28 February 2012

In the Interest of Full Disclosure-Updated

I'm coming out of the employment closet.  Here's something that only a few people know: my immediate family, my in-laws, and my good friend CK.

I work at *********.  Weird.  My computer keeps censoring my employer.  *********.

It shouldn't be hard to figure out.  Wait for it...it's the largest fast food chain.

I don't want to get too ahead of myself, so let me skip back to the beginning.  When we moved up here, we had no idea how hard it would be to find jobs.  We started our search before we got here, and even when there was nothing promising, we didn't worry, because we had at least enough money to last us about 3 months.  I had a newly polished resume with great work experience.  The summer passed, and I estimate that I applied for at least 200 jobs.  Out of those 200 applications, I had 4 interviews. You might wonder what the problem was.  A part was that a huge loss of a certain industry left this area worker-rich, but jobs-poor, and I was over-qualified for most of the jobs in the area.  I didn't get the job at either of the first two interviews.  The last 2 interviews didn't come until after I downplayed my work history, including training, responsibilities, and salary history.    I needed a part-time job with a night shift (so I could stay home with Mimi while Austin worked) and flexible scheduling (so I could finally start school again.)

On the same day, I was offered two jobs.  ********* was the better offer. Slightly less pay, but better hours and directions to the management track. so I accepted it.  I've been there for four months now.  And you know what?

I like it.

After two months, I was promoted to trainer.  And now, 2 months later, I'm being trained for a management position.

I know people think that fast food is the bottom of the employment rung, that the workers are only there because they can't find anything else.  That might be possible, at least in this area, with it's lack of jobs, but since I started, I have worked with a great team of people who work there because they are good at their jobs and like it.  Some of them recently graduated with degrees in art, pharmacy, archaeology, and wildlife biology.  Some are military members and firefighters, high school students and grandparents, spoiled teenagers and people who have fought back after hard times and tragedies.

We're a team.

We even have fun.

I've never worked at a more physically demanding job, or one that is more entertaining.  It's a harder job than I ever imagined.  You have to have a great memory, attention to detail, be able to multi-task, and be able to have a smile on your face for the next customer, after the previous one just yelled at you.  But I have never laughed harder. I work the closing shift, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  There are only about 6 closers, so I work with the same people every nights.  In some ways, it actually reminds me of the last place I worked.  While it's a completely different scope of work, again I have a team that works together to get the job done.

Plus, my daughter thinks it's cool, and that's all that matters.

So there you have it.

(Thanks, CK)

Update:  I got a Leap Year promotion to Shift Manager.

24 February 2012

Inaugural Person of the Week

Today, I introduce my first person of the week.

This week, it's Kyla!

Kyla is married to Austin's brother TJ, so that makes her my sister-in-law.  I think of her more as my protege.  Jokes!  Kyla and I are going to be the two old sassy ladies at the family holidays. Kyla is mom to my 3 yr old niece and 11-month of nephew, and she is also heiress to a frozen-yogurt empire.  She likes to design her own purses, watch Teen Mom, and has a penchant for leopard-print clothes.   

Kyla has an awesome sense of humor and she's a lot of fun to hang out with.

I Have a Boyfriend

And we have a DATE tonight.

Don't be so surprised.  Want to see him?

It's my husband.  He's my boyfriend.  We have a date.  I love this man.

23 February 2012

Is it over yet?

I'm really sick of winter.  I'll admit it. Up until this point, I was so defiant in insisting that I loved Montana and was having the best ever winter, but I'm done.  I'm ready for spring.

I hate our driveway.  After our big snowstorm last month, we had to park just inside our driveway and hike up to the cabin for about a week.  We could have plowed it, except our driveway has really deep ruts, and plowing would only scrape off the snow in the center, leaving behind the snow and slush on either side, and it really wouldn't help much. I should say that I expected this, I was warned that the driveway would be hard to use in the winter, but that was when I thought it was 60 yards long, and in summer, the thought of dragging groceries uphill on a sled sounds kind of fun.  Yesterday, when the snow was melting, I scooped up 3 wheelbarrow loads of sawdust and bark and laid it down on the driveway to give it some traction.  After last night's snow, it's completely covered up.

