Friday, August 30, 2013

The Changing Tides of Life

I have officially completed the first week of my last semester of coursework in graduate school. 

I will be going down to Georgia for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga from September 13-23. 

I will no longer be working in my current position with the Park Service after May of next year. 

I could not have made any of these statements with any degree of certainly until a few days ago. Quite a lot has changed in the last couple of weeks...

Earlier this summer it appeared that I had stumbled onto a way in which I could not only be promoted to a higher grade level in the Park Service, but also be converted into what is known as a "Term" position. I still wouldn't be permanent, but it would be notably closer and would qualify for health insurance. I determined that in order for this to happen I would have to finish graduate school this school year, and consequently set out to find a way to do precisely that. 

After meeting with my graduate advisor and discussing different options, I decided to take three classes this semester to allow me to focus on doing a research seminar and internship next semester. I was able to find a way to use my position with the Park Service as a launching point for an internship, which will give me credit without me having to do nearly as much additional work. I also found out that, as luck would have it, the topic for the spring research seminar is.... The Civil War! And the professor leading it is the guy I took a class on the Civil War from last semester. So that really is perfect. It should allow me to work on a project that I am really interested in and I will be able to focus on that without having to do other papers and coursework at the same time.
Thus I have found myself taking three graduate courses simultaneously while also working full time. We will see how well I survive the venture when I (hopefully) reach the end of the semester! 

One additional benefit of taking three classes this semester is that I am considered to be a full time student, which means I can now use the recreational facilities on campus. This past Monday I went out to the aquatic center on campus and swam 1000 yards in the pool before work. It was really fun as I haven't swam laps like that in ages.I don't know how much I will be able to take advantage of it with how much else I will have to do, but it is nice to have the option!

If all goes according to plan I will complete all requirements to graduate in May of 2014. 

Even as I began the semester and put this plan in motion I was finally able to sit down with my supervisor and the two people at Manassas who have control over the hiring and budget issues and talk about my situation and the possibilities of promoting me to a higher grade level. We had been trying to arrange this meeting for quite a while, but with various scheduling issues and in order to give them time to find out more specific information, it hadn't happened. 

I went into the meeting expecting to get confirmation on my plan to convert me into a term position when I graduate in May. Instead I found out that it is not possible after all. 
It is exceedingly frustrating and disappointing, especially after I had designed this whole plan with the expectation of that conversion happening. But the bottom line is that I can't do anything about it. 

So where that leaves me is that, instead of being promoted, I will lose this position the day after I graduate. I cannot work in my current position unless I am a student and I can't be converted into another position in this office, so come May 18 (the official graduation day or GMU so consequently my last day of eligibility as a student) I will lose this job. 
While that is obviously problematic, I do also get four months of non-competitive eligibility for any open position in the federal government after I graduate. This means that I can be picked up without having to compete for any open position anywhere for four months. That four months starts the day after I graduate. 

My plan is to do anything I can to utilize this four month window (May-September 2014) to get hired into a different position, ideally one that is permanent.

My career with the Park Service has been a risk and journey into the unknown from the beginning. It has worked out through God's abundant provision so far. Every time I needed a new position, something came along. So we are just going to have to trust that that will happen again once May hits. 

Speaking of God's provision, there is also good news about Alison to report. On Tuesday (September 3) she will begin an internship  with a non-profit that does work with international and national justice and human rights. The work is 20-25 hours a week, and mostly done remotely whenever she has time. So at long last, she will get to do something she is actually interested in that isn't just starbucks. She will remain at starbucks (for now still working as she has been, about 35-38 hours a week) and do this as additional work. That way we still have her starbucks income and health insurance, plus an additional monthly stipend for the internship. 

So literally on the heels of finding out that I would not be promoted and would not be able to get health insurance, we found out that she will have the opportunity to do work she cares about and we will get a little extra money as well. 

In a few weeks I will go down to Georgia for what will now be my last major Civil War 150th event. I will go to the 150th of the Gettysburg Address in November, and there will be a few other small events, but with me losing the position in May, this will be my final multi-day event.

Thus, even as new horizons are opening, old ones are beginning to close. We know that these next nine months will be a time of transition. It remains to be seen where that transition will takes us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Western Escape

The thought of "going on vacation" doesn't usually inspire images of returning home, but for Alison and I this summer that is precisely what it meant. Or at least it meant returning to each of our state's of origin to spend time with our families. For some time now we have been aware of two facts about our life together: we had never been west together in the summer and both of us had a significant piece of our before-married life that the other had never experienced. For Alison it was spending time in Lake Tahoe. For me it was Camp Meeting.

For the first 25 years of my life I never missed (the Arizona District of the Nazarene Church) Camp Meeting. Since I started working for the National Park Service in 2009, however, I had not been able to go. Thus Alison had never experienced something that played a key role in my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

Alison's family owns a cabin above Lake Tahoe in California. I had been to Tahoe in the winter to go skiing when I lived in Oroville and visited the cabin with Alison and her family over Christmas in 2010 and again very briefly to go skiing the following March. I had not ever seen the lake or area in the summer, however, something which she wished to rectify.

As we looked at our calendar and responsibilities for 2013 we concluded that this summer offered an opportunity to not only do something about changing the circumstances described above, but also to spend time with both of our families, something we would otherwise have been unable to do until the fall. So we committed to focusing all of our vacation time, money, and effort on going west and returning home during the summer.

As plans developed the visit became even more important as it offered the additional opportunities of celebrating my Dad's 60th birthday and seeing our new nephew, born to Alison's sister Melanie last December, while we were in California.

The shenanigans began with a 60th birthday celebration for my Dad which took place on Kristen's 27th birthday at my Dad's house in Glendale. The weather was actually quite nice (for mid-July) and we enjoyed a dip in the pool before the party officially began. In addition to partaking of tasty Mexican food and cake we also played games in which we had to guess how my Dad and Kristen answered questions about themselves and guess trivia about the decades in which they were born. We also, naturally, took a series of ridiculous pictures with the aid of all manor of silly costumes and props. This is one of the highlights.
The day after the party we headed north to Prescott for Camp Meeting. Before camp officially began Alison and I went up to Flagstaff to visit my good friend Brian, his wife Andrea, and their new daughter Charlotte, born only three weeks earlier. Camp itself was filled with lots of tasty food, church services, and games including cranium, guillotine, squabble, and of course the ever-present pit and rook. We also had a couple of epic night ultimate frisbee matches complete with a light-up frisbee and glowsticks to identify who was on which team. This photo captures what we looked like after such a match.
Camp would not have been complete without some ridiculous family photos, which we captured on the final day. This one, with the addition of a few props, is a particular favorite.
From Arizona we flew to Salt Lake City and then to Reno, Nevada, where Alison's Dad picked us up at the airport and took us out to Lake Tahoe. It was quite late when we arrived so I didn't fully appreciate the difference between winter and summer until the next morning when I could actually see outside. It is certainly a very different place! The picture below includes the immediate family and Bart (the Scottie) sitting in front of the cabin. As you can see the view is pretty spectacular!
We didn't get to out on the lake, but we definitely enjoyed walking along its shore, driving all the way around the lake, playing mini golf, and spending time in and around the cabin and Tahoe City. Among the highlights of the trip was the Living History Day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, which included a tour of the Ehrman Mansion and a picnic down by the water. We also had plenty of time to enjoy the company of baby Noah, who was seven months old during the visit.
Now it is back to the grindstone of work and real life, but at least I still have a couple more weeks before school begins again! This is going to be a tough semester, so the break and time spent away with family in cooler climes was welcome indeed. 

For more details and a lot more pictures of the entire trip, take a look at This Album.