{07.2016} My Final Month as a Jesuit Volunteer

(Named in honor of my first monthly post)

Woops, a month late on this final JV monthly recap blog post – but better late than never! I’ve been putting it off because I was on the road for a while, and now I’m home and should be getting myself a job (read on for more details there), but I feel like it’s been hanging over my head and I’ll have a bit more closure when I finish. I’ll do my best to summarize what my final month as a Billings Babe looked like (that’s what photo streams are for, right?). I’m thinking this post will inevitably be longer than intended, so a final final blog post will follow sometime in the near future for the introspective reflections of this new FJV.

This is LIVINGston!

The five of us spent the Fourth of July weekend camping near Livingston with some of our dearest friends. We had debated several plans – meeting friends in Helena, going all the way up to Glacier – but in the end, we stayed closer to home, and I certainly didn’t regret it. The wonderful, ever-determined Caitlin found us a miraculous, cozy campsite at a fishing access site. Well…it wasn’t necessarily a campsite, but the site didn’t explicitly prohibit camping, and you have to take what you can get when you haven’t made any camping reservations for a holiday weekend. We spent some time in town on the first evening, and then went to the Pine Creek Lodge for some live music that Austyn had mentioned knowing about. I don’t know what I expected – not much, to be honest – but what we found was the most magical little woodland venue and an incredibly talented, fun bluegrass band on stage (The Last Revel, check them out!). We, of course, joined the stagefront crew who were dancing, and had such an unexpectedly enjoyable night. (Photocred to Caitlin <3)

Afterward, we hung out with our friends and the band members a bit. Carol, MK, and I stayed a bit longer than Elle and Lo, who went back to the campsite to set up the tent we had decided to borrow from a Billings acquaintance we had encountered…(oh, I forgot to mention that the Babes showed up tentless, because our house doesn’t have one and we couldn’t make a decision on how to spend our end-of-year money, and it wouldn’t be the first time we’d “camped” by just sleeping outside). Anyway, word got out that this tent was giant – a 10 or 12 person. By the time the rest of us got back to our pitch-black campsite, we could find no tent. We had already set up our own tarp and sleeping bags, so we just went to bed, figuring Elle and Lo had crashed in one of our friends’ tents, or something. I mean, really, we were mystified that you could lose a 12 person tent, but we figured the chances of that were at least marginally greater than those of losing our roommates, so we drifted off to sleep, more concerned about the missing tent debacle than the jerky MK was storing at the bottom of her sleeping bag for the night :”’)

Come morning, Elle and Lo wander over to Tarp Queen land and are like “wtf, we thought you didn’t come home, we didn’t know where you were” and we were like “but you didn’t set up the giant tent” and they were like “uh…yes we did…” and sure enough, they lead us to a massive tent in the brush, but a massive black tent, so it was *slightly* more understandable that we hadn’t been able to find it the night before. See the photo on the right below, the tent to the right of the orange one. Never a dull moment with these babes.

The next day, the whole crew (10 of us) set off for a hike up to Pine Creek Lake, which we could tell from Dan’s map was steep, and we took our best guess at the distance, but we didn’t know much else. We all made it a strenuous (but beautiful) 2.5 miles up before we stopped for lunch. A few descending hikers warned us of the additional 2.5 steep miles that led to the lake/summit, and suddenly, our group morale was deflating quickly. Only Dan, Elle, and I decided to continue up to the lake, while the others descended and returned to the campsite. The remainder of the hike turned out to be an adventure we hadn’t expected, dodging thunderstorms and hail by hiding out in a cave, doubting our sanity, but ultimately, we allowed our stubbornness and determination to outsmart our reason, and we pushed on despite the looming storm clouds. Luckily, we had Ellen on our team, a former meteorology major who still carries the passion on the side, so we were at least being smart in our stubbornness. We made it to the top, with incredibly rewarding views along the way, and enjoyed some sunshine, carrots, and hummus before beginning a rapid descent, in which I rolled my ankle a minimum of 5 times. We arrived back at the campsite dirty, tired, thirsty, but full of pride and satisfaction.

