Friday, December 30, 2011

Dreaming of a Warm Christmas

I love Christmas: carols, cheesy clay-mation movies, cookies (especially cookies). Everything about Christmas time just makes me feel merry and bright, for lack of a better expression. I especially love that Christmas is a family time. Being 2,500 miles away is great for adventure but not so great when it comes to keeping in touch with your family. Because I have some of the most fantastic friends ever, I was given a round trip ticket to be with my family for Christmas. I don’t know how I would have been able to go home without the generous gift.  Shout out to those awesome people—you know who you are :)

I was supposed to arrive in Ohio to meet my Mother and Sister on December 23. Before that, I’ve been loving spreading a little Christmas cheer around Deer Lodge. I decorated my apartment using 2 rolls of wrapping paper. I didn’t want to invest a lot in decorations I don’t even have room to store, so I figured this way I could just recycle my decorations when they were done. Plus I got the paper for about $1 a roll so it fit well into the VISTA budget. I made a tree on my wall with the help of John and Jill when they came visit. I also made wrapping paper wreaths and covered my table with wrapping paper instead of buying a themed table clothe (which worked out way better than I anticipated). I used a 99 cent box of candy canes to make candle holders.

Wrapping paper Christmas tree. Space saving, green, and quite adorable if I do say so myself. I would never have been able to make it even and level by myself...

I was peer pressured into decorating the first floor of the courthouse as well. Apparently, the top and middle floors usually go all out for Christmas and the bottom floor is the Scrooge floor. Not this year! I told you, I love Christmas.

            Then the time came for me to go home. I will admit here to the internet world something I am highly ashamed of… … … I missed my first flight. It was scheduled to depart from Helena at 6 am so my plan was to leave Deer Lodge at 3:30, get there at 4:30 and have plenty of time to get through security, etc. Around 11 pm the night before, I still had a bunch of stuff to do but I was absolutely exhausted and decided I would allow myself a little power nap. I set my alarm to ring at midnight so I would wake up with plenty of time but not be in danger of falling asleep on the drive over aafter being up all night. I was out like a light and when I woke up, dazed but refreshed I looked at the clock to see that it was already 3:30 and I hadn’t done anything I needed to wake up for, not least of which was packing.  So. I threw a bunch of stuff in a bag and did the bare necessity of my to-do list and flew out the door on my way to Helena. I called my mother in a panic as I was flying down the Montana interstate on my way to McDonald’s Pass (which is plenty scary when you’re not running late at 4 AM). Long story short, I made it to the airport 15 minutes before my plane was supposed to depart and the security line was 50 people deep. I could hear the intercom calling the last call for boarders. I asked to skip ahead in the line and was told that could cause someone else to miss their flight—point taken. I was pretty upset about it then. I felt irresponsible and even a little stupid for doing something so careless. As these things do it ended working out for the better. The nice man at the ticket counter rescheduled me for a flight the next day that would take less time. I went home, got some sleep and actually got everything done that was needed for me to be gone for 2 weeks. I even got to finish up some last minute presents. Just when I begin to feel like an adult is when something happens to remind me that I can grown up but never grow out of making mistakes. Lesson learned. For now.

Needless to say I made it in PLENTY of time for my next flight and got to Ohio safe and sound. It was great to be with the family and spend some time with loved ones I usually only get to see about once a year. Ohio also means shopping galore, which I have become unaccustomed to with the VISTA budget. After a few days in Ohio, Mom, Brenda and I piled into the car for the traditional 18-hour drive-a-thon back to Florida. We ate junk food, shared memories, talked about the last 6 months, sang songs we knew by heart and made up words to the ones we didn’t know then changed some to words we liked better. You know, the usual. I’m pretty sure the annual road trip is something the three of us all look forward to.

It was a wonderful Christmas and I still get to be with my family until January 5th. Looking forward to soaking in some of that Florida sun I always took for granted.  I can’t believe that God would bless me so richly to give me a family I love, friends willing to be there for me any way they are able and even strangers who will go out of their way to help. Thank you Lord for sending your son as a baby so that we might be saved.  We can never repay the debt we owe but hopefully we can st least learn an example of giving to each other just as you gave to us.

