Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Broken Hiring System in the National Park Service

This is not a rant. This is simply an explanation. My husband, the park ranger, still finds permanent status with the fed an elusive business. He's great at being a seasonal park ranger and last summer he moved up a couple of grades, but now this year he's moving back down a couple of grades because of budget. We know a few people who have found perms--either they have moved around a LOT as a single ranger (not so conducive to our marriage) or they have something else going for them (non-caucasian, female, Schedule A illness/disability, Veteran). K has something going for him as well...a wonderful boss at a local high school. Thankfully, she takes him back whenever he shows up in town and she's happy to keep him as long as it takes the Department of Homeland Security to complete his background check.

So these background checks have to happen annually because the summer seasonal rangers separate from service each fall. Each background check costs the NPS around $1800. They don't care that K has had one every single year since 2001. They don't care how many times he's been fingerprinted or interviewed by a federal agent. They don't care that he has a stellar resume with glowing reviews. The rule is that because he's "new" every spring, they have to do another background check.

Another rule is that you can only work 1039 hours in a season. If you surpass that even by 15 minutes, you cannot have rehire status. This has been some kind of a rule for a really long time, but nobody enforced it until like February...just recently. K's big crime is that back in 2003 (I think) he was asked to work a bit longer in the season after the cave closed and that unknowingly tipped him over the 1039 for that one season and now in 2018...he has lost his "rehire status." So, he has had to begin from scratch, so to speak. He did his due diligence, applied for his old job successfully and was offered a position which he accepted. However, this new enforcement of this very old rule that no one realized they were breaking all those years ago, has created a big problem for the NPS. Rangers didn't find out that they couldn't be hired for their old job until after the hiring process was completed (no chance to apply for their old job which they thought they would be automatically rehired to do). Also, they say in the news that this "rule" hasn't been evenly applied throughout the country.

Bottom line is, there are a bunch of seasonal park rangers out there who would love to work, who have done all that's required of them, but they can't work...yet.

So we wait. This would have been the weekend we would have reported to the park. But because the ranger hasn't cleared, we're not allowed in, can't move into government housing, and can't work. We know a ranger from Washington who has worked 47 seasons and he's just hanging out in Seattle until he gets the call that he has cleared. His situation really cracks me up because a couple of summers ago he was coaching track while teaching high school science and asked if he could skip training in order to coach his kids at their state track meet (they got first in state). No, he was NOT allowed to skip training. So he dutifully reported to be trained for a job he had been doing for forty-something years and got photos texted to him of their big win. And now, he's retired, but training starts on Monday and they won't LET him come to training because he hasn't cleared his background check. Oh, the IRONY! We know a married couple from Florida who have been staying in their RV in Blackfoot, Idaho, just waiting to hear that they have clearance so they can buzz into the park and get started. I know a ranger who has his blue tubs stacked up by the front door so that he can load up and roll when he gets word.

I know a supervisor who is opening a visitor center on Friday, just in time for Memorial Day, with only three rangers who have cleared thus far. Maybe word will come soon.

Mother's Day Flowers and Such 2018



We had such a nice time over Mother's Day Weekend. We skipped town Friday afternoon and ate Prime Rib at Mom's Cafe in Salina. We stayed in a hotel that night, in Salina, due to the weather. Next day we headed for Fremont Indian State Park, a place we hadn't been since 2010. We enjoyed the short hikes here and there and appreciated the campground. It's just good to get out and see the petroglyphs and spring flowers and move the body a little...and get back to sleeping on the ground. Not pictured are about one hundred pelicans at Pelican Point--they were having a float meeting and then decided to take their business to the air. We visited the Fish Lake Cut Off on the Old Spanish Trail. We attended all the church meetings in Elsinore, lovely people and vibrant ward. We had a great, relaxing time, just the two of us. On Saturday night before turning in to the tent, we sat in the RAV 4 holding hands and talking. We talked for about an hour and a half. Running away together is one of the best things we do!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

May Playground



So this is a burned wood chip from our school playground. It's a good thing I'm a sometimes observant playground duty guard because a child was using a magnifying glass and the sun to light wood chips on fire...which several other children thought was so fascinating. I watched it myself and saw smoke coming up. In fact, I still have this particular wood chip on my desk because it smells like a wood fire. And it makes me chuckle. Here's the thing...the child was convinced there was no way full on combustion could occur. I made it stop. You know, "not on my watch."

