As soon as we moved to Missoula I started sort of joking that I wanted to run for city council. I say "sort of" because like all of my great ideas, if there was an easy way to accomplish this (an open seat on the board, I keep an eye on that), I would. There are a lot of small issues here that a new resident might notice right away. The big one - we can't recycle glass. I didn't realize how many wine bottles we went through in a two week period until I saw that they had all been carefully picked out of our recycling bin, and placed in a neat line on my back lawn. Shame. Shame. Other gripes include a lack of stop or yield signs at the major cross streets in my neighborhood, the City refusing to build curbs or extend sidewalks to the street, and requiring any resident who wants to build a ADU (me) to pave their alley at their own cost. Oh yeah, you're probably thinking - you are a home owner now! And really complaining like a crabby one. That's probably true. Every town has its quirks, of course. While I have to shut my eyes every time I throw a glass kombucha bottle in the trash can, there is lots to love about this dot on the map. Specifically, our house.
Home, sweet home! This photo was taken in October, when the leaves were changing and the flowers were still hanging on. Notice the two gold pumpkins that we planned to make into "Trumpkins," but then became lazy and disillusioned, letting them sit like gaudy announcements to the neighborhood - we're here!
Welcome inside our front entry way! We sometimes keep items that we need to return by the front door (like these canned beans that are going back to Coscto). Originally, this area was a porch, but the previous owners walled it off so it could be part of the house. We don't really know what to do with it, but that's fine for now.
Our formal (very formal) dining room. We made that table! Well, to be specific - a man in Missoula (a professional wood worker) made the top out of some locally sourced wood and Spencer built the rest of it. He did a great job, as he does with all home projects. The table runner is from a market in San Cristobal de las Casas, in Mexico.
Here is our living room, which feels pretty complete. Rug, couch, lamp, healthy plants, a book chronicling this history of Pantones - I can't think of anything else you'd need.
Ok, well, you need a book shelf, obviously. One of my favorite features about my house in Boulder was the library of books in the back room. It sort of feels like a combination of a trophy case and a selection of memories. Home is where the books are.
Spencer's favorite room in the house! And it's always this clean, 100% of the time. Never a mess on those counter tops. Not ever. It always looks exactly like this.
Watch out - men at work!
Guess who got to decorate this entire room? It was me. For some reason, I was most excited to put together a guest bedroom at our new house. When you come to visit, this is where you will stay. Just give us one day advanced notice so I can fold the couch down and fluff up your pillow.
Here we have the guest bathroom. There is even a shower in here! When we first bought this house I couldn't get over having a dish washer and an extra bathroom with a shower. Major luxury, sometimes I still wonder if it's real. Given a choice, I would have designed this bathroom exactly as it is. But all we had to do was buy a bathroom rug to match.
This is where I go to work every morning. I put this room together quickly, because I didn't want to get stuck working on the couch. Having a specific place to work is really amazing, and it helps keep me focused and productive.
Guess what? I made these shelves for my office! You spend enough time cruising around on Pinterest, and before you know it, you've just made some wall shelves out of old barn wood and a vintage stain. Not picture here: the giant picture frame I found in the alley behind our house, which will soon become a loom for my next project.
I'm not the only person in this household that finds inspiration on Pinterest.
So that's the tour to date! We have a lot of work to do in the backyard in the next few years (long term planning - a new concept) so that Spencer can have a garden and I can have a hammock set up. It's fun to have a project to work on, and a place to call our own. Having a house makes travel more exciting, because it feels like a break. But it makes returning home more exciting as well, because we have so much to look forward to in our new town.
I've been somewhat intrigued with Panama for several years now, without knowing why or where this interest originated. It's strange, but Panama seems to get a bit overlooked in the travel circuit (or maybe that's not true, it's just that I haven't heard much about traveling there). But having now visited almost every country in Central America (El Salvador - you're the last one standing!), I'm so glad that we saved what I now think of as the best for last.
Two places in particular pop up when you start to research Panama; Bocas del Toro and Boquete. We wanted to plan a trip that included a few more unexplored places, and after an over night in Casco Viejo (a revitalized neighborhood on the outskirts of Panama City that perfect for an overnight stay before or after a flight) we bussed it up to Santa Fe, a small mountain town in the middle of a cloud forest.
When I was a kid, I was very passionate about the rain forest (I mean, who wasn't)? So I started a "save the rain forest fund" which over the course of its short tenure raised a total $5 from my grandparents who may have thought my industrious nature made up for my unique fashion sense and need of braces at age 10. Long after they forgot about that $5 and I forgot about my mission to save the rain forest, I worried - what would I do with that money? I couldn't spend it. That would be so wrong. So it's still sitting in a white folder with handwriting that reads "for the rain forest" at my parents house. I checked two years ago, still there. Spencer wasn't surprised by this at all, he was equally passionate about the beautiful and essential landscapes that we learned about in school. Spending time in Santa Fe was exactly as I imagined the rain forest to be - cloudy, rainy, green, alive, dense, with an areque (rainbow) every single day. It was perfect, and beautiful, slow, and quiet.