I treasure this time with family and realize this means my year is just about half way over. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

PS. Writing Christmas cards is hard y’all. I think I’ll have to put off starting that tradition for yet another year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A VISTA Thanksgiving

I was SO SO SO excited to have two awesome friends, John and Jill, come up to visit me for Thanksgiving. Not only that, but we were joined by two of my wonderful new friends, Allison and Sam. I decided that I wanted to host my first Thanksgiving this year. I have been doing a lot more cooking lately, thanks to my "From Scratch" experiments (learning how to make one new thing from scratch a week). My only goal was not to set anything on fire. Setting the bar pretty low means less chance of disappointment.

Well I'm pleased to say not only did I not set anything on fire, but by the grace of God everything came out how it was supposed to, and warm all at the same time. Beginners luck you could say. I was so incredibly grateful and have John and Jill, and Allison and Sam there. I realized I have plenty else to be thankful for as well. It's easy to think of the big things, but every once in a while when the overwhelming grace of all the small blessings add up it really makes a big impression!

My first blessing was thinking of all the new people I have gotten to know here. VISTAs are great and a lot of fun to be around. Everyone works very hard and is passionate about what they do, and yet somehow no one takes themselves too seriously. Then there are the people in Deer Lodge who have opened up and welcomed me in, as if I've always belonged here. People have given me their phone numbers to make sure I had someone to call "in case of homesickness." Others have left small gifts around the office for me if they thought it was something I might need. As a matter of fact, the majority of things I used to make and serve Thanksgiving dinner were all borrowed from people working at the court house. I asked to borrow a roaster and a knife from one woman. Instead, she lent me a roaster, a knife, 2 plates, a huge thing of foil (how did she know that would be so handy??), and a bread basket. Another woman heard that I was trying to make my first Thanksgiving and just volunteered to bring a bunch of serving plates and bowls, just in case. I ended up using everything they loaned me. Everything fit perfectly, and I had exactly enough. Thank you Lord for a delicious, blessed Thanksgiving.

I was given a book to read called "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. In it, she stresses the importance of being content with the gifts God has given you, as well as recognizing those gifts. She raises the point that sin is created out of ingratitude. We are searching for more and more, never fully realizing the miracle it is to just have life. Instead of constantly thinking "I will never be fulfilled if I don't..." it should be more like "I can't believe I already have so much in my life." That's especially important for me to remember now. It's easy, at least for me, to get distracted from the idea that I am merely a vessel. I become preoccupied with the good I am trying to do, or the things I need to accomplish. When instead I need to remember that just being alive is a gift. I need to do nothing with that gift besides use it as God intended. John said something while he was here, "Also, you come from a background of faith." At the time, I had been going on about how it wasn't that hard to adjust to life in Montana (besides the weather) because I enjoy the company of people of all ages. I can't even remember all the other pointless things I was saying. But when John added in that small sentence, without intention of correcting or preaching, I knew he was totally right. It could matter less about any other element that seems to have helped me along the way up here. What matters in a background of faith.

I still don't know where I am going after this. I'm looking in to a lot of different options and have many different ideas. But I'm not worried. After all, it's not about what I think needs to happen, it's about knowing that whatever happens is a gift. I long to find myself a shining diamond of God's love, set in a ring of faith, on display only for His glory on His hand.

I'm off to craft like a Christmas fiend. Less than 2 weeks until home (and warm)!!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Who stole my October?

It's a chilly November morning here in Deer Lodge. That's right, I said November. Can you believe it? Because I can't. Somehow or other the month of October has flown by and I neglected to post anything about the awesomeness that's happening up here.

Let's start with an update on the job:
I have very exciting news that all started when the hospital association decided to build a brand new hospital. The old building that used to be the hospital  belongs to the county and has very strict limits on what can occupy it because of the loans used to renovate it. Due to the restrictions and limitations, no one place a bid on this giant building that is in relatively good condition. The new hospital is beautiful and state-of-the-art, but many Deer Lodgians (as I've dubbed them) are bitter about the move because of the giant carcass left behind that will become a serious drain to taxpayers without the hospital occupying it. As you might imagine, Montana winters do a number on buildings that are not being properly maintained so the options were to have the county pay for maintenance until whenever someone comes along super expensive, or leave the building there to crumble and depreciate super wasteful.