But the reason I'm really looking forward to spring is for my garden.  Here it is last August.

We got here at the beginning of July, and I know it was pretty ambitious to start a garden that late, but I did anyway.  Since I didn't work this summer, I had plenty of time to spend in it.  Here's what we planted:  baby pumpkins, giant pumpkins, squash, carrots, green onions, herbs, 7 different kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, 4 different kinds of peppers, mesclun, and spinach.   The funny thing about gardens is that they require a lot of sunlight.  Our yard is completely surrounded by trees, so any given spot in the garden might get only 3 or 4 hours of direct sunlight every day.  What we ended up getting out of the garden: a couple salads, some carrots, green onions, and the herbs.  Everything else died in the October frost before it matured.  Yes, October. Three months growing time wasn't enough for most of the plants, even though I bought a lot of them as plants, not seeds.  My vision of selling pumpkins roadside out of my mother in law's pickup truck never came true.

This is what my garden looks like now:

Snow, snow snow.  I would call this snow rude names but there are several people who read this that have the word "Grandma" in front of their names and I'm not ready to reveal my true potty mouth to some of them yet.  It's hard to find inspiration in garden beds that will likely have snow cover on them for another 2 months.

I've got a few questions:

1.  Does anybody know if fireplace/woodstove ash is good for gardens?  If it's not, I'm screwed.
2.  Any suggestions for what to plant this year?
3.  Any luck with seed tapes?  (For those that don't know what I'm talking about, they are strips of paper towels or TP that have seeds glued to them with a water/flour mixture.  From what I can tell, it is easier to plant and have the spacing right.)


p.s. We're under an avalanche warning.  Seriously?

First in a New Series: Mimi Saves the Baby Cow

Now that the novelty of winter has passed, and the snow outside is stained with wood smoke fallout and dog pee, Mimi and I spend our days trying to find fun stuff to do. So we make movies.  We discuss plot lines, scripts, and our cues.

In this first movie, Mimi has been recruited to save a baby cow on top of a mountain.  She is the only scout that has been deemed skilled enough to complete the task.  Will she succeed?  Watch and see.

Mimi Saves the Baby Cow by Hen7975

22 February 2012

Forecast: No significant snow accumulations

According to weather.com, we aren't expected to have much snow today, but we're in the middle of what I would consider a blizzard after living in the south for 15 years.  High winds, snow blowing completely sideways.

The problem with our weather forecast is that it is never accurate for where we live.  I mentioned before that we live in a "suburb" 25 miles away from a larger city, but we  live 6 miles away from the heart of the suburb (which consists mainly of a gas station and a few bars). Plus, we are at an elevation almost 600 feet above the closest forecast location.  It makes a big difference.

Down in the valley, the roads are clear and there is almost no snow on the fields, but it's a whole different story on our mountain.  Our road is completely covered with a slick snow/ice mixture, and there is at least a foot of snow on the ground.

We've actually been lucky the past week, with temperatures above freezing have melted some of the snow, including a mysterious patch about 8 feet in diameter, revealing green grass underneath.  Unfortunately, the melting snow has turned our driveway into an Olympic-quality luge track.  I just spread 3 wheelbarrow loads of sawdust and woodchips on the bad part, so maybe that will slow our roll a little.

In the meantime, our driveway is open for time trials!

21 February 2012

What is this?

Maybe a fossilized Krispy Kreme
This is hanging outside the door of our workshop.  It's been there since we moved in.  Anybody have any idea what it is?

There are gross things in our yard

There are gross things in our yard.  Mimi and I try to go outside and play every day, and when we get our gear on, she usually says, "Let's go look for gross things."  They're not hard to find up here.

Back in December, our dog and the two neighbor dogs dragged home an entire deer.  But not all at once...in pieces.  The first piece was the decapitated head.  It was left within a foot of the front door, in the bushes.  Not just a deer, but a buck, with a nice set of antlers.  I was horrified that our dog had possibly killed a deer, but Austin convinced me that he couldn't have possibly done it.  He's too friendly and stupid to do it.  The elderly black labs next door couldn't be responsible for it either, being that they're slow and overweight.  Our neighbor said that the deer was probably shot and ran off before it died.  We actually live in a national forest, so this is entirely plausible.  Or it could have been the neighborhood mountain lion.

