What a month. *Deep inhale*…
My wonderful parents made the daunting drive out to MT at the beginning of the month, and stayed in Billings for a whole week! I reached out to my coworkers for things they could do during my work hours, and they were wonderful in providing some solid recommendations. I had dinner with my parents at their Yellowstone River Campground campsite a few times, in addition to being treated to Überbrew in Billings plus some tasty restaurants in Red Lodge and Gardiner. Such a treat. On Saturday of their visit, we made a day trip to Yellowstone for the day. It’s about a 3 hour drive to the park entrance in Gardiner, since the scenic Beartooth Pass is already closed for the season, and then we drove down to the bottom of the Yellowstone loop to Old Faithful, and because the sun was beginning to set, we drove back up the way we came and didn’t get home until midnight. A long day of driving, but Yellowstone was just as beautiful as I remembered from Camp Davis days in the summer of 2012.
The babes plus Jason and Hunter went to a corn maze early this month. The maze was tough (see photo below), and the sun set while we were inside, but luckily Hunter had done her research and had come prepared with the map of the maze in hand for when we got really desperate. We didn’t end up doing the haunted section, because the line was forever long, as it’s apparently the hot spot for high schoolers of Billings as well. After the maze, we perused the pumpkin patch, admiring all the pumpkins we could not afford (we had to pay $11 to get in, which was already asking a lot, okay?). We also got to see a couple of pig races (#notadrill), during one of which I predicted the winner and may or may not have over-enthusiastically proclaimed this post-race, met by the confused stares of all the young children and the awkward reaction of the announcer…oops. Hey, as far as I’m concerned, ya gotta celebrate every victory! All in all, a fun, quintessential fall experience.
Our fearless JVCNW program coordinator, Matthew, came for his first site visit this month. He stayed about 5 days with, during which we each had one-on-one’s with him as well as with him and our respective supervisors. It was a great opportunity to stop and reflect on how these first few months have gone, where we’re doing well, and where we can challenge ourselves further in the coming months. I took him to Riverfront Park for our one-on-one, and we had a great chat walking around in the fall foliage. His visit is also a built-in opportunity for damage control among community members and service sites/supervisors, but luckily for our community who is borderline obsessed with each other, none of that was necessary. Let’s just say we have a lot of community pride, and while Matthew admitted that our community “just gets it,” one of the challenges we came away with was to have a lil more humility in that respect. And of course, we know there are always more opportunities to challenge ourselves in the four values and beyond, and I look forward to pushing and supporting each other in these endeavors.
After coming out on top of our finances last month thanks to parent visits (mine and MK’s) and getting used to the budget, the babes decided it was time to treat ourselves to a show at the Pub Station (former bus station turned concert venue, also across the street from where we were dropped off by the greyhound in a 5am daze 3 months ago). The Pub Station offers a pretty expansive and beautiful selection of beers, which was awesome, and the band, The Lil Smokies, was incredible. A bluegrass band of 6 guys, they stole the babes’ hearts for sure. Definitely give them a listen (and a look 😉 )
While sometimes Friday nights mean watching the Lego Movie and having a sleepover in the living room, we still love to venture out on the town, and still have stayed #loyal to Daisy Duke’s. Recently, we’ve befriended the bartender (although accidentally sending sound bytes of Carol and me reading his texts and giggling about something he said did not lend itself to a very solid friendship…), which has been a sweet deal for our tight budgets. I’ve also found myself at post-Daisy’s Denny’s a few times, and have become a committed patron of the $2.50 short stack of chocolate chip pancakes, JYSK. The little things!
Elle and I decided to attend the City Council Candidate Forum at the Babcock Theater, the elections for which are coming up in the first week of November. I’d never been to something like this, so I was looking forward to it, as I’m trying to make an effort to be a more engaged and informed citizen, especially now that I work for an organizing group! Climate change came up briefly, and my ears perked up. One of the candidates for my district responded to the question by saying that “we can’t make decisions on science that hasn’t been settled” yet…..so, uhh…I know where my vote it not going. Besides climate change, lots of other really interesting things were on the agenda of this forum: Billings’ history with the NDO (the discussion of which showed a lot of true colors), MET public transit (amp it up for the JVs if no one else, please), nonpartisan city races, homeless youth, mental health, and “Batman or Superman, and why?” I learned a lot, and also found out about a couple things I want to get involved in, including the South Side Neighborhood Task Force and a city council initiative focusing on homelessness and addiction in Billings called “Community Innovations”. I’m excited to get more involved in this community, and wish that I had gotten involved with stuff like this back in A2. I don’t know where I would have found time, between school, work, friends, and sleep, but plenty of people did it. I’ve kind of had the sobering realization lately that I pretty much lived in a bubble during college, and have been pretty uninformed about a lot of things going on in the world. I have been making a much more conscious effort to read the news, read non-fiction, talk with my community, and seek out involvement opportunities. There’s a lot going on in Billings and beyond – and now that I see how much of an impact a community can have on its fate, thanks to the work of Northern Plains in communities across Montana, I think it’s worth getting involved.
