Category Archives: Missoula


This is the rebuttal to my last post. I’ve been in Missoula almost exactly 2 years now, and there is a lot to respect about that time.

I love living in a city that has local food and culture and unbelievable access to wilderness.

I love working for a small, well run company that lives it’s values. That gives back to the community, that provides unusually great benefits to employees, and does high quality work to really change our built environment.

I love that my life does not fit neatly into the consumerist corporate America that defines success by the size of my bank account.

I love working with my hands, connecting with other people that work with their hands, to make small but deep impacts in our local community.

I love the friends that I have made here and the fact that I can’t list them because there are simply too many.

Not admitting that I love this place seems like a rebuke to all of the above, and that’s just not going to fly. I could probably figure out how to live my values anywhere, but doing it here simply reflects their priority.

November 2, I took the train north from San Jose to spend a little time with Dustin. He remains one of the most important and incredible people in my life, and always reminds me how to get back in touch with the priorities that I sometimes lose sight of. We talked about living with a smaller footprint, embracing how little we really need, and chasing passions to the end of our wits. All things that I can see myself doing here.

If my priority were to make as much money as possible (or become as powerful as possible, because the ego is probably what’s really under the desire to have “impact”) I wouldn’t work for my boss or do what I do. I would have stayed in Portland, or moved someplace just as disconnect from wilderness. I’ve been there, done that, and moved forward with my life choosing otherwise. 

“A willow can grow and bend, lose leaves, grow them back, reach for the sun, change its appearance or its focus with the seasons. It can become scarred, burned or bent. But it’s still a willow, and still a tree. And at every step, it is beautiful.”

My life is it’s own definition. Like the willow, for whatever form it takes, I get to define who Skander is and what that means.

Twenty Nine

birthday party

The next step. (Photo by Brett Kvo)

(ed. note: number counts are updated as of 11/2/13)

The last day of my 29th year was a tiring one. Looking back The goals I set when I returned from Australia have mostly eluded me. Every year will have highs and lows.  Things will always be crazy and they will not go according to plan. If your goals elude you, that is a good sign they are worthy enough. The perspective of the first few days of my 30th year reminds me that it has in fact (of course), been another excellent year. Time with my Australian family, an amazing trip in the Wind River, and an increased objection to the notion of what “should be” have been a few among many highlights.

Epic birthday breakfast- thanks Paul.

Homestyle birthday breakfast- thanks Paul.

My roommate Tess and I share our birthday on October 12, and we shared simple motivations for a joint celebration- climb with friends then eat great food. Without any additional effort, the gifts of the day were very much greater.

The only thing brighter than the fall colors were the people.

The only thing brighter than the fall colors were the people.

About 10 people showed up Saturday morning to celebrate by climbing. By 7pm, our group had become a 30 person potluck extravaganza in the best way. The night ended at an awesome performance at the Top Hat, with a few more folks that didn’t make the potluck.


Bellingham based Polecat tore the roof off an already great party.

The existential questions have always seemed to sit with me too easily – “am I working the right job?”/”hanging with the right people”/”spending my time wisely?” Being goal oriented has been part of my M.O. for as long as I can remember. I’m starting the 30th year though in a different direction. My penchant for responsibility and thrift moves me towards more experiences and fewer things. While cleaning up on Sunday, Tess’ friend Greg shared a more succinct view of aging:

“In our generation, success is more about what you have experienced than what you have bought.”

This may seem ironic given that my birthday present to myself was taking some cash out of the bank for new skis. The house I was hoping to buy next spring doesn’t really fit my goal of owning fewer things anyways. New skis and new friends bring the promise of new experience and new quality. The question of the 30th year is not “how do I do more”- it is one of “how do I do less, better.”

bernice's bakery cupcakes

Thanks mom, for reminding me to take time, let my belly out, and have fun. (Bernice’s Cupcakes!)

Treasure and Bonk

Friday afternoons I usually cut out of work early and get out for a hike (if I’m not driving somewhere for the weekend), but this last Friday I stayed late and collapsed on my couch around 530. I had expected to drive to Leavenworth, but the weather made climbing unattractive, so my weekend was unexpectedly open. I didn’t even want to think about making plans.

About 10 minutes later I was just drifting off for a nap, when my friend Jeremy called. I was tired. “Can you be at my house right now?” [10 min away by a vigorous bike]

“What’s the gig?”

