Monday, April 30, 2012

Seasonal Survival, #5, Keeping Your Sanity

Seasonal Survival Guide

or How to Live and Eat and Other Mundane Stuff.

Chapter 5.

How do you stay normal/ and or sane in the pressure cooker?  Some folks never figure it out, but those of us that do~~well, we just do.  And trust me, it is a pressure cooker. See, I already wrote about that here.

Lots of us read, and we try to read stuff that isn't completely work related.  There are definitely times when you have to get your head out of your park.  That's the same for any job, any where.

Reading Nevada Barr is like taking a murderous vacation in someone else's park.
 Busman's holiday and all that.

Those of us without the normal life conventions, like TV, radio, and internet access watch a lotta Netflix, or in my case, iTunes TV and movies.  I also carry a pretty huge stack of movies on dvd (yeah, old school) that I occasionally watch.  Mostly I loan them out.  I know, I'm swell.  Now that we've got satellite TV, we try to invite the others over for a dose of the real world every now and then.  The real world actually means we watch the Daily Show. (Jon Daily for President!)

There are the weekly poker games, always a hit.

There are campfires, of the backyard variety (in addition to your evening campfire program).

There are parties:  Halloween, Thanksgiving,

Ranger Dr. D.  We only invited him to Turkey Day, 2010 because he's a retired surgeon.
We figured he could be trusted to carve the bird.
We were more or less correct.

The Mad Crew and Friends, Thanksgiving Dinner, 2011. I already showed ya these.

 Christmas, Talk Like a Pirate Day, parades,
Me and the Divine Ranger Miss M.,  West Yellowstone 4th of July Parade, 2010.  We had a really fun and cool float planned but found out that we couldn't use the company trailer.  Maybe we'll find a flatbed thing this year.
I wanna do the Ranger Pic-a-nic-a Basket Drill Team.

you name it, someone has thought up a reason to have a party.

Which brings us to liquor.

Two bottles of wine being held ransom by hard liquor.  Tough bunch, that.

For some folks, there's lots and lots of it, alcohol that is, to the point where they are falling-down-drunk off duty.  Which makes them, um, not-so-productive to complete-jerks on duty.  Not a good place to be.  Evah.  This seems to be a bigger problem with concessions employees (usually college age kids, who many years ago were referred to as the savages), but it can be a problem for those of us who are alleged professionals.  This, by the by, is one of the reasons grown up adults can pick up seasonal gigs--we're often past this stage in life.  Supervisors appreciate having staff members who show up for work on time and sober.  Just sayin', kids.

We try to amuse ourselves in lots of ways.  Bike riding, hiking, birding, all seem to be part and parcel for most of us, since we often come hard wired for these activities. We are often forced to do these type of menial tasks at work, too.  Sucks being us, don't it?

And in my case, we also have to leave the park every few weeks for grocery runs, too.  That puts us in locations where there are things like fast food and stoplights.  Then we can't wait to get back to the park.  Back home.

Staying sane is tough some days.  For the newbies, the first week or two at a new site will put them into a tail spin.  They will absolutely work 60 hour weeks for a while.  But then, one day it happens.  They get their groove on, and it's clear sailing until fall.  Oh, wait.... that's when many of the younger rangers have to worry about where they'll go after ...  ...  ...  one of these days I'll dive into The Off Season Seasonal and how to survive that.  Maybe.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Seasonal Survival, # 3, Getting from Here to There.

Seasonal Survival Guide

or How to Live and Eat and Other Mundane Stuff.

Chapter 3.

How to get your crap from place to place.

Van. Car with carrier. Truck and cap. Cargo trailer. U-haul.  Live in your home, RV style.

Seriously, if you're just starting out, or think you'd like to live the vagabond lifestyle of NPS staff, get a decent car. And make it bigger than you should.  I hate that I drive a gas guzzler, but it's also our moving van.  And since I move twice a year, and make a 1700 mile trek,  good wheels are a must.

Our first two summers, we used my beloved Ford E150 conversion van and DH's Aztek--aka the World's Ugliest Car.  My van was the best deal ever.  We packed it to the gills, and even with the conversion package (2 captain chairs and foldable bench-to-bed, we could get a ton of stuff in there. It also got 21 mph!  I could also turn that baby on a dime.

I loved this van.  Sigh.

Big enough for 2 grown ups to sleep in, too.  Can you say car camping?

Sadly, it finally reached its limit, and we now have a Chevy Trailblazer, with the longer cargo space.  Super comfy, horrid gas mileage (only about 17 on a really good day), and not all that roomy. Noisy too, especially in the wind.  But it has a tow package.  The upside is that it's actually comfortable and easy for 8 people to drive around in (as we will tonight for our spring time run to a local winery.....) 
Good bike racks have become an obsession for my DH.  This one wasn't it.

Pulling out of Ohio, a couple of years ago.

