Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Prayer

The night before Thanksgiving the wind blew....and blew.... and blew like it's purest intention was to blow my mobile home right off it's blocks.  I lay awake thinking of what I would do to keep my babies safe in the event of a freak, unseasonal was blowing like that! 

There was more wind and high gusts fore casted for Thanksgiving Day.  I didn't have big plans, but my husband had come home and promised me all of the "horsey" time I needed on Thanksgiving.  My heart sank as I listened to the wind that sounded like the trains were running in Geraldine again.  I hardly get a chance to go out and ride these days... The babies and the business keep my mom and I so busy.  We haven't yet found that extra baby helper to free up some free time for me....

During the early part of the morning the fore casted wind was present.  It wasn't working as hard at it, but still blustery.  The sky was gray and cold, threatening to drop some moisture.  After the babies  were fed, dressed and playing happily I gazed out the window and and breathed a prayer..." Lord, if the wind would only ease up....I need some time to myself before I go crazy...."  I know that the other moms that are reading this have all said similar prayers.  After a few minutes I decided to just be tough and go ride, wind or no wind.  This was the only chance I was to have for a while.

I arrived at the barn, pulled my good ol' Rhett out of the pen and started grooming and saddling.  Was it my imagination or was the wind dying down?  No, it definitely was....  Rhett seemed about as fresh as he ever gets, so I walked him around a minute and shook my finger at him with a warning before climbing on and heading down the gravel road to the South.... I rode past the cemetery and another half-mile or so to an old, abandoned farmstead.  The shelter belt of trees are all dead, gray and gnarled together.  It's the kind of place that would be spooky at night, with it's weathered, crumbling buildings. 

To the right of the old farm there's a track that heads off the road into a field that hasn't been farmed for a long time.  Rhett seemed to choose that route and I didn't argue.  At that moment things  rushed into focus for me.  The air around us was suddenly calm and warm.  The sun was breaking through the clouds and warming our backs.  The only sounds hitting our ears were the dry, short grass prairie being crushed beneath Rhett's hoof prints, a squeak of leather here and there and the sound of his breath as he carried me slowly toward the top of a long hill.  Rhett's arthritic joints seemed to loosen and he happily picked up a lope for a while. Near the top of the rise we stopped to survey this beautiful expanse of land and sky.  We found ourselves standing in an area that the coyotes have been using for a lookout.  The proof was lying in little piles all over the hillside.  I glanced around for a den, but it wasn't within sight.

From our coyote lookout, there was only one ranch in sight, other than the spooky old farmstead.  It sits off to the West about 2 miles away near the foothills to the Highwoods. We could see a tractor slowly delivering it's load of a round bale to a handful of cows. Like a tiny ant with it's heavy load.  I was completely in awe of the stillness and deafening quiet around us.  It was so quiet I found myself actually holding my breath to silence it and take in the peace.  Rhett's soft snuffling also ceased as he caught his wind.  All I heard in those moments was the rumbling in Rhett's stomach....

We continued on to the top of the hill and down the other side.  That open patch of prairie extends all the way back to the West side of town.  We ended up at the "airport", aka landing strip used by some of the farmers.  Then roamed down the street that defines the edge of town and back down to the little barn where Rhett and his filly spend their time. 

The entire way home, I had an overwhelming gratitude in my heart, for my answered prayer and the chance to breathe. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Car Washes and other Luxuries

There are a few things I miss about the "big city" of Billings.  Espresso shops....Olive friends there and my church family.  And I sure miss automatic car washes!!!  My poor van is really, really dirty!  But in this weather I'm not exactly going to bust out the hoses and bucket to give her a bath!  I haven't even been able to find a car wash in Fort Benton.  I'm also pretty sure that if I washed the van in Great Falls the next time I make the trip, by the time I got home no one would be able to tell I went to the trouble. So I guess the van and my ol' blue pickup will just carry that layer of road dirt and grime that every other vehicle in this town wears.  At least until summer....

I have moments here and there that I really enjoy shopping.  But those moments don't come too often.  I can spend hours in a great tack store.... I can spend a good bit of time and energy shopping for my children and trying to find nice things for them without breaking the bank.  But one of the things I have had the blessing to realize.... I do not miss Wal-Mart.

