Posts Tagged ‘friends’

Things I will and will not miss about Great Falls

It is officially official: Zach landed a job at the firm he interned at in law school, so we will be moving back to our beloved Missoula in just a few months! (And possibly sooner for me, depending on my job prospects.)

I have been in love with Missoula since I started college there at the University of Montana more than 10 years ago. To me, it’s easily Montana’s best city. It embodies a perfect balance of progressive idealism and rugged individualism, and it’s never too far from your front door to the great outdoors, with a perfect view, to boot.

For most people who live here, this view is only a short drive and moderate hike away.

For most people who live here, this view is only a short drive and moderate hike away.

Though I’m excited that we are lucky enough to settle down in a place we genuinely love, I will also be sad to leave behind the life we’ve built in Great Falls. This town gets a bad rap; it’s definitely not the destination of choice for the younger set. It has a lot of potential, but many folks here may need an attitude adjustment before it can turn that corner.

There are a several aspects of Great Falls I will miss, and many I definitely won’t.

Things I will not miss about Great Falls

The obsession with chain restaurants. I have never seen an entire community get as excited as people here do when news breaks about a new chain restaurant coming to town. Seriously. When Buffalo Wild Wings announced its plan to open a restaurant in Great Falls, people lost it. Lost. It. It was by far  by FAR  the most-read story on our website for several days, and approximately 8 million people liked and shared the news on social media. Four gazillion people will probably go on its opening day, defying all mathematical probabilities in a town of 60,000 people.

However, this is not the best chain restaurant-related news Great Fallsians could receive. Nope. That would only happen if the Holy Grail of chain restaurants announced its impending arrival to town. That’s right: Olive Garden.

OK, Great Fallsians. Have you ever actually been to an Olive Garden? I know those people in their commercials look like they’re having a ton of fun while enjoying an authentic Italian meal  like they truly enjoy spending time with their families and don’t all secretly want to punch each other in the throats  but they are actors. Paid actors.

When real people like you and me go to Olive Garden, this is what happens: We get a shit ton of buttered and salted styrofoam disguised as breadsticks and a lump of chicken covered with Cheese Product that was still frozen until 5 minutes before it hit your plate. Meanwhile, your parents ask you for the millionth time when you’re going to get a boyfriend/girlfriend, when you’re going to get married to said boyfriend/girlfriend, when you’re going to reproduce a human child with said husband/wife instead of just schlepping around that damn dog/cat/gerbil with you everywhere you go, and then you snap back  “STOP ASKING SO MANY QUESTIONS!” Then everyone eats in silence for the rest of the meal, interrupted only with the occasional “Can you please pass me some more styrofoam breadsticks?”

Is that the kind of dining experience you’re hoping for at Olive Garden? I wouldn’t wish that scenario on my worst enemy (OK, I probably would. I’m vindictive sometimes.) Great Fallsians, please know that I mean this from the bottom of my squirrelly heart: You deserve better.

Also: You are never getting an Olive Garden. This is not a bad thing.

Missoula has its fair share of chain restaurants and big box stores, but it’s also a community that oozes support for local eateries and shops. When we want to go out to eat in Great Falls, it’s often a struggle to think of the limited options (my pescetarianism doesn’t help with that). In Missoula, we have the opposite problem: It can be hard to narrow down the choices, and when you choose one, you can’t help but wonder what you’re missing out on at another.

The drivers. As I’ve mentioned before, the drivers in Great Falls are not the most courteous. In addition to the fact that many couldn’t care less about whether they run down a little old lady walking across the street, there seems to be some sort of game going on in which drivers score points for how many red lights they can run, how many miles per hour over the speed limit they can go, and how many times they can turn or change lanes without signaling. Maybe I’m just jealous because no one ever invited me to play.

Obviously, this is a problem in just about any place. No one ever goes to a city and says “Wow, there are some really good drivers here!” In fact, I’ve previously written about how awful I think Missoula drivers are, so I’m not going to see much improvement on that front. But even if they are apparently physically prohibited from using a blinker, they will at least stop to let me run across the street.

The weather. Good God, the weather here is heinous. I know  it’s heinous in a lot of places, particularly in Montana. But Great Falls weather is the worst. Especially the wind. Always with that damn wind in Great Falls. You kind of stop noticing it after a while, but it’s always there, slowly wearing on you.

Of course, it’s especially terrible in the winter, when the chill of said wind makes the temperatures feel 15 to 25 degrees colder than they already are, resulting in conditions as low as 40 degrees BELOW zero. Do you know what it’s like to not be able to feel your face? Like, it’s so cold that you straight-up cannot confirm whether your face is still attached to your head? I do, because that’s what the wind does to you during the winter in Great Falls.

