June 2010

This is my first blog post- I thought it would be about something deep or funny or at least interesting.  NOPE, just gonna write about what I did yesterday.  So here’s a day in the life of Brother Dear at Hillhouse.

Ya’ll have no idea how much work it takes to make this place look decent.  I had forgotten myself, until the folks decided to move over to Whitefish.  I’m fairly certain we’d all gotten used to having somebody around to mow the lawn, cook 9/10ths of the meals, keep the house sparkling, and do a million different things to make everything feel like home (Mom), and another somebody to fix everything that breaks, keep the flies, mosquitoes, and yellow jackets away, constantly maintain the physical structures at Hillhouse, and keep the hot tub in proper perfectly functioning order (Dad).

I believe Court and I grew accustomed to all of these borderline-menial, yet extremely important tasks simply being “taken care of” while we were off at work, hiking, tubing, 4-wheeling, fishing, or otherwise gallivanting.  Not that we didn’t help or even spearhead, but there are only so many hours in a day and having Mom and Dad around certainly makes thing run smoothly.

So today I tried to get a jump on “maintaining” the property.  I got up around  6:30 and brewed a pot of coffee and contemplated the day up at the cabin.  I had the place to myself as “Darling Summer Help”  dove out of bed around 4:30am to go help “Honeydew” move some bees around.  Yes, Dear Reader, it does actually pain me to refer to these individuals in such a borderline-silly fashion, but these seem to be the restraints of fine-blog-posting.  I’m just trying to follow the rules.  As I stepped from my living room to my kitchen, the first two projects were immediately apparent:  with all of the kitchen supplies recently brought from Charleston, Virginia, and Missoula, the cabin kitchen needs more cupboard/shelf space…but that’s for another day.  The second project came to me as I walked by the sink towards the door…a very distinctive, unique, and unwelcome odor drifting down from the attic.  Guano.  Bat Poop.  When we first “fixed up” the cabin we hauled out 450 gallons of Guano from the attic, but that’s a story for another blog.  Needless to say, I am VERY familiar with this particular odor, and have spent five years trying to relocate it.  However, even at 7am it was getting hot as blazes and the attic was probably approaching 100 degrees, so I (smartly) decided to focus my attention elsewhere.

Elsewhere turned out to be the Big House, where I drank several more cups of coffee, had some breakfast, and ‘helped’ Courtney and Natalee prepare for their day.  Soon enough they shuffled off to their respective obligations and I was left to my own devices.  What to do?  Oil the house…no, that would take several people practically forever.  Fix the lighting situation in the kitchen…no, that’s definitely for another day with lots  of help.  Grab the chainsaw and start clearing 4wheeler paths along the fenceline…nah, it’s hot and I don’t want to have put on long pants.

So many options.  I needed to clear my mind.  Why not climb up on the roof and see what’s going on up there?

Marvelous!  Mornings like this are why the pond in front of Hillhouse is called Gretchen’s Mirror rather than Gretchen’s Sinkhole.  There was a bit of bad news up on the roof though… Another rough winter did its dirty work on the paint on our overhead steel hail-protector.  Nothing I can do about that today though.

Time to get to work.  I set about my first task- taking the storm windows off the cabin.  The storm windows are probably twice as old as I am, and a few them appear to be held together by gravity, precedent, and wishful thinking.  There are 12 on the house, but two stay on permanently.  I loaded up all the removable ones in my pickup and carefully made my way down to the garage.  After a jaw session with a recently-returned neighbor, I set to the task of fixing up the windows.

Some of them just got a little sanding and new coat of paint, while others got the full treatment.  I carefully hammered the wooden strips holding the panes onto the frame back into their correct position with a block of wood and a mallet, added a finishing nail and some glue here or there, did a little glazing and caulking, and tried my hardest not to make anything worse off than it was before.  I think they came out looking much better, and they may even get a second coat tomorrow.