Are you wondering how this is exciting yet? Here comes the good part! A group of community members started meeting to discuss needs in Deer Lodge and Powell County that could possibly be fulfilled with the use of the old building. Long story short, a coalition formed with the Powell County Economic Development Corporation (a small local group that had been inactive for a few years) to be the umbrella corporation leasing the building to smaller non-profits INCLUDING a transition home for victims of domestic violence! If everything goes as planned, this will be an even better alternative than a house. There will also be an assisted living in a part of the hospital which will create an opportunity for on the job training and even mentor-type relationships between the residents. The county has been  supportive and now it's just a matter of getting all the paperwork in place and, of course, finding funding. The Commissioners agreed to pay for maintenance until we are ready to move in, hopefully in just a few months. This will keep costs to the county low but also keep the building from being yet another reminder of emptiness. I just applied for a Pepsi Refresh Everything Grant and had to make a little video to go with it. Musical Theater class of 2007 will remember this song! I couldn't help myself... It just fit too perfectly.  Read fast! They only give you a minute so the slides are pretty short.

Everything else is going well too, thanks for asking. My sister came up to visit early this month and we went down to Yellowstone. I took her up to the Courthouse introduced her to a bunch of people I work with. We carved a pumpkin and spent most of our time just laying around and doing nothing. In my mind, those are the best kinds of visits. Oh, and eating. There was lots and lots of eating.

I have a winter coat but I'm still working on warm/snow shoes. Fortunately, there are plenty of experts up here to ask for consultation! I'm holding firmly to my protest that it should not be 30 degrees in November, but so far my argument is falling on deaf ears. I'm not the only one having to adjust to the differences however. Ethel is taking Montana roads pretty hard. Driving back from an excursion, I heard a load thump suddenly and didn't know if it was the roads or Ethel. I switched lanes and it stopped so I kept going. When I got home, I saw that somehow, something, someway tore the tread off my rear passenger tire which them broke my tail light and dented/scratched up the back area a bit. Unfortunately, my usual repair method of adding a bumper sticker over it just wont cut it this time. I am grateful that I made it the rest of the way back to the apartment before I saw the damage. AND I am flabbergasted by the fact that the tire didn't pop! It never even deflated during the time it took me to get a replacement one. Just another little reminder that God is watching over me up here.

The apartment stays relatively clean. I think it helps because when I look around and think "How did this mess get here?" there is literally no other answer than "Oh. Right. Me." Maybe I'll get a turtle I have someone else to blame trouble on... John and Jill are coming up to see me in less than 3 weeks and I could not be more excited!! I'm thinking I might have to do some Thanksgiving decorations since someone will be around to see them. Hmmm....

Well, I'm off to do the laundry I haven't done in about a month. The sock situation has become dire.

Thanks for stopping by! If you think about it, say a little prayer for the efforts up here as well as the people suffering from abusive situations. A little extra love goes a long way.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Everyone who visits my office is greeted with a smile and a burst of color from my "paper garden". When I first got here I decided the office needed more spice but wasn't sure how to go about it. Using things around the office, I ended up making giant magazine flowers to hang up for that extra dose of fun. Many people have asked me how I made them so I figured I would explain it!
The "wallflowers."

You will need: (I substituted with things on hand)

A magazine
ruler/any straight edge (I used a 3-hole punch)
cardstock (An old file folder worked perfectly)
staples/tape/adhesive of your choice. 

1. Cut the pages of your magazine to a perfect square. I wasn't very choosy about the pages I used. Because I'm lazy, I folded the top corner into the spine to create the square. 

2. Use a straight edge (I used a 3 hole punch) to tear the bottom of the square. I find the cleanest rips were when I pulled up from the corner and ripped from the spine and the bottom at the same time, done rather quickly. You can make the squares any size, as long as they are squares. You will need 11-12 squares depending on the size of your flower. 

