Tuesday, February 27

My Odities Have a Label!

Upon reading a little psychological analyses on children (part of the requirements for my position with the MCC) I realized that I can identify with one of the "stages" that Erik Erikson has suggested.

Psychosocial Moratorium

The likes of which is taking a little break from life. Young adults tend to get caught up in trying to reach success as soon as possible. When going through a little psychosocial moratorium, one steps back to 'smell the roses', if you will. A time to get to know oneself and figure out what success means to you.

So there you have it. I'm in the middle of a psychosocial moratorium. Sounds scary, but feels great!

Monday, February 26

In Honor of Kate

I've been out of the "team sport" phase of my life for now nearly seven years, therefore, I've had to find different types of sports to enjoy. Last week it was bowling and racket ball, but before that, in the piedmont of North Carolina, it was disc golf, hiking, and mountain biking. Upon reflecting about these 'alternative' sports, my memory of another, far superior, sport came to mind. One in which I devoted hours of my life to when I was in college. One that consumed my mind in any spare moment of the day. One that, after much discussion with Kate (my softball teammate and dear friend), we both would have given up our softball scholarship to be trained and conditioned for. This sport, in most cases, is probably not even considered a sport. But to Kate, to me, and even to Forest Gump, ping pong, better known as table tennis, is, most certainly, a sport!

I can't really describe the magnetism I felt from this game. But I found myself migrating toward the game room at IWU between classes, during chapel, after dinner, and most commonly in the middle of studying. It wouldn't take but a side-long glance at Kate, and we'd both be grabbing our personal paddles (purchased soon after discovering our obsession with the sport) and heading across campus toward our destination. A destination full of the familiar sounds of others akin to ping pong: laughing, shouting, and mostly pinging and ponging.

Many conversations Kate and I had across the ping pong table. Many new faces we met in the game room. Many competitive battles won and lost. Many cheap shots played. It wasn't long until Kate and I knew all of the ping pongers on campus. I remember Bernie, an awkward boy who wouldn't play against anyone unless they used his personal ping pong ball. The ball, he would carefully pull from a leather case that also housed his precious paddle. He was well known in the ping pong circle.

I grieve when thinking about the fate of ping pong in America. The tables are disappearing from basements around the country. They are being replaced by the likes of foos ball and billiard tables, home theaters, and poker tables. What is happening to this sport that brought so much entertainment and laughter to my life in my college years?

Sunday, February 25

It's a Phenomenon!

I have officially introduced my MCC regional leaders to the Settlers of Catan. And not surprisingly, they love it and are currently drawn (careful not to say addicted) to the genius of Claus Tuber and his beloved Catan.

At the All Americorps Gathering last week I brought the game and was applauded by many of the 42 MCC members who, unbeknownst to me, love the Settlers of Catan. I had no idea that Claus had such far-reaching influence, even into the most remote regions of this great country. Hail the Tuber!

Racket Ball and Bowling

In the last few days I've rediscovered two recreational activities: bowling and racket ball. In the past and in both cases I have only had minimal exposure to the enjoyment of these activities. My senior year of college, my teammate and good friend, Sarah Shivler, introduced me to racket ball. Combined, we had a sketchy understanding of the rules of play, but we had a great time competing against each other upon occasion. Bowling, as my family knows, is not an activity that we Gottschalks have never cared to give time or money to, beyond the normal high school P.E. courses and occasional birthday parties. Therefore, the unveiling of these two "sports" this week has been enchanting, to say the least.

Now, I don't mean to give any preconceptions about my skill level for either of these two sports. I, by no means, have any hint of skill or competitive knowledge associated with bowling or racket ball. But being the competitive soul that I am, I am hoping to acquire some deeper understanding of both games in the future.

Admittingly, it was rather painful to be badly beaten, twice, by my racket ball partner the other day. However, I am sure that with the recent sound beatings, my spirit of challenge will rise to the competition and someday in my future I will be able to wield the miniature racket with grace, poise, and deadly accuracy!

When one of my bowling buddies asked me when the last time I had bowled was, and I couldn't put a finger on it, I knew I was in for a humiliating demise. Surprisingly though, I finished two games of bowling with a new personal record of only four gutter balls rolled for the event! And, I might add, I astonishingly finished one of my two games with a score of over 100!

After thoughts:

  • Bowling shoes are just as ugly as they ever have been.
  • Both sports have a certain air of uncleanliness about them.
  • The pungent smells associated with each are different, yet both discomforting.