We bought it because we got a super deal on it.  It wasn't on our radar, but when Vanna Black petered out, the Chevy was available.  We still have the Aztek, which really doesn't have much space either. It's also the cheap version, and is darn uncomfortable.

We've also purchased a small cargo van.  My friend Ranger Michelle at Acadia had one, and it just seemed like the sensible thing to do.

We got ours a couple of years ago, with just days left before take off.  I decided we had to get one, and started looking at Craigslist~~scary under most circumstances.  I found an ad that said, "Cargo Van, $1000."  A new one runs between $4000 and $6000, so this seemed interesting.  I called the guy on a Friday night, and lucky me, caught him in the bar after work.  Silly him, he said, "Well, I'm actually hoping to get $400 for it, really."  Says I, "Can we come see it?"  "Yep," slurs he, and gives me the address.  DH and I drive over the next morning, and while we're standing there looking at it I called him back. "Will you take $400 in cash tomorrow morning?" says I.  He had obviously sobered up a bit, and replied, "I actually said that last night, didn't I?"  Oh, yeah.  He was very nice and funny about it, and the next morning we handed him the cash and happily drove off.   Freakin' awesome.

Arriving when there was no snow on the ground, 2010.

Arriving in the snow, 2011.

We are now at the stage where we can leave lots of our travel stuff packed up.  I call it the cabin stuff or the out-west stuff.  I no longer have to go thru the house and gather up supplies.  I've collected enough gear to have some for there and for here.  I've also starting upgrading some of it from garage sale quality to real stuff (got a uber-awesome deal on a Calphlon cook set 2 years ago).  Cooking and linens are now stuff I like, not just stuff I could find.

About half full... love love love these plastic tubs.
The other thing I've done is to choose one basic style of boxes and stick with it.  The plastic tubs I found were from Home Depot, in their Work Force line.  They are 'contractor' strength, and the three sizes nest on top of one another perfectly.  I found a couple one year and decided to get lots of them.  We drove from store to store tracking them down.  Sadly, Home Depot doesn't carry them any more.  Bad! Bad! Bad!  I try to use them for stuff that can stay packed during the winter~~linens, kitchen crap, etc..  This winter I decided to leave them in the trailer and hope the mice and ants would chose to leave them alone.  Success!!  Whew! Saved huge amounts of time and energy not having to haul the crap to the basement.  Yea!

The other bonus with the Work Force boxes is that I can use them for furniture!  One year they served as a coffee table (threw on old tablecloth over them~~viola!) and for the past 3 summers they've been a desk.  We picked up a piece of plywood and covered it with Contact paper, and ta-daa, it's a desk. This year, I picked up a small foldable table which I'll use in the living room for the office desk, and I'll use the boxes in DD's room for . . . wait for it . . .  my sewing table!!!   They also serve as drawers in the bathroom, which has a deplorable lack of drawers. In our room, we stack them for side tables.  I iz so clever.  But when you go from 2400 sprawling feet in your home to 644 square feet.... well, you get the idea.

Another helpful hint is to use cardboard boxes that are all the same size, be it egg boxes (excellent because they have handles), liquor boxes (good because they're study and small and can tuck into places, especially smaller cars), or printer paper boxes (good because they have the great lids).  My DH thinks bigger is better, but doh, I can't carry them.  Everything I pack, I can carry if I have to.  I prefer to have the boys or kind neighbors do the lugging, but I can if I have to.

We receive packing boxes once a month for supplies DD needs, and I keep those for my 'have to pack every time' stuff, like books and civilian clothes.  Since they're all the same size, I don't have to play Tetras to get them stuffed in the trailer.

I've also learned (the hard way) to keep the shipping boxes for cabin stuff.  I did keep the box my Calphlon came in, but I had to make a map of how the whole set fits in there.  Likewise with the microwave box.  I also use that to stuff in small kitchen stuff--towels, hot pads, etc..

I've had mixed success with the space-bags, you know the ones you fill and then suction the air out?  Don't expect them to be re-useable.  In theory, they are, but I've never been able to use them more than 2 times.  They do pack really small, tho.

I usually pack our electronics in the car instead of the trailer.  I have this super fear that the trailer will get stolen, or I'll break an axle and have to leave it behind.  I can replace clothes and kitchen stuff easier and cheaper than I can the tv sets (yeah, you heard me, sets plural.  I have teenaged sons, remember?) And of course, my sewing machine goes with me!  I try not to cram the car full, because our last stop before getting to the apartment is at the grocery store for a major stock-up trip.  This usually involves 3 or 4 grocery carts full of stuff.  I've decided it's cheaper to pay a little bit more for expendable supplies and buy it out there, instead of being the shipping company and carting it across the county myself.  I think I'm going to get more here this year..... so I'll have more room for food on our last night out.  Hmmmmm.... or maybe I'm just obsessing and over-thinking the whole deal.

Best kept secret for extra stash space is our flat-hat boxes.  It's amazing how many pairs of socks or undies you can pack in around the hat!