It’s probably the worst in the spring though. The temperature has finally started to creep above freezing, the sun is shining, and you glance out the window, expecting a lovely day. Then you walk outside and nearly get blown back in by a 40 mph gust of wind. And don’t even think of trying to have hair in Great Falls. It will probably just end up looking like this all the time:

Great Falls: Not a great place to have hair.

Great Falls: Not a great place to have hair.

And did you know it’s possible to suffer an injury caused by wind? Folks, it is. One time, I was leaving a store on a particularly windy day, and I opened my car door and was putting my purse down in the passenger seat before getting in. All of a sudden, a ginormous wind gust blew my door shut on me, knocking me over and causing me to hit my shin on the exposed car frame. I probably could have died, but I’m really brave so I made it.

The scar on my skin may fade, but will my soul ever truly heal?

 

Things I will miss about Great Falls

Sunshine in the winter. For all the shit I just talked about Great Falls’ weather, there is one thing I will miss about it: The sun, especially in the winter. Even when it’s the aforementioned 35 below zero, or during less extreme temperature drops, the sun is typically shining. Not so much during a Missoula winter. It may not get as cold, and it’s definitely not as windy, but daaaaamn, Missoula can get a girl down in the winter. It’s cloudy most of the time, and inversions often creep into the valley and stick around for days, sometimes weeks. It’s depressing as hell. It’s what made me believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and not just a condition invented by pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs. If I ever OD on Vitamin D supplements, Missoula inversions are probably to blame. But the tradeoff — the fact that Missoula tends to see spring green sooner and fall foliage longer  is worth it.

The River’s Edge Trail. Great Falls has this amazing trail that meanders for miles and miles and miles and miles (seriously, it’s like 35 miles total) along the mighty Missouri River:

Photo by Larry Beckner, Great Falls Tribune

Photo by Larry Beckner, Great Falls Tribune

It’s absolutely perfect for avid runners like me. You can get in a lot of miles just on that trail, and I’m lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from accessing it (with only one pedestrian danger zone to cross to get there).

Now, the one downside of this trail is that in the summer, there’s a decent chance you could encounter the Prince of Darkness himself on it: Mr. Snake. And I’m not just talking about your garden-variety gardner snake (though those are around and freak me out, too). We’re talking the vilest of the vile here: The Rattlesnake. The ones that will gouge your leg in a venomous rage without a second thought, then call in his evil serpent brethren to drag you into their lair to finish you off.

Luckily, the snakes only slither around the eastern-most portions of the trail, so I can avoid their deathly embrace by turning around before I encroach on their territory. And, of course, I always keep my trusty Snake Rock with me, just in case.

My friends and co-workers. You’ve probably heard a saying along the lines of: “A place is only as good as the people you know in it. It’s the people that make the place.” That never rang true until I lived in Great Falls.

I don’t know that you will ever find a group of colleagues who have a better, and perhaps more twisted, sense of humor than those working together in a newsroom. Especially at a newspaper, which, let’s face it, is part of an industry that’s seen better days. We laugh as we recount the ridiculous comments and phone calls we get from people accusing us of instigating a conspiracy to implement Obamacare for Goats or asking that we run a correction because they believe Montana’s borders are wrong and we’re actually part of Canada (the second one actually happened). We have to laugh, through the good times and the bad, if only to keep ourselves from curling up into little balls and crying.

We also have a great group of friends here outside our work lives, and only partly because all the young people in Great Falls immediately discover they must band together if they want to survive. It’s tough to make friends after you set out into the real world, when you don’t necessarily have the comfort and convenience of instantly bonding with people you share the same class/team/dorm/
sorority/college newspaper office with. But with our friends in Great Falls, we hit the jackpot.

(Shhhh, secret time: I’m subtlety bombarding them all with subliminal messages convincing them to move to Missoula, too.)

That “je ne sais quoi.” For all the things I clearly will not miss, there is something about Great Falls, something I still can’t quite put my finger on after four years of living here, that has made me like it, despite feeling like I shouldn’t. To borrow a term from a fancy French owl, Great Falls just has a certain “je ne sais quoi” for me.

Perhaps it’s the people I’ve known here. Or maybe all that sunshine. I don’t know what it is, exactly  only that I’ll miss it when I’m gone.

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My triumphant return to Apples to Apples!

Apples to Apples

I don’t play Apples to Apples often. Whenever Zach and I go to a get-together involving party games, I have to warn the host that if we play it, my husband will literally flip the f*ck out.

This weekend, I went over to some friends’ house for sushi and games, sans-Zach. Of course, one of the first options everyone wanted to play was Apples to Apples, because it’s America’s favorite party game, and what kind of psycho doesn’t like it, anyway?