In Fort Benton there is a small grocery store.  It has a very limited selection of things, but enough to keep our families fed a variety of good, home cooked meals.  You just won't find Keurig Coffee K-cups, special yogurt for babies, organic get the picture.  Down the block is the True Value hardware store.  A real, old fashioned hardware store....that happens to have a furniture section in the basement with some very nice, reasonably priced pieces!  You can also by a Maytag or fridge there if you need one.  Next door to the True Value is the Pharmacy.  When you walk in the huge, ancient  front door there's a place to get a soda and all the free popcorn you'd like.  They provide the drugs the town needs and a lot more.  You can find interesting toys, gifts, material for quilting, crafts, name it!  They do not however, carry cat de-wormer....I asked the day the barn cat showed signs of needing it. 

Several trips I've made to Fort Benton have required a stop to each of those three places in order to fetch the items needed at home.  Bandaging tape, milk, outlet covers.... So I park the van at the Pharmacy and then walk along to the next store!  It's a nice stroll in one of the prettiest little towns on the planet.  The big ol' Missouri river on my right, shops on the left.  There are several more little shops I haven't had the time to cruise through....but soon.  Back in Billings, I'd drag myself to Wal-Mart more often than I like to think about.  "Easier to just make one stop."

But here that's no longer an option.  I am forced to slow down, take a breath down by the river and enjoy my outing. 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Remembering My Manners

Maybe you've been somewhere like this.  A place where people are still very happy to see one another.  Instead of hustling past each other on the street with our eyes down.  Or feeling agitated that there is yet another herd of people in front of you at the stop light.  Or trying to not get cranky in the longest line anyone has ever seen at Wal-Mart....

People here ward off loneliness every chance they get.  Almost everyone shows up to nearly every school function the kids have as a way to have somewhat of a social life and stay in touch with each other.  The town is gearing up for the annual "Country Christmas Social".  There will be Indian Tacos, a no host bar and a band will play 'til midnight.  They are also going to show the second round of the Wrangler NFR and have a live auction!  This will be held at the old auditorium that was built soon after the town was founded and has been rejuvenated as part of Obama's reclamation project. (I just have to chuckle about that.)

One of the places people here are most happy to see each other is on the highway or the streets around town.  I am deeply ashamed to say that I am having a very hard time remembering to wave.  If someone drives past you in town, you are supposed to wave!  If you are lucky enough to see another soul on the highway, you wave!  The "highway waves" don't have to be exuberant.  A finger lifted off of the steering wheel will do.  But the "in town" waves are always a fully lifted to wiggling hand accompanied with a nod and a smile. I'm often embarrassed that I completely forget this part of my manners until the person has passed by me, their hand handing in the air. "Dang! Missed it again!"  I feel even worse because I was raised with these country values and I outta know better! It's a code that says we are the locals! It says to each other, "Yes, we are part of this very unique, blessed and often under appreciated way of life!" It also says, " If I see ya broke down on the side of the road on my way back from town I will stop and help you!"

I've been a resident for nearly a month now and it's still sometimes hard for me to remember my manners.  But, today I'm happy to report that I was first to wave at the old man in the early 70's model pickup truck that I passed on my way home from feeding the horses. He waved back and had that "who the heck are you" stare, but that's ok! I'll probably see him at the Christmas social and introduce myself....

Friday, November 18, 2011

Some Time Next Year....

Our little house is rented out at the moment and so for now we are still all "camping out" in the mobile home until after the 10th of December when the renter will move out.  One of the challenges we currently face has to do with simple communications.  I was told that the mobile home had never been connected to a telephone line.  I didn't think that was a big deal, I'd just call and have the phone company come and put one in.  Wrong....  When I called I was informed that at "this time of year" they simply shut down all new construction projects until spring.  Therefore, they would not be putting in a phone line for me "until some time next year."  No, I'm not kidding....