The next day, before heading home, we drove the extra hour down to Yellowstone (we hadn’t all been there yet!), just stopping for lunch at Sheepeater Cliffs and driving through the Lamar Valley. We took the Beartooth Pass back home, encountering an unfortunately timed storm, but it was beautiful nonetheless, and the perfect way to wrap up the weekend.

Babes Disband

Carol, MK, and Ellen finished their service terms at the end of June, since they had school-based positions. They all stayed in the house until the 7th of July, though, when we sent Carol and MK off to San Francisco for a few days before taking the train homeward to Baltimore and Omaha, respectively; and Ellen, we sent off up to Glacier, where she caught a train home to Chicago. I think we’re one of the few communities (if not the only?!) who gets split up like that. That left Lo and I to hold down our Southside fort for three more weeks, and I think one of the first things we did was grill up some burgers and eat a couple of mushroom meals, since those were a few foods that we didn’t eat during community dinners.

Side note – my garden finally started producing tomatoes!!! AND I started a new drip watering technique and EVERYTHING started coming back to life…just in time for me to leave 😦

It was a jarring transition to go from a full, energetic, busy house to just the two of us, and more often just me, since Lo had Cam (my coworker/friend, her boyfriend). It was the strangest sensation to still be in our house but to suddenly not be a 5-piece package deal anymore. It was simultaneously liberating and unsettling, but mostly liberating. Don’t get me wrong (especially you, babes, if you’re reading this!!!), I adored my community, had so much fun with them, loved sharing dinner every single night, etc., but I hadn’t noticed how much the close-knittedness (that cannot be a word) of our community had sort of…reined in the part of me that enjoys doing things on my own, making new friends, running on my own schedule. Suddenly, I didn’t have to coordinate every moment of my free time with four others, and Lo and I could do things as simple as move the time of dinner around, or make plans to go to a brewery after work without making sure everyone was on board. I’m not saying my community spent every waking second together – but pretty close. And for the most part, a friend of one babe was a friend of all. We didn’t have separate friends. Which was great and fun, right, and not really a problem, but I don’t know…I just felt that in college, I really loved having lots of circles of friends. There were St. Mary’s friends (roomies, ASB), PitE/Graham friends, Pops friends, Org Studies friends (okay, debatable, and I hope Lu reads this and giggles in understanding with me), etc etc etc. I loved it like that. And this was something I hadn’t realized I had been missing all year. So I think I unexpectedly enjoyed my last month a lot for that reason.

Disclaimer: Any current JVs reading this – don’t freak out – every community is different, you’ll figure it out, you’ll make it work.

Katie’s Visit and the Missoula Marathon IMG_8829

My lovely sister Katie came out and finished off an impressive run of visitors for the year (y’all are amazing). Due to my poor memory, I accidentally told Katie this particular weekend was free, when in actuality, it was the weekend of the marathon I’d been training for for MONTHS. Oops. She was a great sport, though, and we made quite the Missoulian adventure of the weekend, hitting up the Farmers Market, the Buddha Gardens, the National Bison Range, the Kerr Dam, Flathead Lake, the St. Ignatius Mission, the World Museum of Mining (!!!) and of course, the marathon, with all sorts of good food and treats in between! We stayed at an Airbnb whose owner admitted to not having a key to her house, but whose friendly dogs, Jelly Bean and Potato, made up for that oddity.

Garden of 1000 Buddhas:

National Bison Range:

Flathead Lake:

St. Ignatius Mission:

Kerr Dam:

Missoula Marathon!!!

Marathon morning was cool and cloudy, which was a huge blessing considering how hot and dry of a summer we’d been having. It was a scenic course, but truthfully, I was pretty in the zone the whole time, trying to make my goal time and trying not to die. I’ve run 4 marathons previous – all somewhere in the 4:05-4:15 range. When I signed up for the Missoula Marathon, I decided it was time to set my first ever goal time. Sub-4 hours is your typical amateur marathoner goal, I’d say, so that’s what I chose. I trained harder than normal for the fourth months leading up to the race: running 5 days a week (instead of 3 or 4), waking up at 5:30am to get in my miles before work, running up and down the hill to the top of the rims every other week, ending runs with sprint intervals, spending two or three blissfully grueling hours each Saturday or Sunday morning getting in my long runs.

