{11.2015} A Month for Gratitude

To kick off November, we got to celebrate a third babe’s birthday! MK turned 23, so we went out on the town. No, not Daisy Duke’s, thank you very much. These classy ladies ventured downtown to explore some theretofore uncharted territories of non-divey, non-collegey, non-trashy bars (I’m lookin at you, DDs), aka Doc Harper’s martini bar (not to be confused with Doc Martens, as I was originally convinced it was called…woops), and Bin 119, a wine bar. I’m not going to lie and say we didn’t go into each to look at the menu prices before deciding which to settle in, or that Lo didn’t perform her best-ever bougie old English woman voice with a”This is much too cheap…pinkies up, ladies, we’re leaving!” in the establishment we decided against…give us a break, we’re JVs. We settled on Bin, and had a lovely evening.


That weekend was our first of three JVCNW “Big Sky” retreats. Despite the misnomer of “fall retreat,” we left behind any trace of autumn in Billings and drove straight into a winter wonderland in the mountains just outside of Butte, MT. Since we don’t have a car, we split up and filled every inch of available space with our bodies and belongings in the cars of Ashland and St. X. Since we were to take turns cooking for each other (a group of just under 30) for the weekend, and we had been assigned a lunch and a dinner, we chose grilled cheese and tomato soup, and a ‘7-can taco soup,’ the latter of which seemed like a super easy and convenient recipe until it quickly turned into a ’28-can taco soup’ (cringing at the wastefulness, I know, I know) and we weren’t sure we were going to fit in anyone’s car. But by some miracle we did, and Thursday afternoon we were on our way to “Butte, America”. (Did you know Evel Knievel is from Butte, or that Butte is home to the Berkley Pit, a frighteningly toxic tailings pond/Superfund site turned tourist attraction?) After a scenic drive during which fall turned into winter, we took the exit for the cross-country ski lodge we’d be staying at for the weekend, just 3 miles off the highway. Easy, right?

The road was a little snowy and slick, so the Hawaiian-hailing driver opted to let one of the Northeasterners drive instead. By this time, the sun had set, so we were cautiously and slowly climbing the icy hills to our destination in the dark. We made it probably 2.5 miles when we saw stopped taillights ahead, a sign that one of our fellow JV communities was not faring so well in the snow. At the same moment, we slowly and anticlimactically skidded to a stop on the side of the road. We weren’t sure if we were actually stuck, but with the other van stuck ahead, there was no need to move just yet. We hopped out to investigate further and found it was the Hays community who hadn’t been so lucky. Soon enough, a truck of two young hunters appeared, clad in camo jumpsuits, attached the van via a chain, and pulled them over that final hill where our destination lay just beyond.

Our turn! After futilely rocking our own van a few times, we accepted the reality of our own stuck-ness, and before we knew it, the pickup truck of hunters was barreling straight toward us, and just in time, skrrrrt, they were backed up to us. They got out, a couple of “manly Montana mountain men” eager to show their strength and help a van full of helpless “city-slicking girls”, and soon we were flying up and over the hills like it was a warm, dry summer day. Despite their borderline patriarchal mysogynistic comments, we were very thankful for their willingness to help, and soon we joined the rest of the JVs at the beautiful lodge. Never a dull moment!

The long weekend away was incredibly restful and restorative, with lots of free time to explore outside, to hang out, to read, to practice our community skit 😉 The theme of the retreat was community, and although my community is faring wonderfully well thus far, we appreciated the opportunity to sit down together and talk about what’s going well, how we can better support each other, and where there are opportunities for growth. We came away with a few concrete goals, including finally setting a regular “community night” (even though we think every night is community night at the Babe Cave), spending more intentional one-on-one time together (since the community is more than just a unit), and uncovering the diversity among ourselves (because even though we have tons in common, there are definitely diverse and unique life experiences still waiting to be uncovered).

Although our community skit was hindered by some technical difficulties, we pulled through and finished strong:

Carol’s picture of our retreat lodge for the weekend.

One of our challenges of the week that resulted from a spirituality night on “stillness and self-love” was a stillness challenge, in which we were to try to spend at least 10 minutes a day in quiet stillness, just being. I chose to spend these minutes of stillness in the mornings, and enjoyed them a lot. It was tough, though, convincing myself not to do or think about anything else. I’m operate on productivity and efficiency, especially in the mornings, and so it was hard to convince myself not to listen to an examen or guided reflection, or to read a daily devotional. To just breathe, and to enjoy the colorful sunrises that played out through my window (it’s amazing what the earth can do with just ten minutes). I promise, I took these pictures after my ten minutes were up. Of course the irony is that it’s still so difficult to be okay with doing something and not documenting it, even if just a quick picture. Aware of it and working on it.


