Monday, February 18, 2019

More than a ditch digger

Several years ago, the main office needed to replace their carpet.  This meant that everyone's chairs, desks, and other cubicle paraphernalia had to be moved into other rooms so the old carpet could be ripped out.  Who got the task of doing this? The fire crew.

None of us worked in that building, and it felt strange as we carried other people's stuff around.  A couple of them helped, but most just watched us.  I saw some of them at the gym later lifting weights.

There is an enduring perception that because much of our job involves manual labor, that's what we should do all the time.  The offices all have janitorial contracts; we clean our bathrooms.  If our buildings need paint, we do it ourselves.  The fire crew maintains the grounds on the compound in summer and winter; the other folks never need to pick up a shovel or a weedwhacker.

People have told me that they think fire crews should do these things because they don't have anything else to do.  Those are the same people who think that firefighters sit around a lot and collect a lot of money.  In a way, they can't be blamed too much.  The media either shows footage of firefighters digging in the dirt or sleeping after a long shift.  And it is true that given the choice of mowing the lawn or writing a prescribed fire aerial ignition plan, most crewmembers will leap for the riding mower.  But it's not the whole story.

The media, or the guy who drove by while we were waiting in a meadow for the helicopter to return from dropping water on a fire and yelled, "There's my tax dollars at work," don't get invited to planning meetings where firefighters make critical decisions on how to stop a raging wildfire.  They don't see us evaluating bids on a multi million dollar helicopter contract.  They aren't there when a hotshot superintendent or crew boss leads 20 people into an intense firefight, constantly evaluating the danger and keeping his or her crew safe.

This is the stereotype of a wildland firefighter: the strong, often hard-drinking "knuckle dragger," good for putting in miles of fireline but confused by computer programs.  You might be excused for believing this is a true characterization; after all, the first line in one of my position description once was "moves dirt."  But don't be fooled.

Not only do you have to be able to predict what a fire is going to do and make split second decisions, but you must also know your way around federal regulations, policy, and databases.  Poor spellers are looked down on, and pity the fool who hits "reply all" on an email by mistake.  You have to be able to write professional proposals and burn plans that would stand up in court, and administer contracts.  You have to teach new people how to interpret weather and fire behavior, and keep them out of helicopter tail rotors.  You have to learn to navigate the endless paper trail that is now necessary to do your job.

Sometimes it's exhausting to walk the line between a manual labor job and an office position.  One is physically tiring and the other mentally.  In a way though, it's the best of both worlds.  When the constant HR paperwork gets to me, I can go outside and weed the helitack garden.  When it's raining, I can complete the mandatory training of doom on the computer. No two days are ever the same.

Since I know my readers have all types of jobs, leave a comment: what is a common stereotype associated with your profession? How is it right and how is it wrong?


Monday, February 11, 2019

The harshest critic

J. chuckled as he sent me a text.  It was a picture of our mutual friend D, a "glamour shot" she had taken years ago.

If you don't know what these are, you are probably younger than us.  Girls in the '80s loved these.  Most malls had a place exclusively set up to do them.  You went in and someone applied makeup to you with a heavy hand.  They usually curled and fluffed up your hair.  You were given costume jewelry to wear and a sort of "wrap" that from the shoulders up perspective of the final photos looked like a glamorous off the shoulder gown, when it was really just a piece of material.  Then your photos were taken.  You later came in (no digital cameras then) to look at your proofs.  You picked the one you liked, it was edited to make your skin look flawless, and then you had it: a glamour shot!

I'll spare you mine, mostly because it's in a box somewhere in the garage, which is unheated and too freezing to enter at the moment.  But I still remember the anticipation of waiting for the proofs (something kids these days won't ever have), not knowing how the pictures would turn out.  Then, all I could see were flaws.  I was disappointed, like I often was with pictures of myself in those days.  There was always something wrong with them: my hair looked wild, I didn't look thin enough, my pose was strange, my smile weird.

But now when I dig out old photos of me, I feel sort of sad.  There was nothing wrong with that girl.  She hardly weighed over 100 pounds.  Her hair was full and long.  She was pretty and healthy and hopeful.

When I take pictures with friends, I never judge how they look.  I just see how happy they are in that moment and how good they are as people.  We need to be this way with ourselves.  We're all better looking, smarter, and brave than we give ourselves credit for.   

