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Community

Sometimes, you finish a year or two of JVC and you realize it wasn’t what you expected. The community didn’t turn in your best friends for life, and while you’re happy you got a husband out of it and all, you just thought it would be a little different.

Then you get a call and a text and a message to find out a man had died. A good man, one that you knew. Who lived next door to where the JV house used to be, years ago.

And you call your one housemate who lives in New York, even though you haven’t talked in, gosh has it been a year already. And you run across town to hug your other former housemate and friend. And you cry, and you talk, and you hug.

You wonder if anyone has told your husband’s aunt and uncle  (who live across the street from the couple), who met when she did JVC in the house next door. You wonder if you’ll see your professor at the funeral, who also used to be your landlord, and lives in the next-door house now.

And you realize that maybe its a pretty small town after all.

So then you talk, and you remember. You remember the man who had a harder life than you’ll ever know. A man who would always ask you how things were going at the shelter you worked at, start talking local politics with you, and was usually more up on everything than you were. You remember a man who had an apple tree with so many grafts on it, he had forgotten what kind of a tree it originally was.

You feel blessed to having known a saint during his time on this earth.

You remember the pie that he had baked that set on your counter when you first moved here. How you ate it for dinner late that night and breakfast the next morning before you found your way to a grocery store. You eat the sweet cherries and the cakey crust.

You put down your fork, and think to yourself – this is something big.

This is community.

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Day in the life: Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! Or should I say Mele Kalikimaka, but more on that later.

Jenna who writes at That Wife had the idea of having her readers document their Christmas Eves and Christmas days and share them. I liked the idea and thus decided to play along. Plus I’m laid up in bed with cramps that leave me with nothing to do but complain.

This was my first Christmas with my in laws so I will be sharing hat that was like as well as what Christmas is like for Catholics. I realize being Catholic isn’t incredibly unique but we do a few things differently that I thought would be fun to share.

In typical Jackie-fashion my camera broke and so we have instagram photos for you to enjoy of one megapixel or less. Welcome to 1999!

Christmas Eve

Most of the day we just took it easy. Shopping had been wrapped up weeks (okay days) before and the wrapping was well, also wrapped up.

We did crosswords, a weekend ritual at my in-laws.

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“In-law” sounds so cold and formal, doesn’t it? I usually just say “John’s folks” but that’s longer to write out.

I got the hankering to bake, a Christmas eve ritual with my family (that is, family-of-origin family). We usually make spritz cookies but John, his sister and I made blondie bars.

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The first caramel batch was a disaster which I think came from my suggestion to cook it on low heat. So I made butterscotch which was a bit on the rich side.

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After our baking adventure, we went to Mass. Catholics always go to church on Christmas since it is one of the holiest days of the year. Catholic “days” work similarly to the Jewish calendar – they begin at sundown. So you have the option of going on the feast day itself or the night before, which is called the “vigil” mass. Traditionally, many people go to what is called the “Midnight Mass” which used to begin at midnight but now more commonly ends then. John’s family’s tradition is to go to the children’s mass at 4:30. Although churches may have five or six masses in the weekend, you still have to get there pretty early to find a seat. This is how full it was about 45 minutes before:

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By the time mass started it was jam packed with tons of people in overflow seating.

In case you are wondering what midnight mass is like, it’s pretty similar to other Sunday masses with an extra element of festivity. We have spent the last month recognizing Advent, a season where we focus on waiting in hope, something we can all relate to no matter our religious beliefs. Christmas (which is actually a season which lasts 12 days) is the first time we sing carols or really celebrate since Advent is a bit more somber. The mass features readings on the arrival of God’s love and justice as well as, of course, the Christmas story. The children of the parish acted out the story dressed as angels and sheep and a couple of innkeepers who looked like Star Trek extras in their costumes.

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At Christmas we are basically celebrating three things: the birth of Christ, his future return, and light in the darkness. The reason we celebrate in such a dark and desolate time of the year is to remember that even the tiniest bit of light, of hope can help get us through to the spring.

When we got back from Mass we decorated the tree:

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Ate dinner.

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And played games.

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And went to bed.
Christmas Day

Our Christmas was also pretty laid back. Since we had gone to church the day before, we just woke up and unwrapped presents that morning.

Here’s the aftermath:

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John gave me a beautiful tea pot from our favorite restaurant , Caffe Dolce and a necklace. I got him a Notre Dame hat and something that hasn’t arrived yet and I’m kinda p. o.’d about it.

After gifts we had breakfast, Eggs Benedict and a German apple pancake John and I made.

Again, the aftermath:

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Then we left to drive to Helena to visit the rest of John’s family.

