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.

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.