Tea, Beer, and Schnapps


Sherri and Leroy may have gone to bed ‘late’, but they don’t let that stop them from their usual productive early morning rise. This gives them time to spend with each other, petting the dogs, in the shower, and eating a hearty breakfast to keep them going through the work day… or at home while practicing on the piano. As soon as we start making noise and let the dogs out Sherri knows it’s ok to run the blender to make our breakfast – not that it wouldn’t be ok, but she didn’t want to wake us – too sweet.

We get to watch the Sunflower Waffles, made with flax, chia, and oats, cook to their edible state in her square cooker and her heart-shaped one. On the counter is a selection of toppings that all make delicious garnishes to my morning meal. I will have peanut butter on one square, apple sauce on another, with peaches on the third, and butter and syrup to finish off my breakfast concoction. There are also mandarins and apples available as sides, but these will not be needed as the protein in the mix will keep us full until dinner.


We do ask for some more Russian Tea though to wash it down and are given the recipes for both so that we can make them at home. The tea is a mix of tang, lemonade, and awesome. I tried taking a photo of Caleb with Sherri and Leroy but couldn’t get the lighting and the smiles timed just right. That didn’t stop me from getting a picture of Piggy in her new favorite spot on the couch – between Caleb and a pillow this time. Leroy leaves for work and we talk about the benefits of a homeschooling community before we too must face the snowy streets at 9:30 am.

The less traveled streets obviously have more snow, but the corners where snow and ice accumulate are the worst. We take a few left turns and a couple of right turns before following a truck that looks like it’s headed out of town too. Once on the highway I see a sign that’s new to me – a vehicle with 5 axles or more has its speed determined by weight: 60k-65,000 can drive 37 mph while a vehicle in the 75k-80,000 range can only go 18 mph – which I’m sure is a cold weather requirement like my vehicle’s need to carry snow chains.


Another interesting series of signs were the warnings of the downgrade miles ahead. The amount of signage is based on the regular speed limit, the grade percentage, and weather – especially snowy mountain tops. Otherwise signs can be posted less than a thousand feet away to do most drivers justice. And for truckers that are keeping more of an eye on sharp turns than their odometer there are signs on the way down letting them know that the flat terrain is only a temporary break in their long descent.

The view varies from expanding to narrow, from cloudy to bright, from mountainous to plains, from wet to dry, and from natural to rock nets and runaway truck ramps. Driving in Oregon is fine as long as it’s not night-time and everyone has their high-beams on and there is no fog or snow to add to the blurriness that bright lights bring to the already poor view. That’s why I love Montana’s traffic. On a clear day you can go as fast as you want with plenty of time and road to stop and take another picture. On a bad visibility day you have all the space you need to navigate safely and as slowly as you want.

Lyra and Emma - 3 year olds

Lyra and Emma – 3-year-old cousins

On either day, I hope for a cow crossing as it’s promised during rush hour – but that might just be what the locals tell the tourists. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We drove through Washington in an instant and marveled at the icicles on red and brown rocks and white branches on tall evergreens through Idaho. Then we reached Montana – the Big Sky Country, the mountain time zone – losing an hour of our day, and blue-gray skies in an artful display.

The roads are clear and the scene spectacular. We stop for a patch of snow and so I can get a picture of ice sheets floating down the river. Interesting fact: If ice didn’t rise to the top it would stay frozen at the bottom and soon all the water in the river or lake would freeze. We arrive in Missoula, a snow-hugged city, around dinner time. Caleb gets off the phone with his sister who gave him directions to Jake’s dad’s house where food and booze is being served to adults and gifts in groups to the two sets of granddaughters – close in age and names – Jake’s daughters and nieces.

Emma eating a mandarin

Emma eating a mandarin

They are given homemade snakes and scarves, some candy, and a read-aloud book as told to them by grandpa and his wife. While they are throwing wrapping paper everywhere I’m consuming veggies with guacamole on my fajita and swigging an IPA between photo taking and conversation. Sammi comes to us with the voice box of a red monkey and Lyra declares she is ready to go. We say goodbye to Jake’s family and follow them minutes across town to their house with cats, a Christmas tree, cups of cocoa, and room conversion since the last time we were here.

Lyra so stealthily eats her six-piece box of chocolates and then wants to start on Sammi’s box, so we pull out the five-pound tin of butter cookies to go with our cocoa and cider. I added butterscotch schnapps to mine. After a Christmas film to calm the girls down it’s time to get them into the bedroom after they brush their teeth – to change into pajamas, to read bedtime stories, to comb their ponies hair, to make animal noises, and ask questions. By the time they are quiet, I’ve already let the dogs out and am starting to climb into the bed in the guestroom and turn out the lamp.

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