Friday, February 23

Painful Awakening

I awoke today stiff and aching. My back ached, my arms ached, even my hands ached. This is not that surprising since yesterday at least four hours of my day were spent shovel in hand, scooping and hoisting wood chips into the back of a pickup truck. With the other Billings MCC crew leaders, we drove to Red Lodge, Montana to volunteer at a Wildlife Nature Center. The center provides a loving and safe home for injured and displaced wild animals. The task that they had arranged for us was to move a mammoth size wood chip pile from the parking lot at the front entrance of the Nature Center to the barns at the back of the center. So, not only did we shovel wood chips onto the bed of the pickup, we had to then shovel, push, and pull them off of the pickup bed at the designated location. I think it took five loads to move the pile in it's entirety, and by the end I was really wishing for a hydraulic lift truck that could have aided in our endeavor. I have to admit, though, I felt quite satisfied as we unloaded the last truck load behind the feed barns. A job well done. One that I won't, or perhaps can't, forget, at least not for a few days until the pain subsides.

The animals that have found a home there at the Beartooth Mountain Nature Center were quite varied. A bobcat named Garfield, two coyotes that howled a good-bye for us, a bald eagle with neurological problems, a raven that sayed "mama", two spotted asses, a lonely bison, a large and somewhat friendly mountain lion, a variety of deer and elk, just to name a few. I admire the folks who run this nature center and care for these animals that otherwise would not survive. It really was a great way to spend a day, even if shoveling wood chips dominated the outlined tasks of the day.

Wednesday, February 21

All Americorps Gathering

Earlier this week the Billings MCC crew (that's me and my crew) headed to the state capital, Helena, to join the rest of the Montana Conservation Crews around the state and all of the Americorps volunteers instate. The gathering was a great way to gain perspective of how many folks are volunteering with Americorps in Montana and what their jobs entail. We spent three days in Helena getting to know the other MCC volunteers, learning more about Americorps, touring the state capital building, meeting senators, representatives, and the governor, listening to a variety of speakers, doing a service project in the city, and taking leadership classes.

I had a great time branching out from my "Billings crew" and meeting other interesting people. I quickly discovered that I was not the only Appalachian Trail alumni working for the MCC. There were three former AT thru-hikers on the Missoula Crew, and one on the Great Falls Crew. I talked with many young people who were excited to learn more about the trail and who were, themselves, thinking of thru-hiking in the future. A fun group of people.

Today we worked in the Billings office and tool cache, performing inventory duties and running errands. Josh and I were assigned the tent inventory. It didn't take long to figure out tent inventory was entirely frustrating and not the least bit fun. It took us a few hours to unpack all of the tents, check for holes and other damages, look for matching poles, and the correct number of stakes. At least half of the tents we checked were missing parts or were damaged in some way.

Tomorrow we are heading to Red Lodge (a town near the Beartooth Mts.) to volunteer at a Nature Center that houses animals that have been hurt in some way and cannot return to the wild.

Saturday, February 17

Introduction to the Montana Conservation Corps

Monday was my first full day of work in a little over eleven months. Filling out paper work, learning the ins and outs of my job with the Montana Conservation Corps, meeting other new staffers, took up most of my time. Tuesday the newbys (five of us) took a driving course called the "Smith System" before we were allowed to drive the 'rigs's, which happen to be suburbans. Embarassingly, I missed four questions on my Smith System written driving test (as did most of the others). But passed with flying colors the driving portion of the test. Of course the day we took the 'rigs' out to test drive, snow was covering the road surface. But we all did fairly well, and that was that.

Wednesday the new staffers (crew leaders) and our immediate boss, Shannon (Senior Crew Leader) took off for a three day cabin retreat in the Beartooth Mountains in south central Montana. While 'retreating', we stayed in a cabin with no running water and a wood burning stove for heat. The dash to the outhouse was a cold one, but we quickly became accustomed to the 200 foot walk. The cabin was set beside a creek, in small valley between some tall mountain peaks. During our stay, we learned how to read a topo map and use a compass, we learned four different knots to use in the backwoods, how to track a variety of animals, and how to use a white gas burning stove.

The retreat was a great way to get to know each other and spend time learning many skills that we will soon be expected to teach others in our respective crews.

How to Name a Casino

Since arriving in Billings a week ago Thursday, I've been exploring the city as much as possible. As I've mentioned in a previous post, Billings has a culture all of its own. I am intrigued by the ever-present casinos, and because of that I decided to record some of the casino names that I've stumbled across in the last week.
  • Magic Diamond
  • Casino Royale
  • Midas Touch
  • Jackpot
  • Bookie
  • Boomtown
  • Casino Mardi
  • Gold Dust
  • Monte Carlo
  • High Stakes
  • Jack Rabbit Red's
  • Little Nevada
  • Lucky Lil's
  • Lucky Cues
  • Nickel Ante
Now this, of course, is a small compilation of the numerous casino names in the area. I'd say this list is probably about 1/4 of the entire picture here in Billings. After studying the list a bit, I've noticed there are definite themes that the business owners use when determining a name. Sometimes the casino is named after a place, other times a person, often times it's named after gambling jargon (thus "Nickel Ante" and "High Stakes"). The names of course conjure up images of winning the jackpot. More realistic names like: Empty Pockets Casino, or Wasted Time Casino, don't really make it onto the signs. Though those names are obviously more truthful in their predictions, they don't really bring forth a desire to try one's luck at gaming.