And a great note from Ranger Gaelyn: I packed in plastic milk crates for years, which also doubles as furniture. Then banana boxes for strength, uniform size and handles. Now it's same size plastic tubs with secure lids to keep the critters out. There is a definite art to packing and seasonals tend to have it down well.
Even moving my goods in the RV requires packing. I love no skid.

Coming soon to blog near you: What you might really need, and Keeping Your Seasonal Sanity.

Seasonal Survival, #4, Stuff You Might Need

Seasonal Survival Guide

or How to Live and Eat and Other Mundane Stuff.

Chapter 4.

Stuff you probably should have.

Working and moving seasonally is a great way to prioritize the stuff you need and the stuff you want.

After we returned from our first gig in North Dakoooota, I came home and really de-stashed clothes and crap.  I made a firm pact with myself that if I bought new clothes, a similar item would have to go to the Goodwill.  And if I bought a new something else, like a kitchen gadget, it would be a good quality one, not the cheap crap that would just break and need to be replaced.  Conversely, if it was cheap and sturdy that would do over a pricey one of so-so quality.

I am also in the situation that none of my children will be having children, so there's not a lot of need to invest in good stuff to pass on to them.  The boys will be living in group home situations and BadAmy and L have lots of their own funky stuff.  My nieces and nephews will be the ones sorting out and selling my crap when I go toes up.  I'm hoping not to put them in the position our elders put us in when they passed.  All of them had lots of stuff, and being children of the depression, lots of it was crap. My Mom, for example, kept every mayo jar she ever purchased.  God only knows why, but they had perceived value to her.  DH's Mom had food in her basement pantry that was literally canned 50 years ago.  Arg.  And we won't even go into the stuff Aunt Ruth had.  Interestingly, DH's older Bro had no concept that his parents' and aunt's stuff actually had antique value.  He chucked a lot of stuff in the dumpster that actually did have some worth. Sigh.

So to make a short story long, for seasonal life, you need the basics and you need some stuff for your mental health.  This post will be about stuff you might actually need~~real stuff.

Even though we travel with four   ::weepy face again, since FTD is staying in Ohio this summer::    er, three people, you'll still need about the same amount of cooking stuff that we do.  One of the odd things is that since you'll likely be farther from restaurants--make that restaurants you can afford--you'll be eating more of your own cooking. If that scares you, get a gig in an actual city.

Of course you'll need
a plate, a mug, a glass, and silver ware.  In reality, one of each will do ya.
A pot to boil water, pasta, soup, ramen noodles.
Cooking utensils like a big spoon, spatula, scooper of some kind.
Some kind of casserole dish.  (You'll need to learn to use the oven... I'm always surprised at the number of younger rangers who can't 'cook' anything that doesn't go into the microwave.)
Dish towel or two.
Hot pad/mitts.

Kitchen stuff you should think about lugging with: 
toaster or toaster oven,
At THRO, the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association purchased microwaves for the seasonal apartments, which was super wonderful, cuz those puppies hog up a lotta packing space.  We got to Acadia and found out there wasn't one, so we purchased a nicer one, and only use it for the 'cabin,' where ever the cabin may be.  Lots of folks buy a cheap one, and leave it.  Sadly, it will get put in the unwanted crap pile of NPS.  Others give them to thrift shops when they leave.  You can also cook most microwaveable foods in the oven--a fact which shocks lots of people who weren't around in the pre-micro wave world.  And here's a surprise, you can make coffee with a pan, too.

Luxury items:
Coffee pot (we switched to the stove top kind, since there's no counter space for the electric one.)
Wine glasses.  Ours are plastic, since most our wine is consumed around a campfire. (Geeze, that's pretty high on my list, ain't it?)
Baking wares--muffin pans, loaf pans, etc.. 
A couple of sets of tableware, if you can't get into the habit of washing your one and only set after each meal.
Dish drainer.  If you don't have one, you can dry your stuff on a towel.

And in the spirit of true confessions, our family uses a lot more paper products than I wish we did.  The simple fact is that I'm so pooped when I get home from work that doing dishes just doesn't sound like, you know, fun. The environmentalist in me has a hissy every time I pull out a paper plate or bowl, but the Mom in me is relieved.  It's a tough place to live sometimes.  I rationalize by saying to myself that the energy/resources needed to wash dishes is probably the same as that of making, then tossing paper ones.  We have become obsessive compulsive about keeping the biodegradable stuff that the restaurants in YNP use.  By the end of the summer, we have a nice stash. We only buy the Wilcoxson's Moose Tracks to replenish our supply of spoons.  Honest.

Other household stuff you'll need includes a broom and mop of some sort.  I've become a true believer in Libman stuff.  My new favorite is the $20 mop thingie that can use any type of cleaner (I use clear water, crazy I know) and it has re-usable, machine washable pads.  No having to find the right brand to fit your swiffer or whatever.  There will be a broom somewhere in your apartment complex, but it will leave more dirt that it sweeps up, guaranteed.  If you hunt around long enough, or have a great friend in the maintenance department, you'll have access to a vacuum.  Don't count on it actually working, though.  We've been through several types of small vacuums and still aren't really happy with any of them.  One of these days we'll break down and get a better one.