Anyway, race day. I started with the 3:50 pacing group, because the 4:00 group just felt a little too risky. I know my patterns and I know I tend to slow down throughout the race, out of boredom if not depleting strength. People always ask me about going to the bathroom during marathons (why? i don’t know), and I have always responded by saying I’ve never had to go, because my body just uses everything it’s got. But lo and behold, I’m a mile in, and I have to go. I basically spend the next 7 miles trying to convince myself I wouldn’t fail if I stopped to pee. Eventually, I stopped, and I swear, it took me less than 10 seconds. I didn’t quite keep up with the 3:50 group, because I didn’t want to be over-zealous and then really fall flat, but I knew the 4:00 group hadn’t passed me yet. As long as I could stay in between those groups, I’d be okay. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I was miserable, but I was just past my comfort zone. I distinctly remember being at 19 miles and feeling like Wow, I’ve come THIS far but I still have 7 miles and this could still go downhill quickly. LUCKILY, it didn’t! I finished in 3:54, nearing tears of relief and excitement and exhaustion. Normally, I run my marathons at such a casual, comfortable pace that I feel pretty normal after the finish and peeps are always like “why are you so…okay???”. This time, my legs stiffened up almost immediately after stopping and the exhaustion weighed heavy upon me. It was a super exciting race for me, and as racing tends to go, you have a short memory with the pain and the unmet goals (luckily not the latter in this case), and you keep running.

Next goal? Beat Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell!!!), who ran the London Marathon in 3:50. Damn, girl, I almost had you! natalie-dormer-marathon

Food Film Festival

IMG_8877I spent three Tuesday evenings of July at the “Food Film Festival” sponsored by Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council and Art House (the local independent cinema and pub). Each night featured a different film about how what we eat (and how we grow it) matters for people and the planet. Pretty fantastic – plus, your ticket came with a free drink each night! The films were “Dirt! The Movie,” “Food Frontiers,” and “Food Chains: The Revolution in America’s Fields.” I know at least the last one is on Netflix, and it was my favorite of the three, so I would highly recommend checking that out. The film fest was the perfect culmination to a year (unexpectedly) spent thinking and learning about ag and food justice.

Bicycles, Bluegrass, and Breakfast!IMG_8902

The weekend after Missoula, Lo, Cam and I biked 15ish miles outside of Billings to the neighboring town of Laurel to go to the Bluegrass Breakfast at the Owl Cafe. Needless to say, after a satisfying breakfast, we were less eager to ride the same 15 miles back home, but we made it. Champions adjust. Lovely way to spend one of our last Saturday mornings together in Billings!

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks

Lo, Cam, Hannah, and I brought blankets, wine, and snacks, and set up shop for both nights that Montana Shakespeare in the Parks graced Billings with their presence. They performed Richard III on the first night, and The Comedy of Errors on the second night. Guys, I was blown away. SUCH TALENT.

Rhythms by the River

The end of July meant the much anticipated, much welcomed culmination of several months’ event planning work with Rhythms by the River, a fundraiser for our coal work. I was the lead organizer for the event, but had plenty of support from my lovely coworkers to pull off a beautiful evening on the Yellowstone River. Singer songwriter Stephanie Davis and cowboy poet Wally McRae put on a great show, and we grilled up a whole bunch of (very) local burgers and brats and had a silent auction. It was a chaotic evening for me – I learned a lot about event planning and volunteer management. But we pulled it off, and it ended with an out-of-this-world rainbow and sunset!


  • Big Sky Balloon Rendevous: Not much to say about this except that it was freaking awesome.
  • We made it to Dehler Park to watch our Billings Mustangs snatch a victory from the Orem Owlz. AND our very own Pastor Mike threw the first pitch!
  • The Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market finally started at the end of July, and it was fabulous. I stocked up for my trip with Kyle:IMG_9046
  • My final Sunday in town, I got to read scripture at UCC, which was such a blessing. What an amazing place it was for me this year, and is for the Billings community.IMG_8927

July Reads:

  • The Soil Will Save Us – Yes, read, plz, if you’re at all interested in climate and the environment!
  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace – GREAT book. Felt all sorts of tension all the time, but really worth the read. “If you want to [do something], and you don’t, that’s on you.”
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Eh. Mediocre story, but I love HP enough that I enjoyed my time with the characters nonetheless.

