibiotics Cleo is on for a dental infection and the meds I started for Sport for a likely overactive thyroid and we shared a sad glance or two at the empty, cleaned-out ferret cage, Quebec and we make each other smile when spirt of Luigi or spirit of Calypso has something to say and we take Loki outside and beg her to do her business out there and we wonder how long we have with her but we can’t get enough of her snuggling into us and onto us during couch time or through the night and the cribbage game continues and we are hopeful that surgery might be soon to remove a pesky pelvic pin for hubby and that eventually, some day, maybe when the snow melts and hopefully doesn’t flood riverbanks onto the prairies, the sun will shine and we will be able to get back to our golf game.

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Another break in the wood splitting yesterday.

We plug the rigs and the tractors in. We only use diesel 1 which southerners don’t know even exists. We keep a steady supply of wine and vodka and frozen food and pet food on hand. We split more wood. And we move more snow.

And Alistair took the keys away from New Neighbor, saying it was time for them to get their own tractor.

Its just one of those winters and we’re doing everything we can to get through it.

Smiling.

With our version of winter Aloha, booze and hot tubs.

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Bismarck hot tub buried after the 2nd blizzard before Alistair dug a path.

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Our Jetta, Klaus in Montana… probably not going anywhere soon.

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Blasting out a “piddle path” for the dogs last month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Slowing Down

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The first real snow of the season

You would think that several inches of good snow would cause me to pause and reflect a little bit.

Particularly after the year we’ve had.

We are all getting used to a world without Mouse but it hasn’t been easy.

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Mouse… just a couple of weeks before he became ill

If there is a light out of the dark, however, it is that his barn-mates, Jockey and Georgia have begun to have an actual relationship.

Where she head-butts him (with her head tilt… another story for some other time…) and he leans in and licks her forehead while they both purr.

This is unprecedented behavior between enormous, part-Siamese Jockey and petite, squeaky-sounding Georgia. They each loved Mouse beyond belief and I’m pretty sure they were jealous of each other. Like a room-mate or bestie of some poor, unsuspecting guy whose girlfriend moves in.

But now all they have is each other.

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Little Georgia, before the head tilt

And they have their Mummy, of course! And Daddy part-time, too.

The day the snow came down I was busy.

Splitting and stacking wood is just part of life in western Montana unless you don’t use wood to heat your home.

Before you start picturing all 5’3″ of me heaving an axe behind my head like Paul Bunyun its not that bad. Alistair bought me an electric woodsplitter our first Christmas here.

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The woodpile a few years ago.

I always have a good, long laugh at myself when I remember a big load of wood that arrived when Alistair was in Bismarck a few years ago.

I was working full time but I had to stack it all that weekend because another load would be coming.

It was a hot weekend, too. I remember the dogs laying in the grass watching me move each piece. One by one. From the pile to the side of the house and back to the pile.

The logs weren’t stacking as easily as I would have liked, with some of them rolling around but with a touch of OCD and a need for an aesthetically pleasing wood pile I got most of the job done.

And I posted pictures on Facebook.

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Anyone see the problem?

And I felt pretty pleased with myself.

Until Alistair saw the picture the next morning and called me from work. There was something in his voice. Trepidation, perhaps?

“Hon…. you’ve got the wood facing the wrong way.”

I looked out the kitchen window. He was right.

My day of finishing off the rest of the stacking turned into unstacking and then re-stacking and the dogs just laid there on the even hotter day watching me take improperly-stacked wood off the pile over to the pile on the driveway just to take it all back and stack it properly.

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Finally I got it right!

My knuckles were dragging on the ground and my pride was bruised but it wasn’t the first time and it surely wasn’t the last time I had to eat some humble pie.

It wasn’t funny coming home to this the next night, though.

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The second load! Oh, boy!

You know what? It actually was pretty funny and I’m chuckling right now remembering all of that.

That’s just how life is on a farm at the end of a long road in the middle of nowhere.

You have to keep up on things when winter hits because there are so many other things you have to do.

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This is Bull-Chit, Step Gammy. I’m not enjoying this!

Like shovel walk- and piddle-paths for our 14-pound grand-dog, Loki, who is not a fan of winter.

I watched her almost high-center herself as she squatted which led to some giggling on my part but she didn’t hear me.

We’re pretty sure Loki and Cleo are both going deaf.

Granted, Cleo has always had selective Springer Spaniel hearing but its definitely worse this year.

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What?

On top of shoveling there is also plowing to be done. It takes two hours to do the two driveways. I like keeping both of them open in case wind blows snow across the one up to the mailboxes.

We’re the last house on the road so if I want a road out its up to me when Alistair isn’t here.

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the main driveway after plowing a couple of years ago (note Casey & Harry running to me)

We like it nice and wide so its 3 runs up and 3 runs down in Big Red.

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Big Red. Last winter.

Big Red is a 1996 model and he has fired up for me every single year. He’s probably one of the most significant relationships I have had in my life. I love that truck!

On top of moving snow from here to there I am also trying to promote my 2nd book, The Dragons of Missing Lake. I have had 2 book events that have gone very well and I’ve got one up in Condon tomorrow!

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First book event in Ovando, signing for my friend, Eloise!

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Marilyn getting her book signed at our second book event!

People are enjoying getting back in touch with my characters and seeing what Luke is getting into. I miss my characters and can’t wait to start the next book but I really need to promote right now.

And I’m still slinging bling because I’m just not busy enough.

Men… did you know that 30% of women practice saying, “Thank-you” in a mirror so that if they open a gift they don’t really like they will still look convincing?

Reason enough right there to head over to http://www.chloeandisabel.com/boutique/tanyafyfe

So the snow falls and I’m a happy little wood-splitting, snow-plowing, shovel-wielding, Mouse-missing, book promoting, Boom-grooming, gift-wrapping bling-slinger.

It keeps me busy.

It keeps me from thinking about things.

Like how this is the first part of the first winter without 5 dogs and Jockey and Georgia are starting to bond but neither of them sleeps in their beds together and Loki’s eye looks gross and I really want her to enjoy another springtime and Calypso lost a bit of weight thanks to dietary indiscretion but he’s still having a ball and I can always do more Boomer-grooming and, Jeez, she’s 20 years old which makes me miss Oscar this time of year, camped out by the woodstove and there’s no deer legs to complain about because there is no Casey.

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Casey a year ago

Well, wait…

I guess I did make the time to sit down and reflect, didn’t I?

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UB and Cleo goofing around in the snow a couple of days ago

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Our winter wonderland when it snowed this week

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Gary & Dona, my mushing experts at the 2nd book event at the Double Arrow Lodge!

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Mummy & Mouse a couple of winters ago. xo