Normally people would say, "Oh well, just hafta use the cell phones for a while."  Wrong again.... As I've mentioned previously there is no cell service in Geraldine.  So we have had to be quite creative in order to find a way to have any way of communicating outside of Geraldine.  It seems ironic that since moving to this remote, nearly unheard of place, my dependence and knowledge of technical things has been forced to increase.  I am not the type of person who enjoys playing with "gadgets".  But I have had to learn to set up a cellular booster in my house. Now I can take calls on my cell phone as long as I hold my head, just right, 3 inches from the antenna. I have had to become acquainted with  "mobile broadband devices", in order to have Internet.  Before, I couldn't have told you what that was if my life depended on it!  I took for granted that if our internet at home was down, Ryan could fix it.  Or I could run into Laurel and pick up a WiFi signal.  So far in Choteau County I have found one place to get WiFi.  The Carnegie Library in Fort Benton, 27 miles away. 

Since my mom has signed on to this adventure with us, she has taken over doing the books and managing the office for us. She helps, (or tries) to keep things running smoothly with the craziness that comes from our doing business in North Dakota. This means she pretty much has my computer tied up from first thing in the morning until we go to bed at night. 

So, tonight I have a new friend... well I hope we can be friends.  I am learning to use my new little tablet computer.  I'm hoping to squeeze in time to write my little stories whenever I have a minute between hollering babies, teaching Payson to be a well behaved young man, helping run a company, horse chores, errands, housework, meals.... I NEVER thought I would have one of these, much less find it useful.  But I read the manual and I think this little gizmo and I might actually get along well enough for it to help me document this simple, prairie life.

Tonight there is a fresh layer of dry, powder snow blanketing the town.  The air is bitter and we expect it to be around 5 degrees below zero by the time we get up in the morning.  I think of the good people that settled this town back in 1913 and what they faced with out our "modern conveniences".  No central heating, indoor plumbing, double pane windows, well insulated homes.  I'm thankful I don't have to keep a fire stoked all night so my babies can be warm.  I'm thankful that we could find ways to stay in touch with friends and family and run a business.  Even if it means a slow connection and many dropped and broken up calls....

Of course, the little house already has a land the minute we move in, that baby will be hooked up!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Postage Due

On about my third day as a resident of Geraldine, I ran out of stamps and walked the hundred yards or so to the post office.  As I waited at the counter I overheard a conversation between "Marie" and and older gentleman who appeared to be one of the local farmers or ranchers.  Well used truck parked out front, faded, worn jeans, button up plaid shirt, a hat that was obviously never left at home....

     "I need to pay the Post Mistress for my postage from the other day," he said. " I mailed off some things and I didn't have enough money with me, so the she covered it for me." 

    "Oh, alright, how much do you need to pay?" asked Marie.

    "I can't remember exactly but I know it was $62 dollars and some change," he said.

Marie looked in the cash drawer and pulled out a little sticky note.  " Yeah, she said you might come in today...."

This exchange didn't seem at all out of the ordinary to the farmer or Marie.  Yet, I was truly amazed!  The Post Mistress had given this man over $62 bucks on good faith alone that he would come into town and pay her back!  Take a moment and imagine yourself in the farmer's shoes at your local post office?  Do you think the gal behind the counter would say, "No problem! Got ya covered, come back and pay me tomorrow?"  Not a chance in just about any other place I know of!  We'd be driving all the way back home to fetch our wallets, for sure. 

Do you live in a place where the "Honor System" still thrives as an expected and respected way of doing business?  Where you know what's owed to you will be paid.  Where people actually wouldn't think of not keeping their word?  The accountability here is tangible.  If you treat anyone badly, prove yourself to be a liar or a cheat, or act in any way dishonorably, the whole town is going to know it.  There would be huge repercussions and you'd probably have to leave town!  People in this remote place are depending on each other in a way that most of our nation has forgotten.  They are teaching the children the values that made this country the greatest there is. 

In spite of the stressful things I do still have going on in my life....and there are quite a few....I find a moment in each day that I just look around at this place God led me to, and I am so grateful.  I find my faith restored.  In God, and in humanity.

Yesterday, there was a little note in my post office box.  It seems the large envelope they mailed to Laramie, Wyoming for me had been 20 cents short on the postage.  Today I walked over and gave the lady the postage due....

