Deadlines Don’t Always Matter

Tonight while I was out enjoying some incredibly talented local musicians, I became acquainted with a family of British tourists. They are going to be making their way over to Seattle from here, so I gave them some travel tips for the journey. When I handed them my business card, which has my Montana Shan web address on the back, I realized that it had been about three months since I have blogged. I’m sure you all thought I had packed it up and moved back to Seattle by now.

Nope. I’m still here. Honestly, I can’t give a good excuse for the hiatus from writing. Maybe I felt like the Montana Magic was wearing off. I did feel the pressure of my first Montana anniversary coming up and was disappointed about some things that haven’t quite worked out as I had dreamed. Now that a year has passed, I’m over it. I’m still trying new things, and I still love the beauty of the Flathead Valley.

Making a living has been a challenge. At the end of February, I took a part-time job waiting tables. That’s what all artists do, right? I thought it would be perfect since I would be working nights and have days free to enjoy outdoor activities and work on writing and editing projects.

After about three months, I realized that restaurant work didn’t suit me. Working evenings was also killing my social life. On many Saturdays, I was too exhausted from work to get up and enjoy activities with friends like bike rides. Then, one night at work, I had an “I’m too old for this shit” moment and decided to look for a different job.

I’ve been working a nine-to-five job for more than a month now. I have to admit, I appreciate the predictability of the schedule, and it’s the kind of job that I can just leave every day. It’s not like teaching where I took stacks paperwork home, often accompanied by a load of stress. My evenings are free, I get all of the holidays, and I never have to work weekends. Not so bad. In true Montana form, my coworkers have been friendly and welcoming. They’ve all been showing me the ropes, and there is a strong sense of teamwork.

The ironic thing is that I was contracted to edit a novel just after I began working full-time. Talk about timing! It was the end of June; the 4th of July was just around the corner, followed by a visit from one of my sons. Somehow, I managed to squeeze in the editing work and reached my July 21st deadline. Now I feel like I have an abundance of free time.

It hasn’t been all work, though. I have been enjoying some mountain biking and hiking with friends. I experienced my first substantial day hike in Glacier National Park (11 miles), which included a grizzly sighting. The visit with my son was too short, but at least we had one full day of exploration together, and we got out to a couple of my favorite haunts. I continue to enjoy another summer of live outdoor music, usually three or four nights a week.

My first Montana anniversary passed a couple of weeks ago. I’m grateful for the numerous new experiences of the past year and the many friendships that have enriched my life. They have been even better than I could have imagined. Last year, I arrived with an open mind, ready for a new life and a lower stress level. As I sit and reflect tonight, I realize that I have found the most important things that I was seeking.

April Ups and Downs

Last year when I first moved to Montana, several people suggested that I plan a vacation in March or April. They would say things like, “You’re going to be ready for a getaway by then. March can be brutal.” As the calendar rolls into the second half of April, I now understand what they were getting at.

The snow began to diminish from my yard in late March, and the sight of my lawn reappearing was certainly welcome. Then came the first rain of 2019, and I was instantly longing for more of that fluffy white stuff. After all, I had escaped the Seattle area and those miserable gray days. I was also mourning the fact that I had probably enjoyed my last day of cross-country skiing for the season.

I had experienced the effect of the thaw and freeze on the roads as the snow was melting, too. There were several days where I was driving through the frozen ruts. That was a bit treacherous. The temperature swings were from freezing to the 50s.

A week ago, we experienced some snow flurries here. I had been pleasantly surprised with one last day of downhill skiing two weekends ago, but I thought we were done here in the lowlands. There were no accumulations, though. It was just Mother Nature reminding me that I do indeed live in Montana.

Now we seem to be into the kind of spring weather that I had expected. Many days are a combination of sun and rain, but I can’t complain. Flowers are beginning to bloom, and we’re seeing temperatures as high as the sixties. On Easter Sunday as I was preparing for dinner guests, I swear that every time I looked out the window, my yard was turning greener. I’ll be mowing any day now.

I came to Montana to experience all four seasons, and I’m not disappointed by any means. Maybe next March I’ll plan that escape, but for now, I still feel like I’m living in Vacationland.

Adventure Skiing

The best kinds of friends are those who both support you and get you to stretch your comfort zone. My move to Montana was all about getting a fresh start and seeking new experiences. New friends have been an integral part of those new experiences.

Thanks to Meetup groups, I have met many new friends who have enriched my life in so many ways. One friend graciously offered me downhill ski lessons to help me get back on the slopes after more than thirty years away. Another friend shares my love of cross-country skiing and has introduced me to some new adventures.

