Well, Since You Asked

On this Monday, since I’m going to spending most of the day flying across the country toward my next two weeks of work, I thought I’d take the opportunity to clear up a few things. You see, I’m often asked about my job, my schedule, and the implications of being away from my daughter for two weeks at a time, amongst other things. So here’s a little Q & A on some of the most common inquiries.

What is it like out there in Northern Alberta, really?

Honestly, not as bad as you’re imagining. Yes, it’s incredibly cold in the winter and pretty hot in the summer. The air is also really dry, so people like me who have sinus problems on a good day tend to be stuffed up a lot and get regular nosebleeds. But it’s not an awful place to work. Now, mind you, a lot depends on the site you’re working at and where you’re living while working there. The site I’m on right now – Kearl Lake – has a lot of good points, including an excellent view of safety. The camp that most people at Kearl stay at is a perfectly fine one. It has its problems, like thin walls and a couple of odd rules, but it also has nice gyms in each building and pretty good food. There are definitely places you want to stay away from out in that area of the country, but I’ve been lucky so far.

Isn’t it weird being out there with all those men?

First of all, yes, I’m a woman in the trades, which is a male-dominated field. But that doesn’t mean that I’m, like, the only woman out there. There have been several other women on my crew, and there are lots of women out there in construction, not to mention all the ladies who are out there doing things like booking flights and running the camps. Yeah, I work overwhelmingly with men, but it’s not like I’m the only woman out there. Plus a lot of the camps have rules designed to make the women feel more comfortable. At the PTI camps (like Wapasu, which is where I used to be) they have rules stating that men and women do not share bathrooms. They mess up sometimes, but as long as you point out the mistake they’ll fix it.

All of that aside, even if I was the only woman on the crew and I did have to share a bathroom with a guy, it actually wouldn’t seem weird to me. I’ve always gotten along easier with guys than girls, so…*shrug*

Don’t you just want to die after so many straight days of work?

When I first went out West I really thought I’d lose my mind working for 14 days straight, all 12-hour shifts. But to be perfectly honest, it goes by much faster than you’d imagine. This likely depends on how much you like/hate your particular job, but for me it’s not too bad at all. I don’t love my job by any means, but the days go by pretty fast, and usually the second week of work just kinda slips by. Mind you, by day 14 I am SO READY TO GO HOME, and I can’t imagine having to do a longer shift than that, but the two weeks really isn’t as awful as it sounds.

Isn’t that kind of work hard? (*Imagine this question asked in a super-whiny female voice, or a super-condescending male voice.*)

I’m a woman. I’m not useless. Both sexes really need to stop assuming that because I’m physically small and genetically female, somehow I can’t do physical labor or anything dirty or requiring tools. Grow up, people. Geez.

Isn’t it just awful being away from your daughter for so long?

This is the one I get the most, particularly from my mother-friends who often follow up the question with phrases such as, “I could never do that,” and, “You’re so tough.” I do appreciate the sentiment, believe me, and when I first began to travel out West for work I really though it was going to result in an emotional breakdown. Surely being away from my daughter for two weeks out of every four would be just the worst thing ever, right? Well, yes…and no. I can’t honestly say that I don’t miss her a ton when I’m away, but the truth is that my schedule actually affords me more time with my daughter than a traditional work shift would. Some simple math explains how. If I were working a normal 9 to 5, the baby would barely be awake by the time I was leaving for work, and by the time I got home and we had supper and she had a bath, we’d have a grand total of between one and two hours together before it was time for bed. So during a normal four weeks we’d have approximately 136 hours of awake time together (10 hours a week throughout the week and approximately 24 hours each weekend), and during a lot of those hours I would be tired and stressed-out from work, so it wouldn’t all be fun, happy time. Alternatively, with the schedule I’m on now I get two straight weeks (minus approximately one day during which I’m flying), or 156 hours of awake time together, and that time is fatigue- and stress-free because when you leave your job on the other side of the country there is absolutely no reason to think about it while you’re home.

It’s not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination, and of course it sucks having 14 days in a row during which I don’t get to hug or kiss my baby girl, but it isn’t nearly as horrible as other people imagine it to be. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can. I’m a huge wuss.

Conclusion!

All in all, when people find out that I work out West they make a lot of assumptions. They imagine that I must only be there out of desperation because they assume that every aspect of working out West is awful. And they imagine that I must have a heart of stone to be able to stand being in the middle of nowhere, far away from my family for so much time. Unfortunately this is the kind of attitude that keeps people from trying the whole “out West” deal. Like I said, it’s not ideal, and I can certainly understand why people choose not to do it, but it’s not nearly as terrible as the imagination makes it out to be. Not to mention, if it weren’t for my taking the plunge and trying it out, we would be significantly further behind in life than we are right now.