Monday, November 14, 2011

First Snow

We woke up this morning, to a grey light that felt much more like dusk than the first light of day.  The air was gloomy and damp and had us lifting our noses in the air before saying, "it smells like snow."  Then just as I walked Payson through the school doors the snowflakes flooded around me.  I took the long way home.  To the south a few blocks before making a loop back to the trailer.  Our little Boston Terrier was pretty sure I'd lost my mind and I'm sure she was cussing me for not putting on her little coat before we left.

I had business in Fort Benton today and was quick to head out the door, thinking the storm had hit and the roads would get worse by the hour.  But I was fooled.  I hurried into my "town clothes" and stepped outside to sun breaks and no snow.  The roads were clear.  The Highwood Mountains were surrounded by those eerie, misty clouds that mean the snow is falling hard up there.  They could only manage to peak out from behind them for moments here and there.  Down on the highway the sun was out and the winds had calmed.  Black Angus cattle herds were laying close together in the coulees of their wheat field, winter pastures.  Trying to catch as much sun and rest as they could before they'd have to brace themselves for the icy wind and snow that promised to come off the mountains sooner or later.

Afternoon brought more wind and dark grey clouds.  Occasionally a handful of flakes would tease us again.  But by afternoon I was sure the forecasted 1-2 inches would pass us by.  They had "cried wolf" all day and I didn't believe them any more.  Fooled again.  At dusk I glanced outside and in the glow of the street lights, I could see that the flakes were falling rapidly.  As if to make up for lost time.

As I write the snow is still falling hard.  We've already reached the predicted amount and I believe by morning we will have much more.  The winds have died down the way they do when a storm sets in to stay a while.  All is quiet....

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Economics in Geraldine

So let me be painfully honest.  Along with many people in our great country right now, we were not making it financially.  Things are starting to look up for us, thank God, but it has required that we do many things differently.  Ryan had to go back to North Dakota, where it's almost guarenteed that we will have steady work for him.  As part of the neccessary changes, we HAD to find more affordable housing.  The lovely home and acreage, on the outskirts of Billings, with the views of the Yellowstone River was no longer in our budget.  I was PRAYING every day for months for God to show me the solution to our situation.  Several options I truly thought would work and allow us to stay in Billings just refused to pan out.  So then I started searching Craigslist, statewide, for a cheap, country rental.  No luck.  A faint whispering voice in my head said, " just look at the For Sale By Owner section". 

There it was.... cute little yellow house on four lots....with a mobile home on the property as well.  The ad said, "huge yard, lilacs, apple tree, nice community, great school".  The mobile was older and had been remodeled with laminate floors, granite counter tops, tiled bathroom, raised basin was adorable!  At the bottom was the price.  For both houses $69,000.  But there was also another option.  Buy the trailer alone for $7500.00 and rent the lot for $100 bucks a month!  Now that I had to see!  I didn't think we could even afford $69,000 but I knew I could pay cash for the trailer and then we'd be able to get back on track!  So where in the heck is Geraldine?

Mom, myself and my three monkeys drove up to see it the next day.  Three hours from Billings through some of the most gorgeous country Montana has to offer.  Rollings hills surrounded in the distance by amazing mountains.  Tiny, nearly abandoned farm communites dotted the highway.  We entered Geraldine and there was the place, as directed. We looked at both houses and I just knew it was an answer to many, many prayers.  But I knew the house would have to wait.  Ryan had just returned to North Dakota and  the money just wasn't there for both.  But the trailer was ready for us!  The community was ready for us!  I went home and told Ryan that I wanted to buy the trailer in Geraldine.  He looked and me and said, "whatever you want to do....".

By the end of October things were looking stable for us again.  The work is steady and we've been catching up on bills.  The owner of the house informed me they really needed to get the house sold now.  They were willing to work out a deal for me, with them carrying the note if I'd still be interested! (Another answer to prayer.)  The best part....Only another $57,000 and she could be mine! 

So here we are today with a real opportunity have even more security and eventually NO DEBT.  If things go as planned we will have the house paid off within a year or two.  (It is a five year note.)  Then we will own two homes free and clear!  For the first time in a long time I can breathe.  Because of this tiny, unknown community and what is has to offer, my family and I can afford a fresh start and a new, more simple life.

If anyone is interested there is this cute, little house down the street from mine, for sale for $35,000....