Other living stuff:
Battery operated alarm clock.  At YNP, the power goes out at least once a week.  Since our cell phones don't work so they go dead after "searching for service."  Don't rely on it.  Get a battery one, really.
Clothes hangers. Doh.
Shoe polish.  Cordovan. Seriously.
Bare minimum:  Sleeping bag and pillow.  
Not so bare:  set of linens for full size bed.
Luxury: set of cotton sheets and set of flannel ones.  Pretty important at YNP.
Greatest luxury:  Memory foam bed topper, as thick as you can afford.  Waffle foam at the minimum.
Bare minimum:  Bath towel and wash cloth.
Not so bare:  Two of each.
Luxury: bathroom rug. Keeps those toesies warm on those cold mornings.
Greatest luxury:  It all matches and didn't come from Goodwill.
Bare minimum:  bath mat for the tub or shower.
Not so bare: shower caddy.
Luxury: one that looks nice.
Greatest luxury:  It all matches and didn't come from Goodwill.

You can probably get by with no iron.  We haven't lived anywhere where an ironing board was available, but I think there should be one in each laundry room.  If you're careful, you can pull your uniforms out of the dryer and hang them up right away to keep the wrinkles at bay.  Throwing them on the floor after work and expecting them to look okay the next morning ain't gunna happen.  I found an ironing board at the Goodwill and bought a new cover for it, but it's for my sewing projects!  I also have a spiffy Rowenta travel iron. 
More luxuary stuff:  
A tablecloth.  I actually have several.  It warms the apartment up nicely.  And I have a couple of outside picnic ones. 
Curtains.  They're a pain to put up every summer, but they make the place so much homier. 
Pictures/photos/posters.  Be careful how you hang them.  
There's lots of ways to save space/weight for packing, too.  Our tableware is all Melamie, and our glasses are plastic. (Oh, how I love that first sip of water from a nice glass glass, and dinner on real china when I get home.) One of our ranger peeps stops at the Goodwill on the way into town and and picks up a couple of pieces of nice china for the summer.  It's always really pretty.  At the end of the season, she donates it back!

Kids who have been living in college dorms have a better time of living on less than folks like me. As I've said before, going from our spacious home to our tiny apartment is a trip.

Next up, stuff to bring for your mental health.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Seasonal Survival #2, Your Housing

Seasonal Survival Guide

or How to Live and Eat and Other Mundane Stuff.

Chapter 2.

What to expect in your living quarters.

Your apartment/dorm room/shared house will have a stove and refrigerator, and a bed for you.   There will be vinyl or industrial strength, bland carpeting on the floor.  You might live in FEMA trailer, or platform tent/shack, or maybe in an old, historic building.  If you do, things will be more, um, rustic.

Camp tenders cabin at THRO.  The  4 of us survived here because we ate most of our meals outside on the covered porch out back.  There's also a public and shared 'office' on the front right.  And the public pay phone (you heard me, pay phone) was directly behind the head of our bed.  We heard lots of stuff we didn't wanna hear.  Now days they put at least 2, sometimes 3, unrelated staffers in there.  A Mission 66 cabin, by the by.
Our room.  We took 2 twin beds and shoved them together for a king bed. THRO.
And yeah, that's the whole room. Our YNP room is a shade smaller.....

Kitchen at TR.  Note the Ranch Oak Chair, and the groovy dinette set.
Both of those will set you back a pretty penny in an antique shop.  Go figure.

Your new digs will likely have some lamps, crappy sofa, kitchen table and chair.  It might have a dresser, your own closet, or a desk.  There might be a glass shower door. There are a few apartments with dishwashers. (None of ours, of course.) Most parks have full beds as standard issue.  We've always asked to have 4 twin beds.  DH and I shove 2 twins together to make a king size, and the boys each get their own.

Don't count on any of this being comfortable or good looking.  There are, however, some exceptions.
NPS must have gotten a really good deal at some time on Ranch Oak furniture.  The sofas are basically uncomfortable and often have Naugahyde covers or scratchy polyester covers.  Other apartments have boring brown/grey plaid sofas, and some have boring teal blue.  Think doctor's office furniture...... You'll need a sheet or blanket to cover them if you're picky.

Our living room and boys bedroom at THRO, ND.  Learn to love this kind of sofa. These were bunks, but neither boy was willing to sleep on the top, so we unbunked them, and had to walk around one to get to the 'office.'

Living room at YNP. 

Boys' room, YNP.

Bathroom, YNP.

Kitchen, YNP.

Back of apartment, YNP, the white trash section in our case.

BONUS!  Ranch Oak table and chairs, YNP.  Absolutely beautiful.  And ours hadn't been refinished, cigarette burned, etc.  Amazing.  If it disappears, I don't know anything about it.