It’s a damn shame I don’t get to play it more often, because I’m awesome at it. I can use my Jedi mind-trickery to persuade just about anyone to pick just about any combination, no matter how absurd. Even though I was a bit rusty, my green cards quickly piled up, and I was declared the victor. Everyone found this quite touching because of the aforementioned psycho-husband-fun-hater thing.

OK. So it was Apples to Apples Junior. Up to a third of my competitors may or may not have been adorable children.

And it’s possible that at one point, I tricked convinced an 8-year-old girl that she should pick “horrific surprise party.” Because what if you don’t really like surprises and you went to a surprise party and the surprise gave you a heart attack and you DIED? Horrific, indeed.

But I also convinced a grown-ass man to pick “quick hamburger,” which really required me to ramp up my persuasion prowess. It was between that and “horse,” the more logical option, clearly. But if you order one of the most popular options at a McDonald’s drive-thru, what are you going to get? That’s right: a quick hamburger. Booya.

And then I just got damn lucky with my winning card. My friends’ 9-year-old son drew “best” for the green card, and the stars aligned, as I had “Legos” in my hand. I admit, I was sweating bullets as he weighed my card against “bacon.”

I quietly celebrated my victory with an inconspicuous  fist pump and subtle “YESSSSSSSS!” Everyone was truly happy for me.

The 8-year-old, whose four green cards also had her on the verge of victory, seemed only mildly disappointed. I’m pretty sure she didn’t cry herself to sleep. Pretty sure.

Why I’m not drinking (not even a drop)

Drunk squirrel

I woke up on the first day of 2014 the same way I imagine a lot of people did: with a pounding headache and the desire, if I could work out the pertinent details quickly enough, to never move again for the rest of my life.

I decided several times in 2013 to stop drinking. The first time, I made it around 40 days. The second time, a week or so. With the last streak, which started toward the end of September, I lasted exactly 100 days. I discovered near the end of the month that I would hit the century mark on the last day of 2013. The coincidence seemed like an auspicious start to the new year, so I decided I would break my streak at the end of that evening. At midnight, I had my first drink in more than three months: a glass of wine.

Then I had another. And another. And another.

It always starts with one drink, of course, but that’s never the one that gets me in trouble. It’s the second, the third, the fourth …

Thing is, I have a really tough time saying no to those subsequent drinks, even when it’s just me asking the question. Once I start feeling a little tipsy, I can’t resist alcohol’s promise to at least make me feel that I’m interacting like a normal, un-awkward human person. Despite learning the hard way that booze has a compounding effect when consumed in a condensed period — over and over and over again throughout the past decade — the lesson never quite seems to stick.

So, instead of starting the new year off right by enjoying a cup of coffee and going on a nice long run on a sunny winter morning, I wasted it trying to block out the light while watching How I Met Your Mother reruns on Netflix for the umpteenth time and relying on cheese fries for sustenance. (EDITOR’S NOTE:  Cheese fries are .4 percent sustenance, 99.6 percent ooey-gooey deliciousness.)

I’m still glad I decided to imbibe while ringing in the new year, because now I’ve officially confirmed a realization I’d suspected but chose to deny for years: For me, it’s easier to abstain from drinking all together than to try to drink in moderation.

I wish I could simply enjoy one drink and call it good. I envy those who can. But the inner angel-versus-devil monologue launched by one measly drink is exhausting, and the devil currently sports what must be a 98-to-2 record. Sometimes, I handle the aftermath of the devil’s victory well. Other times, it turns me into a genuine psychopath who bursts into tears at the slightest provocation and spontaneously stomps and kicks. It’s not pretty.

It’s a hard realization, especially in your 20s, when a lot of social outings still revolve around getting together at bars and breweries. And I genuinely enjoy a good Montana craft beer for the taste, not just its inebriating effect. It seems almost sacrilegious to live in a state with the second-most microbreweries per capita and not enjoy a brew from one, not even once in a while.

But, my 100-day streak has inspired confidence that I can, in fact, do this. And do it without completely retreating into a hermit cave.

I’m sure my willingness to give up this oft-enjoyed pastime would come as a shock to many people, especially those who knew me in college and could tell you how hilarious it is that I think I can dance after a few beers. Trust me, you don’t earn the nickname “Little Kicks” if you have amazing rhythm and killer moves. (Don’t worry, friends. I’m sure I’ll work up the confidence to dance without that liquid courage sooner or later.)

Am I never going to drink another drop of alcohol again? I don’t know. Forever seems like a long time to give up anything. But I’m at the point where I know those drops must come sparingly. I’ll just have to take it one day at a time.

2013: Our squirreliest year yet!

2013 was pretty good to me. I got married to my best friend. ALF was at our wedding. (True story.) I have awesome friends, a loving family and the privilege to live and run in Big Sky Country. My obsession passion for punctuation led to my most popular post ever (with an assist from the WordPress editors. Thanks, guys!)