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After dinner and more present opening, we came home. While I missed the traditions in my family, it was nice to see some new ones. And ultimately it’s not how we wrap the present, but what is at the heart of it.

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Every morning I see a little more of my breath, feel my nose a little less as I walk to work. I can feel it coming in the air. There is a bit of excitement to it, skis and snowmen are not far behind.

It’s coming. The cold.

When I was a kid we got the American Girl magazine and one of my favorite articles was on 50 ways to stay warm in the winter. I don’t remember many of them (besides putting your PJs in the dryer before getting in bed!) but I’m sure I tried most. Unfortunately  I can’t find the article on-line anywhere, so I will simply have to recreate it for you. So here are my (and my readers!) top tips for staying warm this winter without jacking up the thermostat. (and fall and spring if you live in Montana).

1. Layer. I know, I know its one of those tips that you hear all the time. But until I moved to Montana I didn’t know all of the things that you could layer. I swear I’ve seen people wearing two scarves before.

When I was a kid, I used to wear two pairs of underwear to go play in the snow. I don’t know why I was worried about my butt getting cold – that only happened when I was ice skating.

2. Every man for himself when it comes to the hot shower. First one up gets all the hot water. No exceptions, no mercy. Oh wait, y’all have hot water heaters that last more than one shower? Why are you even reading this?

3. Laugh when it starts snowing inside your house. Because it’ll melt quickly.

4. If you live in an apartment that has one tiny heater situated somewhere next to the door and very far away from the living space and you pay gas and your landlord pays electric (as one certain husband of mine used to), buy an electric space heater. Extra points if it looks like the Eye of Sauron. If you start having dreams about an evil eye lighting your house on fire, don’t blame me.

Also don’t do this if you pay your own electricity bill.

5. Cuddle. Mainly for the body heat. Don’t get too sappy about it. Pets work well too.

6. Eat soup. Drink soup? Just don’t slurp soup, that’s supposedly rude. I don’t think Emily Post has ruled decisively on that one though.

There’s something about a hot bowl of soup. Anyone who has lived with me can attest that I can barely cook anything in which “broth” is not one of the top ingredients. It’s the magic meal – take a few meager potatoes and onions, some pearl barley or quinoa and rice and you have yourself a meal. We invented a delicious squash & sausage soup recipe the other night. Perhaps I should share that one day.

7. Drink tea. Or cocoa. Cocoa is easier to sneak a shot of schnapps into, if you are so inclined. Either way, the respectable version or the adult version, it will keep you warm from the inside out.

8. Knit as much as you possibly can. If you knit for yourself, you will have things to keep you warm. If you knit for someone else, they will feel obligated to do things like buy you a cup of hot tea or pick up your next heating bill. The second one probably won’t happen though.

9. Make yourself a bean bag. I’m sure you can google it and find a blog that is actually “helpful” to show you how to do it. My advice is to sew a bag, fill it with beans, microwave, and repeat. Plus every time you do, your house will smell like food and when your significant other asks if you’ve been cooking, you can proudly respond, “No. Make your own dinner.”

10. When all else fails, get out. Find some warmth, be it in another state or at a friend’s house where you go and shiver and sigh awkwardly until they feel obligated to turn up their heat. Works every time.

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It’s time for the sun lamps

The night has descended upon us.

The long, cold, dreary night of winter in Montana.

Which is not to say it is all bad. There is sweaters, and scarves, and more knitting than my wallet can afford, hot (white) chocolate, pumpkins and butternut squashes and sweet potatoes, cuddling on the couch, snowmen and snow angels, and best of all – skiing.

But these are only tiny gems hidden in the long cold months. The weight of the winter sky weighs heavily one me, more so than I like to admit. I am no stranger to snow. Even though I am from Virginia, I am from the mountains. Growing up we had storms that would close our school for sometimes upwards of 15 days a year. We had blizzards that would knock the power out for weeks on end. We sledded and built forts along with the best of them. But no matter how hard the snow fell, within a few weeks it would be gone. A brief respite before it came again.

I spent four years off in college near the coast where we would see 1-2 inches a year. Missing winter, I decided I would move out to Spokane, WA where we had 100 inches of snow. Worst winter on record. And that was the winter I decided to show up.

Like I said, there are pieces of winter I love and look forward to. But no matter how optimistically I begin the late-fall/winter season, by February my optimism has crumbled into despair. Complete hopelessness at ever seeing the sun or feeling its warmth on my skin again. Our town is situated in a bowl and despite its lovely springs and summers, the cloud inversion can let a month go by without letting the sun shine.

Maybe I am not cut out to be a Montanan.

