So, retreat was awesome, if you consider cooking the first night and giving half of the group food poisoning awesome! Yes. That happened. It was a nightmare. We decided to be “socially and ecologically just” by using dry beans from the co-op for our dinner, which we did indeed soak overnight…but then…we maybe… cookeda5hourcrockpotmealonthestoveanddidn’tgiveourselvesenoughtimesothebeanswereundercooked. No problem, right? It’s just beans! Wrong. As it turns out, cooking dry beans breaks down naturally occurring toxins in the beans. Who knew?! Read more in this very dramatic blog about the silent danger of undercooked beans. Okay, dramatics aside, it was more gastrointestinal distress than puking-for-24-hours-straight food poisoning, and the city-folk (Billings and Missoula JVs) remained largely unscathed (coincidence? I think not), but still, poisoning half the group, including the retreat facilitator and her husband, was traumatic. The morning after, as reality set in that people had been awake sick all night, and the Babes were feeling so, so bad, the retreat facilitator started off the morning by reminding the group that “the food was made with love and the kids you serve have to go to school feeling unwell all the time,” it was no surprise that most of the Babes were choking back tears. Called OUT, man. Ouch. By the end of the day, as most people had begun to feel normal again, people were laughing about it and moving on. I still wasn’t really laughing…but I knew I had to let it go if I wanted to enjoy the rest of retreat.
That gastrointestinal catastrophe aside, retreat was fantastic! It was ~15 miles south of Bozeman, at a retreat center in the mountains. Gorgeous, just like the our last retreat locale. The theme this time was social and ecological justice.
This just in (as I’m writing this on 2/8/16), several cases of lice have been found among the Big Sky JVs post-retreat. I’m loling. I can’t make this stuff up.
Anyway, the theme. Yes. Appreciative Inquiry was the driving force behind the weekend’s work, which is basically a method for optimizing a person, group, organization, etc. by finding out and capitalizing on what is most life-giving to that person or system. The first full day, Friday, we focused our attention inward, and had a day for personal reflection on our goals and values and such, and by the end of the day, we had all come up with short, six-word personal mission statements. Mine was about believing in wholehearted love. The next day, we worked as a community. We brainstormed Billings’ strengths and challenges and then presented back to the whole group. Hearing from the other communities was really awesome on this front. Next, we broke out by communities again, and chose one of our challenges, coming up with an action plan for something we could do as a community to affect change around that challenge. We chose Billings’ challenges with bikeability. We have noticed again and again that we are some of the few that get around on bicycles regularly (people frequently gawk or yell at us about being a “bike gang”), and it’s no wonder – the city is not laid out in any sort of bike-friendly way. Bike lanes are absent most times, sporadic and disjointed at best. We also saw tackling this challenge as a way to connect with and advocate for our neighborhood, as many of our low-income neighbors bike around out of necessity like us. I led my community in a lil campaign-planning sesh (my recently-developed inner organizer was on fire doing this), and we came up with some plans to figure out what is already going on in the city around bikeability, and figure out how to plug into that and advocate for a more bike-friendly city! This activity greatly renewed my interests in city planning, and has spurred my attendance at city planning and neighborhood task force meetings since. It’s been great and I’m learning a lot! Will keep you posted on our community involvement in this issue.
It’s worth noting that the above pictures were basically my only encounter with snow this month. It’s been sunny and in the 40-60 degree range in Billings! Hmm.
I took advantage of Chipotle’s unfortunate food safety faux-pas and texted them for a free burrito; the catch was that the only Chipotle in Billings is more than 3 miles from my house/work, so after work, and before heading to a city planning board meeting at 6, I beat feet to the west end on my bike to get my free burrito. It was, in a word, amazing.