Celebratory End-of-JVC Trip:

But wait! I’m not quite done. After I had cleaned (and cleaned and cleaned) and packed up the house, Kyle arrived and we set off on one last beautiful Big Sky shebang (for now)! We went to Yellowstone and camped for 2 nights, then up to Flathead Lake (sort of) for a night, and then into Glacier for the next 4 nights. It was a pretty perfect way to wrap up the year and to soak up enough Montana/Wyoming beauty to last me until my first visit back.

We did a lot of driving around Yellowstone to hit all the “major attractions,” cuz that’s what you do in Yellowstone, but our few hikes off the beaten path (Monument Geyser Basin and Shoshone Lake) we basically had all to ourselves (I’m serious, the majority of people do not hike in Yellowstone). Still, despite its tourist infestation, I still love Yellowstone.


On the way up to Flathead Lake, we loaded up at the Sweet Palace in Philipsburg (unreal), and took my new car up up up a harrowing road to “Granite,” an old mining ghost town. I wanted to stay there for like, 3 more hours, minimum, but we had to get to our campsite.

We caught the sunset over Flathead Lake, but we were out the next morning before the sun had even thought about rising so that we could secure a campsite in Glacier. Camping in the national parks in the summertime is insane…almost everything is first come first serve, and they fill up by maybe 8am at the latest. So whenever we moved sites, which was often, we were up as early as humanly possible to lazily roll up our tent (with blankets and pillows still inside) and shove it in the back of the car.


Glacier is the polar opposite of Yellowstone in terms of how one experiences the park. Whereas Yellowstone is largely point-to-point driving and boardwalks, Glacier’s views must be earned on foot. On our first day, we just did a short hike to Avalanche Lake plus the Trail of the Cedars, since they were both right in our campsite’s backyard. We ended up renting a boat that first evening for just $23/hour and cruising around Lake McDonald for a blissful hour and some change. We basically had the lake to ourselves, and I think that was one of the coolest things we did the whole trip! The following days’ hikes included the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier, Ptarmigan Lake/Tunnel, and Iceberg Lake. Every hike was unbelievably beautiful, but the Ptarmigan/Iceberg combo (Y-shaped trail, we took both sides of the fork) was the favorite for both of us. We’ll be back for ya, Glacier!

Avalanche Lake / Trail of the Cedars:

Lake McDonald:

Highline Trail:

Grinnell Glacier:

Ptarmigan Lake/Tunnel:

Iceberg Lake:

Oh, and we saw a bear just as we were leaving the park! Weeeeee!


We returned to Billings, and Kyle flew back home the next morning. Shortly thereafter, I packed up my car with all of my belongings and haphazardly strapped my bike onto the back (not truly haphazardly, but my bike rack isn’t built to fit my new car, so it was questionable, but we made it work). Over the next week, I drove home, camping in the Black Hills and the Badlands, and then Madison for four days with my main biddies Lu and Ju (and seeing my cousin Colleen in Milwaukee!). The morning after I got back to Flushing, my mom and I set off for Pennsylvania for the next 6 days, where we visited with our family and helped Emily move into her adorable new apartment in Philly! I hadn’t been able to visit any of them this year (and they all saw each other more than usual…I was FOMOing in MT), so it was so great to be there.

Now I’m home in Flushing with my parents and pup, applying like mad for all sorts of jobs, which is fun but not. It’s really great to be home for a while, seeing friends, gawking over my dad’s garden, running/walking the Bueche’s trail at least every other day, and relaxing. I know something will work out soon enough on the job front, though, so I’m not trying to wish away my time at home. I’m grateful to have a home to come back to while I’m (f)unemployed ;). I’ll write more soon about how the transition is going for me and just general FJV reflections. Am I ruined for life??????? You’ll just have to wait and see 😉

Just want to end this post with my favorite ladies. You da real MVPs. IMG_8809



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