But despite all past precedence that has suggested I will not make it more than 3 months without threatening to buy a one way ticket back to Virginia, I (yet again) remain hopeful. So I want to write a few posts on how to survive these non-daylight savings time month. One on staying warm and another on staying happy.

If you brave the short days and long winters of the north (or, if you are on the other half of the globe, the south, but there it’s summer, so hey), have survived trekking miles in the snow, have worn long underwear, or have ever wondered “is this what frostbite feels like?”

Then help. Let me know your suggestions. Together, we will prevail!

 

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More fire

So now I feel a little bad writing about how to start a fire since this is what Missoula has been dealing with all week:

Monday night a fire started about 5 miles east of Missoula. Within an hour the fire had spread from 150 acres to 1500 acres and peaked the next day at 2000. It came within 30 feet of homes but the wind shifted directions just in time. Missoula is in no danger since the fire is on the other side of two rivers, but the smoke has filled the valley the last few days. On Tuesday the valley was so smoky you couldn’t see the surrounding mountains. The whole city smells like a campfire.

Isn’t that an amazing picture? We didn’t drive to see the fire on Monday night, though I did take a peek at it on Tuesday afternoon. The smoke from it was pretty incredible. Today it sounds like firefighters have gotten it mostly under control, which I sure hope so before my eyes itch themselves right out of my head. There is another fire south of us, so I’m hoping that smoke doesn’t decide to settle here too.

No hurricanes or earthquakes for us, just the land of fire.

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Home.

Hi.

It’s me.

I’m back.

I know everyone hates posts that begin with “OMG!! SO SORRY I haven’t blogged in like FOR-EVER!!” and I’m not gonna do that because truth be told, I’m not all the sorry.

First we were at the Oregon Coast. Then my parents were visiting. Then at a wedding in Billings. And in between, I just didn’t have much to say.

You see, I started this blog to write about coping with a chronic illness and I’ve pretty much written about anything but. I don’t know why. Maybe because I am learning to deal better. Maybe I’m still to embarrassed to describe intimate details of my nether regions to the inter-world. But mainly because I still don’t know what to say about it beyond “yup, still hurts.”

So I blog about other stuff – social justice, being a broke grad student, my failures in the domestic sphere. But the frequency of my blogging directly correlates to the amount of time I spend online which inversely correlates to the amount of time I spend in the real world. Hiking. Knitting. Biking. Doing yoga.

So I’m going to try and figure out how to balance my online time with real life time and with the demands of everyone who have asked me to start blogging again (which has mainly been my husband. Maybe he likes when I spend more time online?) It’s funny that two years ago I hardly spent anytime online (as in, I probably checked my e-mail once a week) to doing everything from reading the news to catching up with friends to looking up recipes on the computer.

Yesterday I met the new JVs (yay!) one of whom told me that upon telling someone she knew in Portland that she was moving to Missoula, the person mentioned that she reads my blog. Which was pretty embarrassing. So for you, random Portland person I don’t know, I will return to (slightly) more regular blogging. And do that by listing a few of the reasons I love this town.

I love that local businesses set out bowls of water for passing dogs.

I love that cashiers ask you if you want a bag or brought your own.

I love that I can buy pizza dough from the local bakery at the grocery store.

I love that the electrical boxes are painted with vivid scenes of town life and that in the summer, the entire town is simply full of color.

I love that there is a Jesuit parish nearby and that our new priest is a former Jesuit Volunteer himself.

I hate the inversion though. The inversion is when, during the winter months, the clouds sink down into the bowl created by the surrounding mountains and refuse to move for weeks on in. Last winter, we went from Feb 13 to March 14 without having a single day with sunshine.

I love that we have the 3rd highest percentage of people in the country who bike to work. Which includes me on days that I’m not working till late late at night.

I love all the festivals, concerts, shebangs, and brewfests there are here.

Also that A River Run Through it was set here. And that Miranda Lambert mentioned us in her song Dry Town. (Although I don’t think there is a dry anything within however-many-miles-to-Utah from here).

It’s been fun galavanting around the Northwest, but it’s good to be home too.

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I haven’t showered in three days.

I stepped on a cowpie thinking it was a rock while trying to cross a creek.

I caught 4.5 fish, .5 because the last one got away and it was too big not to count. I got a few 8 inch brook trout, though a more experienced flyfisher would tell you they were at least 10 inches.

We biked through and old ghost town and though we saw no ghost, we got plenty of mud on our tires.

We saw the biggest owl I have ever seen, with a wing span of a least four feet, land on a post across the field.

We basked in sunshine and didn’t take anytime to stare at the beautiful stars, choosing to quickly curl up in sleeping bags instead.