A few weeks ago, three of us went adventure skiing up to the Mission Lookout in the Flathead National Forest. The first part was pretty easy. We skied along a road that had been traveled by snowmobiles, and it was mostly flat.

The real adventure began when we started our ascent to the lookout tower. We were then skiing through about a foot of virgin powder, making our way uphill. The work was worth it, and there was a true sense of accomplishment when we arrived. The best part was that since it wasn’t a groomed course, my friend was able to bring his dog. Watching her romp around in the deep powder chasing snowballs was the perfect lunchtime entertainment!

Yesterday, my friend led us on another ski adventure on the Beaver Lake Trails. It was a little more exciting than I had envisioned since the words “trail” and “lake” were in the description he had posted. I envisioned a leisurely day of skiing around a beautiful lake. Well, it was beautiful, but not exactly leisurely.

The trail began with an uphill climb on a rather narrow, icy, snowshoe path. It was by far the most challenging path I had attempted on skis. I will admit that I even took my skis off in a couple of spots where it was just too steep or curvy for me. Fortunately, the first part was the worst, and after that there was no heading back anyway. Oh, and did I mention that I was the only woman among a group of five men? Wimping out wasn’t an option.

We arrived at a road, and I asked if we were skiing that next. Nope. More trail. The next section didn’t seem so bad. Maybe I was getting used to this crazy narrow trail skiing; maybe I was okay with taking a few falls, too.

Later, we skied a road that brought us near the lake. My friend turned to me and said, “Now, you are in your zone,” or something like that.

That initial steep climb was worth it when we arrived at the lake. And we didn’t ski around it; we skied across it! Yet another first for me. There was something so satisfying about the sensation of my pole tips hitting the ice of the frozen lake as we glided across. The sun was shining down on us by then, and we had all shed our jackets. Such a nice change after a stretch of sub-zero and single digit days! It was my first taste of spring-like skiing in Montana.

When we arrived back at our cars, my friend told me that he didn’t post ski outings at places like golf courses. “It’s going to be an adventure when you ski with me.”

I’m so grateful for my new friend and his sense of adventure. These are the experiences that I was seeking when I moved here. Alone, I wouldn’t have taken on adventures like these; friends make all the difference.

Making My Own Tracks

It’s been snowing steadily for more than twenty-four hours, and there was already more than a foot of snow on the ground before it started. As I write this afternoon, the winds are picking up, and tonight the temperatures are going to drop below zero. So this is what people were talking about when they questioned whether I could handle a Montana winter.

Can I handle it? You mean, do I love it? I moved to Montana to experience real winters like this. After a lifetime as a Seattle-area resident, I longed for an end to the rain-soaked days and gray skies. For years, I had dreamed of living in a place where I could cross-country ski all winter long. And today, I checked one more thing off my Montana wish list. I skied from my front door.

I have to admit, I do love the arrival of my snowplow guy, but today I was hoping he wouldn’t make it, or maybe he could just delay his arrival. There is something so satisfying about watching his truck push aside all that snow in minutes. I love how all that pure white powder piles up along the sides of my driveway and near my porch. But today, I really wanted to make a cross-country ski course around the house. My neighbor was amused by my idea and welcomed me to expand the course into her yard, too. By one this afternoon, there was no sign of him. It was time to get the skis.

First, I had to make a run to the mailbox. Since the neighborhood hadn’t been plowed either, I popped on the skis and made the quarter-mile trek without incident. Okay, that was a good warm-up. Then I decided to go beyond my yard. I trudged through a foot of powder, down the thin strip of common area behind the neighbors’ houses. Next, I went around the corner to the golf course. How could I possibly resist all of that pristine, wide-open space?

It was hard work, but worth it, and the trip back over my tracks proved a bit easier. To finish off my adventure, I made the ski course I had envisioned in our two adjoining yards. I have to say it was much more fun than building a snowman!

So, can I handle a Montana winter? Yes, and I can handle so much more. I am adventurous, resilient, and more of a risk-taker at this stage of my life than I ever have been before. I have experienced more “living” in the past six months than in any other six-month period of my life. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Has everything worked out according to plan? No. Do I have regrets? Absolutely not. Did my snowplow guy ever make it? Nope.

January Isn’t So Bad

I used to hate January. There was just no way around it. Once Christmas and that sweet, long break were over, I had to drag myself back to work and attempt to inspire my students to get back into the learning groove. For many years, January had mostly been a month to trudge through and count the days until it was over.