Your place might have a nearby pay laundry (some are even free.  Others have solar dryers.)

Most windows have either venetian blinds or crappy roll up shades. Since I knew where I would be at YNP, I made little curtains to make it feel homier.  So much cheerier.

None of our apartments had air conditioning, but we go north for a reason. Our Acadia and Yellowstone apartments both had ceiling fans.  We purchased a window AC unit to use at Theodore Roosevelt, but only had to run it on really hot days (temp over 90, that is) and then only for a couple of hours in the afternoon.  Evenings always cooled off.  Hooray for 15% humidity.  All of our apartments had heat of some sort. At YNP, I keep a small tub of water in front of the heater because it's so dry.

DISCLAIMER!  Our YNP apartment was remodeled 2 years before we moved in, so it's much nicer than most. There are still lots of places that are just half a step above condemned trailers.  Many, many others are shared houses, efficiency apartments, and dorm rooms, usually with shared bathrooms.  Lots of them were built in 1966, for the 50th anniversary of the Park Service.

You'll need to provide your own:

Pots and pans,
Table ware,
Shower curtain,
Bathroom rug/mat.
More books,
Surge protectors,
Safe extension cords,
Cell phone
 (it will work in some places....)

in addition to expendable stuff like:
Cleaning supplies,
Office supplies
(no taking stuff from the office, you ninny.)

Things that might work:
Bring your computer router/modem on the off chance you can get DSL in your apartment.  Probably not, but maybe. We can't at YNP . We can't even get dial up, nor could we at our other apartments. 

Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES are you allowed to plug your personal computer into the Service's system.  YOU WILL BE FIRED!!!  Not to mention, when your IT department shuts down the system to your office because you thought it would be okay to plug in--"just this once"-- the rest of your crew will tar and feather you for screwing up the system.  Someone from another division did this at Madison 4 years ago, and the rest of of were livid !!!!!!   What a moron to think that even for seconds you could use a government system for your gear!  Ninnies!! 

Your apartment may or may not be wired for a phone, for which you will make a contract with the local phone company.  We have a land line, because one of us is 72 and two of us have special needs.  A working phone is important to us.  We also let all the peeps use ours, and my boss calls our apt when he needs to get timely info to someone on the crew. 

Your place might maybe be wired for a satellite tv dish. Ours is, but again, we bring our own receiver, dish, and tripod, and have an account here in Ohio which we transfer out west.  I'm also gunna give a shout out to DISH network, because they've been very cool with us.  So far so good.   Lots of staff use Netflix for entertainment.  I load up my iTunes with tv shows for the summer, too.

I think there might be places that are wired for cable tv, but  don't know of any for sure.  Ask your supervisor after you've been hired.  And don't be surprised if your supervisor doesn't know what is or isn't in your apartment.  S/he isn't the dorm mother, after all.

And I hear there's a new invention out there called satellite radio....  our friends at the other end of our apartment row used this. 

I know I'm forgetting some stuff, so as I remember, I'll add it. 
EDIT 4/21/12~~ These are comments I've received from other rangers.  They are readable in the comment section, but I'm adding some here also.  

From Gaelyn at Grand Canyon NP:  Thank goodness I haven't shared housing since Mt St Helens, where I started my career. Wasn't bad. A Mission ranch-style with 3-bedrooms, 1-bath and huge kitchen with 2 refrigerators. We had the same furniture you've shown here and it was retired from Lukes AFB to us. Some of the housing at the North Rim that our staff gets is a tiny cabin, one-room with a bath. Less floor space than I have. They have no phone service available and cells don't work well unless you're standing on the rim. And then there's a few FEMA trailers. But we don't have as large a staff as YELL. This is why I live in a RV.

From Nina at Grant Village in YNP:  There is good cell phone service at Grant (Verizon) so I bring my laptop and aircard and am good to go.
I didn't know our kitchen table and chairs are Ranch Oak. Sweet!
We had fairly new mattresses last year, which was nice. Blinds needed a good talking to, tho.
The apt is actually not bad, and rent is reasonable. Wish there were a better stove, tho - I think it's the same one I had in my college apt in the early 70s.

Check out my early blog posts (May-Sept 2010) about getting to and living conditions in Katmai NP, AK. Crazy!

From Charlene:  Ya should've seen my tent cabin in Yosemite. It had a fridge with a padlock, and two bear boxes. A wood fired stove, cold running water (you had to boil water or go to the bathrooms--a hike through the forest--to wash your dishes). The picnic table was definitely not ranch oak, though it might've been redwood (they seem to like redwood for picnic tables). It didn't have too many splinters. The "windows" opened; in other words, we rolled up the canvas. It was awesome--a Great Grey Owl (very rare in California) used to perch outside the door and hoo the night away. Oh, and there was a pay phone at the entrance such thing as TV reception or cable.

