Full time, temporary

There are many different work styles. I only knew of a handful until the last few years. I knew people worked regular 5 day work weeks, traditional schedules that you could count on. People worked in rotating shifts, or worked out of town, doing things like flying planes or driving trucks. I knew of part time work. But living in Alaska has been an education in work style creativity.

The energy industry in Alaska seems to run in two week shifts…two on, two off, and people commute from other states, or great distances within Alaska, to accommodate this schedule. There are people who live here during the school year, then live in “America” (aka the lower 48) for summers. Some, like Rob and me, work in varying blocks of time. Full time when working, but working as temporary staff. I didn’t know, until Alaska, that many, maybe all, healthcare professionals can work this way. Physicians, nurses, lab, x-ray, allied health professionals…all can work from a few weeks to a few months, then move on to the next place. In a hospital setting, they’re called “travelers.” Travelers often rotate with a particular health care institution, cycling in and out. Even temporary faces become familiar after a while. Many other professions have a seasonal cycle here. Tourism, construction, even forest service jobs are full time and temporary, typically excluding winter months.

So what’s the benefit to working this way? The two week on, two week off workers and teachers are in their own category. These folks really are employees. They have employment with benefits and diversity of location. Those working in block time are typically contractors, and may or may not have some benefit structure in place. Rob and I do not have benefits. We pay our own health insurance, to the tune of about $1000 a month for the two of us. We make a better rate for unit of time, but there is no paid leave, no access to other employer benefits for us.

What we do get is freedom, and change of pace, scenery, and people. We are free to commit when and where we want. That doesn’t mean we don’t work, but it does mean we can decline to work if we want to be “off,” or we can choose which organization we will work for. Currently we have multiple options for work, so we have choice. Commitments are typically a week at a time, minimum, and we are able to plan weeks, even months, in advance.

What does all this mean? It means we are sometimes in Ketchikan, working in the clinic there, and at home. The rest of the time we’re working, we’re in small bush communities in SE Alaska, living in furnished apartments, not quite living out of a suitcase, but definitely not at home either.

If your family structure is flexible, if you can weather weeks when you are not working, and are thus without income; if you are not climbing a corporate ladder, or running your own business empire, you too could work like this. Maybe the question is: why would you want to?

This is our transition plan to our next stage. Not sure yet what that will look like, but in the interim, we need time to explore other geography, other ways of earning an income, and our own interests and desires. We also still need income. I describe it as being at that awkward age…too young to retire, but ready for change. Working in block time gives us ability to structure travel and time to think, which is essential when you’re planning a reconstruction of your life.

To live this way, and assuming you’re not just working for the fun of it, you’ll probably have to cut some expenses. And you have to have financial cushions. You have to think outside the box. And you have to plan. This takes a lot of planning.

At this point in my life, I’m relaxed enough to enjoy living this way. I have to be honest to say that Rob invented this lifestyle for us. I wouldn’t have done this on my own. I’m not inventive. I only go outside the box when I’m dragged out. But once I get out, I usually like it.

So, on with our year of transition. That’s what we’re calling it. It may or may not be a year by the calendar. But I can already tell: we’re definitely in transition. See you on the merry-go-round!

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Craig, Aaska, take two

It’s Monday and we’re back in Craig, Alaska. Rob will be working here the next three weeks, and I’m here to do some training for PeaceHealth. I’m winding down, about to enter my last full month of full time. Scary, daunting, exciting, a little surreal. Here we go!

This time we’re staying in a different place. When you do locums work (filling in for a permanent provider), a place to stay is part of the package. The accommodations can vary greatly. We’ve stayed in bed and breakfasts, efficiency apartments, cottages, hotels…The nice thing is that usually the place comes with basic kitchen stuff so you can have coffee and do as much cooking as you choose without going out for every meal. (I like to go out, but on rainy dreary nights, I just want home, and the comfort of getting cozy.) The place we stayed last week for Thanksgiving even came with a Butterball turkey in the freezer, the clinic’s holiday gift to each staff member. However, I did not choose to make the turkey for the two of us. We shared the holiday meal with several others and I brought my southern-style creamed corn and sweet potato casserole. The turkey (still frozen) flew home with us on Saturday and is now living in my freezer in Ketchikan. Hey, I’ll make a turkey dinner sooner or later…just won’t be this month, or in December.

We’re only a half hour flight from Ketchikan, on the island of Prince of Wales. We came over Sunday afternoon and I was surprised to see there is a lot of snow here. There’s a much bigger road system here than in Ketchikan, though not all of the roads are paved. This island was a major logging site years ago and a lot of the roads are from that era.

