Getting in the Spirit

One of the things that drew me to my new hometown was that they celebrate Christmas in a big way. Yes, I am one of those people who absolutely loves Christmas, and I have been anticipating “Elf Day” since I signed the papers on my house back in June.

What exactly is “Elf Day?” Everyone in town is invited to just show up at 8:00 to do their part to transform our town into a Christmas village. There are no age restrictions, no need to sign up ahead of time; you just make your way to the local inn where everyone gathers for instructions, followed by a group photo.

After the photo, I turned to the couple standing beside me and asked, “So where do I go?”

They replied, “Is this your first time? Come with us. We are putting bows on the trees along the bay.” We proceeded to introduce ourselves and chatted as we walked up to the trees.

We had all just been instructed on proper bow hanging, so I felt up to the task. There were maybe fifty trees wired up to the railing along the bay. Our instructions were to put five bows on each tree. In theory, it was an easy task, but it became a bit challenging as our fingers began to freeze. Our work ended quickly, though, as several other elves wandered our way to help.

All of this isn’t just Christmas magic, though. Clearly, there is a sizeable crew of people who work behind the scenes to put this in motion. Last weekend, a friend and I joined the group that was checking bins and making sure light strings were functioning. We then properly gathered up each string to make short work for the elves. Another group was busily tying bows, oodles of red bows!

Earlier in the week, fresh evergreen trees had been wired up all over town. This is where the bows came in. And evergreen garlands were set out in front of the shops this morning. I’m sure there are other details involved that I’ll learn about with time. Clearly, this is a well-orchestrated event.

After heading back to the fire pit to warm up from hanging bows—it was in the twenties— I asked one of the head elves where to go next. She sent me to a building that was missing its bin of lights. They had gathered up some spares and needed help getting the garlands strung. Two fellow elves started at one end while the building owner and I took the other. We got acquainted and began talking about my recent relocation to Montana. His smiling response was, “Good move.” I agreed.

After figuring out our plan for the lighted garlands, a couple of men with ladders appeared to help hang them. They were a jovial pair, obviously enjoying the privilege of being ladder guys.

All throughout town, everyone was pitching in to help where they were needed. It was really quite a production requiring a couple of lifts, numerous ladders, and I’d guess over a hundred elves. There were people with tools and extra hooks, and there was even a volunteer in a golf cart offering hot cocoa and coffee. It was heartwarming to see the community spirit in action.

By the time we had finished our task, I had befriended one of my fellow elves. She and I made our way back to the inn where yet another group of volunteers was serving chili. While I was busy buying a t-shirt, my new friend started chatting with an acquaintance of mine, and another friendship began to blossom. A bit of Christmas magic was touching our little town. And I have no doubt that this was a good move.

 

Just Being Neighborly

One of the things I was looking for when I decided to move to a small town was a sense of community. I knew the town offered several events throughout the year which was certainly attractive. Along with that, I wanted to get to know my neighbors and feel like I was part of something.

Last week, my neighborhood had our annual homeowners’ meeting. I had a vested interest in making sure that we got a quorum since that had always been a struggle at the condo where I had most recently lived. When my friend called to ask if I was planning on attending the meeting, I confirmed that I would be there and offered to knock on doors, if needed, to remind people to attend.

Ten minutes later, the HOA president was at my door with proxy forms in hand. Well, I certainly was committed then. She gave me the run-down regarding some of the neighborhood issues, and we strategized my door-knocking plan since I wouldn’t be able to get to every single resident in one afternoon.

I headed out the next day around 4:00 PM and was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming everyone was. I do believe that every single person who was at home answered the door. Some of them assured me that they would be at the meeting, others had already given proxies to a trusted neighbor, and a few of them even invited me in. Everyone was at least cordial, and most were downright friendly. Such a great way to get acquainted with my neighbors!

The next night it was fun to see so many familiar faces at the meeting, more than I would have if I hadn’t gone knocking. And we barely made the quorum. That little extra effort was more than worth it.