While the paint was drying, I walked up and down the driveway leading to Hillhouse with my trusty lopers and trimmed back all the aspen, cottonwood, and willows encroaching into our thoroughfare.  Hopefully this helps with some of the snow drifting problems we’ve had, but it was mostly just a cosmetic overhaul.  I hopped on a 4wheeler (Ginger, because she’s a redhead) and helped the recently returned Psuedo-Sister move a bunch of her junk around from barn to barn (seriously, we move stuff from barn to barn on at least a weekly basis).  While schlepping, I realized that the cabin, tack barn, and pump house could use a good weed-wacking, so I got to work on that.   Psuedo-Sister did her best Mom-impression and made me a delicious seared ahi-tuna sandwich for lunch.  Mom always keeps us well-fed around here, and a good lunch is crucial to proper and timely Homestead Maintenance.

In between window painting sessions, I pressure washed all the windows and doors at Hillhouse and then Pseudo-sister helped me clean them by hand.  They were totally covered in smashed bugs, smashed bird bits, and other smashed detritus.  Nasty stuff.  I bugbombed the pump house, killed a bunch of yellow jackets, set out traps, and inspected the bat house.  I needed a break, so I took Ginger for a cruise and let Roy chase me all over the property.  Very fun.

It was getting to be late afternoon at this point.  The weather was wild all day, with storms splitting around Hillhouse to go north and south of us.  I could write another thousand words on the variety of weather yesterday, but I’ll save that for a phone call with Dad.  This picture should show a bit of the variety we got- this little storm spit out some serious lightning just southeast of us.

With little energy left, I hopped on the lawnmower and got to work on the front lawn.  Our lawnmower…well, it’s a piece of work.  The belts are always slipping off the wheels so you have to get down and manually put them back on in order for the mower blades to engage.  It is also kind of liking riding on top of a giant vibrating can opener.  Hillhouse’s lawn looks flat…but it’s not.  Trying to mow the lawn in high gear will definitely leave you with the sensation that your backbone is trying forcefully wiggle its way out of your body.   I’m thrilled that the folks are loaning us their posh John Deere whenever it gets here from Virginia.  It’s even got a cup holder!

So that was my day.  I probably forgot some stuff.  It was basically a lot of chores.  I loved it.  A younger-me would be shocked at such a statement as I used to dread weeding the garden, helping Dad with the fences, mulching, raking leaves, whitewashing, cleaning gutters, etc.  I did quite a bit of it as a kid, mostly because Courtney was always very busy ‘studying.’  Right.  Now, I find doing these manual tasks extremely gratifying- even though probably nobody will notice that driveway is cleared out or that the storm windows are whiter, I know.  We all take great pleasure in maintaining Hillhouse, and I hope our devotion shows to our friends and neighbors.

As the sun went down, the light perfectly reflected off the old Swiftcurrent Lookout and it looked like it was a huge flame on the mountaintop.

We closed off the day with a delicious meal of buffalo-stuffed peppers and all sorts of sides- which Darling Summer Help expertly paired with some delicious brews from his home state of Wisconsin.  Finally, we built a fire up in the big field and the whole strange Hillhouse family sat around and watched the clouds of another amazing sunset.

It’s really, really good to be home.


Sure, magnolias are lovely.  Mint juleps are refreshing.  But what I really, really love about the South are the roadside boiled peanut (“bawled p-nut”) stands.  Even when peanut season is long gone, intrepid Southern entreprenuers pull their peanuts out of their deep freezers and entice tourons and Southern ex-pats alike to their salty offerings.

Let’s just say that Honeydew also enjoys them, and ate about $16 worth.  Wow.

Mmmmm.   Meat skins, also known as pork rinds, too.

Love the South.  I hope to live out the rest of my days in Montana, but I’m always so happy to say, whether or not I am asked,  “I’m from the South.”  Just for starters, our peanuts are better’n’yurs.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

As y’all know, I turned 30 on Thursday.  The last four days have been a birthday gift you just can’t buy – Summer arrived, and with it, my dear friends and family.