This month was Northern Plains’ Annual Meeting! We’ve been preparing for weeks/months, and the week leading up to it was especially busy. The actual meeting was Friday afternoon-night and Saturday morning-night. We celebrated the death of the KXL pipelines with cake (see photo below), heard lots of awesome speakers, and just got the chance to catch up with our members. I organized the Friday night entertainment (Legends and Libations), played a large part in organizing and running the silent auction with 200+ items, and also manned the registration table for most of the weekend, as I’ve gained a ton of familiarity with our online database. Saturday night, we performed a staff skit (see photo below) put together by my wonderful supervisor Olivia which was about a de-stressing yoga class involving lots of Northern Plains yoga puns, and also referenced a near-ban on yoga pants proposed by a Montana Legislator. All in all, a busy but great weekend!


The day after the Annual Meeting chaos was finally over, I jumped on the opportunity to get outside and get moving with MK and her sister, Megan, who was visiting from Omaha. We drove to Red Lodge, and then 15 miles outside of town to a trailhead for Timberline Lake. Although there was still no snow in Billings, there was certainly some snow in the Beartooths, and tennis-shoe-clad MK and Megan found themselves a bit ill-prepared. They were troopers, though, and we enjoyed a nice climb up and around the mountain into some sun, where we stopped and ate lunch, and then headed back down the way we came. We grabbed some warm coffee in Red Lodge, walked around a bit, and then headed back home.


That night, in an act of hair frustration and unparalleled trust, I handed Carol the scissors and my let Carol have a go at my hair. I was a little nervous, but it’s just hair, right? It grows back. Our culture makes it out to be way more sacred than it is. Carol did a great job and I couldn’t recommend #CutsbyCarol any more!

The next week, the totem pole that was crafted by the Lummi Nation of Puget Sound and given to the Northern Cheyenne of Southeast Montana as an act of unity against the construction of the Tongue River Railroad in MT and coal ports in Puget Sound showed up at the office. It will be temporarily housed outside of our office until it finds a permanent home.

It’s a beautiful story. See more pictures and stories from this totem pole’s journey at : http://totempolejourney.com/


In a stroke of luck only JVs understand and appreciate, Elle’s service placement, Big Brothers Big Sisters, was gifted tickets to Chris Young, for whom Eric Paslay was opening. We jumped on that opportunity, of course, and had a great night listening to country music and enjoying tasty beer.


To help our dear friend Caitlin (a friend of mine that works on the other side of my office with WORC) ring in 24, we made the rounds at the local thrift stores and came away with some pretty solid get-ups for her 1920s-themed party! We’ve got some classy flapper-esque ladies, a lady-mobster, and an adorable newsboy. We had a blast celebrating with Caitlin and Co.

Besides the excitement of Chris Young and Caitlin’s birthday, I also spent a decent chunk of the weekend being an engaged citizen of Billings 😉 Elle and I woke up early on Saturday morning to go work on a Habitat for Humanity house that she had worked on earlier in the week with BBS. We were nailing on hurricane somethings and sheeting on the garage. It was a balmy 25 degrees, so our hands weren’t necessarily functioning at full capacity, but we persevered, right alongside the hardworking, kind, precious angel future homeowner, Amber. At lunch, we were treated to BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, and baked beans, courtesy of a local BBQ place. They were probably frightened by how happy this made Elle and me…#VJV.

The next morning, I biked just a few blocks to volunteer for the lunch service at the Montana Rescue Mission, a Christian org that provides shelter and rehabilitation services for the poor and homeless in Billings. I had been wanting to get involved there for a while, since my service isn’t quite direct service. The cook was a wonderfully friendly and silly guy named Jim, who had spent the past however-many-years working as a cook in different national parks (cool, right?). He put me right to work, alongside the one other volunteer, a regular named Tim. I guess I expected more volunteers and more organization, because anytime I’ve volunteered at a soup kitchen or shelter, it’s been borderline overly-organized, with quite literally, “too many cooks in the kitchen.” But then again, earlier this week, I attended a very scantily attended (I’m talking more panelists than attendees) VISTA-organized panel on hunger and homelessness in Billings, which begs the question of whether the VISTAs had just advertised insufficiently or if the Billings community is really just that disengaged with such an important issue. Anyways, after that disappointment, I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised that they’re short on volunteers at MRM. I had an awesome afternoon serving lunch at the men’s shelter, and will definitely be back! I didn’t take any pictures except for one of some really awesome, giant, deformed carrots that were donated towards the end of my shift…don’t forget, ugly is still edible!