This morning, while taking an early morning bike ride, we saw a black bear trying to cross the road. I don’t know who was more scared – me or it.

This is beautiful land.

Happy Fourth of July. This is one of my favorite holidays – sunshine, grills, blueberries and freedom. And not just country-song-code-word-for-you’re-with-us-or-against-us-political-buzzword. But freedom to roll down an empty country road. Freedom to spread your toes out in grass. Freedom to choose whatever ice cream flavor you want. To me, summer is complete freedom. You don’t need to do; you only need to be. To exist. To love and to enjoy.

So if you’re freedom comes in the form of patriotism, in sunshine, in grace, in love, enjoy it today.

For a non-traditional take on democracy, I leave you with one of the few Christian artists who doesn’t make you throw up a little in your mouth, Derek Webb.

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Slow

Lilacs are in bloom all over Missoula.

That might seem like a minor event, but for me, it’s pretty amazing. Mainly because I had no idea that Missoula had lilac trees all over the place.

You see, the winter before last graced us with it’s presence a tad early. In the first week of October, the temperature dropped to around 8 degrees. The leaves had not yet fallen from the trees, and so instead of changing, they simply died. Their limp, brown leaves hung on all through the winter. No one really knew what it meant – had the cold snap killed all the trees? Would they have buds on them next spring?

But rest assured, the next spring, the trees sprang to life. That is, except the lilacs.

It being my first spring in Missoula, I didn’t know there were even supposed to be lilacs, so I didn’t miss them. I noticed the tree in front of our house was a lilac tree and wondered why it didn’t bloom, but that was it.

But this past week, Missoula has been clothed in brilliant purples of every shade. Like a royal parade, these magnificent line our streets.

Are you thinking, “wait a minute – our lilacs bloomed well over a month ago and have long died?” Yeah, see, everything is a little bit slower here. I mean everything. Oh by the way, have you heard of this new band called Backstreet Boys? Kidding, kidding. Backstreet boys are old news. N’Sync is the hot new band.

In all seriousness, life does come at you a little slower in Montana. Sometimes that’s frustrating, like snowfall on Easter. Or Memorial Day even. But its not limited to the seasons, however. The way of life here is a little slower as well. Which again, for an east coast transplant, can be frustrating. Like when your advisor says that the program can take 2 – 4 years to complete. Well, which is it? Two or four? That’s quite a difference! And she shrugs her shoulders and just says “Well, it depends. No rush though.”

But on the other hand, it’s good to slow down. To accept that some winter days, you just won’t be able to get from point A to point B so you might as well put on sweats and light a fire. It might take a full day, and at least three airports, of travel to get home. Letters take a few extra days to get here. You might have to work a little harder to get where you need to, whether it be over the pass or to a new place in life.

But no one is a rush to get anywhere in the first place. Because we’re here and that’s what matters. It might break my little Virginian heart not to see even a peek of a wildflower until late April or even May, but I know I’ll appreciate it more when they come.

And though there is still plenty of snow left up on the mountain tops, the foothill in my backyard is absolutely covered in sunflowers. Maybe it’s a high of 49 today, but they are calling for sunshine on Saturday. And so I’ll wait. I have nothing else to do.

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Spring will appear

I had never heard of the term “spring skiing” until last week. In my southern ignorance I assumed that spring meant the arrival of flowers and sunshine. The first spring I spent in the Northwest dashed any hope of the springs of my youth, which started early and drew out as long as a southerner draws out her words. Springs here are a friendlier version of winter, much more akin to the winters I spent in Williamsburg. Temperatures persist in the 40s and clouds hang low, ready to release whatever grab bag of precipitation they have in store. Graupel, ice, snow, rain. Don’t know what graupel is? It’s when it snows Dip n Dots.

Apparently these cool temperatures and persistent snow make for ideal cross country skiing conditions. The snow is not too hard, and not too soft; perfect for any Goldilocks with two long skis strapped to her boots.

This redheaded Goldilocks continued to amaze her husband at her skiing abilities. Not because I am an expert, but because it is the one sport I haven’t failed miserably at in the first 1200 attempts. Don’t believe me? The first time I ever shot a basketball and made a basket at age 8 or 9, I called my dad to tell him. “I made a basket!” “Great!” he replied. “What’s it look like?”

I also amazed my husband during one spectacular wipe-out. Not many people can complete a full 360 degree turn on the ground, head over heels,  after successfully coming down the hill.

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We missed mass yesterday. It may or may not have had something to do with March Madness. Does it count if we were watching Notre Dame? It wasn’t my choice; I was just submitting to my husband’s authority like the Bible tells me to do. Kidding.