On Thursday, the Going-to-the-Sun Road fully opened, and we were in line at the St. Mary entrance to witness the “Logan Pass CLOSED” sign being taken down!

The Going-to-the-Sun Road never fails to amaze me with its architectural wonders and sheer beauty.  Here, we are driving through “The Big Drift,” an area just east of Logan Pass that generally holds so much snowpack that it must be surveyed every year to determine the road’s location before it can be plowed.

Logan Pass was sun dappled, hoppin’ with folks, and packed with snow.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Logan Pass and then retraced our path down the road, heading for Many Glacier, my favorite part of the Park, where we enjoyed a little stroll around Swiftcurrent Lake and then indulged in G&Ts on the Many Glacier Hotel deck, the best deck in the world.

At home that night, my mom prepared some of my favorite dishes for my birthday meal: grilled Copper River salmon, panfried halibut, asparagus bunches, potatoes-n-Vidalias, farmer’s market salad, and rum cake with pineapple-coconut sorbet and grilled pineapple.

It. was. heavenly.  Mom, Dad, Honeydew, and Darling Summer Help offered a champagne toast to me, out of my grandmother’s gorgeous champagne saucers.  Thanks, y’all.  I’m grateful for my thirty years on this Earth.

After dinner, Honeydew took me up to Warehouse No. 1 to give me a birthday gift, the sweetest I have ever received.  He fastened six bee hive sides together and branded our logo and name into the wood.  It is not done yet, but when he is finished, we will have a beautiful sign to mark the entrance to Glacier County Honey Co. World Headquarters.

I think I now have a better understanding of why my parents treasure the Christmas ornaments my brothers and I made for them above all else – except in this case, no kindergarten teacher guided Honeydew’s hand.  He came up with this idea all on his own, and I can see his love for me in the branded wood.  Thank you, sweetheart.

On Friday, my parents went home to Whitefish, and Brother Dear, the Hot Buns, and Dan arrived to continue the celebration.  Saturday, LJ stuffed us full of her famous French Toast (thanks, LJ!) and we hiked to Shangri La, an off-trail area of the Park that is one of my favorite places.  I’ve been there many times over the years, and each group I’ve hiked with has been special.  This trip was no exception.

Kestergill, LJ, Darling Summer Help, me, Brother Dear, Ray-Ray, and Dan – at Shangri La, on Mt. Wilbur, Many Glacier Valley, Glacier National Park, Montana

We saw a goat, many sheep, one cow moose, and a sow griz with three cubs.

But more about Shangri La later – it is worthy of its own blog post!

Apres hike, we enjoyed huckleberry margaritas on the Many Glacier Hotel deck, Twistas at Two Sisters, and burritos, burgers, and BBQ at Gib’s Roadside Grill in Babb.  Yum!

Today, Ray-Ray and Dan headed back to Missoula, but Brother Dear, Kestergill, LJ, Darling Summer Help, and myself drove up to Logan Pass for skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, and sledding under sun drenched skies.

Darling Summer Help borrowed my randonee “Sweet Fat Thang” skis, which are plastered with green butterflies – we decided he is a heck of a real man to be able to rock these girly skis!

Kestergill brought her split board, and LJ and I strapped on our snow shoes and our hiking skirts.

And up the pass we went!  That’s Mt. Oberlin in the background.

Here, Kestergill, LJ, Darling Summer Help, and I approach the ridge beneath Mt. Clements from which we wanted to ski and sled.  Can you see the green sled I’m dragging behind me?

Darling Summer Help earned those turns!

Kestergill looked professional, as ever.  And so happy.

LJ and I hopped into the green sled and took a wild ride down the hill, laughing hysterically and somehow keeping ourselves, our packs, and our snowshoes in the sled the entire way down.  We’re professional, too.

If there was ever a day to be skiing up on Logan Pass, today was the day.  Carpe weekend!

Summer, welcome back to Montana – we’re so glad you’re here!

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  Photo credits to Sanford Stone and Jeff Street, too.  All Rights Reserved.

