Dear Mom - Year Three - Part I

Hey Mom,

Me again. Another year down. Three in the bank. This one's hitting you almost three months late, thanks for being patient.

I would say this year has been crazy, but it's been the same level of intensity as the two before it, so maybe crazy is my new normal. Feels like a long way off from how I was living life in my twenties.

So much has happened this year that for the first time I'm going to have to break this up into two posts... that's partly why this took so long to get out, I kept looking at how much I had to post about and putting it off.

Every December Liz and I will do an end-of-year exercise, reviewing how we thought the year went, and writing down our hopes for the coming year. Part of the exercise is to write down a word that describes the year that just passed, and for 2015 I wrote "full."

2015 was filled with many wonderful things. We hosted ~11 groups of people last year, which kept our 2 bedroom apartment pretty full. Hosting is something I've always wanted to do, but never felt like I had the right space for it, or the right partner to host with. I realize that I like having people staying with us, feeding them, and creating a restful place for them to relax.

It's also the last year of having so much free time and margin in my life, I'll get to that in Part II.

We've got a lot of ground to over, so let's start at the beginning, April of 2015.


Spring is an incredible time in Missoula. You have the beauty of the snow-capped mountains surrounding the city, while enjoying the warmer and longer days.

Many folks begin to bring out their mountain bikes and hit the now-dry trails that surrounded Missoula, of which there are many. One popular destination is the Rattlesnake wilderness, which is about a 10 minute drive from where we live.

Liz and I try mountain biking in Montana for the first time. This picture is from the Rattlesnake wilderness, which is about a 10 minute drive from where we live.

This sunset is from the Scott street bridge. When we feel up for it, we walk the half-block to the bridge and catch the last few moments before the sun dives behind the Bitterroot Mountains. The trains are eerily beautiful in the dusk, an odd mix of industry and nature.


San Diego Trip

In May I went down to spend some time with dad in San Diego. Because Liz is allergic to cats, we never stay with him when we're down in Southern California. I took this trip without Liz so that I'd be able to stay at the house, and so that we could spend some quality time just the two of us, since I usually don't get to see much of dad during the year.

No San Diego trip is complete without seeing the Cerullo's of course, and no visit with the Cerullo's is complete without lots of talking and fun.

This was the last time that I say the baby before he passed. He was his usual old-man cranky self, but he was now exploring the front yard, the equivalent of a whole new world for him. He lived well.

I made a trip up to LA to spend some time with Alice, and also to see Mama Song and the Chois.

As is tradition, Don picked a great place for Alice, he, and I to eat some sushi, something that is very much lacking in Missoula.

We went to an early mother's day brunch for Mama Song at a place in Huntington Beach that had some pretty incredible food (good pick Annaha!).

I continued my love affair with my niece. I call her "my little monster" and every time I see her my heart feels like it can't take it.

We were able to have dinner with the Kims as well, which is always so much fun. Alice is such a great aunt to the girls and they just adore her. The first question I usually get when I see them is "where is Auntie Alice???"


Liz and I play this game on our bikes, where we will set out from our house, and take turns calling out "left" or "right." This leads us to all sorts of side streets, neighborhoods, and areas of Missoula that we've never seen before. This particular day's adventure took us to the top of the south hills, where we enjoyed an amazing view of Missoula.

This really is a special town.

Bachelor Party

May also kicked my Montana experiences up a notch with my first Montana bachelor party. The location was a forest cabin with no electricity or running water (because those are for weaklings), but with plenty of testosterone, guns, wood-fire saunas, rivers, and chilli.

Within three minutes of being there someone had killed a wild rabbit with a 22mm handgun, and then an hour later someone else got another one with a hunting bow. We enjoyed rabbit stew at 2am and it was pretty dang delicious.

Sweenie Creek backpacking

Our first backpacking trip of the year was to Sweenie Creek in the Bitterroot Mountains. Every time I venture out of the city I'm amazing at how much beauty there is around me. This particular trail is about 30 minutes away from where we live, yet once you're on the trail, you feel like you're hundreds of miles from civilization.

We went with our neighbor and good friend Vlad, and his dog Kai (aka Mr. Kai), who I am unashamed to say is my favorite dog in the whole wide world. All he wants is to be pet, and for Vlad to not make him go back inside the house.

What was fun about this trip is that we didn't realize the lakes at the top would still be frozen and surrounded by snow, so we had our first experience with snow camping as well!

Bike Tour #1

Because May didn't already have enough fun in it, we decided to go on a quick two-day bike tour from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to Spokane, Washington which is a 45 bike ride along the Centennial Trail.

Liz crossing the Idaho/Washington state border.

Alice, Sophie, and Lucas visit

June started off with Alice visiting with Sophie and Lucas. We had planned for Alice to come, but during a trip to the Bay Area she managed to convince Sophie and Lucas to come as well. It was a blast to host them and show them our home here in Missoula.

We got them ice cream, which I'm not sure but I think Alice really enjoyed.

We got Bigga Pizza, which is a popular pizza place in town, and had a picnic in the park next to the river. I'm not sure what alice just bit into on this picture, but everyone else seems happy.

We also did an overnight camping trip to Lake Como (no not in Italy), but so named because the Italian Jesuit priest after which the county is named thought it reminded him of Lake Como is his home country.

We hiked around the entire lake and stopped at this spot to swim.

Alice also continued to grow her art collection, picking up a piece from a local art store in town. I'm sure in 30 years she'll have a vault filled with masterpieces from artists whose talent she recognized before they were big.

In and around Missoula

As the days grow longer, somehow the sunsets become more spectacular.