We aren’t perfect.

Then I read in my little Lenten devotional that this week was the story of the Transfiguration one. I like that one.

When we were little, my Dad used  to bring me and my sisters on his house calls. Because we were Young and his patients were Old. Not Old as in old, as in any particular number, though I expect a few were voting in presidential elections while my grandparents were in their infancy. But Old as in they had always seemed to exist, to always be imparting infinite wisdom we were too young to understand.  To remember a world before internet and nuclear weapons and color TV.

And we were Young. Young as in possessing some fresh faced idealism that we did not know we had. Young as in having some hope that they could see when they looked into our faces. But we didn’t know that, what was so wonderful about the Young.

One Sunday we went to tea at Janet Jenkin’s house. Always her full name. Janet Jenkin. She was Old and beautiful. Her house was too. My Dad said it was “Gingerbread” though I had no idea what that meant. The rooms overflowed with paintings, a hobby she had taken up later in life.

We sat down for tea. She offered up a prayer. As we buttered our scones she said that a few of us had been peeking during prayer. I didn’t know how she knew. We sipped our tea and I felt as if I was transported into another era, sitting in the gingerbread house full of paintings an Reader’s Digests from the time Johnson was a president, while my too short legs swung from the chair.

I wondered around. Her Bible sat on a table, opened to a page with a depiction of the Transfiguration. It seemed so pretty, Jesus with his flowing gold locks, Elijah and Moses with their pastel robes, the gilded border. Now, I would undoubtedly dismiss the pictures as cheesy Christian art, and whoever really thought that Jesus was white?

But when I was eight, it was beautiful. I told her that we had read that story in Mass that morning. She smiled.

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Spring does not come with trumpets transforming the earth. It seeps in, every day a little more rain and a little less snow. One day we will notice there are buds on the tree, where the week before there had only been dead branches. We will notice there is no longer any snow piled up in the parking lots. The sun will feel warm and it will dawn on us that our scarves have remained untouched for weeks.

On that day, spring will appear.

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Sunshine on my shoulders

I’m still so bleary-eyed that I decided to blog before attempting to get any studying done today in order to get that brain a pumping. (Coffee…I still miss you. Come back. We can be friends!) We had, what I expect to be, a rejuvenating weekend, but we stayed up too late last night and haven’t gleaned any of the effects of said rejuvenation.

While my sister-in-law was out on another fabulous grad school interview in California, we decided to take advantage of her empty apartment and give ourselves a mini weekend-get away. She lives about 45 minutes and a world a way from us. The world of difference is sun. My town was formed by a glacier, and thus is basically a lake bed with mountains completely surrounding it. These mountains, while beautifully Rocky Mountain picturesque, love to trap clouds. Which makes for a very dreary winter. How dreary? The last day that was deemed “partly cloudy” (as opposed to mostly cloudy, or completely cloudy if that is a thing) was February 12th. The next partly cloudy day in the forecast? March 13th.

My sister in law lives on the other side of the mountains, so we drove there to go say hi to the sun. It was awesome. I curled up like a cat in her living room, letting the sun pouring in from the window warm my back, as I read my new found used bookstore book – The Jesuit and the Skull. 

Jesuits and Anthropology? Yes, please.

The town was quaint and full of great restaurants. It’s about 1/24th the size of Zoo-town, where we live, but just as many good places to grab a burger. Probably more. Haven’t found a good place up here yet.

The best place to go?

Now, I don’t enjoy a good beer as much as I used to, which is to say at all, because it wrecks havoc on my broken bladder, but I still love this place. Montana has this goofy law where local breweries cannot sell more than 3 beers to one person in one day (no pitchers either), and also can’t sell food. Now this is a state that the Federal government had  to strong arm into putting an open-container law into effect, you think they would be all about the local brews. Not so much. The big guys like to come here and pick on the little ones, lest Bitterroot Brewing single-handedly takes down Bud Light by allowing the sale of french fries at their establishment.

This sneaky little brewery gets around this law by creating 2 businesses under one roof. You have to order your beer and burger at separate counters, but trust me, it’s worth the hassle. Best burger I’ve ever had. Even though this time I got a chicken sandwich. ‘Cause there food is that good that even a chicken sandwich is delicious.

The beer is beyond great too, but whatever, I’m boycotting beer because it doesn’t like me.

We also found a place that served white chocolate toffee! Um, hello? THANK YOU! I love toffee, and my now chocolate free existence has deprived me of things such as Skor bars. But white chocolate toffee is probably a gift from God.

On a related note, I started a new medicine for my IC this morning. Wish me luck!

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