3. Roll the corners of your squares in to make a cone. Staple the ends shut. Repeat with all squares.

4. Out of your cardstock (or old colorful file folder) cut a circle large enough to cover up to the half way point of the cones all the way around. Any bigger than half and the circle might show through. I just eye-balled it. Staple the cones around the circle. I also taped the inside of the cones down in the center. 

5. Add the finishing touches! I cut a smaller circle to cover the center where I taped the cone points down. My supervisor had lots of ribbon and stickers from awareness events in the past so I stapled a large ribbon down the center as a stem and attached a small leaf cut from the same file as the circles. I added some stickers to the center of the circle for texture and fun.

The neat thing about these is that you can make them any size from teeny-tiny to humongous and because everything is attached to the circle in the back they're very easy to hang. I used one tack up at the top of the circle. You can't see it between the cones. I'm sure you could use sticky tack too.

Have fun! I'm thinking I need to change these out now that Summer is over (sigh)... Anyone have an ideas for Autumn decorations?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Exploring Part 1: Glacier National Park

I actually went to Glacier a long time ago but I'm just now uploading the pictures which means I'm just now writing about it. So far, half the time I travel out to meet up with people I somehow miss them. I get lost or we both loose cell reception or some other dilemma arises to keep me alone. I don't mind being alone. Of course it would be nice to spend time with new VISTA friends but being alone in the beautiful outdoors under the wide open skies of Montana has its perks.
The first of these social-turned-secluded outings was my adventure to Glacier. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip:
Welcome to the park!
A view of some of the mountains.

I started getting hungry and found this little place right outside the park. I was the only person there so I got a LOT of attention from the very sweet couple who owned it. After an hour of getting to know my new friends, I was on the trail again. 

Yes, I was driving. Yes, I was driving slowly. Yes, I was hanging my arm outside the window holding the camera.

Ethel soaking up some sun.

This might be my favorite picture of the day. I think it captures the mood I found myself in at the park.

Eventually, I caught up with the other VISTAs and had a very nice weekend in northern Montana. There were no swings or slides like the parks I'm most familiar with but I have the feeling my memories will be just as fond.

God created this!

Monday, September 12, 2011

What's in a Quiche?

It's official. I'm a grown up.

What makes me say that?

It's not the fact that I've been living away from home for years now. Or that I'm now 2,500 miles away. Or paying my own bills. Nope, none of that. Today. I made a quiche all by myself. Not even Google helped me (which we all know doesn't count anyway).

How does that make me an adult?

Well, it's because I made it simply to use up groceries so they didn't go bad while I am away at a conference. I remember Mom making things because they would go bad soon.  I just thought that was her way of not having to cook more. Little did I realized that it takes MORE ingenuity to come up with something out of what you have, rather than fulfilling the needs of a pre-made recipe. I never really had many groceries in college because I didn't have a lot of time to cook. But now, here I am full circle, having to make a quiche to use up my groceries like a big girl. (Yes, I am aware that making a quiche with leftovers is about the safest thing you can do with leftovers but don't take this away from me. It still could have gone terribly wrong. Trust me.)

In addition to the benefit of using up groceries, it turned out beyond perfect. I didn't have crust ingredients so I buttered the dish and lined it with spinach. Yep, spinach. Then mixed the eggs I had left with leftover ham, mushrooms, more tiny pieces of spinach, and cheese. Plus a little garlic. Popped it in the oven for what I guessed would be the right time and right temperature and FOOD appeared. As you may be able to tell, I'm highly satisfied with the outcome of my efforts.

Every once in a while it's nice to realize that you are ready and able for the tasks ahead of you, no matter how small.

Thank you Lord not not letting me burn the apartment down with my leftover efforts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Armed with a Theater Degree

I'll be totally honest and admit I was a little bit worried about going in to a VISTA assignment after having spent four years studying theater. I also studied history and religious studies but primarily my time was spent on, behind, or directing a stage. It became apparent to me somewhere during my Junior year at UWF that I was not destined for a life in the arts.I thought I knew that in high school but couldn't let go of that small flame which led me to declare the major in college. Of course, scholarships are always a great incentive to choose a major too! I spent sometime praying over it, asking why so many years of my life would be spent training and practicing a craft that would not become my living. And not just college. When I say YEARS, I mean I've been involved with productions in some way since Kindergarten. That's the majority of my life and certainly almost as long as I can remember. So you might be able to imagine why it took some time for me to accept that the stage was not my destiny.