These little outposts are interesting. You never know what you’ll find in the way of stores and amenities. It can be hit and miss. I’m actually amazed at what is here when I realize that everything is either flown in or barged in. When you can’t drive in, the price of everthing goes up. Way up.

I enjoy the glimpse of small town life. Well, Ketchikan is small, but this is really little. I grew up in a small town, so this feels familiar. What’s different is the degree of isolation you experience on remote islands. Ketchikan has Alaska Airlines flying in and out several times each day, and the major state ferries stop there. You can’t drive out, but you can get out pretty easily. Not cheaply, but easily enough. The ferry from Prince of Wales (POW, locals call it) takes three hours to get to Ketchikan and the connection point for other travel. Or you can fly, but that’s pricey and baggage allowance is limited. Most folks here do an occasional ferry trip to Ketchikan to make a Walmart run or for some specialty need in healthcare. Women go over a couple of weeks before giving birth to deliver in the hospital there. There is no hospital here, just a couple of clinics on the island doing primary care and visiting clinic care.

Tuesday…Today the clinic has a visiting specialty provider coming over, and someone is coming for the day to set up the scanner and computer for the training I’m doing. Weather yesterday pushed both these visits to Tuesday. No planes were flying on Monday. But people around here are used to weather ruling. Ir makes a lot of decisions easy…bad weather, no flying. Really bad weather, no boating, although the ferries are big enough they usually keep to their regular schedules.

Ah, life on the frontier! Some things are so “normal,” you’d think you were on Main Street USA. There’s cable tv and Starbucks coffee in the grocery store and everyone has cell phones. But just when you think you know what to expect you’re caught by surprise…some pieces of life just work a little differently.

I’ve learned to accommodate. I bring my heels for work in a backpack and wear my snow boots. I bring snacks and a few basics. In some of these small communities the grocery closes at 6:00 and restaurants may or may not be open. Some businesses are only open seasonally. I’ve learned the hard way to be self-reliant, at least for the first night in a new place.

I often wonder if life will look different here years from now. Change comes slowly, but it does come. Who knows? But the weather, the remoteness, the ocean…nothing will change that. And for the people who choose this as home, maybe that’s a good thing.

Birthday wishes

Today was my birthday, and I had a plethora of good wishes on my Facebook page, in my mail, via text, and even a few old fashioned phone calls to mark the occasion. I’m happy to say I did NOT jump out of an airplane (that was Rob’s birthday event this year, which I participated in because I couldn’t ask him to take a leap that I wouldn’t do myself). It was exciting to do the dive, but I think once in a lifetime will be enough of that activity for me, thanks very much.

Most of my wishes revolve around luxuries that I get to enjoy on a limited basis: massage, or shopping for a special item, or sometimes a vacation to a beach that has my name on it. But when someone asks me what I want for my birthday, I usually draw a blank. At that moment, I can’t think of a thing.

Well, this is a post-it note to myself for next year. This is what I really want.

~ I want to begin writing professionally. Not sure I’m good enough for that, but I want to look for ways to grow and stretch; I want to use the tools I have and the tools I can acquire to change the way I earn my living, and ultimately, the way I live.

~ I want to do a coast-to-coast road trip and play games along the way…eat in funky little places, stay in romantic old inns, visit the out-of-the-way parks and sites, and avoid the major attractions. I want just enough structure to give a general direction, and enough serendipity about the trip to be surprised by detours and finds along the way.

~ I want to learn another language. I took years of French and never really used it, and of course long ago lost what I knew. If you don’t use it you lose it…maybe this time I’ll try Italian? (This is about challenge and fun, I don’t expect to be posting in Italian a year from now!)

~ I’ve had quite a year in the past twelve months. I want to build on the things I’ve learned, the changes I’ve already made, to add more adventure, curiosity, margin, and creativity to my life.

I have a lot of wishes for other people, ones that I’ll be working on fulfilling. I’m better at knowing what I want to do for others than what I need for myself. So today I thought about it, and this is my very own to-do list for the coming year.

Here’s to birthdays, to days that make us think, and to the good stuff life has to offer. My birthday challenge to myself, and to anyone who cares to take me up on it for their own list: next year on this day, I’ll review this and see what I’ve been able to accomplish. I have a whole year…think there’s time for a little ice cream to celebrate! But I’ll have to get started soon. It may take a while to get an Italian accent down with my southern/mid-west/Colorado/Alaskan background.

Alaska hummingbirds

This video features some hungry hummingbirds at a local lodge near Ketchikan. Fun to watch the birds, and keep watching the clip after for some scenes of this area. It is beautiful, even if the rainfall is epic!