During the summer the city puts several pianos around downtown for folks to play. I insisted that Liz wear her helmet because playing the piano can be an intense experience for some people (also because we were biking around town).


Our neighbor Melissa was housing some rescue puppies for a few days. This is the closest we've come to getting a dog.

The biggest of the bunch, whom I had named Bruiser, really captured our hearts.

Hidden Lake for Beau's Birthday

One of our good friends in town had a birthday, and decided to make it a camping trip to a local lake. We weren't able to camp, but we did head up for a day of fishing, swimming, and fun. We'd started to make some really good connections in town, and even though we weren't going to the church we met these folks at any longer, we remained connected to them socially.

This particular gem is called Hidden Lake, even though it's the worst kept secret in Missoula. It's a great size for kids since you can see around the entire lake, it's usually not crowded (much like everything else in Montana with the exception of Glacier and Yellowstone), and is breathtaking.


Since Liz and I are trying to keep our lives simple, of which a large part includes not owning a lot of stuff, Alice has taken to sending us food gifts, most of which consist of these AMAZING William Sonoma croissants.

This particular batch didn't get a any dried ice from the shipping center though, so they arrive pre-risen. The customer service folks asked us to throw them out, but no self-respecting Mandell/Song would throw out potentially edible food (actually that's much more Mandell/Dumontier then Song as Liz's family is strict about food sanitation).

When life gives you blob...

make blobby croissants!


Vlad was out for a few days so I watched over Mr. Kai. What a treat that was. All he wants, all he ever wants, is just some love. He's a lover.


Some women while out of town might worry about their husbands, are they taking care of themselves? Are they perhaps engaged in less-then-savory activities? Are they straying?

Liz already knows what happens when she's out of town because I do the same thing every time. I get a pepperoni pizza with stuffed crust from Pizza Hut. I know that it's not the best pizza, or that some people might not even consider it pizza, but I.DON'T.CARE. It fills some emotional need for me, so I spent about an hour cooking up a nice marinara sauce for the stuffed crust, rent a movie, and eat about 3/4 of the thing.


July is a very special time in Missoula. Everything is still green, the days are very long, the weather is amazing, and the smoke from the fires hasn't hit us yet.

Glacier National Park

Zack and John came to Montana for a backpacking trip. We met in Kalispell (city right out side of Glacier National Park) and headed to Upper Kintla lake for a two-night wilderness backpacking trip.

It was my first trip to Glacier, and I was really hoping it would be beautiful enough to justify those two flying all the way out here for it. Boy did it deliver.

Food Refuge

We made an incredible discovery last year, a burger food truck popped up that makes the most incredible burgers. I'd say these burgers are the best food that you can get in Missoula. I would eat these burgers if they were in the Bay Area, which I can say for very little of the food that's here.

I know you like a good burger mom, so this would have been right up your alley. Liz's mom claims to not like burgers, but she secretly does, so I'm hoping to take her here when she's next in town.

Ong And Kim Visit

In July things got REALLY busy for us. The Ongs spent almost three weeks in Montana living with/near us, and during that time the Kims came to visit as well.

We hosted the Ongs at our house for a week, after which they moved into an AirBnb across the street for another 1.5 weeks. The day after they moved out of our apartment, the Kims showed up for a week, so we hosted two families of 4 in back-to-back weeks.

It was exhausting, but I had an absolute blast. Getting to show everyone around Missoula and other parts of Montana, getting to see the girls play with the Ong's kids, getting to see Gene and Helen, and Sew-Wei and Steph, it was just an incredibly special time.

We took the Ongs to Glacier National Park to do a few days of camping.

This little guy's name is Justin, and he was a riot.

Liz was a pretty big fan too.

He's got an older brother named Nathan who is wicked smart and takes great care of his younger brother.

We got to celebrate Sage's birthday while the Kims were here with a cake and some great food.

We stayed at Ms. Judy's place at the 9T9 Ranch, got to see views of the Madison again, and she made us her famous chuck wagon dinner. Steaks, dutch oven baked beans, and dutch oven peach pie with ice cream, all hand made. What a woman!

August - Part I

Banff Bike Tour

A friend of ours in Missoula said that Banff makes Glacier National Park look like a dump. I don't know that I'd go that far, but after having seen it in the winter, and now biked it in the summer, I will say that Banff is the most beautiful place I've ever been.

We drove our bikes up, but in order to put them on the bus from Banff to Jasper, we had to box them up. Here is my bike after getting the skinny treatment.

We're up and running and ready to ride, of course it was raining...

What's awesome about Banff is that every lunch stop has the perfect view.

Our trusty green tent. This was the same one we took on our Pacific Coast bike trip as well. Fits two snugly.

Athabasca Falls... just stunning.

We'd aim to be on the road by 7am every morning to enjoy at least two hours of no other cars being on the road. It felt like we had the whole park to ourselves.

This is where we had dinner one of the nights. This picture doesn't even begin to to it justice (come on iPhone!).

The Peyto Lake overlook is probably one of the most well recognized views in Banff.

This is usually how we did breakfast, on the side of the road and covered up because mornings were cold. We'd eat a bagel with peanut butter, jam, and banana. Yum!

Remember Justin? The Ongs were driving around Banff while we were biking it and Steph sent me this picture. My heart nearly exploded when I saw it.

We weren't done with August yet, but I'll end here for now. We have lived an incredible past two years. It's been a time filled with privilege, that we could take this time and do all of these things, and intentionality, that we chose to take the time and do all of these things.

I've lived for years with the privilege, but only recently have lived with the intentionality.

Stay tuned mom, Part II should be coming soon!

Your loving son,