Singing to a bunch of "fruit" in Goblin Market at UWF. Theater definitely opens the door to some unique opportunities. 
Then I became worried that not only was I not going to use all the training I had received but that I was ill prepared to enter other subjects. I wont become a microbiologist, or an engineer, or any other such highly specialized and trained field. I can sing. I can act. And I try to dance. It would seem the field of dreams would be quite narrow. That was when I realized how fortunate I am to have lived the life I've been blessed with using the skills and abilities God has given me.

A theater major is unique. It automatically says "This person can think outside the box. This person can work under pressure. This person can work as a team. This person has a skill set that not many others can claim." I'm proud of my theater degree. I may never be able to become the next Albert Einstein. But I can use my public speaking skills and stage presence to make presentations and call attention to such things as domestic violence. I am able to make an artistic display to convey the emotions of a situation, rather than trying to rely on simple words. Theater teaches you how to communicate with the world in a level beyond that of any other. I would encourage anyone considering a major outside of the "norm" to go with your passion. You may not become the next Picasso, but who knows what other ways you will be able to use your skills. God wouldn't have given them to you if He didn't have something in mind for them.

I now see that God did not have me waste years of my life on a skill I would never use, but took me in a direction that would prepare me for all He had in store for me. It's a crazy feeling when you catch a glimpse of the bigger picture and think "Man am I glad I didn't miss out on this."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Nitty Gritty

I've been at my job now for a few weeks. I've gotten to spend a lot of time researching and adjusting to the courthouse atmosphere. I've found that I have different work circumstances than many other VISTAs, for which I am grateful. I have my own office. Apparently most other VISTAs are lucky to have their own desk. I am right next to my supervisor so I get to meet with her almost every day about whatever questions I might have. In a bigger organization, some VISTAs have to plan out when they are going to sit down and have a meeting with their supervisors. For me, the entire team is just my supervisor and I. That means I am able to absorb as much as I can from her, straight from the source if you will.

Diana, my supervisor, is wonderful. Apart from working her darndest to help victims, she's always allowed my to ask whatever questions I have without feeling silly. To top it off, she helped me settle into my apartment. She found a friend of her's that was willing to let me borrow a bed for a year. My alternative was an air mattress. Needless to say, the real bed was much appreciated. In addition to the bed, she had an extra microwave that I am able to use for the year. Being able to borrow these more expensive household items meant I could buy other things that might have had to be put on the back burner for a while. Case and point: a vacuum cleaner. Not absolutely necessary, but it sure is nice to have a clean floor. Especially in the aftermath of a crafting spree.

Diana also introduced me to many people around town and the courthouse. Everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. What I find hilarious is that everyone I meet here, without fail, gives me a bless-your-little-heart face when they hear I'm from Florida.

The local paper in Deer Lodge has been really good about covering a lot of the activities and information from the Victim Assistance office. Since I've been here, they wrote an article about the fact that there was a new VISTA, and on about the volunteer interest meeting we had. Their support is definitely a great way for us to encourage community awareness and involvement. One of my responsibilities is to write a column every month. Here's my first one!

If you're reading this Melissa, recognize that picture? : ) I still owe you for being fabulous.

It's a very rewarding job but very challenging at the same time. People come in and out of Diana's office all day long. She told me that last year alone she had 94 new clients. That 94 more people who have somehow been abused, mistreated, or misused, usually by someone that "loves" them. I went to a conference hosted by the Montana Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence this past week. Organizations from all over the state who work with victims were in attendance. I guess I never realized just how much it happens. I knew that people were hurt by others but knowing a state with less than a million people has such a demand for these services seems a bit overwhelming. From what I understand, domestic violence is often worse in rural settings, but obviously can and does happen to people from all over with varied backgrounds and ethnicities. I intend to add a tab to the top of this blog to add resources on the subject as I come across them.