Friday, November 11, 2011


Tonight there was a dinner held at the V.F.W. hall for all who wished to attend.  I decided it would be very nice to go down at meet as many of the local folks as possible.  It's funny how now that I know I have precious, twin boys to help me break the ice, I'm not as shy as I once was.  It turns out I didn't really need an ice-breaker.  We walked into a warm, welcoming place that smelled of homemade pumpkin pie, coffee and floor wax.  Within seconds we were approached and several hands were shaken.  My mom and I explained that we were the ones that were moving into "the yellow house".  All were understanding when told of my husband's work in North Dakota that keeps him away much of the time.  People here understand that sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to get by....

Tonight the room was much less full than the lovely ladies who cooked had anticipated.  About 20 people in all left many empty seats.  But no one was disappointed at the small turn out.  I was told that "almost the whole town" is in Bozeman tonight watching our Geraldine Girls Volleyball team play in the state championships. 

The wind was calm as evening required we get the babies home and tucked into their beds.  A lovely warm night, with warm people in Geraldine....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everybody thinks I'm crazy....

I've moved my family to Geraldine.  Population 266 at last count.  There's not much here to people that don't truly look.  There's one bar/cafe, one feed store that has fuel pumps so we don't get stranded, one bank with one banker, one school for all grades and there was one grocery store....but it burned down.  There are two churches.  One Methodist and one Catholic, of which I am neither.  I feel closest to Baptist these days so I'll have to drive 70 miles each way on Sundays. 

There's a lot more that Geraldine doesn't have.  Traffic, or traffic lights for that matter. Half of the streets here aren't even paved.  When I happen to drive down the streets I am almost always the only one on them.  My little boy and I walked right down  the center of the streets while trick-o-treating as many houses as we possibly could.  We would run across other little kids that would smile and wave and shout "Happy Halloween!" to us as we went by.  They went down the middle of the streets too....

No one in Geraldine is wandering around talking on their cell phones.  No one in the cafe is preoccupied with their text messages while trying to eat dinner with their families.  Teenagers here have their eyes up, look at you and say hello!!!  They aren't lost in a virtual world....  That's right folks, there's no cell service in Geraldine.  You have to drive up the highway 6 miles to get a decent signal.  They say by 2013 they will have service here.  I really hope it doesn't happen.

I can safely say there are no "big, fancy houses" in Geraldine.  Some homes are well cared for, for sure.  Many have been updated and fixed up since they were originally built.  Many are also abandoned and starting to crumble.  I regularly walk past two cute little old houses when I'm taking my son to the park. They are both empty and seem so sad.  There aren't far away from being perfectly livable, yet they have no one.  How tragic we have people in this country with no homes and homes with no people.

I just bought a house that is 95 years old and was part of the original township that was founded in 1913.  It's just a small farmhouse that has had the good fortune of having people who cared enough to update her plumbing, wiring and insulation. She'll need a new roof pretty soon, the siding needs replaced and there are some cracks in the foundation. This fact seems to worry my father a lot.  But I'm pretty sure if she's been standing almost 100 years, she's not falling down tomorrow.  The house and I are both in desperate need of revitalization.  I think as I restore the house, I will be restored as well. Cliche?

My children are going to attend the simple, country school that happens to have computers and Smart Boards in every class.  My Kindergarten son is the 6th pupil in his class.  There was only one other little boy and he is thrilled to finally have a buddy.  Support for the school is off the charts here.  They girls volleyball team was just thrown a huge pep rally and parade that sent them off for the state finals.  I think everyone in town was there!  My little boy was very proud to be allowed to participate.  Imagine that!  Kindergarteners right there with the high school kids all supporting the team!  Another thing Geraldine doesn't have....gangs.  Just kids in cowboy boots and pick up trucks.

Because I bought a house "in town", my horses have to be boarded 2 minutes away at the edge of town.  A wonderful, kind neighbor had just the place for them.  I can throw a saddle on and head out to ride and literally NEVER run out of trail.  The dirt roads and tracks head up to the BLM land and the Highwood Mountains.  Miles of rolling wheat fields, pastures and hills.  My horses think they are in heaven... I know they are.

More next time....