New Territory: Networking

Up until a few months ago, I had dedicated my entire adult life to educating our nation’s youth. To some that makes me a superhero. Think about it. I spent sixteen years teaching middle-schoolers, another decade teaching high school, and some stretches as a substitute, too. If you’ve parented teens, you can empathize. I won’t lie; it’s not an easy job, but it can also be highly rewarding. Unfortunately, my batteries had worn down, and I was absolutely drained when I left last June. I was more than ready for a change and unsure of what exactly was next for me. My comfort zone abruptly disappeared when I decided to branch out as an entrepreneur.

There are actually some super-cool things about being self-employed, like choosing your own hours and turning the kitchen island into your office. The best thing might be spontaneous dance breaks, though. As I write this post, I’m listening to my local radio station which is playing some Halloween themed favorites like the “Monster Mash” and “Werewolves of London.” Moments ago, when the “Time Warp” happily erupted from the speaker, I leaped to the floor to dance.

This Halloween morning also marked new territory for me: networking. Last week, I spotted a Meetup post for the Inspired Working Women Coffee Connect. I definitely had to get in on that. “Inspired” is certainly an appropriate adjective for this group of women. Not only were they inspiring, but also friendly, welcoming, supportive, encouraging, and enthusiastic. I met women of all ages from a wide variety of career fields. It was a female entrepreneur extravaganza! Suddenly, I felt much less alone. In fact, I feel their invisible support as I write this evening. I can’t wait to get better acquainted with some of these wonderful women.

New Friend Becomes Old Friend

Old friends are the best. You may not see them often, but you know they are there, and that they love you no matter what. It can be weeks or months between conversations (even years sometimes), but at any time you can just pick right back up where you left off. And in a pinch, you know that you could call on them, and they would come to your aid.

But new friends are wonderful, too. It’s exciting to find a connection and forge a fresh relationship. When I relocated to Montana just over three months ago, a friend of a friend introduced me to the man who became my new best friend here. (If you follow my posts, I’ve mentioned him several times.) From our first phone conversation, I knew he and I would get along well, and the friendship quickly grew. We shared common interests like our love of live music, outdoor recreation, and a social drink or two. We have kids the same ages, and bonded with our divorce and dating stories.

We have been hanging out so much that many people, in fact, thought we were dating. But we were just “best-friending.” When I showed up solo one of our favorite hangouts, a server asked where my husband was. We thought this was so funny that he started referring to me a his “fake wife.”

Earlier this month, when he got temporarily laid off, we joyfully took advantage of my flexible work schedule and got in as much hiking as we could. It was the perfect time of year. Autumn in the Flathead Valley is truly something to behold.

Sadly for me, he took a transfer to a new city, which meant his departure today. Last night we got together for one last beer and dinner to wrap up our short but sweet relationship. I kept it together as we shared that last hug to say goodbye, but the tears freely flowed as soon as I started my car to head home.

I will be forever grateful to him for introducing me to Montana and being my unexpected biggest supporter in this lifestyle transition. I’m going to miss him, but I will continue to grow and branch out in my new life here. And he’s now on that special list of old friends.

Old Faces in New Places

One of the big plusses of moving to a beautiful part of the country in a new state is that people come to visit. Some people aren’t crazy about houseguests, but hospitality is in my blood. I love to have people over to share food and conversation, something that wasn’t so easy to do in my former home, a condo. Truly, one of the reasons I bought a sizeable house was to be able to offer guest rooms for friends and family. Think free B & B. I certainly could live in a smaller space, but I receive so much joy in providing a vacation spot for the people I know and love.

When I first told my sister that I was moving to Montana, she was excited for me while at the same time, a bit sad. She knew that I was ready for a change, but she also realized that with the greater distance between us, visits would take more planning. Then we talked about the fact that those visits would be longer and of greater quality, which has proven to be true. When she came out in September, it was a four-day visit, something we never would have done when we both lived in Western Washington.