This is why I am here. Not because I know anything about domestic violence, or violence of any kind for that matter. But because I know blessings. I want to help to be a blessing to someone who might just need a smile. Who needs to know someone cares about them and is working to make their life better. One of my jobs is to try to enlist volunteers from the community to help with community awareness projects. That has been an uphill climb so far and I still have a long way to go but I think I understand it better now at least. Before, I thought community awareness was about opening eyes the the fact that others are hurting. Now I see that it's also about letting those who are hurting know that they are not alone, and someone just might be able to help them. I would ask each of you who read this to say a little prayer when you think about it for those who are suffering, for those who are trapped, and for those who fear they will be found after they leave.  I know I can't fix the world, especially not in a year. But I've seen prayer and hard work accomplish an awful lot.

Through it all one thing is certain to me, God does not forsake His children.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Home, Sweet, Temporary Home

After Pre-Service Orientation, I made my way down to Deer Lodge which was about an hour away from Helena. Ethel did not enjoy going up the mountain. The speed limit is 70 and she did not want to pass 50. I can't blame her though. I don't know how fast I would be moving 6,300 miles above sea level. I've noticed the altitude has definitely effected me in different ways. I get tired quickly, or run out of breath way easier than I'm accustomed to. At first I thought to myself, "Poop. Four days in the car and I lose all of this muscle mass..." I was pretty happy to find out that altitude does that to just about everyone.

Now for the good stuff: the new apartment. It's very Mary Tyler Moore. It was described to me as a one bedroom but it's really more of a modified studio. There is one major room that is divided by a wall and a set of French doors. Then I have a kitchen, where the bottom shelf (physical piece of wood, not the items on the shelf) is eye level. I bought a step ladder so I can get to my food. The bathroom has this antique claw foot tub with curtains that go all the way around it. Keeping the tub from leaking has been an interesting challenge so far. I think I've finally figured out how to make a little curtain forcefield... The closet it the best part, in my opinion. It's massive. It's almost the same size as my kitchen, no joke. The hardwood floor is super creaky. So much so that I've taken masking tape and marked the loudest areas so I can try to avoid them, especially at night. I don't mind the creaks though. My imagination likes to make up stories about all the people who must have walked over those boards before me. It's not perfect, but it's home. I have a little craft nook in the corner, which is clearly all I need to survive.

Mom sent my sewing machine up! Now I can have curtains and other such linens. I'm thinking the curtains will be helpful in blocking out the morning cold. Yes. You read correctly. It's already cold in the mornings here. Usually it stays somewhere in the high 40's/50's until about 10 or so in the morning. In August. Guess when the first frost is supposed to come? Go ahead, guess... THE END OF THIS MONTH.

Just to reiterate: The end of August = normal time for the first frost

If you can't tell, I was a little flabbergasted to say the least when someone told me this. They don't have winter clothes out yet at the cute thrift store in town so I haven't gotten a coat.  I have a cute little pea coat my trendy Gram gave me for Christmas a little while back. I was told that would last me until November. At least by then cold weather clothes will be out so I can be prepared for the rest of the winter. I'm pretty sure my eyes bugged out of my head a bit when my supervisor said the peacoat would last until November, considering that it doesn't start becoming consistently chilly in Florida until November. The really good thing about the different area though is how long the sun is out. It doesn't get dark until well after 10pm. I've been told the long days reverse themselves drastically in the winter. I choose not to worry about that until I have to.

My every need is definitely in God's hands and I want for nothing. The small AmeriCorps stipend seems to stretch to whatever I need so far. The support I've received from friends and family back in Florida has definitely made it easier to adjust. I have the cards that have been sent on a cupboard in my kitchen so I can look at them whenever I need a smile.

It's not going to be an easy year, but I know it will be a blessed year.