For a town as small as Santa Fe, we found ourselves lost a lot. Upon leaving the bus station we walked up a road to our hotel with our matching backpacks (ha! not cute) until it ended (not at our hotel). A sweet lady pulled over and gave us a ride 600 meters in the correct direction. After dinner at this amazing Cambodian restaurant (what??) we got lost again, walking home was a challenge in a town with zero street lights and limited patience. After walking down the road, past the gate to our hotel numerous times I was planning how to most comfortably sleep in the street, and found a nice, grassy driveway, then looked up and noticed the sign to our hotel. Life was wonderful again. Our next few days in SF involved a lot of walking on trails and enjoying the scenery. Next, we moved on to infamous expat retirement spot/coffee planation mecca: Boquete.
Boquete was...visually charming, for sure. But we didn't plan this one right. There are a million different excursions, hot springs, waterfalls, and hikes advertised around town - each requiring a tour and an investment. We were stingy and bitter about the fact that we couldn't walk out our door and up a trail (or maybe we could? but we couldn't figure that out) so we did a big loop walk from Boquete to another village and around to town again. The town itself had a surprisingly industrial feel and the restaurants were mostly silly interpretations of what expats might like. No, I didn't love it. But like I said, we would do it differently next time (rent a car and stay outside of town) and I think Boquete would have a much different feel in that circumstance. From Boquete we moved on to Bocas del Toro.
Spencer kept saying "we're going to Boca," unintentionally like an old Jewish lady, and indeed, we did end up on a beautiful beach. Bocas del Toro was completely not as I expected. This place does get a lot of attention so I assumed it would be a bit built up and potentially over crowded. Nope. Not at all. It's perfect. By far my favorite spot in Central America. You have to take an old water taxi everywhere, and there isn't a big infrastructure of tourism. You want to do something, you go to the bar of whatever hostal you're at and ask the bartender to call his friend to set something up. That's how we ended up on the coolest adventure of our trip. The bat cave!
10 years ago, our guide found this cave. He and his friends explored it for two weeks, and then officially decided it was too cool not to share with other people. So he picks you up in a boat, takes you through 45 minutes of dense mangroves where you'll see sloths in the trees and caiman in the water, and when that opens up, you exit the boat and start walking through the jungle until you see the entrance of this incredible cave.
For three hours we walked, crawled, and swam over two miles through this insane cave. And it was no lie, there were bats. A lot of them. There were also spiders and who knows what else crawling around, but so what? It was awesome. A total adventure - scary, creepy, exciting, and beautiful.
Snorkeling near Isla Zapatillas, we saw dolphins from our boat, and many other colorful creatures beneath the water (well, Spencer did at least, I mostly floated since my snorkel and mask didn't work, but it was very relaxing).
We got to see Panama. Some of it, not all of it. There is so much more. But this glimpse was enough to want to return right away. Any takers?
Winter is coming...
Ha, kidding! Kidding. Winter has been here for-eva. It started back in mid-September when the weather dropped to the low 50's and then it just never got warm again. I know, that's what we used to consider "normal" back when I was growing up. The leaves would change, the weather would get cooler, then colder, and then we would have this season where it would snow and stay cold until Spring. But it has been a long time since I've seen those weather patterns, and not just because we'd been avoiding them in Mexico. Living in Colorado for the past 12 years, I've seen the weather shift strangely and the warm winter days now outnumber the cold ones. I think there's a term for that...but anyway.
I thought I'd love Missoula right away, and that it would feel like home, the way I remember Boulder immediately feeling. And I did love it. Walking to Cafe Dolce in the morning, hiking up the M-Train, receiving a high-five from a stranger while trail running, in many ways this is a dream town. But after about a month, I started to feel a bit homesick. Then, a lot homesick. For my friends in Boulder, and the ease of the familiar. Learning a new town is exciting, but can also be a bit exhausting. And settling into a new house, for me, it wasn't a home just because we'd bought it. It was a box that needed a lot of good meals, parties, and friends over to truly feel like home.
But over the last month, something happened. Like any long term relationship, I've moved on from loving Missoula for what I want it to be (a food scene on par with Boulder and Oaxaca, and having an Anthropologie) and have started loving it for what it is (a fantastic small mountain town with wonderful people, epic and accessible mountain biking, and a really open minded, inclusive community). And then I remembered how Boulder also felt lonely at times, until I made some really close friends.
Here in Missoula, I honestly can't believe how lucky we have been to have met such incredible people already. It feels like we already have many friends for life, and seriously, that is the best gift.
Last week we hosted a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner and had a bunch of folks over (including a few from Boulder!) for food, games, and mezcal. It was a happy holiday indeed, and fun to carry on a favorite tradition with both new and old friends in my new favorite place, the last best place.
Coming soon...house pictures! The tour is long overdue.