And this took me right back to Lana'i where I served as a Cub Scout Den Leader for the Webelos. As soon as I was off the clock on Wednesdays, I would head over to the church for Scouts. All my boys beat me over there every week of course, and some of them were in my fifth grade class. What do a bunch of boys do while waiting for their activity to begin? They light things on fire, of course. Same tactic--use a magnifying glass to direct the heat of the sun so that you can light your slippers (flip flops) on fire. Just watch that smoke curl upward! Again, fascinating.

Or you could always carve your initials into the green bananas growing on the tree in back of the church. They were impressed I carried my own pocket knife. When the bananas were ripe, we each ate the one with our own initials on it. Delicious. Carving bananas seemed okay to me. Lighting things on fire? Not so much.

We give the children back to their parents in two weeks. I hope they're ready.

Monday, May 14, 2018

He Really Likes His Treats

My husband has a sweet tooth the size of Texas. He has a treat cupboard in the kitchen that is too high for me to reach without taking extraordinary measures, so his stash is usually really safe from me.

Yesterday we visited the Elsinore Ward down by Richfield after camping, and they passed out those Utah truffle bars. I took the regular milk chocolate one and K was quite interested in my gift. Then he saw someone else with a mint chocolate bar and encouraged me to trade. Then he asked if I'd be interested in sharing. Uh huh. I always share my Mother's Day chocolate with him. I don't see a way around it.

So I'm still at school and just called him to see what our plans are for the evening. He mentioned that someone has dropped a treat off for me and there's a note with it--we don't know who. He described the treat as a "chocolate brownie with chocolate frosting and chocolate chips on top." I said, "You can eat it now. I don't need it." He said, "No, someone loves YOU and it's for YOU!" I said, "Just open the note and read it to me." He said, "No, you can open it when you get home."

And then he said, "The brownie looks really good though! We'll have to share it." I should have asked him to text a photo of it and then dive right in to eat it. He gets so excited about treats.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

No Pics at the Moment but We Have a Happy Life and I Love My Husband

Just wanted to say that life is good. Last night, K had dinner in the oven when I got home from school. We swapped stories of the day and dug into Sunday Pork and Potatoes, the first meal he ever made for me which happened to be in May 2004. We watched a general conference talk for Family Home Evening and talked about being spiritually self reliant and receiving personal revelation. We then folded some laundry together which makes the folding of laundry so much more bearable because our conversations continued and the time flew. I flopped on the bed for awhile to continue reading the latest installment of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I had him carry a box of books to the kitchen table so I could begin wrapping them to give out to my class on the last day of school. We were watching a PBS program about the drought in California and how water in the western United States is a privilege AND a responsibility and we shouldn't be wasting one single drop--such nerds are we. Then he set some ice cream out to get a little soft and we ate that while watching the 10:00 pm news. I got to bed first and played Sudoku on my Kindle while waiting for him to brush his teeth. It was my turn to pray and I fell asleep TWICE during the prayer; he nudged me both times and somehow I finished. I just wanted to say, this is the good life! All these little things...are us. I am grateful.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Trip to Japan



Disclaimer: We got a new computer a year ago and a new camera as well. Since then, I've struggled to download/upload photos, organize them into these elaborate folders, and then find them again to put on the blog. The old way was easy peasy and the new way is complicated. Even the hubs has trouble...so much that he bought some extra photo program... So, this is not my best post and these are not my best photos, but I figured I should throw something up on the blog to document Japan in some way.