This past weekend began a streak of houseguests for me. Old friends, who were on the last leg of a cross-country trek, made a point of putting me on their itinerary. They arrived in time for dinner on Friday night and were able to stay until Sunday morning. I’ve known them for twenty-four years, but this was by far the longest visit we had ever had. We certainly didn’t have sleepovers when we were both living in the same city, but now that we are empty-nesters, there is a true pleasure in just hanging out and catching up. It’s also fun for me to play host and tour guide, showing off the sights of the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park. And it seems that with every new set of visitors, our explorations lead to a discovery or new experience, like visiting a local park or trying a restaurant for the first time.

It is still rather surreal when visitors show up at my front door. My first guests were my niece and her family back on Labor Day weekend. It was just a crazy coincidence that they were in the area for a wedding. Not only was it strange to have them appear at my front door, but the circumstances were pleasantly different. Our visits had historically involved large family gatherings filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins, so it was a nice change to have just the four of them over for a leisurely afternoon.

Simply stated, life is much better when shared with others. I’m looking forward to more visitors, more discoveries, and more memorable moments as guests arrive in the upcoming weeks.

Hiking and Beer

If you know me personally, the first word in today’s title is no surprise. I recently moved to Montana and have been a hiker pretty much my whole life. When I moved here in July, I intentionally took some time to get adjusted to my new surroundings. Fortunately, my new best friend here is also a hiker and has shared some stunning locations with me. I’m also getting familiar with some convenient local trails.

This month my friend has found himself temporary unemployed while he waits to transfer to a new position. For me, this happily means even more hikes and opportunities to explore the beauty of the Flathead Valley in autumn.

So where does the beer come in? I have celiac disease. Beer is generally not on my agenda. I’m not really a big consumer of alcohol either. Just one, or maybe two drinks—that’s it.

As my new bestie has introduced me to the area, we have also been out experiencing all of the wonderful live music that the valley has to offer. One night in August, we ended up at Bias Brewing in Kalispell. (I can give a plug, right?) I thought I would be stuck drinking water, but I took a chance and asked the server if there was anything gluten free on the menu. She replied, “Yes, it’s all gluten removed.”

I was stunned, but also a bit cautious. I decided to play it safe that night and just had two little four-ounce tasters. The next morning, I felt fine.

On the next visit, I had twelve ounces. Still no reaction. Since then, I have indulged and had as much as twenty-four ounces. (Yes, I got a little crazy that day.)

Needless to say, Bias has become our new hangout. And with the arrival of fall, there is now Attic Window Pumpkin Ale on the menu. It is pure bliss! I never knew I could love a beer so much. Why do people get so excited about all of those pumpkin spice coffee drinks when beer is so much better?

With my flexible schedule and my friend’s temporary unemployment, “Hike and beer this afternoon?” has become a common text message. We have to savor as many autumn days as possible before October ends.

Autumn Landscaping

I was going to wait until spring to do some landscaping for my new home. I have plenty to keep me busy; that project could wait. But then I just happened to stop by the local nursery to see how the changing colors of the trees were progressing, and there was a fifty percent off sale. How could I possibly resist?  I do seem to have that money-saving attraction.

I decided to buy five shrubs and a few smaller perennial plants. One of the two trees that I had wanted was out of stock, so I decided those could wait. It wouldn’t be too much work to clear out a bed and get those smaller items planted, right?

First, the deer seemed pretty interested in the “deer resistant” plants. There was definitely some munching going on. A package of deer netting took care of that. Then, I was lacking a shovel and a wheelbarrow. My neighbor kindly supplied those. Oh, and then there was the actual work of cutting out the sod and digging the holes. No one seemed to be jumping at the opportunity to help with that.

So my afternoon breaks have now become yard work sessions. Yesterday, I bought compost and delivered a load of sod to the container site. You would think that I would have sore arms and shoulders, but it’s actually the abdominal pain that is killing me from all of the lifting. Last night, I required aspirin to get to sleep because of my aching abs, even though I was absolutely exhausted.

We’ll see how long this project ends up taking. It”s going to be gorgeous when it’s all finished, though. Next spring, I will be able to impress my friends by saying that I completed every step by myself. I do think, however, that I will be wise enough hire someone to plant the trees.