“Well it’s a treasure hunt with a historical trivia game, adventure race, and math problem inside. Oh, and there is $1000 for the winning team…”


“But I have to be there right now?”
“No, the race is tomorrow, but we gotta strategize. And there is a pre-race meeting.”
“And we’re going to win, right?”

Todd (in helmet) sprints for the opening clues.

Todd (in helmet) sprints for the opening clues.

I have a willingness to get my rump off the couch that never fails me. That willingness is also rarely wrong, which helps. The event was “Brains and Brawn” and was a fundraiser for the Headwaters Dance Company. It may also have been the most fun single event I’ve ever done.

Headquarters for "the Prize Spies" - no team with a pirate flag can be defeated.

Headquarters for “the Prize Spies” – no team with a pirate flag can be defeated.

Todd and Amanda put the team together, and we called ourselves the Prize Spies. Amanda and Jeremy locked down basecamp to handle research and communications. Joran elected to the 20km trailrun, I jumped on the 40km bike ride, and Todd blew up his packraft to get in the river. Joran left first for the clue at the end of his run while Todd and I picked up each of 4 Missoula historical clues, the last of which sent me on a trip to the Milltown overlook state park. I picked up my clue and called Todd who was waiting to put his boat in the water. All of the clues we picked up had part of a geometry problem on it. Amanda and Jeremy solved the geometry to create a map that pointed to the treasure. With Todd and I both thrashing around on the south side of the Clark Fork for 40 minutes, the second place team had ample time to eat up the lead we had put on them in the biking. At the last minute I recognized the driftwood T, and picked up the spray painted treasure chest just ahead of team #2.

Typical sample clue.

Typical sample clue.

Finding the treasure in a neck and neck race is amazingly fun. Thanks to all the participants, but especially my amazing teammates. That was a whole lotta fun.

After the race I was still feeling spunky, so I hit the climbing gym and some ugly weights. My unexpected empty weekend was getting full fast. I raced home, grabbed a shower, made dinner with Steph, and met Simon at a party with my cello. Somehow, he convinced me that joining an epic mountain bike ride on Sunday morning was in order.

We left at 10am, and climbed straight uphill until noon. The race, and the squats from the gym left me feeling gassed at the start. Needless to say I didn’t make it all the way to sheep mountain with the boys. The solo trip back down the single track got very, very cold, and I was happy to spend the rest of Sunday in a coffee shop with a hot drink. I haven’t bonked quite that hard in a while, and it makes me understand why I see so many mountain bikes here. Good thing I need another adventure sport like I need a hole in my head… Thanks for a fantastic ride boys, and thanks to my stellar roommate Paul for the loaner bike!

Tougher than me. Nick, Simon, and Jack head onwards to Sheep mountain.

Tougher than me. Nick, Simon, and Jack head onwards to Sheep mountain.


Today my team and I won an old fashion treasure hunt. This was hilariously fun on it’s own, but far better because of my teammates- Todd, Amanda, Jeremy, and Joran, thank you so very much. When else do you get to find real treasure and support a great cause? Story and details to follow!



“If you want to learn to love yourself, start by practicing on others.”

This is a very good thing.

This is a very good thing.

Last weekend I got to witness a different sort of adventure. Two close friends, embarking on the adventure of partnership. Their example seems particularly poignant in light of my own recent failures in romance. Ky and Amanda, you have my utmost respect and support for your adventure together. Your practice of love towards each other, and others, has earned at least that much. I hope this is the beginning of the greatest adventure of them all. For whatever may come, I’m here to say that your love for each other is enough- and that is an incredibly beautiful thing.

Thanks for the dance!

Thanks for the dance!

The wedding weekend was a good one. It felt good to play the cello as Amanda walked down the aisle. It felt good to dance with a bridesmaid and smile at the stunning sunset over the Bitterroot. It felt good to climb outside for the first time since foot surgery (thanks Brian!), and swing my kettlebell to the end of my grip.

Perfect sunset, before a perfect moon.

Perfect sunset, before a perfect moon.