As soon as I could get the deer head away from the dogs (who had eaten most of it) I did what any self-respecting Montana woman would do, and tossed it on top of the woodshed so the birds would pick it clean. And there it sits.

In this picture, Mimi is holding two of the three deer legs that turned up on our property.  They appeared at the same time as the head, so we think they're probably from the same deer.  This picture was taken today, so the legs have been up on the woodshed roof with the antlers for about 2 months, perfectly preserved.  I think we will use them to make next year's Christmas presents.

3+2=5!!!! (No, we are not having twins)

About six weeks after we moved into the cabin, Austin's two oldest kids, Colin and Aidan, came for a visit.  These are some traveling kids!  In just about a year, they lived in Japan, California, and Maryland.  Such is the life of a military family. I couldn't believe how much they had grown!  Colin, at 11, was almost six feet tall, and Aidan at 10, was nearly  my height.

The bear in the yard had only been gone a couple of weeks, and I think I forgot to mention the mountain lion.  Shortly after we moved in, a neighbor mentioned that the neighborhood mountain lion had killed a few of his cats, and it made a pass through our property on its regular rounds.  Great. So when the kids came, I told them we had just a few safety rules.

1.  Don't go outside without telling anyone.
2.  If you do go outside, take the dog with you.
3.  Be nice to the dog, he will take care of you.

These are city kids, so they haven't experienced life in the forest much before.  On the drive from the airport to our house, Colin saw a deer, and said "Look, a deer."  After that, any time I saw a deer, I said, "Colin, look...a deer."  And let me tell you, this area is lousy with deer.  In the summer, at any given point there could be 3 or 4 deer right outside our window eating grass.  It didn't take long for him to get sick of deer.

After cooking small meals for the past 5 years, I was suddenly cooking church potluck-sized meals for our family.  Vats of spaghetti, chicken tikka masala, french toast using an entire loaf of bread, slabs of bacon, giant pans of fried potatoes.  There is something really satisfying about cooking huge meals.  It's hard to describe.  Both kids ate like grownups, and leftovers didn't last long.

Their visit went by quickly, and after ten days, school was about to start, so we had to send them back home.  We're counting the days until their next visit.

The Cabin: Moving-In Day (Actual Date: 1 July)

We brought the flamingo with us
When we decided to move up here, we were really looking for a change.  We loved our house in South Carolina that had enough bathrooms so we each had our own, shiny engineered wood floors, and a saltwater neighborhood pool, but we didn't quite fit in.  Our penchant for drinking beer in the driveway and letting Mimi run around without a shirt on in the sprinkler kind of made us the white trash of the neighborhood.  I'm sure the pink plastic flamingo that I poked defiantly into the flower bed didn't help either.  In my defense, it was there simply because Mimi liked it.

After years of city life, we'd often muse about how nice it would be to escape to a cabin in the forest, away from it all.  Something simpler.  So when I saw this cabin advertised on Craigslist, I knew it was exactly what we wanted:  Cabin.  In the forest.  It also came with 5 oddly-shaped acres, a powered, insulated workshop (great for building furniture), a well (no water bill, which allowed me to water the lawn to my obsessive/ compulsive heart's content), and a woodshed.  As a bonus, it had a huge (but neglected) garden, and apple, plum, and tart cherry trees.

I remember very clearly the day we moved in.  It was late afternoon, and as anybody in western Montana knows, this past summer was especially green and lush after a long, wet winter.  We got off the interstate and drove up the hill past several farms.  We turned a corner, looked down into the green valley, turn another corner, and Oh My Gawd there is a huge drop-off on the right hand side, a steep treed slope leading into a draw about a hundred feet below. I'm thinking, "How do these people drive on this....Ohhhhhh!  Look at the baby deer!"  It's tiny and spotted. So cute.

