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.

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.