I was born on National Watermelon Seed Spitting Day. That was yesterday.

Today, Brother Dear and the Hot Buns arrived from Missoula and Whitefish.  They are here on the premise of helping me to properly celebrate turning 30.

I’m glad to make it to 30, because, as I know too well, it’s not a guarantee in life to make it this far.   But I’m flat out thrilled to have my girls up for the weekend, birthday or no.

More to come on our adventures!

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

This is me, and my puppy Budgie, about thirty years ago.

Not much has changed.  I spent some of today, my 30th birthday, with my dogs, and my parents.  We went into Glacier – the park service conveniently opened the Going-to-the-Sun Road as a lovely little birthday gift to me.  It’s been a wonderful day.  And now I’m going back to hanging out with those I love, and getting off the computer.  May your evening be equally festive!

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

My grandma’s sweet tea on a hot day.

Holding my godson.

The fuzziness of a fresh mint sprig, cut from the garden.

A steam shower after a cross-country skiing expedition.

Welcoming my parents to Montana.

Grilled peaches.

A fire, the dogs, Honeydew and me.  Maybe a bottle of wine.  Just talking.

A postcard from an old friend.

Beating butter and honey into sweet potatoes for pie.

A phone call from an aunt, an old roommate, a new friend.

The way the air smells on Gunsight Pass.

The way honey smells when we’re extracting it.

The way Honeydew smells after a long day with the bees – like honey barbeque potato chips, from the smoker.

And this.  This moment was sheer happiness.

Congratulations, Laura and Bo!  May you find happiness everywhere you look.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved  Photo credit to Sarah Hailey.

Honeydew and Darling Summer Help went out supering today.  “Supers” are the extra boxes that you see on top of the actual hives – in the summertime, we run two brood chambers on the bottom of our stacks, then a queen excluder (a plastic grate that keeps the queen down in the hive body and brood chamber), and then supers, which are extra boxes where the bees make our fabulous honey!  Supering time means its summertime, and despite the continuing nutty weather we’re having around here (I got caught in two separate hailstorms today), it is beautiful here, and our bees are starting to make that honey, at long last.

Here’s the 2 ton, loaded up with supers.  Honeydew and Darling Summer Help made the rounds to several beeyards today, checking brood chambers for healthy queens, adding queen excluders (see the white grates on the boxes in the foreground?), and supering.

From this angle, you can see that the supers are a little bit shallower than the brood chambers.  Supers hold 9 frames to a box, and they are good and darn heavy when they’re filled with honey.  Honeydew can lift several at a time, and stack them high on the two ton.  I can lift one at a time if I wedge it against my hipbone and get honey all over myself.  He loves it when I do that and then plop down in his truck, trailing sticky with me.

Things were going pretty well for Honeydew and Darling Summer Help.  Until late afternoon, when they arrived at we call the old schoolhouse yard, up near the Del Bonita Canadian crossing, and got the truck struck.  As y’all know from previous postings, Honeydew takes gittin’ stuck with aplomb.

But he was pretty stuck.  Here he is standing on top of the 2 ton, trying to get enough cell service to call me at work and have me come with the tow rope to give him a bump out of the mud with my Tahoe.  Of course, he called right at the moment my brain was fully engaged and I was making progress on a case that I dread working on.  So of course I said, “Be right there!” and jumped in my rig.

And an hour later, I was there.

There was a pile of shingles near the old schoolhouse, so Honeydew and Darling Summer Help gave the 2 ton a little traction with a sheet of them.

We hitched the tow rope to the 2 ton and then to the Tahoe and start yanking.This went on for about an hour.

We bored the pretty bull watching us to tears.  I like the “CF” on his hip.  He could be mine.

But eventually, we pulled the 2 ton through the yard with the Tahoe, in the driving rain.  And then we all went to Gib’s Roadside Grill in Babb and chowed down on burritos.  The End.

2010. Photo credits to Jeff Street.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

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