Change and Growth

I’m back! That two-word sentence has so many connotations as I write it today. In one way I’m back, but in other ways, I will never return. First, I’m returning to my blog. Starting this blog was one of the best things I have ever done for my personal growth. It took some guts to put my life out there on the internet. I felt it was worth the risk, though. It helped me share and process my new experiences as I jumped into a new life in Montana eighteen months ago. Do I have regrets? Absolutely not. I can only imagine my state of mind and health if I had stayed in my old job and old location. I truly needed to physically remove myself from that life in order to learn and grow.

Even though I haven’t been blogging for the past few months, I have been writing. I met a new friend last April. He too, is a writer. We instantly bonded and have become email “penpals.” I guess that relationship temporarily replaced my need to blog.

But this morning as I was out walking, I felt the urge to return. I guess it’s time to come clean and share what I’ve been up to these past few months.

By mid-August, my new job was getting to me. I truly did enjoy my coworkers, but something vital was missing. As a lifelong educator, my work life had been filled with stress and struggles, but my sense of purpose had been abundant. In my new work, I was providing a service, but the work was superficial. I needed more. My take-home pay wasn’t very satisfying either. I initially thought that wouldn’t bother me. But darn it, I was working hard every day, and at the end of the month, the paycheck was barely keeping me afloat. Any dreams of travel and adventure were going to be limited. Sadly, Montana is one of the lowest paying states in the union. I knew that when I made the move, but with my optimistic nature, I figured I would be just fine. I wasn’t.

As I was driving home on August 16th, 2019, physically exhausted from the week, I decided that I needed to move on. Before exiting from the profession in Washington, I had renewed my teaching certificate. I’m no dummy. A backup plan is always a good idea, and I knew that the teacher shortage was not going to be alleviated any time soon. I also knew that I didn’t want to go back to a large suburban district like the one I had left. If I was going to teach, it would have to be in a small town. And sadly, as an experienced educator, Montana pay doesn’t come close to my Washington earning power.

It was mid-August. I knew that I needed to check openings that night if I was going to get hired for the 2019-20 school year. As fate would have it, the first district that I looked at had an opening for a high school Spanish and English teacher. The job had been posted a couple of months earlier, so there was a chance that it had already been filled. I got to work writing a cover letter and completing the application materials. Satisfied, I hit send and went to bed. If it was meant to be, I would hear from them early next week.

My Monday did not get off to the best start. I was in a car accident on my way to work that morning. I was physically okay, just a little sore, but my car was probably totaled. When the tow truck driver arrived, he told that he was happy to have me riding along with him. He said that most of the time when he’s called to an accident scene, the drivers are taken away in an ambulance. Tears of gratitude began to fall from my eyes. Talk about a silver lining! I just knew things would start looking up for me.

Thankfully, I have good insurance. It didn’t take much time to get my rental car and head back home. When I had called work to tell them about the accident, my boss suggested that I go to the doctor to get checked out even though I didn’t feel too bad. Good advice. I had never experienced more than a fender-bender, and I might not have been thinking at 100% capacity.

The urgent care doctor was a real cut-up. Knowing that I had been in an accident, he clearly wanted to set me at ease. He checked me out and didn’t see anything too alarming. After writing a note to release me from work and giving me a muscle relaxer prescription for my sore neck and shoulder, he said that I could call if I felt the need for further treatment like physical therapy.

Back to that potential job opening… I talked to the administrator at the district office that day. They had indeed received my application materials, and the position was still open. We talked about conducting an interview via Skype, considering my current location.

To make a long story short, I interviewed two days later and was offered the position. I worked Thursday and Friday at the credit union, packed up my new car on Saturday, and hit the road on Sunday. In the meantime, I had found a temporary housesitter/renter for my home, and had an Airbnb rented for the next few days to get settled in my classroom and find a rental home.

When you decide to embark on an adventure, there are always challenges and surprises. First, rental homes were not abundant. I ended up staying in the guest room of one of the middle school teachers for the first week of school. Then a new colleague told me that she had a temporary solution for my housing dilemma. I could rent a home that was sold contingently. It was fifteen miles from school, but it had a fabulous view of Lake Roosevelt. I was there for only a month before finding my current home located on an orchard. Finally, I could settle in a bit.