And the morals of the story are: don’t judge something before you’ve given it a shot, and never underestimate your ability to do big, scary things. A lot of the time it turns out to be not such a big deal after all, and can even change your life for the better.

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Brain Dump

A few things, some bigger deals than others, have been happening lately, and since I find Sunday to be an excellent day to talk about the week that has just passed, you get to hear about them all. 🙂

– As previously mentioned, a week and a half ago I got a call offering me my job back at the paper mill. The job offer is conditional on the sale of the mill being completed, which is conditional on Nova Scotia’s Utility Review Board okaying the deal that the buyer has created with Nova Scotia Power. If the Board okays the deal, the buyer is hoping to start up the mill some time in August.

Personally, I don’t see it happening that way. For one thing, even though the government is probably going to be pushing the Board to okay everything and get the sale over with, I don’t think they’re going to agree with it right off the get-go. The deal the buyer and NSP came up with is, in my opinion, overly complicated, and also gives NSP the rights to 18% of any profits made by the mill. I’m sure everything will get the okay eventually, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quick process. I believe the Board will have a few issues with bits and pieces of the agreement, and that will slow things down.

For the other thing, I think the buyer is drastically overestimating how easy it’s going to be to get staff back in that mill. A large number of maintenance workers have already found other jobs or gone out West for work, and my understanding is that many of them are reluctant to come back. Why give up an excellent camp job for the absolutely sickening contract we were strong-armed into? Also we seem to have lost quite a bit of management (of the necessary type) and it’s going to take time to fill those positions.

No, I definitely don’t think that mill is starting up in August.

– The reason I bring up the uncertainty of when the mill might start up is because last week I got a call for another job…a camp job working for MMR Canada. This company will fly me out to the site where I will work for 14 days straight, then fly me home for 14 days straight, rinse and repeat. In the 14 days that I work, I will make more money than my husband and I made combined at the mill. In other words, it is a really good opportunity that is impossible to pass up. Even if I only work there until the mill starts up (a decision that will have to be worked out later, once I know what it’s like out on this site), it will still be more than worth it. So this Saturday my hubby is flying home from the job he’s been at, and he will stay with the baby while I’m on my 14 day shifts.

I have a powerful belief that the baby will lose her tiny little mind when she sees daddy come through the airport gate. 🙂

– Because of the impending start date of my camp job, I’ve been really trying to force myself to write. I’ll never find the time to write while I’m on camp (I’m working 12 hour days!), but I might be able to find a few minutes a day to edit, which is why I’m desperately trying to get to the end of my zombie novel before I leave (June 19th). And I’m so close I can taste it. My main character is currently at the ‘big reveal’ moment, which is essentially the end of the story. If I had to estimate I’d say that there might be about 5000-6000 words left to this story, so if I work really hard (and my brain starts cooperating with the ‘big reveal’ wording) then I might actually have it finished this week. ^_^

– Also because of the impending start date of my camp job, I’ve been thinking that I need to start trying to get into shape. If my duties are anything similar to what they were at the mill, I’m in rough form. And the fact is that the work I’ll be doing out there will probably be much more physically demanding than what I’m used to. With this in mind I decided yesterday that today I would start getting up early and running again, as well as trying to eat better.

I set my alarm for 6 am. The baby woke up at 5:30 am. 😐

Since I can’t use my treadmill while the baby is awake (it’s in the basement, which is also where a bunch of dangerous stuff and also the kitty litters are, so I can’t just take her down there with me), I’ve been waiting all day for the little booger to lay down and take her nap so I can get my exercise in. It is now coming up on lunch time and she appears to have no plans of the sort. I’m at least twice as tired as she is.

And as far as eating better…..I’d forgotten how hard that is. I had a bowl of grapes, a glass of juice, and a coffee for breakfast, and a little later I had a bowl of oatmeal that I hoped would tide me over until lunch. I’ve also since had 2 more glasses of juice (it’s a calorie-free concentrated thing that you mix with water) to try to keep my belly feeling full. It’s not helping. I’m freakin’ starving. And it doesn’t help that we have a whole closet just packed with the discount Halloween candy we buy every year after the holiday. 😐 I’m not cut out for diet and exercise.

– And finally, my word counts for the week. Aside from one crappy day and one day where I evidently forgot how to write, I did pretty well! An average of 1303 words per day!

Sunday – 1396
Monday – 2617
Tuesday – 1098
Wednesday – 211
Thursday – 0
Friday – 1960
Saturday – 1839