Right after I got home from MRM, Elle and I rushed off to the Metra for the second time that weekend, this time to see the “Border Wars” men’s basketball game between the Montana State University Bobcats and the University of Wyoming Cowboys. They were neck and neck the entire game, although we were maybe a little distracted having great conversations about life and boys, as the two in our house, and the two of the like, four total in the entire Big Sky region who are in serious long-distance relationships. Anyways, the Cats just barely stole the W in the last minute by making two free throws, increasing their lead to four points, after which the Cowboys made a three-pointer in the last 5 seconds and the multitude of UW fans (seriously, they almost outnumbered the MSU fans) went home glowering.


A huge part of my growth so far this year has come from stepping outside of what in hindsight was a very comfortable and safe college bubble and opening my eyes to the almost unfathomably diverse array of beautiful, terrible, hopeful, and heartbreaking things happening around me. Thus far, that has looked like things from as simple as reading the local, national, and global news, to reading more nonfiction, to asking more questions, to being active in civic life in Billings, to volunteering outside of my main service, and to starting important conversations around the dinner table. This month, the Babes joined a few of my coworkers and our friends in a “Radical Reading Group,” which meets weekly to discuss a set of readings/articles around a particle theme. I have loved this so much and it has sparked some incredible discussions around topics we all struggle with. Thus far, some of the themes and a couple of the associated readings have been:

And because I love Pope Francis and have been reading Laudato Si’ this week, here’s a quote that resonated with me a lot:

“Let us review, however cursorily, those questions which are troubling us today and which we can no longer sweep under the carpet. Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.” – Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

On Thanksgiving morning, with a new perspective in mind thanks to Radical Reading (would recommend the Suppressed Speech if nothing else), the Babes loaded into an a generous FJV’s G6, and braved the snowy, icy roads to Ashland, where another community of JVs resides and where Thanksgiving is traditionally hosted for all Big Sky communities and supporters. We were joined by the St. X, Hays, and Missoula (barring a few who couldn’t get work off Friday 😥 ) communities, a JVC National community from SoDak, an Americorps friend Helena, a group of ~11 seminarians plus their leaders/supervisors from St. Joseph Seminary College in Louisiana (there’s a connection, not worth explaining), the Cap(uchin) Corps girls (like JVC, but Franciscan instead of Jesuit), and a few other miscellaneous JVC family members/supporters. Activities included sledding (the seminarians were mostly Texas natives), after-dinner walks/hikes, spontaneous dance parties (writing that makes me cringe but I actually love when these happen with this group), movies, reading, running, kickball, Settlers of Catan, rummy (a less fun version of Donkersloot’s, if you ask me :P), sardines (reverse hide and seek), lots of tea, and lots and lots of food. As a group of 50+ all spending Thanksgiving away from their homes and families, I think we were all extremely grateful to have this “family” to celebrate with, and had an incredible weekend full of laughter, cuddling, deep-fried turkey (count ’em, 5), and rest.

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As soon as we got home, we scoured the house for Christmas decorations. No, wait, first we watched Emperor’s New Groove, and then we combed the house for Christmas decorations. We have a fake tree (my first ever…tears), which had about a billion pieces, is 7.5′ tall and takes up way too much of our living room, but all said and done, is beautiful nonetheless! To celebrate, we watched Home Alone (VHS, of course) and drank hot chocolate (thanks, Mom!!). The next day, we strung up garland and swapped our defunct 18th century white icicle lights for some new (well, that’s debatable), fully-operable multicolored Christmas lights around the living room. It is safe to say Christmas has arrived at the Babe Cave!

Other miscellaneous updates:

  • After a couple of questionable experiences and a drought of eligible and willing dancers at Daisy Duke’s, we are currently boycotting DD’s until further notice.
  • I’ve been a bookworm since I arrived, and this month, I’ve read:
    • “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” (a beautiful story about the Chechen wars which I would highly recommend),
    • “The Martian” (which I don’t think I would recommend), finally finished my bible study/book club book,
    • “Why Did Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, and Moses Cross the Road?” (which has had a big impact on my recent musings on the church as an institution and what it has done to Christianity),
    • Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” (heartbreaking), and
    • “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (heartbreaking in a different way, entertaining, and brief insight into 20th century Dominican history).
  • The Billings Pops Orchestra, which I play in, performed a Christmas concert for a very forgiving audience at a nursing home this month!

Annnnnnd of course, stay tuned for December happenings:

  • The arrival of winter in Billings (since it hasn’t really happened yet)
  • Our first experience of an Art Walk in downtown Billings
  • Red Lodge Christmas Stroll
  • If we can finagle a ride/car from someone, we’ll be heading to Missoula for the first time to celebrate some JV birthdays in the ‘zoo
  • CHRISTMAS IN B-TOWN! While three of the Babes will be heading home for the holidays, Elle and I will be holding down the fort in Billings
  • NYE in Boise, Idaho with the JV community there (Again, contingent upon finding a ride, but it’s in the works)



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