A New Perspective on Cloudy Skies

There is an old Perry Como song called “The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen are in Seattle.” As a kid growing up in western Washington, I was quite familiar with the tune. Perhaps they are the bluest skies because people from the Seattle area have a particular appreciation of rainless days. I have no argument there. Seeing the blue sky set off against the green hills and mountains is a beautiful sight indeed.

People often refer to the “big sky” of Montana. I can’t argue with that either. The sky does seem bigger to me here in the Flathead Valley. My guess is that this valley is just larger in scale than the smaller valley of my youth. The valley itself is wider, and the mountains are higher. Pretty simple. As a newcomer to the area, I experience childlike awe on a daily basis. Add living close to the largest freshwater lake in the western side of the country, and my awe will not soon decrease.

But my absolute favorite wonder lately has been the clouds. I’m not sure exactly what natural forces are at play with the lake and mountains, but I firmly believe that the most beautiful clouds in the country are right outside my window. One recent morning, I woke at dawn and looked out the window to see one of the most amazing sights I had ever beheld. Since that morning, I have been regularly checking the skies and frequently looking up on my daily walks and hikes.

I do, however, realize that all of this cloud-awe may be as much about me as the beauty above. I’m living a different life now where I feel more in touch with my surroundings. I have time to stop, observe, and appreciate it all. Montana has changed me.

 

 

List of Lists

I’ve always been a list writer. Honestly, it still hasn’t made me the world’s most organized person, (I’m definitely guilty of procrastination at times.) but I would be completely lost without my lists.

When I met my new best friend, one of the first things he said to me was, “You make lists, don’t you?” He says it’s because I’m a Virgo, but I really think it’s more of a teacher thing.

In my former life, I generally had three main lists going: the at-work to-do list, which was part of my planner; the to-do list at home; and the grocery list. Then there was my favorite list: the travel packing list. I’ve kept it and reused it for numerous trips; it has served me well.

With my new life transition, my lists have grown. In fact, I’ve advanced to notebooks, several of them, as I have moved to a new state and begun to research and soul-search to find a new career.

Yesterday, after several weeks of preparation, I officially entered the world of work-from-home freelancers. This morning I decided to create a list to outline my everyday routine.  You see, I’m used to having my work life run on a schedule, a rather precise one at that. Bells are no longer ringing to tell me what to do next, and no one is watching. If I lacked self-discipline, it could be very easy to fritter away hours, but aside from the temptation to sleep in, I’m pretty on top of things. It’s really the lack of a firm structure that’s making me a little crazy. I figure if I have a written time schedule to follow, I’ll be more productive. Don’t worry; I’m not too hardcore. There’s a list of things to do when I need a break also.

So the list of lists is in the works; it may end up being more of a matrix, though. My goal is to complete it, type it up, and yes, laminate it, by week’s end. That task is on my daily to-do list, too.

And Then the Sun Came Out

A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog post but decided to delete it. You see, one of my goals in blogging is to keep a positive mindset. I had gone through a couple of rough days where doubts were filling my head. A series of negative events, which were mostly beyond my control, had brought me down. I then began to question my choice to make an out-of-state move and start a new career as an entrepreneur.

We’ve all been there. You know how it feels when you are at rock-bottom. You know it will end, but the pain and the fear are so very real at the time. Usually, it just takes someone or something to pull you out of it.

I can’t tell you exactly what it was. Maybe it was my super-positive new friend with whom I spent some time yesterday morning. Maybe it was the book I read last night that got me thinking about my hopes for the future. Maybe it was my new neighbor waving her hands to get my attention this afternoon, just because she wanted to say hello as I was walking by. Maybe it was all of those things that made me realize life is pretty darn good right now.

Change can be scary, but it can also be so very wonderful. After chatting with my neighbor, I continued walking with a grateful heart, taking in the mountain views that attracted me to Montana. My tension eased as I realized I was back to being myself; the late summer afternoon sun had never felt better.