Whatever happened to roughing it during a summer seasonal tour? ;-)

Next installment, how to get your crap from place to place.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Seasonal Survival Guide, Chapter 1.

So I've ranted about how intense seasonal rangering is.  So to make our lives easier, here's the first installment of my

Seasonal Survival Guide

or How to Live and Eat and Other Mundane Stuff.

Chapter 1.
So You Wanna Be a Ranger.

Get used to it.  Being a seasonal, that is. If you want to be an NPS Ranger/Researcher/ etc., you'll be a seasonal for several seasons.  We all bitch about this, but no one has any solutions.  The fact of the matter is that visitors go to parks mostly in the summer.  Our ranks of staff grow hugely in the summer, leaving only core staff for the winters. I have two unsolicited pieces of advice for getting a perm gig:

A.)  Join the Coast Guard (or other branch of the military) and serve our country this way for 4 years.  Work hard.  Earn your ranks. Learn how government works.  Continue studying in your field.   Get your 5 point bump as a veteran for the hiring process.  One way or the other, it will take you at least 4 years to get perm status, so you might as well spend those 4 years being paid, earning GI Bill stuff, and serving your country.  Seems like a no brainer to me.  You might even prefer the military life!


Why, Ranger Anna, do you suggest the Coast Guard?  You get to be on ships--mostly.  And every Coastie I know is really fun and smart.  You'll work the east or west coasts, the Fabulous Great Lakes, Alaska, or Hawaii, too bad for you. (There are some stations in non-watery places.)  You'll pick up drug runners.  You'll rescue folks.  You'll protect the environment.  You'll protect us.  Do it.

B.) When you get those seasonal gigs, be willing to serve in the urban parks.  St. Louis, New York, San Fran, Cleveland, Philly, Boston, etc..

Independence Hall, Philly

Theodore Roosevelt Birth Place, NYC

Koren War Monument, D.C.

DD at the Lincoln Memorial, D.C.

The White House.  I'd love a gig here.  Someday, if it's ever just me, this is where I'll apply. D.C.

DH and me on the Mall, from the Capitol. D.C.

DD at the Viet Nam Memorial. D.C.

Boys at Jefferson Expansion, St. Louis for the Return of the Corps of Discovery.  FTD is a
L & C geek.

C.  The third way to a possible perm gig is to think about taking a 'desk' job... bookkeeping, clerking, VUA (Visitor Use Assistant, the kind folks who handle money at the gates, among other duties), maintenance, etc..  There are lots of ways into perm status~~your first few gigs might not be the job of your dreams, but you're in the Service.  I know lots of folks who started this way--as one of my fav Chief Rangers put it, he started 'in the box' doing fee collection, which is under the Law Enforcement Division.  Think about getting your boots in the door.... And thanks Ranger Gaelyn for the reminder on this one!

The Box at THRO. This is the old one.  The new one has way fewer mice.
D. Two seasons, two parks.  Lots and lots of seasonals work a winter season in one park, and a summer season in another.  If you read my other rant about us calling a season a year, you'll know that this really is like 2 years worth of stuff crammed into 12 months.  If one of your parks is big enough you might be able to work for two different divisions in one year, and not go over the ubiquitous 1090 hours/year issue.  For example, one of the coolest rangers I know works Interp in the winter, and in the box in the summer.  She ends up with about 6 or 7 weeks off per year, which isn't great, but it's do-able.  The down side to the 2/2 seasons issue is insurance.  The Association of National Park Rangers offers a lower cost insurance for seasonals, and it's certainly worth looking into.
The hardest part about these gigs are that you'll likely need to find your own housing.  And getting an apartment in a major city for 4 months?  You see one of the problems.  Be flexible and have a plan.... like finding trailer, or at least a pick up truck with a cap, and plan on living in that.

This might work.

This makes more sense, though.  If you can find one cheap, snap it up.  Or call me, we're in the market.

Your next vehicle if you're going to be a seasonal.  Truck and cap. Start looking for one now.

How your housing might feel.......

    Next installment. . .   What to expect for living conditions. Stay tuned to your televisiony sets.

    P.S.  Ranger peeps, send me your suggestions for seasonal survival... I'll add it into future posts.  Send pics of you being a seasonal doing something funny.  Or of your living quarters. Or maybe meaningful.  Or arresting someone. Or maybe connecting your visitors to the resource, you know, rangery stuff.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    Me--A Girl Scout for 50

    50 years that is.

    My sister and I ventured into my attic today.  All of my Mom's 10,000 photos are stored here.  When Mom and Dad died, we didn't have the emotional strength to pitch the pics or go through them either.  They're kinda organized, pics on those shelves, slides (literally thousands of them) on those shelves, other ephemera over there.....

    Sis has been doing family history on Ancestry and has found all sorts of completely useless stuff.  She hasn't been able to find out much about our Dad's father.  We've always known his background was sketchy and it just keeps getting sketchier.... oh well.