Don't believe this? Go back and look at old photos that you might not have liked at the time, or thought were just okay.  You might be surprised.  Bonus points if they were "glamour shots."
Me at 22.  I thought I looked just ok in this picture.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Tales of a (formerly) intrepid runner

"There's a hardy jogger," a man out walking his dog said as I ran by.  As much as the word "jogger" annoys me, it was probably applicable that day as I ran slowly over some ice.  It wasn't that cold, about 10 degrees F, but I was still looking forward to being done.  Banished from the trails due to deep snow, I was running on a somewhat boring out-and-back road that was bothering my knees.

The younger me, who started running at 14 and obsessively hit the roads every day, would not think I was being particularly hardy.  After all, I used to run in blizzards, in 100 degree temperatures, during a tornado watch (don't do this), and on sheer ice without spikes (they weren't invented for runners yet).  I even had to get as ride from some random tourists past an angry bison once during a run.  I've startled bears and once, a mountain lion while running.  I even attempted a run after descending from a successful summit of Mt. Baker in the Cascades (it didn't go well).  It's fair to say I was sort of obsessed.

That's not me anymore.  My personal low temperature cutoff for outside running of -20F has changed to about 0F.  If it's nice out, you might find me hiking or snowshoeing instead.  On a work trip in a sketchy area, I'll use the hotel gym instead of nervously venturing out to run like I might have in the past. Awful winds, torrential rain, and snow blowing sideways have the potential to derail running plans.

Back when I used to run races (and occasionally win them), being a runner was a big part of my identity.  After decades of running and two knee surgeries, I'm still a runner, but not as often.  The younger me might have felt bad about this.  I don't, though.

The need to put in the mileage no matter what sometimes felt like a burden.  Now I run when I want to, and do other things when I don't.  I'm in better shape than younger me, who, while skinnier, didn't lift weights or do any type of cross training.

So you can call me a "hardy jogger" if you want.  But I'll just smile, because I have good memories of my more hard core, faster running days.  They're behind me, and that's okay.  There's still a lot left ahead.

Monday, January 28, 2019

furlough lessons

"How was your furlough?" one of the managers asked.

"It would have been nice to have money coming in, but it was good," I said.  "I got to do a lot of things.  I really didn't miss work at all."

"I figured you wouldn't be one of those people sitting around twiddling their thumbs," he said.

Is this a compliment? I think so.  I'm finding that not everybody felt the same way as I did.  Understandable money worries aside, some people seemed lost without their work life.  They said they missed their colleagues and their routine.  They fretted about incomplete projects.  Some said it was traumatic.  Some were even angry that they weren't chosen to work without pay and others were.

I used to worry about work/life balance.  I work so much, especially in the summer, that I thought when it came to leave this career, I wouldn't know what to do.  As a wildland firefighter, you can't just half heartedly do your job, or you won't last long and you won't get anywhere.  You can't have one foot in and one out.

I've given up a lot for my job, but having this past month off has been reassuring.  There's so much more to life than work.  There's good friends, places to explore, and sweet cats to cuddle.  I won't have trouble filling my days.  If I want to see my former co-workers, I can: they live in the same town.

Ultimately it's important to realize that we are all replaceable at work.  Your supervisor and your supervisor's boss might care about you, but at the highest level that may not be the case.  You should be dedicated and have a sense of purpose, but don't make it your entire life.

We may be furloughed again in three weeks...I already have plans!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Stuff I do during furlough

I started this post with a bitter tone, but then erased it.  There's a lot to be mad about, but I'll attempt to focus on the positive for now.

My house is getting really clean.  I've never had a hoarder house or lived in squalor, but some walls got washed that may or may not have ever been washed since I bought my house.  I've read quite a few books.  Besides 1st Phorm, I'm looking into other ways to make money.

I've dreamed about trips that I don't think I should take right now and actually had flights in my cart before I deleted it, too chicken to incur the expense.  I've had plenty of time to bother  pay attention to the cats.  I'm making creative meals from forgotten items in the cupboards, to avoid spending money at the store.

I go snowboarding DURING THE WEEK and it's glorious.  No little kids cutting me off, and wide open runs.

I go hiking and snowshoeing with friends and don't worry about having to get everything ready for work the next day.

I go to the gym when I want to, instead of the busy times when everyone is leaving work.  There's days when I wake up and enjoy the feeling of not having to be anywhere anytime soon.

In fact, this has been sort of practice for the retirement life, and it's good.  I find I miss work very little.  If there's people I miss, I can always see them.  It's nice to know that it probably won't be too traumatic to make that transition.  I won't be lost, without purpose.

Of course, there's a price.  I'm about to miss a month of pay, and nobody knows how long this ridiculousness will continue, so it's hard to budget.  Other, non-feds don't seem to understand: they resent it when businesses try to help us out and think everything is ok because we will eventually get back pay.  When we do go back, there will be a nightmare of work ahead; who knows if we will even have any seasonal employees to fight fire this summer.