We left for Japan on Saturday 31 March. We flew from SLC to Denver and then took a 787 Dreamliner to Narita in Tokyo with United. We lived. Our friends, Sag and Yuki, picked us up at Narita which was more than generous considering they live 2 hours from the airport. We stayed at their home for 2 nights. I hadn't seen them since one of their trips to Utah, but I also saw them when they visited in Hawai'i. Sag was a missionary with me in Japan. He helped me get my meishi printed up when I first arrived in Fukuoka. Later, we served in Kagoshima together. And after that, Kumamoto. Yuki is the most lovely, strong, amazing person ever. I consider them to be a "power couple" in the church. Sag is bishop of his ward. He is still so Sag. They are darling and I hope they come to stay with us sometime. Basically, they fed us dinner and we went to bed, but not without flipping through the mission scrapbook. It was the nicest thing after that long, long flight to have some friendly faces there to pick us up, feed us, and take us home. They had two varieties of Kit Kat waiting there for Ken to welcome him. So thoughtful. All of this on Sunday 1 April, Easter Sunday, and General Conference! I cannot count their generosity. I posted pictures of them on Facebook (maybe someday I'll get all the photos from all the cameras for this one trip).

The next day we drove into Tokyo and drove around the temple. It's closed for renovations. We parked at a church site and walked to the train station. We took subways, the bus, a train, and a boat that day. They took us to the Imperial Palace, which you can't actually see...but the grounds are lovely, and then to a tower called Skytree. I remember Ken saying, "This is like visiting the White House. We had 360 degree views of Tokyo, the world's largest metropolitan area. After that, we went to Asakusa, the oldest temple/shrine (honestly, I can't keep track of which are Buddhist temples and which are Shinto shrines...apologies) and the market there. Then they took us to Osho's for dinner, the same restaurant chain they had back in Kagoshima back in the day. Karaage chicken. We also went to the supermarket to buy some onegai (requests) for other people. I told Sag and Yuki I needed to pick up a certain brand of mabudofu (mabodofu?) for Eric kun and then Sag went all Jewish mother on us by insisting we take Koala chan and Super Lemon back to Eric kun as well because Eric LOVES them. I loved watching this unfold because Sag loves Eric so much, as do I, and the Japanese heart of friendship cannot be held back from sending gifts and love. Once you've made a Japanese friend, you can count on them for anything. Loyal to the end.

On Tuesday 3 April, we said our goodbyes and Sag took us to the eki (station) in Yokohama to get on the bullet train (shinkansen). We felt confident about everything, but he insisted on buying a ticket so he could accompany us to the platform and ensure we made it onto the correct train. I really hope I have a chance to pay these people back. We rode to Kyoto, looking for Mount Fuji along the way, but couldn't see it for the smog (same situation from Skytree). At Kyoto station, we grabbed some lunch and then headed out to find our hotel which was a short walk, about 5 minutes. Thank you, GPS. There was a post office there, so I stopped to buy and mail a postcard to a former student, a sixth grader, who called out to me in the hallway one day, "I hear you're going to Japan! Send me a postcard!" So I did. He gave me a thank you note the other day...with a dollar bill inside...??? Our hotel room was predictably small, but wonderfully air conditioned, a reprieve from our first couple of days in country--warm and humid, sweating all the time. We were not wearing jackets and Sag and Yuki kept asking us if we were cold. Nope. Not cold. We dropped our luggage and went out to play. We boarded a Skybus, a double decker, and it was a sunny day, even cool with the breeze generated by the speed of the bus. We had earbuds for the ridiculously poor English transcript, however, this sweet ride allowed us to get the lay of the land and see several temples and shrines...and sakura, the cherry blossoms. When we returned to the eki, Ken asked if we could go back to an area we saw on the tour in order to walk amongst the sakura. And so we did. We are Team Kyburz and as Ken stated on the trip, "You translate, I navigate!" So we bought tickets for smaller trains and got off at one station in order to walk all the way to the next station along the river, in the late afternoon light. It was beautiful, soothing, and picturesque. Mr. Six Foot Three was so grateful to stretch his legs after feeling cramped since he boarded the airplane. It all soothed his soul. And as if that weren't blessing enough, right near the next train station was a McDonald's! So he ordered a McTeriyaki Burger with Fries and found it to be quite tasty. When we got back to Kyoto Station, we looked at some of the restaurants, but decided that we would just grab some snacks at Lawson, a favorite convenience store (konbini) from living in country years ago. He got ice cream and I found some nikuman and rice balls. Oh, and Banana Cream cake.

