I am brand new to military life and already it’s clear that there will be plenty of curves ahead. Spending the first 25 years of my life within minutes of Minneapolis didn’t exactly prepare me for a huge variety of living environments. Adjusting to life in the middle of nowhere has been an interesting experience to say the least, so I thought I would share 9 tips for small town living — a survival guide if you will.
But first, a little background…
I have a bad memory–like, my childhood “memories” only exist because there is photographic evidence, bad. I have a terrible time remembering past events, recipe instructions while reading the damn recipe, what the hell I walked into the kitchen to grab, names even when I’ve met a person multiple times–nothing personal, I swear, my memory is just complete shit. All that being said, I vividly remember the day we found out where we were getting stationed.
Husband had been previously enlisted but had gotten out to finish his bachelor’s and see what the private sector was like. Almost immediately, he determined it wasn’t his bag and began the process of commissioning to get back into the Air Force as an officer. Obviously, I wanted him to do whatever it took to have a fulfilling career, so I supported him in this endeavor. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were officially over, the Air Force was the smallest it had ever been with no signs of expansion in the near future. Nevertheless, he decided he would try to get picked up. It took years of planning, organizing, re-organizing, filling out forms and waivers, taking tests, coordinating with recruiters–we had lots of ups and downs, our hope waned. But in November 2014 he excitedly told me it had all finally come together. His happiness was infectious and while I knew our lives were about to change drastically, I was basically bursting at the seams with excitement. For years he had been telling me stories of his time stationed in Germany–all the travels and culture and good beer. I know I’m not the only significant other who has gotten hopes high for somewhere exciting and exotic and full of adventures–Germany, Japan, Italy, England, Hawaii, Alaska!
I bothered him incessantly as to whether or not he’d gotten news of his first duty station as an officer. Seriously, I was such a pain in the ass. At the time, I was finishing school in Denver, CO and he was living in Raleigh, NC. We talked every single night and I inquired every. single. night. I just could not wait to start planning our new adventure. Over my six week holiday break, I stayed with him in Raleigh–two days into it we drank a bunch of sweet, fruity wine and, after nearly hyperventilating, he asked me to marry him at the kitchen table (actually, he didn’t really even ask–he just snuck the open ring box on the table while I was busy making googly eyes at him). Not more than a couple weeks later, we were loafing around the apartment when word finally came. “What country is Altus in?” Quick Google search–ho-ly sheit. Wouldn’tchya know it’s right here in the heart of farm country USofA–middle of nowhere Oklahoma.
Well, this blog is all about authenticity so I’ll be honest with you– at first I was in shock, I nervous laughed at the map, and then I saw all the exotic overseas travelling adventures *POOF* gone. My heart sank. I cried a little. Or a lot. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to venture to say that most people aren’t crossing all their fingers and toes for Minot, North Dakota or Del Rio, Texas. But, alas– we find ourselves packing up all of our belongings and setting out for the middle of farm country, dead-set on making the goddamn best of it. Because what else are you gunna do? Cry for three to eight years and wait for the magic to come to you through your next duty station? False. Life is for living and that includes the time we spend in the places the ‘dream sheets’ rarely list.
When I found out we were moving to Altus, I did what any internet-loving millennial would do: I Google-searched that shit. OMG I did so much Googling. I read so many milspouse blogs–hoping that one of them had been where I was going. I came up empty. There were no survival guides for city girls in small towns because, go figure, most city girls don’t up and decide to move to small towns. But that guide exists now because I wrote it mydamnself! So when you read ‘Podunk Town, Nowheresville’ on your orders, you will have a blog to turn to after you’re done sobbing, and decide that you will fucking kick that little town into high gear and make your own goddamn adventure.
9 Tips for Small Town Living
Trust me, you need this. When the nearest
Targetanything is an hour+ away, you spend a lot of time in the car. So unless you love listening to mainly radio commercials interspersed with modern country and radio static–get you some SiriusXM. It. is. worth. it.