But we keep going, because that's what we do.  We do more with less, do the people's work, serve the greater good.  I'm proud of us, the ones who are driving Lyft and Uber and waiting tables to get by, and the ones who have to go into work and will get a bill for deductions instead of a paycheck, but haven't quit or had a meltdown.  These are some of the best people I know.  I only wish more people could see that.

Monday, January 14, 2019

One year as a CPT: What I've learned

About a year ago I  became certified as a Personal Trainer.  So far, although I've designed workouts for people, I haven't made any money through this certification.  This is my fault, because  1. I don't want to ask, and 2.  I already have a full time, demanding job (although not at the moment, because I'm furloughed due to the government shutdown).  But even though I'm an unpaid trainer, I've learned a few things in the past year.  Here are a few of them:

1.  The gym is not my happy place.  OK, I already knew this.  I go there, but it's not my passion.  I would much rather be outside to exercise.  Seeing the trainers at gyms, stuck inside all day and not making a lot of money, just reinforced my feeling that I don't want to be a full time gym employee.

2.  A lot of people THINK they are trainers.  People have disagreed with and contradicted me about certain exercises and their benefits, even though they haven't had any training.  I try not to let this bother me, because there is so much information and misinformation on the internet.  It's hard to know what to believe sometimes.

3.  Social media is full of trainers (or people representing themselves as such).  A lot of these people know how to work angles and poses, as well as use filters well.  Don't take all of it at face value.

4.  I took a continuing education workshop on sports conditioning drills.  I was kind of apprehensive, with bad memories of gym classes past.  But it was really fun and I learned several new exercises (moral: try new things).

5.  Seeing people improve their fitness in a few short weeks doing a workout you designed is really gratifying.

6.  If I end up doing this as a second career, I want to incorporate the outdoors in the workouts, like a class in a park or a beach.

7.  Additional certifications are really expensive.  For example, to be fully qualified as a Pilates instructor would be around $6,000.  There are a lot of really cool programs out there, but once you are certified you usually have to pay a monthly or yearly fee to stay certified.  You really have to weigh whether it's financially beneficial or not.

8.  Education is never wasted.  When I started studying, I really just wanted to learn more about fitness.  If I never end up teaching, or only have a couple clients, that's OK with me.

9.  I re-evaluated my own workouts.  When I first started lifting weights, I was taught by a bodybuilder.  Through the years, I kept doing the same exercises and reps, not really thinking about whether they were helping me meet my goals or not.  In some cases, they weren't.

10.  I'm secretly watching you! I notice people in the gym exercising with poor form, or showing clear imbalances in their muscle groups.  I don't say anything though: I'm not THAT person.

Have you ever taken a class or gotten a certification just because it interested you? Did you end up using it for work? What did you learn?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Side Ways

I've heard that some TSA workers, forced to work without pay because of the government shutdown, are calling in sick so they can take other jobs.  I really don't blame them.  They will get paid eventually, but they need money now. As a "non-essential" employee, I'm not working, and there's no guarantee I will be paid.  Luckily I have savings, but I know many people who don't and will soon be struggling to make ends meet.

Anyway, this post is about my "side business." I don't make much money off it, because I'm reluctant to be pushy, and I don't plan a lot of posts about it.  I think we have all read those blogs that used to be enjoyable and then became full of awkward sponsored posts and hard sells.  Social media is full of people trying to get others to join their MLM businesses or buy leggings, skin care, weight loss drinks, etc.  So I'll keep it brief and feel free to click on by.  New posts about winter adventures, fire memories, and various complaints will be up soon.

The company I'm a rep for is called 1st Phorm.  They make a variety of health and wellness supplements, protein powders, and products that aid in fat loss, muscle building, and heart health. They also put on transformation challenges several times a year.  It's free to enter, and the winners, who are ordinary folks who decided to make a change, get $50,000 or more.

The products I like the most are the energy bars, protein powders, the daily nutrient/vitamin pack,  a greens powder, and a supplement called Joint Mobility which relieves joint pain and contributes to bone, tendon and ligament health.

Best of all, 1st Phorm really wants to help people reach their goals. They are the first to say that supplements aren't for everyone.  They won't take the place of a good diet or exercise program.  They are for the gaps that exist in most people's diets.

If you're interested, my link is  I receive a small commission if enough purchases are made through this link.

If you have any questions, let me know! And thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Smelly Train/Nice Bag: Winter Edition!