Another mile up, and there's our driveway.  It was advertised as a 60 yard driveway with a slight inclined S-curve.  In reality, it's 500 feet long with a 90' turn uphill.  You can actually set a ball down at the top of the driveway and it will roll all the way down to the street.  I know this because we've done it. And we see the house, and from the outside, it's just as we expected...looks just like the pictures.

Once we go inside, we realize just how tiny the place is.  Our house in SC was well over 2000 sq feet, and this place isn't even half that, even though they've managed to pack a huge (comparatively) master bedroom and two separate kitchens into it.  And it's a bit more rustic than I expected.  Sure, there are wood beams and stucco ceilings in the vaulted living room, but there is rough scratchy wood walls in every other room.  Did I mention the clothes washer is in the living room?  Because it is, in a tiny closet.  If I stand in one spot in the cabin, I can have one foot in the living room, one foot in the bathroom, my left hand on the water heater, my right hand on the clothes washer and my butt in the combo hallway/second kitchen area.  Let's not even discuss the clothes dryer that is outside, 75 feet away, in the workshop. What makes things even worse is that it's completely empty except for our suitcases, two air mattresses, and a couple of boxes.  The movers won't arrive for almost two weeks.

I'm kind of surprised when I start to cry.  I feel bad for dragging my family up here.  Since all good couples can't be upset at the same time, Austin tries to cheer me up, but I feel a weird humiliation.  The next day, when one of Austin's relatives (who I didn't even know at this time) asked how I like the house, I almost start crying again when telling her that I cried.

We drive home late for our second night in the cabin, arriving after dark.  As we turn up the driveway, the lights inside are on, and the porch light is glowing.  Austin says, "Look...doesn't it look cozy?"

And it did.  It does.  I can't imagine living anywhere else.

20 February 2012

The title of this blog, and why it might change (it will)

We live in a town that isn't a town. It's technically a suburb of another town that is about 25 minutes away. In between, there is at least 12 miles of interstate, countless hills and mountains, farms and fields. In addition, I live about 6 miles beyond the interstate, past a pond, up a dirt road, turn at the top of the hill, hug the mountain so you don't fall into the draw, turn at the fork, and then up a fairly sinister-looking gravel driveway.

So when driving into our town, there aren't any population signs. Instead, I have to weed through the varied population counts for this town online. To make things difficult, a large industry in the area closed down, so there has been a population change as people moved away. I took the most recent statistic that I found (from 2007), and added the three of us, even through I am fairly certain that nobody besides my inlaws know exactly where we live.

So there you have it. The title will/may change if I ever find a new, more accurate stat, which will be a pain since I am a knucklehead when it comes to editing pictures. (The title picture took me about a half-hour with Paint.)

The Bear, or the first sign we may have made a mistake coming here, and why we got a dog

I'm having to go backwards in time for these posts, since we moved here seven months ago, and I'm just now writing about The Bear.

We moved into the cabin right around the first of July, and had barely settled in when the bear first appeared. In fact, I think it was our sixth day here, which means the moving company hadn't even delivered our stuff from South Carolina.

The first time we saw it, it was hiding in a clump of grass and a large tree near our workshop, about 50 feet away from our front porch. Basically trapped, since the bear was closer to our car than we were, we tried banging pots and pans, setting off the car alarm, and yelling at it with no effect. The previous tenants had left a half-full tray of ice cubes in the freezer, so we grabbed those and started chucking them at him, startling him, and then finally chasing him away by tossing a beer bottle into the grass.

Over the next two weeks, he appeared in such a frequency that it was almost like a pesky dog. One day, Austin chased him around the wraparound porch, right past Mimi, who watched in wonder from inside the safety of the sun room.

Another day, I was at the stove cooking beef vegetable soup, when, drawn by the smell, it poked its snout against the screen window not two feet away from me. I make really good soup.

My in-laws even watched the bear with us from the deck on the back of the house one day during a visit.

We were starting to get used to the bear being around. I need to stop and say that this wasn't a vicious, scary bear. It was a cub, probably on it's first summer alone, about the size of a large dog. After two weeks of daily visits and not seeing the mama, we just felt bad for it, to the point of me asking Austin if I could feed it. (No.) Then the bear pissed me off by not just climbing on top of our car, but using the passenger mirror as a foothold, breaking it off. It left paw prints all over the car and finished the job by peeing its disgusting bear pee all over the top.  