PS. I promise to put up pictures as soon as I've taken care of the pile of boxes in the corner of my apartment... Recycling is hard here y'all!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Odyssey

It took 4 days and a lot of hours but eventually I made it Montana! And somewhat in one piece to boot. A new member joined the traveling crew: Dee the Garmin. She saved me from my own HORRIBLE sense of direction. She was actually a present given to me by some wonderful friends. Do you know anyone that seems to have been created with the specific purpose of being an example of God’s love? I am so thankful that I do.

            It was an amazing experience to see so much of the country in such a short amount of time. The beauty and range of God’s creation is a bit overwhelming. I wish I had been able to leave a bit earlier so I could stop at times to really take it all in and spend more time with the friends I visited along the way. One night was definitely not enough.           

I played a game with myself where I summarized my experience in each state to one sentence or less so I could remember what I thought of it. Sure, at times I had all sorts of poetic descriptions going through my head of the beauty and majesty (and other times all sorts of angry rants of frustration) but the rule was one sentence. Extra points if I could do it in one word. I had to entertain myself somehow! Here is what I came up with:

Florida – wide variations
Alabama – beautiful trees, smelled like pancakes
Mississippi – smelled like someone left those pancakes out for a while
Tennessee – the land of expensive gas
Arkansas – corn
Missouri – long
Kansas – beautiful rolling hills and huge prairies
Colorado - green
Wyoming – Silhouettes (Someone had made these black silhouettes of very western things, like a cowboy riding a horse or a buffalo, and placed them on top of bluffs and such. Seeing those makes you think for a while that you’re witnessing a real cowboy who rode his horse to the edge. It’s not until you get right on it that you realize it’s fake. It’s pretty cool. P.S. This is an explanation and not in a description, so not only am I within the sentence rule, but get extra points for one word.)
Montana – mountains everywhere

So there you have it. The trip in a nutshell. Except the craziness of the last day…

I stopped to get gas at some little town in Wyoming after not having seen another station for almost 2 hours. I got back in, thinking Ethel and I were both refreshed, when suddenly my check engine light came on. In my past experience, anytime my check engine light has come on it’s been a major, expensive repair. My heart sunk. No, Ethel! I did what any reasonable person does whenever a car has any slight issue: I called my Dad. Not sure what I expected him to do for me from 2000 miles away, but it seemed like the only logical thing to do. Then, I took Ethel to the service station that was fortunately just the next exit away. The mechanic checked her out for free and told me it was my internal computer, something I had just replaced already not even a year ago. After weighing all my options and making some other plans, I finally had the most manageable solution. I would continue to drive Ethel the 600 niles to Helena and drop her off at the dealership there so she could be repaired while I was at orientation. The mechanic couldn’t tell me for sure if Ethel would be able to make it the whole way or not, but that was really my only choice. I was terrified. 600 miles to go with hours between cities in a place I didn’t know anything or anyone.

The warranty issue was something else all together. I was 2 days under the year warranty but 1,500 miles over the 12,000 mile limit (basically, that trip). I’d like to say that I held my cool and calmly explained my reasons why this was unexceptable… But I won’t lie, I threw a fit. A hissy fit. And it worked for the most part. I’m not proud, but it went from an $800 repair to a $200 deductible. The Helena dealership was very nice in helping me, and the service center in Douglas, Wyoming didn’t charge me a thing after helping me for over an hour and a half. I made it, my new friend Jared (the Vista who served in my same position last year) picked me up and got me to the hotel, and Ethel was fixed by Thursday afternoon.

            It took me a while to figure it out, but as my sister reassured me, there must be a lesson in this. It dawned on me finally that I’m not going to be able to do anything this year without trusting God. I can’t even get to Montana without riding on the backs of prayers rising up from all over the country.  This year is not about what I am able to do, or how I am able to help people, it’s about being 100% willing to be a vessel to God. Because without him I’m stuck, unable to move forward…

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Night Before The Night Before.

I've had an awesome time visiting family and friends in The Burg. I didn't get to see everyone I would have like to, but that always seems to happen. Mom and Dad threw a shindig over at the house for a church members and old family friends. Sarah, my best friend since I can remember, and I took a day to goof off in Orlando at Disney quest. As you can tell from the picture, we are very grown up. A trip to Ft. DeSoto Beach with my sister, Brenda, and our friend Mary rounded out my time in Florida.