The next morning, we caught another shinkansen to Hiroshima. If you go to Japan and plan to take even one train ride say from Tokyo to Kyoto and back to Tokyo again, it's completely worth it to get the Japan Rail Pass. You have to buy it before you leave the states. They send you a voucher (ours arrived Fed Ex from London) and then once you get to the Narita airport, you go down to the JR office in the basement and they give you your pass. You can make reservations if you upgrade to Green Car which turned out to be really slick and very nice. There's plenty of room for your luggage, the seats are way comfy, and you can charge your phone en route. We also road the bullet train in the regular cars without reservation--no chargers, but we lived. The shinkansen is so fast. I remember riding trains for HOURS between cities, but these bullet trains are incredibly swift and smooth. I highly suggest the JR Pass. It was worth the money! Also, the signs at train stations are in Japanese as well as English, so Ken could have gotten around without my help...it's just that my ability to speak Japanese really made things go smoothly. So we got to the Hiroshima Eki and stashed our luggage in the the coin lockers there--sweet! Travel really is so easy in Japan. Then we took a little street car (small train on railroad tracks) through the city to the Dome. The Peace Memorial Park is a World Heritage Site and we had a lovely couple of hours walking around there. Yes, quite somber. We toured the museum and I became so weepy. It was the photo of the three year old cute, chubby boy and his warped and melted tricycle that really got to me. I'm not political and wise and learned about international affairs, but my heart is drawn to other humans, especially children, and Hiroshima really hurt.

We got back to the eki and took the shinkansen to Kumamoto, my "home town." I loved all of my cities while living in Japan, but I served in Kita Kumamoto as well as Kumamoto and spent the majority of my mission in that city, therefore, Kumamoto is Home. Sachiko, Ken has met her several times as she visits here frequently, picked us up at the station and drove us around: cemetery, 100 yen store, out to eat, the mall, supermarket, etc. and then home. She built her own house several years ago. The one I visited before (her parents' home) was destroyed in the 2016 earthquakes. We enjoyed sleeping again on futons which are of course, on top of the traditional tatami mats (bamboo). Ken was getting to compare and contrast this Japanese home to Sag's and Yuki's. I can't believe we only had one night in a hotel!

On Thursday 5 April, Sachiko took us to Aso-Kuju National Park, the site of the active volcano known as Nakadake. We saw so much evidence of the earthquakes. The volcano had been acting up lately, so the photos show how close we were able to get without inhaling noxious gasses. The rest of the park was beautiful and there was a sakura festival taking place near a 400 year old cherry tree. We ate takoyaki (octopus), yakisoba, yakiniku, and toriniku, and ice cream.

We returned to Sachiko's home that afternoon to change clothes. She took us to the eki and we rode to Fukuoka eki to catch a taxi to the Fukuoka Temple. Before the taxi we grabbed some KFC. Ken had been a good sport about all the strange Japanese food, so I never minded his requests for American fast food. This temple was built in 2000 on the site of my old mission home. It was great to do a session there, see all the changes, and run into the temple president, Tashiro Kyodai. At Sachiko's suggestion, we asked if they could call a taxi for us, but Brother Shibata stepped in and dropped us off at the eki, which saved us 1700 yen. He is 75 years old.