So the bear police were called. They took pictures, looked at our pictures, confirmed we had a bear, and told us to call if it came back. Wait, what? It's here every day! Set up a damn trap now before I make it the family pet and it eats us all!  It came back the next day, I called again, it came back again, I called again. The not-so-helpful guy that emailed me back said he had some rubber shot if we'd like to come pick it up and give it a few pellets in the ass. We don't have a shotgun.

So we got a dog. And we never saw the bear again.

15 February 2012

Main Cast of Characters

Erin (me). USAF veteran, student in Environmental Management, former government contractor, and at present, works as a trainer for a local branch of a large company. Grew up in Wisconsin, middle child, married for over 7 years, although we both have never remembered our anniversary on time. I met Austin in 2003 and fell madly in love. I like to read, garden, make candy, and come up with big ideas. I hate to dress up, wear mostly Austin's grandpa's clothes, and can't remember the last time my jeans didn't have mud on them.

Austin, my super-hot anti-aging husband. He gets a gray hair and only looks better. Austin grew up in Montana and still speaks the dialect, including using the word "anymore" instead of saying "these days." Example:  "I am looking so handsome anymore." Weird, right?  Austin works days as a receiving supervisor, is also a USAF veteran, an expert in grammar, crossword puzzles, trivia, and looks very manly when chopping wood. He is responsible for the top 1,000 funniest things I have ever heard. He built virtually all of our furniture when we lived in South Carolina, and tries in vain to control my big ideas.

Mimi, our sweet and wild 5 year old. Mimi is......a montage. That's hard to explain. Basically, spending an hour with Mimi is like watching a non-stop movie montage. In one minute, she will have a straw in her mouth and will be pantomiming a scuba diver, and the next she will be planning on how to turn our dog into a human so he can talk. She truly believes she can get exactly the right wand from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. She loves holidays, her grandparents, her dog, looking for "gross things," being the leader on hikes, and loves chocolate with an intensity I have only ever seen before in my mother. Moving to Montana is her every frontier fantasy come true.

Blue, our pointer dog. We got him about 3 weeks after we moved up here, after a particularly persistent bear cub tried to make our property his home. More on that later. Once Blue arrived, the bear promptly disappeared. Blue divides his time between napping in front of the wood stove, sneaking up onto the sofa when we're away, and running pell-mell on our 5 acres. He is currently in a love/hate triangle with his best canine friends from next door.  

Introduction and just exactly how we got here

Hi, I'm Erin. I'm married to Austin, mom to Mimi, and old enough to lie about my age. (I'm 29.)

Last summer, we made a crazy decision to leave our comfortable suburban life and move cross-country into a cabin in the wild mountains of western Montana. To explain exactly why would take a long time, and these days I seem to have a short attention span. To try to sum it up, though, we wanted to create the perfect childhood for our daughter.

At 4 years old, Mimi had already lived in 4 homes in 3 states, and we knew we needed to settle down in one location before she started school. For most of her life, we didn't have family within 1000 miles of us. When my job moved me to a site in South Carolina, we were a 4 hour drive away from Austin's grandparents, but that job had an expiration date, and after spending a year without traveling 1-3 weeks a month, I wasn't willing to get back on the road again and leave my family behind.

About a year ago, we made the decision to move, and spent the next 3 months planning it out. Austin grew up in western Montana, and most of his family lived there, so that's where we decided to go.

Let me go off-track for a second. I have a friend, one of my very best friends, and I will call him GM. GM and I worked together for a few years, and I always loved traveling with him because he is a great storyteller, from tales of monkeys grabbing off wigs to working in a military prison to his childhood. See, GM grew up on a tiny island off the coast of Maine, and I was charmed by the thought of this: away from the city, kids running free; it sounded like a great place to live.

Back to our story, I thought about the type of childhood that we could give Mimi: the perfect childhood. Of course, it's more MY perfect childhood...the one that, as an adult, I would have picked for myself, but now that we're more than seven months into it, it seems to be working so far.