But now, that’s all changed. First, I’m no longer in the classroom. I did take a long trip to visit family and friends over the holidays, but I was anxiously anticipating the return to my new life in Montana. I couldn’t wait to get back to my new friends and neighbors here, and, of course, get some skiing in.

When I arrived home two weeks ago, there still wasn’t much snow. It was rather warm, dry, and disappointing. At least there was enough snow up north and in the mountains, so I wasn’t entirely out of luck. I did get a few ski outings in and even went downhill skiing for the first time in, well, literally decades.

Then yesterday the magic happened. I had been putting in some hours at my friend’s shop to help with inventory over the past week or so. It was lightly snowing when I woke up, and it really started coming down by midday when I drove to the shop.

After only three hours of work, I had to brush what appeared to be a couple of inches off my car. The winter wonderland had arrived! I made the short drive home without any mishaps, but it kept snowing so hard that I decided to cancel my evening plans with a friend. It seemed too risky to venture out when I could stay safe and warm at home.

This morning I looked out my window to see that my driveway had been plowed, which meant we got more than three inches. The internet reports that it was between 4.5-6 inches. That seems about right.

The very best thing, though, was that there was finally enough snow on my local ski trails to go try them out! I have been waiting since November for enough accumulation to make this happen. Last summer when I was house-hunting, I had dreamed of the day that I could take that short drive, pop on my skis, and go swishing around. I know you probably don’t understand, especially if you aren’t a cross-country skier, but it just made me so happy! There’s something magical about the pristine, freshly groomed trails. It’s actually better than Christmas in my world.

Now January feels more like a welcome friend than a dreaded enemy. I’m looking forward to more time on my skis, and I’m grateful that my friend convinced me to buy snow tires.

It’s Good to be Home

After twelve days of trotting coast-to-coast visiting family and friends, I have to say I’m delighted to be back in my Montana home. It’s not that I really needed a reminder of why I absolutely love it here, but the trip back to the Seattle area confirmed that I made the right decision when I decided to call this place home. As I experienced many places that had been so familiar for much of my life, I unexpectedly felt like a stranger. I didn’t have any feelings of regret for having moved, just memories of places I had gone and things I had done.

Now don’t get me wrong; I did enjoy spending time with old friends. And the best Christmas gift a mom can receive is to see her adult children. But I had only been away from Montana for a couple of days when I became terribly homesick. My next-door neighbor wasn’t much help either when she sent me a photo of my snow-covered house one morning.

A few days ago, right before landing in Kalispell, the woman next to me on the plane started saying things that described how I felt. She too was a fellow transplant from Washington State and had missed the warm, friendly people of the Flathead Valley. She was happy to see a dusting of snow, but not too much to make driving difficult. We soon realized that we had a mutual friend and exchanged phone numbers. By the time we got to baggage claim, we were chatting like old buddies.

Over the next couple of days, I started reconnecting with friends and catching up on what I had missed during my nearly two weeks away. Then I actually did feel a little regret having missed out on some of the holiday festivities here in Montana.

Today I feel like I’m back to my old, comfortable surroundings. It’s funny to think that I moved here just short of six months ago. I haven’t felt the need to make any resolutions for 2019; I’m just going to continue to see where that Montana Magic takes me.

Family Feelings

The holidays are a time when we gather with family and friends. Sometimes those gatherings bring up feelings of pain and regret rather than delight in seeing our loved ones. We are reminded of the loss of loved ones as well as the disappointments and disagreements of the past. Thus, the holidays are often more painful than joyful for some.

No family is perfectly happy. When we reflect on relations with extended family, some baggage is bound to have developed over time which makes those family gatherings a bit strained. It’s kind of hard to avoid, isn’t it? Over a lifetime, there are so many interactions that some are certainly negative. There are those arguments and misunderstandings that just can’t seem to be resolved because we are too stubborn to let go. Or maybe the pain is too profound to release just yet. And it’s a two-way street: Perhaps one person is ready to forgive and move on while the other is hanging on to that grudge and hurt.

Sometimes, we have essentially taken separate paths and no longer have much in common. We’re left with nothing to talk about but the good old days. Then there is that competition that can grow between us. Jealousy can rear its ugly head when we see how a family member has reached success while we may be struggling in some way.

On the flip side, we have those close friends who are really more like family. We aren’t bound by blood, but we have a lifelong bond that seems inseverable. We get along so well that we wish we were related.

So, this year and every year, it’s really a mix. I’ve had time to visit with blood relatives as well as old friends who are like family to me. I’m grateful for them all, good, not-so-good, and in between. They all make up part of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. And there’s always hope that the argument will be resolved, the misunderstanding will become clarified, and the pain will diminish the next time we see each other.