Learn to cook
I LOVE good, cheap Chinese take-out, and spicy Thai curry, and deep dish pizza, and perfectly medium-rare ribeye, and–okay, let’s be real, I love all the foods. Unfortunately, the cuisine selection is a little lacking in our 17-square-mile town. So when the craving hits, I find a good recipe and figure that shit out. Sometimes it goes awry, but it’s fun to push your culinary boundaries. With a little practice (and help from YouTube), you’ll be whipping up General Tso’s chicken that beats Panda Express any day. I’ve shared some favorites that I’ve learned to make below:
Amazon Prime is your friend
But don’t write off the local shops!
Build better habits
When I lived in the city, I had every excuse to go out, waste time and spend money. There were so many cool microbreweries, great happy hours, and tons of local shops. When those temptations cease to exist, it’s easier to plump up that savings account, get to the gym and forego drinks with coworkers after work.
-Visit all the National Parks within a day’s driving distance. With the ever increasing availability of international travel, people forget how awesome road trips can be. There is so much cool shit to see right here in our backyard, take advantage of your location.
-Sunsets and stargazing. Pick up a six-pack and bust out your camping chairs. Chances are good that your tiny town doesn’t generate much light pollution so the stars are frikkin NUTS. Slow down and let your mind be boggled by the sky’s vastness.
-One random weekend we decided to do the Bdubs Blazin’ challenge on a whim. That’s the one where you have six minutes to eat 12 buffalo wings covered in their hottest sauce–no napkins, no drinks, no utensils allowed. Long story short, it was painful and neither of us were successful, but it makes for a good memory and a funny story. In a small town, you gotta get creative with date night.
-Game night. We have recently been reintroduced to board games. Yeah, I know it sounds super nerdy, but there are some pretty fun ones out there. Add your adult beverage of choice and some non-judgey friends and you have yourself a fun night! Some fun games I can personally vouch for: Ticket to Ride, Cash ‘n Guns, King of Tokyo, and Cards Against Humanity (not a board game, but definitely worth including in the list).
Learn a new hobby
Husband has been riding motorcycles for years and while I love to cruise around on the back of his, I want to learn to ride myself. It’s been a goal of mine for years, but I’ve never pulled the trigger. Well what better time to learn than now? What have you always wanted to do, but never felt like you had the time to put into? Being stationed at a tiny base in a small town is the perfect opportunity to pour your time into learning a new hobby or skill. If it’s riding motorcycles, you’re in luck–keep an eye out for my motorcycle journey, which I will chronicle here. There are so many things to learn though– find something and make it your bitch, what else are you gunna do?
Explore the local culture
There is culture everywhere, whether or not you take the time to appreciate it is up to you. Last year, I went to my first rodeo. Probably not something I would’ve sought out had we not gotten stationed here, but it’s a big part of the culture in Oklahoma. Plus, they had a military appreciation night and a bunch of our friends went too. Beer was cheap and the weather was nice. All in all, I’m glad I went. In a couple weeks they’re holding the annual Rattlesnake Festival, which I think would be cool to check out, because why the fuck not? There are probably lots of other things too, just gotta keep your eye out for them. Isn’t that the wonderful part of getting to spend extended amounts of time in a new place? Learning about what life is like there? If you don’t actively seek it out, then you won’t get to experience it and then it’s like, well what the hell were you doing the whole time you lived there, hiding in your safe zone? Lame.
Don’t contribute to the gossip
I have to admit that I read this one on another site, but it is too good not to share! In a small town (or base) where everybody knows everybody, there is bound to be lots of gossip. Keep your cards close to your chest until you figure out who you can trust to be a reliable network. If you start to associate with people who build their friendships around gossiping, it’s only a matter of time before the conversation topic shifts to you. By not perpetuating the gossip, hopefully you can stay out of it.
I will be the first to admit that this is so fucking hard because it’s just so easy to focus on the shitty parts. But maintaining perspective is key to small town living. Actively focus on the good parts. Enjoy the fact that you will never get stuck in traffic. You’ll rarely have to wait for a table at a restaurant. Remind yourself that the place you are in now will not be where you remain forever. And as cliche as it sounds– create your own happiness. And let me just tell you, I’m rolling my eyes at myself for writing it, because I fail so hard at following that advice. But it’s the fuckin truth even if it is annoying to admit. If you continue to focus on the shit, you will miss the flowers growing out of it. So focus on growing the flowers and recognize that the shit is just a necessary part of the process.
What are some things that have made the transition to small town living easier for you?