On Friday 6 April, Sachiko drove us to another national park, Unzen-Amakusa National Park. Amakusa is several islands connected by five bridges. Ken had to touch the water of the East China Sea. It was rainy, but we didn't care...we got out to walk here and there. On the way back, Sachiko showed us the seaweed farm--in the water. They plant the seaweed seeds onto sticks in the water and grow it in the winter. The harvest had just finished. They harvest and dry the seaweed and then package it for selling. I never knew all the sticks in the water were a seaweed farm. By the way, Sachiko is the nicest ever and we will never be able to repay her. But we will certainly try.

That evening we had dinner with the Saruwatari Sisters, Kyoko and Katsue. They have both been to my classroom here in Utah. They are the nicest people and enjoyed meeting Ken san. We all exchanged gifts (they requested mint chocolate, Jell-o, and Kool-Aid). I hope they will also come stay with us.

On Saturday 7 April, our last day in country, we stayed around Kumamoto. We went to both churches where I served. We walked to the kamitori and the shimitori to meet Kumamon, the mascot of Kumamoto. He hugged us and everything. We went to Suizenji park...so beautiful...and to Kumamoto Castle, heavily damaged by the earthquakes--will take 20 years to put it back together again. Then we met Nitta Takayasu Kyodai for dinner. I tracted him out with my "spiffy" door approach back in the day. He was on the phone with someone but wanted to know more. We had no idea he had been studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses for quite some time. While still holding the phone and saying, "I'm not busy," I taught him and told him we'd be bringing a couple of guys back with us the next time (we weren't allowed to teach single men). I looked at all the elders in my district and decided that Weeks Choro (Eric kun) was my best bet, so I handed Nitta over to him. Nitta told me he remembered me "loaning" him a copy of the Book of Mormon, saying that I'd come back for it. When he saw me again, I told him he could keep it a bit longer. And of course, finally, I told him to keep it. I remember none of that. Nitta got baptized, served in the Kobe mission, married a member in the temple, they've raised four children, two of whom are also returned missionaries. He serves on the high council and his wife serves as stake Primary president. This is the fruit of my mission. When I came home, people asked, "How many people did you baptize?" And I truthfully answered, "None."

On Sunday 8 April, Sachiko took us to the Kumamoto station for the last time so we could catch our last shinkansen to Fukuoka. From there, we took the subway to the airport. At the airport, we got on the shuttle bus and made it to security. We flew to Narita where we had to go through security again. From there we flew to San Francisco where we had to go through security again. And customs. And from there, we flew to SLC. We drove home and forced ourselves to stay awake until 8 or 9 pm. The jet lag has lasted two weeks. It's been a bit rough, but I wouldn't have traded it for the world. I loved speaking Japanese again. And eating all the foods. And seeing my old home. And some old friends. I can't believe I got to go back. I loved being a tourist as well, but for me, it's all about the people. It is such a pleasure to see how strong they've been all this time in the gospel. They are ganbatteiru!"

My cup runneth over. Blessed. So blessed.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Emailing in Kanji and Measuring the Luggage

So here's an email I sent to one of Japanese friends: 日本語お学びます。漢字は難しいです!頑張っていきたいと思います。Jodyわかりますか? Sent from my iPhone

My sentences aren't rocket science or anything, but I kind of can't believe I figured out the Japanese keyboard all by myself! Two of three alphabets are listed there! He replied to this saying he can understand my Japanese and that the Kanji is good. We'll see how well I do in actual conversation after decades have passed with little to no practice. At least my husband should be impressed.

A friend is also vacationing abroad for Spring Break. She's packing 5 outfits for 12 days. I'm packing 3 outfits for 9 days. My friends have washing machines, so it should all work out.

Our first hosts asked us how big our suitcases are. They feel like their Prius is pretty big, but wanted to make sure we could actually fit everything in their car. So we measured: length x width x height. I took him seriously by answering the question, because our other hostess, who owns a Corolla, got into my Corolla last time she was here and said, "Okii!!" I laughed. She said, "SO BIG!!" If she thinks MY Corolla is spacious...then we may have to adjust our thinking about the cars and how much they can hold. Hence, we measured the luggage! In centimeters.

How do you prepare for your trips?