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.

 

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.

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.

Next Steps

I have been living in Montana for about six weeks now. Definitely no regrets so far, even with Glacier National Park burning up and bringing smoke down the valley. I am hoping this doesn’t become an annual event, though.

Last Monday, I had a moment where I felt like my new place was set up well enough to call home. I could finally stop thinking about what needed to be done next, and just sit back and savor what I have accomplished. That is really one of the best feelings in the world, isn’t it? Having a place to call home. I’m also making new friends and enjoying an active social life. I love my surroundings, and already feel healthier. I have to say things are going better than expected.

So what’s next? Well, I’m too young and not-quite wealthy enough to fully retire. I did leave behind a twenty-seven-year teaching career when I packed up the boxes in June, but I had fully intended to at least work part-time here. I tend to lean in the Type A direction and prefer to be occupied. My primary goal in finding employment was to avoid working a traditional forty-hour week. But what would I do to become self-employed? This is a difficult mental hurdle to overcome for a person who has consistently worked for someone else since the age of fifteen. I knew that a little more time and research would bring some answers.

I’ve decided to give it a go with my own proofreading and editing business. (I know; you were expecting something more exciting.) Why not? Everyone seems to be making a buck out there on the internet. Don’t worry. I have been taking proper steps by planning this all out. I’m even completing an online class to learn the tools of the trade.  (Humility is an important trait when taking on a new venture.) I expect to launch in about three weeks.

A year ago, I would never have taken risks like this: Packing up and moving to a new state, starting my own business…It’s funny that what I once thought would be too scary to even consider, now feels exciting and empowering. I honestly don’t fear failure. If it doesn’t work out, I will move on to something different.

 

 

Sleep-in Days

During the quarter decade or so that I was teaching, I always felt that the very best thing about summer break was not just the time off, but sleeping in. As a secondary educator, I often had to wake up as early as 5:45. I’ve never felt like a morning person, and it was usually about second period by the time I got into my groove.  The sheer bliss of sleeping until 8:00 was the best gift of summer.

After more than a month of moving from one state to another, I decided to enjoy some carefree sleepy mornings this weekend. Clearly, my body was telling me to slow down. Not only have I been occupied with setting up a new home, but I have also been pursuing an active social life by hiking, kayaking, and getting out for live music almost every night. This is in addition to researching and setting up a new online business, as well as doing some fill-in work for one of the shop owners in town. I guess I have been busy.

Taking the time to wake up and leisurely lie in bed was a much-needed reward. Saturday morning I decided to set aside the to-do list for the weekend and just relax. It will all still be there tomorrow.