Just a week ago, life was good. This weekend, I’m not so optimistic. Work has been intense, I’m feeling sick, and I’ve felt depressed since Monday. I don’t get it.  This body of mine just doesn’t want to cooperate with summer adventures. My foot is starting to feel good again, but my throat is swollen shut, and I’ve had a headache for 3 days. Questions around simplicity and consistency come up.  Why does my mood swing? Why does my optimism wane? I’m still not going on the adventures I’d like, and that makes me sad.  At the root of it all, my value system is broken because I believe that what I do determines my worth as a person. Whether or not I’m a good person, or this is good blog post depends on whether I had a sweet climbing adventure versus spending a perfectly good Saturday on my couch (or in my office). It’s not supposed to be this way, but changing that is up to me.

I’m pet sitting for some friends this weekend, and they have a beautiful habit of leaving notes for each other on their mirror. When I got home this morning, I took their queue.

See yourself for who you are, not who you aren't.

See yourself for who you are, not who you aren’t.

I am fit enough.
I am smart enough.
I am talented enough.
I am handsome enough.
This is enough.
I am enough.

Let’s set a better tone for this week.

Portland #6: A Look Back

(written Sunday night)

Driving down I-84 into the Columbia River Gorge Friday night I felt my chest rise and breathe a little more easily. Portland feels like a stable vantage point to look back at the course I’ve plotted since the spring of 2011. A step back from the (suddenly insignificant) concerns I choose to carry in the day to day of Missoula.

Hello Oregon.

Hello Oregon.

Life seems nice here. Maybe it’s the options for breakfast, but more likely it is the deep relationships that have already weathered time and distance. The bigness of the city reminds me of the smallness of my life, like my brother that reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

Mark and George. Trouble.

Mark and George. Trouble.

My foot is healing.  I’m back in regular shoes, but walking with a limp. Workouts still aren’t a priority, and some of the nerve ends still aren’t firing correctly. Many cups of coffee and brilliant Portland food accompany a description of my life that plays on repeat, every two hours meeting a new old friend. David has an xtracycle that makes riding around town feel even more familiar (I still miss that bike). Being back here seems to lift the self imposed limits I’ve put on my life in Missoula.

Many cups of coffee.

Many cups of coffee.

A little too much fun?

A little too much fun?

I mostly made it back to spend some time with Mark and Kylee before they move to Philadelphia. Upon arrival, my priorities seemed to multiply, and I filled every possible minute seeing people. The farther I am from living there, the more I realize how that place affected my adult life.  Thanks to everyone there that continues to support me, David for putting me up (with a real bed and everything), and George for putting up with me.

Barb, the Doctor, and Gleb (if he weren't in Mongolia).

Barb, the Doctor, and Gleb (if he weren’t in Mongolia).


I’m excited to be back in Missoula. In many ways, this is the harder path, but there’s space here for consequence. Space to try and fail and success and explore. Maybe I didn’t challenge myself to take my Portland life to the next level, but it seemed obvious. I left to follow my journey, and I’m glad to come back here and find I’m still on it.

Reaching for Home

I went to my first ever city council public hearing tonight, because it mattered. I’m pleased to say that I was there to witness the Missoula City Council adopting a 10 year plan that targets the end of homelessness. I didn’t bring prepared comments, but found myself at the podium anyways.  While I enjoy public speaking, tonight was not one of my better performances.  I came home and organized my thoughts more coherently.

To the Missoula City Councilmen&Women

“As we talk about long-lasting affordable housing, I feel compelled to talk about long-lasting affordable buildings. Worthy visions of affordable housing solutions have time and time again been implemented as low-cost construction projects resulting in housing that is of low value to both the occupants and the surrounding community.

Montana state codes are deficient in addressing ventilation standards that support occupant health, these codes do not reflect the modern state of energy efficient design and construction (leading to high energy bills for occupants), and these codes do not encourage the use of sustainable, durable materials.

As a contractor, I am certain that we can do better.  I urge you to forego many of the often repeated assumptions in building design.  Challenge your working group, design teams, and fundraising teams to strive for more than code minimum construction. Consult with design experts that truly believe in your goal of sustainable housing, and have demonstrated it in their own work. Developing cost effective, durable, and low energy use buildings demands rigorous dedication to these goals, from the beginning of the fundraising process to the moment we hand keys to a tenant. I believe that sustainable buildings are instrumental in providing sustainable housing. I am proud to be part of the the community that is willing to take this on, and eager to help see this vision through.”

There it is.  Let’s get to work.