On Mardi Gras, we hosted radical reading (about the merits and shortcomings of fair trade and other “ethical” niche markets), and Lo made bananas foster, whose birthplace is apparently vaguely owned by NOLA, which we were not aware of when we decided to make it. Twas delicious. After reading group, Elle, Lo, and I went downtown to Hooligan’s, which was hosting the (self-proclaimed) “Official Mardi Gras Party of Billings.” Right. Okay, so there are some things you need to know about Hooligan’s. It’s kind of trash, but it also feels reminiscent of college for us, so we kind of like it. They do a power hour on Thursdays from 10-11 with $1 well drinks and Budweisers. Young people FLOCK…MANtana has never been more accurate than at a busy night at Hooligan’s. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Here’s the kicker, and we’ve got a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario here, but they consistently play this trashy video of silhouetted naked or scantily-clad women dancing in front of a green-screened neon background. It’s essentially porn, and we hate it, but we like the bar otherwise. It plays on like 40 of their 50 televisions, including this massive (and again, self-proclaimed largest in Montana) flat screen. That night, it angered us enough to take a stand. We marched up to the bar, and asked if we could please speak to the manager. We mistakenly told the server that it was in regards to the TVs, and so, a few minutes later, she returned, sans manager, saying that “he doesn’t have access to the DVDs right now, sorry.” UGH. So, we left, but we plan on writing a letter or asking to speak to the manager another time (daytime, perhaps). I’d love to hear whoever the decision-maker is defend that decision to our faces.
Oh, side note, we got a fishbowl to share, and they put dry ice and Swedish fish in their fishbowls. I’m lookin’ at you, Charley’s, step up your game!
We had a really wonderful Valentine’s weekend enjoying some parts of Billings heretofore unexplored by us. Oh, and binge watching American Horror Story, but anyway. Saturday, after I ran a wonderful 10-miler through our riverside parks, we all headed downtown to go to Barjon’s, this eclectic bookstore downtown with “books for personal development, inner exploration, and healing, as well as many resources on various religious ideas from around the world, both ancient and modern.” I left with some Reiki candles and incense to use during my Lenten meditations! We split up from there, and I walked further north to a used bookstore I’ve been meaning to go to for months, and it was overwhelmingly awesome. Later that night, we finally checked out the “Rainbow Bar” for the first time, and then proceeded to Daisy Duke’s afterwards. All you need to know about that night is that I danced with a dude who was a good country swing dancer, but who over-committed to the final dip, and DROPPED ME. Yes. Simultaneously mortifying and hilarious. You never commit to the dip unless it is with a trusted dancer. Joe, you were not a trusted dancer, and I should have known. Lesson learned.
Elle’s boyfriend, Nyre, who sent us all cards w/hand-written poems and candles that were symbolic of our personalities for Valentine’s, also gave us some cash to celebrate Valentine’s Day with. WHAT A GEM, am I right?! Incredibly thoughtful and generous. So the next morning we went to Stella’s, a brunch spot in Billings we have been wanting to go to, and delicious diner food was enjoyed by all. Lo and I headed to service at First Church afterward, an incredible social justice-centered church in town. The sermon was the last in a Food Justice series. Such a cool community!
We went hiking in the Pryors with some of our friends (my coworkers, Cam and Hannah, wonderful, beautiful people). It was amazing:
You may remember that a few months ago, Carol gave me a haircut! This time, it was my turn to wield the scissors. I gave her a long bob (a lob), with MK as my supervisor doing quality checks. It turned out pretty good for my first chop – plus, Carol is a beauty!
This month also meant the return of the Missoula-based band, the Lil Smokies, who we saw and loved back in October. They’re a fantastic folk/bluegrass band, you should really listen to them. They came back to the Pub Station, and we again, were front and center dancing and this time, singing along! Sad news, though, their fiddler (who was fantastic), but was also married, left the band to be a family man. Tear. So their sound was distinctly lacking a fiddle. We did run into a couple band members at Brew Pub after, and I told them I’m available after July if they still need a replacement fiddler. We hung out with the fiddler’s replacement (just a guitarist), a jolly dude who bought us a pitcher of beer and shared good conversation, which was much appreciated since we totally all broke the bank to see them play. All in all, a great show/night.
Kyle arrived in Billings late Friday night (the 26th), and it was great to see him after nearly seven months apart. He is here through March 6th, so I will write about his visit in next month’s post. It has been a blast so far, traveling around the state in a ’95 Subaru named Frankenstein and experiencing lots of Montana’s majesty! Here are a few photos from our adventures, but many more to come!