    But I went up looking for our old Girl Scout stuff.  I found my badge sash---my over-achiever even as a little kid--sash.  I don't have my uniform which actually saddens me.  I have 2 Brownie uniforms, one of which was probably my sister's. I also have my Mom's adult leader dress, and I'd give my eye teeth to be able to fit into it!

    Origianal pic by my Mom, and the article from the Sentinel-Tribune paper, where Mom was a reporter. My sis on the left.

    My Junior Troop, DeVeaux Elementary School, Toledo OH, 1965

    More from my Junior Troop, 1965
    On the left--my Dad singing songs for us at a sleepover at my house.

    Camp cooking in the vacant lot next to our house.  

    On right, my Sis and Me--I'm the dorky looking Junior......

    Friday, April 6, 2012

    Rangering Intensely


    Part of speech:  Adjective
    Definition: Forceful, severe, passionate

    Synonyms:  Acute, agonizing, all-consuming, ardent, biting, bitter, burning, close, concentrated, consuming, cutting, deep, diligent, eager, earnest, energetic, exaggerated, exceptional, excessive, exquisite, extraordinary, extreme, fanatical, fervent, fervid, fierce, forcible, full, great, hard, harsh, heightened, impassioned, intensified, intensive, keen, marked, piercing, powerful, profound, protracted, pungent, sharp, shrill, stinging, strained, strong, supreme, undue, vehement, violent, vivid, zealous. 

    Notes: emotions are intense while sustained application or attention is intensive, intense arrives from within and intensive come from outside, (it is imposed or assumed)

    Antonyms:  calm, dull, low-key, mild moderate.*

    Amphitheater at Theodore Roosevelt NP (South Unit), Medora, North Dakota.

    I've tried to explain to folks about the reason I say I've worked for 6 years with the National Park Service.  In actuality, I have 26 months with them.  I've tried saying I have 6 seasons, but for most folks that doesn't really register--sounds like a long gig, like a hunting season. (I have a friend who writes that in 12 years she's worked 19 seasons~~true that.)
    Telling a hilarious story on the Historic Islands Boat tour at Acadia, 2005. That's not our Hinkley in the background. Sigh.
    Yesterday, I decided to do the math:
    I've worked 26 months for NPS.
    Therefore, I've worked 104 weeks.
    I've averaged 3 programs per day.
    I work 5 days per week.
    Therefore, I've presented 15 programs per week.

    Therefore, I've presented 1,560 programs.
    That's a hella lotta programs.

    If you just look at my time at Yellowstone, it ups the average:
    I've worked at YNP  for 60 weeks.
    I've averaged 4 programs a day there, for 20 programs per week.
    Therefore, I've presented 1,200 programs just at YNP alone.

    I did a remarkably unscientific check of the programs presented through our local park district.  By extrapolating the stats, I can say with complete honesty that I've given more programs during my  "seasons" than my counterparts here give in a year. 

    Another factor we look at is visitor contacts. This includes anybody I speak with regarding park stuff while I'm on duty.  I know for a plain and simple fact that my 4 months worth of visitor contacts is waaaaay more than any one here in my home park records in a 12 month period, but I've crunched the numbers anywho. At THRO, we had half a million visitors each year, most of them in the summer, and a very high percentage of those folks came through the Visitor Center.  Acadia's visitor numbers are much higher, but I only had to work the desk for a total of 5 hours per week (thank goodness), but did at least 2 hikes every day, along with roving in between hikes, thus lowering my own visitor contact numbers.  But the sheer volume of visitors at YNP (including 2 of my 4 summers that had record-breaking attendance), really gooses my visitor contact numbers through the roof.  Okay, so by my calculations, I've personally spoken with over
    35,000 people 
    At bear jams, and

    elk jams. I loved that these gals using the motorized chairs were able to see the elk without having to be in a car.
    in 104 weeks. Oh, heck, that's only 336 and a half people a week, or 5,833 people per summer.  (Mind you this number doesn't include people who attended programs~~that's an additional number).  Last summer our wild "Wildlife Ranger," who roved all day long, calculated that he spoke with over 10,000 people last summer alone.  Yep, his assessment was spot on:  he's a one-man, moving Visitor Center.  And mind you, my 35,000 number averages in Acadia, where my numbers were much lower.  If we were to take just my YNP numbers it really, seriously jacks my numbers up.  Just imagine what the numbers are for folks at Old Faithful National Park.....  hee hee hee.

    Now factor in the living conditions . . . in my case making arrangements for here at home and boys' schools, traveling 1700 miles twice a year, hauling a small cargo trailer and 1 to 2 teenagers and/or husband . . . packing for said trips, pretty much by myself . . . then living in a very nice but tiny 644 sq. foot apartment, yeah with all 4 of us . . . learning about an ever-changing environment each spring . . .  and the addition of learning and figuring out the personalities of 10 to 12 new peeps in my duty station, and associated places like OF, YA, the campground, and the Chamber . . .