Work presented some fun opportunities for travel this month, and for getting to know our membership a little better! A few of us packed the cars and drove to Lewistown for a solar seminar that the area affiliate was putting on – I got to learn a ton about net metering, installing solar, and rural electric coops (which are the entities that provide power to the rural areas that the utilities don’t serve, which, unsurprisingly, is a ton of MT). Beautiful drive out there as well, even if I did fall asleep for a good chunk of it, which anybody who has driven with me will not be surprised to find out. Later in the month, I got to travel alone out to Forsyth and Miles City for meetings, which was much needed and appreciated solo jam-time in the car with scenic views of the Yellowstone River in all of it’s fall glory. It’s still sort of mind-boggling how much empty space there is in this state. It sure is a beautiful landscape, though, and I am grateful that my service allows me to get out of Billings from time to time, no matter how much I love Billings.
I also got the opportunity to travel to Livingston, MT this month for a mini-POCO training (Principles of Community Organizing), or Poquito, as we dubbed it. Along with 6 other members, we got to learn from the best of the best why organizing is important and how to be a better leader and organizer. I was especially inspired by the members who attended, seeing their enthusiasm for and confidence in organizing come through in all of our discussions. I’m still processing this weekend and everything I learned, but it was eye-opening and helped a lot to contextualize my service this year, pointing to community solidarity having the power to overcome unjust power structures, which I think I really needed. As an environmental position not exactly involving direct service, I sometimes feel like my service is just a job (albeit a great one), but it’s important to me that I remember the purpose of this year and my goals for it. It just means I have to look a little harder and dive a little deeper into my work to see those So-Jo threads running through it, because I know they’re there. Working on it everyday!
Billings hosted the JV Halloween bash this year! We invited all the JV communities in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, but womp womp, it happens to be retreat weekend for almost all of the communities (because Billings is unquestionably alluring despite the distance and of course they all would have come otherwise…). Anyways – we rallied the Big Sky troops (minus Missoula, unfortunately, despite an awkward phone call in which we asked if their RSVP got lost in the mail). Hays, Ashland, and St. X joined us for the festivities, and we had an awesome night. We haven’t seen Hays since orientation, so it was especially great to get to know them a little better. I made chili on Saturday night and a bunch of us had dinner together, and we had TONS of treats from all of the school JVs’ Halloween parties, and then the party commenced. Actually, all three of the communities that came are dry communities in their locales (all on reservations, so it makes a lot of sense for them to be in solidarity with their communities who often struggle deeply with alcoholism), but most choose to partake when they’re outside of the community (aka, in Billings). It was fun to hang out with them and play dumb (I mean, fun?) college drinking games and such, but it was even better to grill them (and be grilled) about how their years have been going thus far. I found it to be super interesting how different their experiences have been from ours here in the city. St. Xavier has a population of 65, takes care of a rez dog, and did I mention they have a population of 65?! Hays JVs are teachers in their school, they go to Gros-Ventre sweats each week, and they live in an old convent where the school kids often come hang out after school. Ashland has a friendly spirit inhabiting their house and cuddle puddle basically nonstop. These communities are all much more rural placements than Billings, and without the Missoula community present, it was almost disconcerting how starkly different their experiences were from ours, and I started to feel something like jealousy for their small close-knit communities, total immersion into another culture, lack of cell service, and let’s face it, their cars. It’s awesome to live in a lively city and have so many opportunities to do things and meet people and such, but it’s comfortable a lot of the time, and hearing about their experiences made me want a little less of all that. I know that we also have unique and valuable experiences from living in the city, but as the odd ones out that night, it really got me thinking. It certainly merits a conversation with my community about how we can seek out simpler living and more community involvement and solidarity right where we are. Because now that we’re a quarter of the way (WHAT) through our year (AHHHH), I’d say the “honeymoon phase” is over, and we’ve figured out a fair amount of the “easy” stuff, like settling into our service sites, living in community, how to use our vacuum, managing our budget, how to navigate the city, how to country swing dance, etc., and have finally cleared up enough space in our heads and hearts to start thinking about the deeper and tougher stuff. And I’m ready.
- First Big Sky Retreat (with Ashland, St. X, Missoula, and Hays finally all reunited!)
- Currently preparing a representative musical mashup of a day in the life of the Billings Babes. Video, or audio file with explanations at the very least, to follow.
- MK’s 23rd birthday!!!
- Northern Plains Annual Meeting (really cool sessions lined up + fun stuff)
- My Pops orchestra will be playing a couple of nursing home concerts at some point this month – yay for extremely sympathetic audiences
- Thanksgiving in Ashland (I haven’t been there yet!!)
- And much, much more…
A few extra photos just for good measure…