I'm still packing. I don't know how. I mean, I packed everything up in Pensacola and moved it down here so you'd think it would be packed, right? WRONG. When I saw how much stuff there was in both cars I knew I would have to spend way more time downsizing. I also realized that a year is not a very long time in the grand scheme of things and there are a lot of items I can probably live just fine without. Craft stuff, yet again, seems to be the only area I can't bring myself to compromise. My trip is pretty much all in order. I'm stoked that I'm staying with old friends I haven't seen in forever at each stop along the way.  Ethel got a clean bill of health, and my car storage system is going to arrive tomorrow, and I went to the record store and loaded up on a bunch of used cd's to entertain myself. There is nothing to it but to do it.

I told a friend of mine today that I'm getting excited so I don't have time to get sad. I've said goodbye to the many people I love in Pensacola and now it's time to say "so long" to the loved ones of St. Petersburg. Tonight, I went to tuck my Mom in (It's a thing my parents do. When one of them goes to bed, they announce it to all those left awake to see if anyone would like to stop whatever it is they are doing and go into the room to wish them good night. It's pretty sweet). While I was laying next to her, just relaxing for a minute, she showed me a journal in which she's been writing about spending time at her Aunt Honey's house when she was younger. Aunt Honey just recently passed away. In the book Mom states that she doesn't want to forget all the memories she made there. I volunteered to read it to her while she was falling asleep. We ended up reading through the whole thing. It was neat to hear about Mom getting in trouble for only picking the biggest blueberries, or how the bird named Joe would trick everyone into thinking the phone was ringing.

Mom packed up everything and moved to Florida from Ohio when she was 18 years old. Obviously she liked it or she wouldn't still be around. She took a risk. She made a choice. And she's never looked back. That doesn't mean she loved the people she left behind any less. To me, it means she knew she was loved so strongly that love would follow her wherever she went. That's what I'm trying to remind myself. Saying goodbye is not a rejection, it's a projection out into the world of all the love that I've been shown. I take with me every kind word, thoughtful action, and loving deed that so many have bestowed upon me. The bonds of love are tighter than the ropes of proximity.

As the song says, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It's just the beginning...

Everything from Pensacola has been packed up and hauled across the state of Florida back home. It took 2 cars, a generous friend offering to store a few things, a helpful roommate, a determined mother and sister, and a lot of tearful goodbyes, but we made it. Ethel was packed almost to capacity. She has to get used to it before we head off to Montana! I have no idea how to fit everything I'll need for a year into one carload so I'm looking into a car rooftop storage option. Maybe from -- thoughts or suggestions?
The duffel bag was my company.

I need to figure out some sort of packing system OR have a small accident that leaves the crafty part of my brain compromised. It seemed like craft supplies, or things that I think could be used to make something crafty, or crafty items I've made took up at least a third of the space traveling back home. Its a symptom of my disease which renders me incapable of leaving anything plain. What is this disease you ask? Creativity. I've heard some cases may be fatal.

Which brings me to my next thought... AmeriCorps was the perfect opportunity for me to indulge my idealist nature and utilize my newly earned college degree (woot for education). My assignment is working to improve community awareness about domestic violence and also to research and write grants to fund a transitional home for people in dangerous living situations. I'm becoming increasingly aware of how ill-prepared I am for this task. I know NOTHING about domestic violence. My degree is in theater (another side-effect of my disease) and I have minors in history and religious studies. I have no formal experience in grant writing. Most of my developed skills revolve around using all those little crafty stowaways. Not to mention the fact that I was born into a lovely home with blessings aplenty and two parents who have always loved and cared for my sister and I, as well as each other. I'm niave, I know. And I'm grateful for that in many ways. But now it's time to open my eyes to help this world that God made, and humans made imperfect.

God does not call us because we are perfect for the task, or the most experienced, or even the most skilled. He calls us because it is according to his will and purpose. He doesn't need us to be perfect, he needs us to be willing. So here I am! Send me! Ethel and I will be ready for the journey soon enough...

10 days until the voyage begins.