    Now figure out how much money I end up with.  Start with my base pay, subtract taxes, housing, extra utilities, and travel, and ta-daa, I get a $3000 "profit."  That's the frosting on the cake.  Yum.

    Neighbors are kinda pushy.....

    So to make another short story long . . .

    Working in such an environment, we cram way more into those 4 months than most folks cram into a year.  

    Yep, it's very forceful, severe, passionate, acute, agonizing, all-consuming, ardent, biting, bitter, burning, close, concentrated, consuming, cutting, deep, diligent, eager, earnest, energetic, exaggerated, exceptional, excessive, exquisite, extraordinary, extreme, fanatical, fervent, fervid, fierce, forcible, full, great, hard, harsh, heightened, impassioned, intensified, intensive, keen, marked, piercing, powerful, profound, protracted, pungent, sharp, shrill, stinging, strained, strong, supreme, undue, vehement, violent, vivid, and zealous.*

    *Thanks to for their help.

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Tough Week for the Mad Crew

    Our Madison Junction crew suffered two horrific deaths this week.

    Yesterday, our Supervisory LE Ranger died from an apparent heart attack.   Folks who saw him the day before said he looked and seemed fine. 

    Ranger G. was in his second year at Madison, having been in other Yellowstone duty stations for at least 20 years.  I never asked him how old he was, but since LEs must retire at 57, I know he was younger than I am.  He replaced another ranger who aged out and currently lives in Bozeman. It's been a privilege to work with both of these guys--they are truly professionals in every way.

    Ranger G. was a very quiet, keep it to yourself kinda guy.  He didn't come to our Mad Crew parties (usually had the bad luck to be on duty those nights), but he knew that these get-togethers are good for everyone. Some LE rangers think we interps are completely useless, tree-hugging liberals who are more of the problem than the solution. G made it very clear that we were all team-mates.  Since we share the ranger station with LE and Resource there could have been conflicts, but there never were.  He set the tone for the whole Madison operation, and his tone was one of "make it happen, do your job, no drama, and be helpful."  He recognized and understood that interps can actually be helpful, which isn't the case in some parks. He appreciated that we wanted to help in areas that really weren't in our domain (like traffic control) and made sure we had the skills to help effectively.  Ranger D., his predecessor, held the same views, so when G started, we didn't have any great shocks or shake-ups in standard ops.  Yea!

    He was at our helm in 2010, when convicted murderers and escapees from Arizona were in the park.  He made sure we were all aware of the situation (after the US Marshals finally informed our LE staff--a giant cluster**** all the way) and kept an extra eye out for us. His way wasn't to try to scare the bejeezus out of us, but to be sure we had the facts and never speculated on the gossip.

    He accepted the fact that we didn't get our summer seasonal LE at Mad, and that we'd have to rely on the OF staff for back-up... and mind you, it's a 30 minute drive from OF to Mad, even in a cruiser going lights and sirens.  He made it work.  He made it work last summer, when the new perm ranger was at FLETC all summer, and for all intent and purposes, G worked the busiest intersection of the park as the Lone Ranger.  And he did it without griping or sniping.  He knew what to do and he did it. 

    Lots of folks didn't get to know him very well, because on first blush, he seemed very quiet and shy.  Quiet yes, shy no.  And like so many good rangers, he had a quiet, very droll sense of humor.  Last spring the Madison River, along which the West Entrance Road runs, flowed over all it banks, completely covering the land that the bison usually used for spring forage.  The Interagency Bison Management Plan calls for us to push all the bison back into the park who have left the Madison Valley for the lower elevations and easier access to grass.  When the date for them to be hazed back in approached, he and my boss were in the office discussing how they were going to convince the animals to move.  My boss suggested that the bison would need life jackets, and without missing a beat, G said, "Yeah, and rangers with no fingerprints will be the ones to put the jackets on the 'em."  Never cracked a smile, just continued on about his work. My boss and I were laughing our heads off.  You never knew what he would come up with next, but it would be good.

    In her latest book, The Rope, Nevada Barr had a character named Ranger Steve Gluck. He reminded me in so many ways of the real Ranger G.  Very, very reassuring and steady-eddy all the way.  Completely even keeled in his dealings with happy visitors, drunken campers, nuisance bears, lost children, and serial killers.  A professional all the way.  Yep, he was a Ranger's Ranger.

    And three days before Ranger G's death, we received word that one of the young men from the Mad Resource Management crew had been killed in a truck wreck near his home in Florida.  KK literally lit up a room when he came in.  He loved his job and did it with enthusiasm.  He worked hard and played hard. He always had a kind word and usually a funny, and often bombastic story to tell.  He was tons of fun to hang with.  Life at 23 is so lively and joyous, and to realize that his life, so full of potential, is over has been a heart breaker.  As a parent I cannot begin to imagine the trauma that his folks and family are going through now.  One of the Resource interns lives near his family and will attend the services tomorrow.  We've asked him to express our deepest sorrow to his folks.

    Yeah, it's been a tough week.