In the meantime, school started. Wow! My new place of work is significantly smaller than anywhere else I have taught; there are only about 235 students. (The middle school where I last taught has over a thousand.) After my new principal took me on a short tour of the building, I was charmed and relieved that I would never get lost in the hallways. There were many adjustments for me. First was the five-period day. That means I teach four classes each day, seventy-one minutes each. The school is on a trimester system with each trimester equalling a traditional semester. I had had a long run as a middle school teacher and hadn’t taught high school in twenty years. One of the best changes was that I would have smaller class sizes; one of the worst was that there was no Spanish curriculum. Clearly, I had work to do! No more worries about lack of purpose.

So back to the reason I returned to my blog. I think I initially walked away because I felt that I was a failure. I had abandoned my dream of making a new life in Montana. I hadn’t found sufficient employment, and I had to go back to my former profession. A few months ago, I didn’t really want to share that with the world. I now have a different and more grateful perspective. And honestly, Montana is still there. I’ve already made a few trips to visit on long weekends.

But the best thing that I have received from the past few months is time to reflect and meditate and appreciate my resiliency. I live next to an orchard a few miles from town. My social life is limited here, partly by choice and partly because of geography. (Yes, I do have some wonderful new friends, but I’m not out and about very often.) I have had time to work on myself. I think about how hard it is for many people to get away and have a retreat. I come home to a retreat every afternoon. It’s been a priceless gift.

What I want the world to know is that I am fearless now. I appreciate the beauty and goodness of every day. I am learning to live in the moment rather than worry about the future. There is great freedom in that.

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.

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.

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.

Garbage Day

A friend back home told me that things would be different in Montana and that it would be like going back in time a bit. For me, this is mostly a good thing, in fact, a great thing. People are friendly and don’t appear to be moving at an ultra-fast pace all the time.  Individuals bending over with their eyes glued to a smartphone are a rarity. Most I’ve met take the time to chat and get to know me. I’m highly social, so I enjoy that.

One of the first things I learned is that most homes don’t have trash pick up, at least not in the smaller towns. In fact, my real estate agent seemed to think I was a little silly when I asked her about it. “You just go to the container site,” she responded.

The what?

My environmentally-minded Seattle area friends probably remember the days of going to a recycling site up through the 1980s and into the early ’90s.  Well, the container site is kind of like that, but there are also dumpsters for trash. And you have to sort everything else: cardboard, mixed paper, aluminum cans. Plastic, glass or metal cans? Nope. Those just go in the dumpsters. (It’s not a lack of environmental consciousness, though. China has stopped accepting plastic and metals for recycling.)

Therefore, I’ve designated Thursday as garbage day.  I’m sure the novelty will wear off when the temperatures dip or my beloved garage starts to stink.  But right now it’s rather satisfying to sort and dump.



The Journey Begins

I’ve been saying that I want to write for quite some time. So here I am! Actually, I have only lived “here” for eight days. I’ve packed up and moved to the beautiful state of Montana. Not a second home, but my new home.

I started making plans for this move about a year ago. I was four years out of a divorce, had been teaching for over twenty-five years, and really, really needed to make a change. First, I made lists. What do I really want? How can I truly find contentment? Then, I did quite a bit of reading. Finally, I did some in-person investigating. I visited the places at the top of my list, and then met with real estate agents. I wasn’t messing around or just talking about it; I was doing it.

Besides the divorce, I was at that turning point known as the empty nest. Fortunately, my kids turned out alright and had begun supporting themselves. This is what really opened the door for a big change. (Yes, I do consider myself quite fortunate.) Additionally, I hadn’t been particularly successful in the dating game and was unattached. Many people had told me I was picky. Darn right! Why would I compromise and agree to spend the rest of my life with someone unless he was going to make my life better, and I could do the same for him?  Essentially, there was nothing left to hold me in place.

And that brings me to the purpose of my blog. I just want to share and express myself. I do have some strong opinions, but I’m not out here to create controversy. I’ve had enough of that. I just want to write, and see what happens. I do hope to entertain and hopefully make you laugh, as well as provoke some thoughts.

cloudy sky