Awhile back, I did a couple posts using the Smelly Train/Nice Bag idea that I stole from a UK blogger. I don't remember who it was, and have lost track of the blog, so if it was you, sorry (and post your blog link).  The whole premise behind it was that if you have a negative thought, you should counteract it with a positive one.  The writer was traveling on a stinky train, but she was carrying a nice purse.  So here we go, with the winter version:

It's cold out!/I can wear cute sweaters and boots!

I don't want to shovel snow!/Now I don't need to go to the gym and lift weights!

There's not very much daylight!/You don't have to feel bad about calling it an early night with a book!

It's hard to run in the winter!/It's still better than the treadmill!

Heat is so expensive!/Now I can break out the fuzzy slippers and fleece blankets! Also, in the words of moms everywhere, "Put on a sweater."

I miss wearing my cute summer clothes!/Two words: down miniskirt. Also, jackets! (yes, I have a jacket problem. I can't stop buying them).

It's icy out!/My microspikes work great!

I can't hike!/But I can snowshoe, snowboard and cross country ski!

Winter is so long!/It really makes me appreciate summer!

What am I missing? What are your smelly train/nice bag moments lately (they don't have to be about winter)? Love winter and dislike summer? Throw some out there!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dog Days

Dear dog owners,

I know you think your pooch is the cutest, best doggy in the world.  I get this, because my cats definitely are the cutest, best kitties in the world.  I don't dislike dogs, even though I was traumatized when I was little by a huge bloodhound running off with my Barbie.  Sometimes I wish I could have one (but can't, with my job).  This isn't really about your dog.  It's about YOU.

I'm a runner.  I've been a runner for 40 years.  I've run all over the world, on trails, roads, in bear and mountain lion country, in places where I've had to turn around and retreat because of sketchy people, and in all kinds of weather.  Despite all that, dogs have been the worst of all these obstacles.  Yes, DOGS.

When running, I've learned to be very cautious when approaching dogs.  I usually slow down and sometimes even stop, depending on the pup's behavior.  I've taken other routes when I know a mean dog is there, and even cut my run short to avoid one.  I talk to the dog and the owner in a friendly way.  I step aside on trails for them.

Despite this, I've been bitten, barked at aggressively, chased, jumped up on and scratched, bumped into so hard it caused a bruise, and had my hand grabbed in dog's mouths with their teeth clamped down on it.  Meanwhile the owner usually says the dog's name ineffectively, claims "she's friendly" as it snarls at me, and refuses to accept any responsibility.

Your happy pup running up to me to say hi is fine.  I don't expect all dogs everywhere to be on leashes, or to be perfectly behaved all the time.  But let's share the trails and be courteous.  Please train/control your pooch so we can all have fun out there.


A runner
I have a "niece," Ruby.  She is very well behaved!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

more sweet than bitter

If a young girl were to read the latest stories about becoming a female wildland firefighter, she would be horrified.

Rampant discrimination.  Harassed by men at every turn.  Forced to quit, even.

This isn't my story.

I'm not saying this doesn't happen to some.  It has and it does, and it shouldn't.  But it wasn't and isn't the reality for me.  Yes, there were times when there was inappropriate talk and behavior.  When men closed ranks, shutting me out of discussions and decisions.  But it wasn't enough to make me leave.

What made me stay? Something must make this dirty, dangerous, underpaid, male-dominated career worth it.  We don't keep doing things if there is no benefit.  Even the addicts I have known wouldn't quit chasing the high, despite the inevitable low, until the negatives outweighed the positives.  The juice must be worth the squeeze.

When I think back over the last 30 years, the answer to that question doesn't come fully formed.  Instead, there's a series of flashbacks, pieces of memories, that run through my mind: the sweetness, without any of the bitter:

-My first fire, staring incredulously at 200 foot flames as they rolled over the mountains;

-The sudden surprise of a snowfall on a fire high in the Cascades;

-In Mesa Verde, the pilot steering us past an Anasazi ruin with a circular tower built in the middle of it, in the middle of nowhere;

-Spotting smoke in the distance with  my coworker Ron in the Tetons, getting on the radio and saying "we're ten minutes out," no matter how far away we were;

-Evacuating people ahead of fires and knowing we saved their lives;

-The exhilaration of climbing out of a wrecked helicopter and knowing I was alive;

-Sleeping on a remote rappel spot while elk bugled all around us;

-Lighting fire around cabins in a last ditch effort to save them, and celebrating because they made it;

-Flying through Glacier Park with Chris the pilot, looking at lakes and mountains and glaciers, both of us incredulous at our good fortune to be there.

It's been bittersweet, all these years.  But it's been more sweet than bitter.  It was all worth it.