A little game that I like to play: If I was a casino, what name would I have? This game is good to play when driving long distances, when stuck in boring business meetings, when you need a break from watching t.v. or listening to the radio. Try it out. It is kind of fun. Don't forget to pick a theme before you begin the brainstorm.

Tuesday, February 13


It didn't take me long to become acquainted with Billings. The city itself is relatively easy to navigate. Mainly because it has a casino on every other corner. Directions to any municipal location can be told using casinos as points of reference. I've never seen anything like it. And when I use the word casino, please don't think of the Las Vegas or Atlantic City digs. Basically any building with blacked out windows, or no windows at all has morphed into a little casino of sorts. According to the locals, the inner sanctum of these 'money snatchers' is rows of slot machines. I have to admit I haven't tried out my luck just yet.

Montana is kind of a study in and of itself. Of course the casino thing is a bit out of control, but not only that. It has only been recently (past few years) that the state has put a speed limit on the interstates that run through it. 'Use your best judgement', was the rule of thumb until the newly enforced speed limits came into existence. Another newly enforced law here in Montana is the 'open container' policy. A few years back, you could drink alcohol and drive. Now tell me how that is safe? Especially combined with the no speed limit issue.

This place is amazing! The more I find out the more amazed I become!

In true Montana fashion I will be attending a rodeo on Saturday evening, the second day of a three day event. Yee Haw!

Friday, February 9

Road Signs

Signs along the roadside as I drove through Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana:
  • ELK: whole or halves
  • Visit World's Largest Buffalo
  • View from Atop World's Largest Holstein Sue (this sign was directing interested people toward an enormous statue of a Holstein Cow on top of a small, roadside mountain, ballpark lighting highlighted it for all of the interstate traffic to see)
  • World's Only Albino Buffalo

And the best sign I saw was inside the stall of a truck stop bathroom:

  • AcuCleanser: Toilet Seat Cleaner (this sign was attached to a handpump for some sort of antibacterial cleaner. It had a diagram of a hand extracting the liquid from the container and rubbing it on the toilet seat! Was I having a nightmare? That is completely absurd!)

Each additional sign sparked a tiny twinge of wonder, amazement, and fear within me. What kind of land am I voluntarily moving into? A land where (obviously) everything is compared to that of everything else in the "world"? A land where a twenty foot statue of a Holstein Cow named Sue is a 'sight to see'? A land where one is encouraged to rub their hand on a truckstop toilet seat in order to cleanse it of germs? A land where you can buy Elk in whole or halves?

I am definitely entering an unkown land. What I will experience? That is to be determined.

Saturday, February 3

The Order of the List

Two days and counting. Yet another road trip on my agenda for the year. Most assuredly not the last and interestingly enough, not the first. The Jimmy has been serviced and re-serviced and is rearing to go - on that asphalt trail out west. Much to my happiness the drippy door issue has been resolved, as well as a number of other mechanical "illnesses" brought on by running up the mileage on an old automobile.

In the last three or four days my mind has compulsively focused on the details of moving yet again to a new place of residence. I used to be a person of "lists". Each evening I'd make a list of the things I needed to accomplish the next day and then check them off one by one as I completed them. I weened myself from the 'list' a few years ago - I fear I'm regressing. Back to the order of the list.

  • What needs to be done before leaving town?

  • Who needs to be called? Visited?

  • What needs to be stored away safely?

  • What needs to come with me to Montana?

  • Where is the cheapest gasoline?

  • What time is it?

Blast, I'm running out of time!

Thursday, February 1

A Tribute to Friends

It is not every day that one can step back out of the spotlight of today's moments and run free in yesterday's memories. And for most people, the memories of the past conjure up feelings and emotions that have been hidden for years under the stresses of the here and now. A once familiar smell, the memory of a secret never told, a picture of a favorite place, all come flooding into the river we are presently and awkwardly navigating without a moment's notice. Some memories are nightmarish - stirring up feelings of regret based on foolish choices made years previous. But then there are those, more common, memories of the carefree days of life gone by. Living in the moment. Laughing just to laugh. Not realizing that these moments mysteriously disappear as one moves further and further from childhood.

I have been consistently blessed with good friends all through my childhood and into my adult life. This blessing has been apparent to me for some time now. When other girls were getting into fights over boys and rumors, my friends and I were planning our next adventure or series of pranks. When other girls were getting wrapped up in life and losing contact with high school friends, my friends and I were making an effort to keep track of each other's accomplishments. When other girls are finding little time outside of the regular grind of life to contact a college friend, my friends and I are taking a moment to email or phone one another.

In honor of my friends, near and far, thank you for being the kind of people that even though, and in most cases, you have found your life partner, your best friend, your soul mate, you have still made an effort to reach out and touch my life. You rock!