And, lucky us, WordPress has real, live helper monkeys working around the clock to generate year-end stats for Squirrel Thoughts. Let’s take a look!

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Has anyone fed the helper monkeys lately? They’re probably getting hungry.)

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Apples to Apples

Every time Zach and I go to a party and someone suggests we play the popular and delightful game Apples to Apples, I have to quickly suggest another option, such as taking turns punching one another in the stomach.

That’s how bad Zach is at Apples to Apples.

If you’re not familiar with A2A, the premise is simple yet unique: Each player receives seven red cards, each with a noun printed on it. They then take turns being the judge, who draws from a stack of green cards with adjectives on them. The other players decide which of their noun cards best fits that adjective. The judge ranks the red cards, and the person who put in the No. 1 card — according to the judge AND NO ONE ELSE — wins that round.

Anyone who’s ever played A2A understands the key is to play into the personality of the current judge. For example, if the person likes funny or ironic combinations (which make the game infinitely more enjoyable than the seriously lame literal pairings, I might add), then you know that during her turn, you should opt for that over a noun that works in a more conventional sense. All other humans who have played A2A fully comprehend this and strategize accordingly. Zach does not.

See, when Zach plays A2A, he apparently loses the quick sense of wit and humor he exudes so effortlessly otherwise. If you played with him, you’d soon realize he’s one of those people who prefers the literal pairings, and whenever his turn rolled around, you’d play a card to suit this preference.

So, while playing the combination “delicious babies” might be some of the funniest shit ever, you would still put down “chocolate cake” if it were Zach’s turn. Unless you didn’t give a shit about his preference and just wanted to create the funniest combination possible, because who needs to take life that seriously when you’re getting drunk with a bunch of college buddies and you just want to laugh and have a good time?

That scenario describes the first time Zach and I played A2A. It was a wintry Friday night our senior year, and we were hanging out with a bunch of co-workers from the school newspaper, enjoying some adult beverages. We started the game, and most everyone quickly caught on.

One guy in particular took to the ironic combinations, so when he judged, everyone knew to come up with the most absurd pairing possible. Except Zach. Zach still played the most literal choice he could, and he grew increasingly angry each time the other player chose another card over his.

One time, this player drew the “neglected” card. Zach played “New Orleans,” while someone else played the noun “politicians.” When the judge chose “neglected politicians” over “neglected New Orleans,” I thought Zach was going to lose it. (Granted, this was about a year after Katrina, FEMA and heckuva job Brownie, so it was probably the best choice …)

At this point, I should have foreseen the storm brewing. When he threatened to quit the game, I should not have persuaded him otherwise. I should have faked dysentery and asked him to take me home. (Yes, telling my friends I had the grossest disease you could get on the Oregon Trail would have been better than what happened next.)

But I didn’t. Oh, how I didn’t …

Next, someone drew the word “cosmic” from the adjective pile. Zach laid down the “big bang theory.” As the big bang theory is about as cosmic as it gets, he considered this a sure-fire winner. Someone else played “bigfoot.” It came down to “big bang theory” and “bigfoot.”

“Bigfoot” won.

Zach freaked out.

“No. NO! There is NOTHING more cosmic than the big bang theory! This game is so GAY!”

(Now, Zach is a fairly upstanding individual who doesn’t normally throw around the word “gay” to mean “stupid” like an illiterate, ignorant seventh-grader would. Nor would we have started dating in the first place if he did. But Apples to Apples had thrown him into such a blinding rage that he reverted to this uncouth description.)

“I’M LEAVING!” he bellowed. He shot a glance at me, foam dripping from his mouth. “ARE YOU COMING WITH ME?”

I sat at the table, a little panicked, my eyes flitting back and forth between him and the group of drunk people snickering at his outburst. On the one hand, he was my normally calm, personable boyfriend. On the other hand, he was acting like a psycho.

I chose to go with him. Mainly because I was mortified and didn’t want to explain his behavior if I stayed. We barely spoke in the car. (I told him I would prefer if he wouldn’t use the word “gay” like that; he replied, “Yeah, fine, whatever.”)

To this day, no one can mention A2A to Zach without provoking a fit of rage. Just last week, a friend mentioned it on Facebook, and he immediately commented to say how stupid it is.

I’ve given up trying to explain it to him, because he just doesn’t get it. In my last attempt, I tried to explain that the other players didn’t always agree with the judge’s choice, but they didn’t freak out.

His reply?

“So, if you see someone getting attacked, and everyone else is staying calm, but you’re sort of freaking out and want to call 9-1-1, does that make you the weird one? NO!”

That’s more like comparing apples to oranges than apples to apples, I replied.

No wonder he doesn’t get it.

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