National Conference Center complex in Lansdowne, Virginia

I’ve already mentioned that I had anticipated being sent on a work trip this summer. I am finally making time to write about my travels and the stuff I am doing to bring a bunch of VA employees up to speed on my job. The whole story boils down to: I volunteered to teach a class, and now I’m teaching it.

VA likes to have some trained instructors scattered around, available in the case a new class needs to be taught. This time we hired so many new people that there were not enough instructors in the pool. So they asked for volunteers. For example, they asked people with my job description to agree to train people newly hired to do what we do. Train people to do what you know – it makes sense. Since the training was anticipated to occur during the summer, when Miss T will be with her dad, I agreed to become an instructor.

After an extremely busy start to my summer, I was just settling down to organize my life and regroup, now that my daughter was gone to California to be with her dad for the summer. It’s nice to have a couple months where I can reset all the tables, counters, knobs, and dials, and get myself prepared for the next 9 months of teen craziness. I had not heard any kind of confirmation on my application to teach, and no locations or dates were settled. So, I looked forward to a summer of writing more on my book, cleaning my kid’s bedroom down to the floor boards (children do NOT inherit hygiene habits from their parents, btw), hiking the Gorge, find new places to camp, getting to know the new man in my life, and that kind of Me-Time. One week into Me-Time, I was notified of my upcoming training. It would be quick and direct, designed to give instructors a heads-up on this upcoming anticipated training (wherever it may be and whenever it may occur).

So, on Thursday at work, we scrambled around and got travel arrangements into place for travel to Lansdowne, Virginia on Monday. It would be an easy trip: fly out Monday, return Friday morning. I was not too concerned about the short interruption of my summer of kid-less bliss. I had enough time to clean the house a little bit, mow the lawn, pack, and pour an extra dish of food for the cat for my time away. Since I can’t get her to keep her fuzzy nose out of it anyway, I leave the toilet seat up for her in case the water bowl runs out – how clever is THAT?! I make fun of my cat for using the toilet. She’s all, “This round white thing is so cool! Sometimes it’s filled with toxic waste, sometimes drinking water!” Disgusting.

View from my room at the NCC was nice

The training facility, called the National Conference Center, in Lansdowne (near Leesburg, near Washington, D.C.) is a crazy, 1980s Era concrete bunker of sorts. Formerly the Xerox training center, it’s now used by many federal agencies for our own training. The place is described as “110 safe, secure acres in a distraction-free setting.” Which means it is nowhere near anything interesting to do or see. It is rather reminiscent of a military post with military style building. Our sleeping quarters, dayrooms, cafeteria, lounge, bar, conference rooms, and everything else were all contained inside one building. It is designed in such a way that without an elaborate identification system (room numbers include digits after a decimal point!), it was very easy to get lost inside. I wanted to wander the halls wailing, “Someone moved my cheese!”

Second floor dayroom and third floor sleeping quarters.

My room was at ground level, and called the third floor. There were about 8 floors. All the hallways were named after states, so I had to memorize the way to the cafeteria on the second floor (which dropped underground) as: follow Michigan for a long time, cafeteria is right after Delaware. Or to the training room on the third floor, where I would follow Arkansas and turn left onto Ohio and follow that. There was no cell phone reception inside the wide and deep concrete building. Luckily our rooms were on the outside, so we were able to communicate with the outside world during our personal time.

Training was good: direct, brief, effective. It was called Train-the-Trainer. I found great personal enjoyment in the trip because of two events: getting caught in a monstrous thunderstorm (remember I was a meteorologist in my former life), and seeing clouds of fireflies.  My delight in fireflies makes me like a child again. I was giggling and crawling through the grass on my hands and knees trying to catch them. I managed to catch one and had it on my hand, blinking.

Saw lots of deer and this rabbit during my morning jogs

Wednesday we “got our orders.” In other words, during training I found out when and where I would be teaching my class. I found out I would be flying to Phoenix to teach in less than a week! (I was immediately disappointed for not being granted a spot in Seattle, as I had requested and hoped for, but I gradually got over it.) Let’s put that into perspective: In less than a week I would be leaving my home for FIVE full weeks and I had not yet returned home from Virginia. I needed to find some accommodation for my cat, make some kind of lawncare related plan, deal with mail, neighbors… arrgh. The five-week time frame was longer than I had anticipated, and this particular summer Miss T decided to return from her dad’s house early so she could go on a church camping trip with a girlfriend. So I had to get all the details worked out for her arriving when I was not there, then packing, and then leaving on a new trip when I was still not there! Not to mention, working out the details for her to return from the weeklong camping trip and be alone for two days before I finally returned from Phoenix.

In February, I had received the coveted 4th of July holiday leave approved for the whole week after the 4th. I was planning to go to my Pa’s house in Idaho, but had to bail on that trip, to my great disappointment.

My Pa and I have been having some very tough times in the past year with poor communication skills resulting in some fighting. e.g. He most recently crushed my feelings by telling me the new guy was not welcome to visit his home because it’s too hard on him to meet someone who will just become my next ex-boyfriend or next ex-husband. Ouch. If he was an acquaintance, I could easily deal with it by telling him to piss off. But since he’s my dad, I am desperate for approval and reassurance that he still loves me, even though he apparently has no censor on his mouth, nor any concern for my feelings.

So I flew home on Friday, bought a new piece of luggage (since I had sent my stuff to California with T) and tossed everything I could think of into it. My man spent the whole weekend with me and helped in the house with dishes and mowing the lawn (again with the grass!), and keeping my spirits up while I felt rather discombobulated and tried to get the rest of my summer organized during the holiday weekend. In celebration of pulling it all off in a few days, I went out to Hood River to watch his hometown fireworks celebration. It was a much better choice than to brave the 10,000 Portlanders in my own town. The next morning I said goodbye, headed back into the city, took a deep breath, and got ready to be gone till August. I also ate all the leftovers I could stomach, in a last-ditch attempt to clean out the fridge. Ha!

Alright, VA: Bring on Phoenix!

{Boring side note for anyone who really needs more information about what I’m doing: In a nationwide push to take care of our “backlog” of medical claims from veterans, one aspect of VA strategy was to hire a ton of new people. Backlog is the term we use to refer to cases pending – i.e., vet has made a claim, and we are not done making a decision yet. There are many kinds of jobs in a Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office, like the one where I work. (We do not do any healthcare whatsoever – that is a different part of VA) There are multiple teams responsible for multiple aspects of handling veterans’ disability claims. My particular job is to take a claim that has all the background work completed on it (medical records retrieved, military records retrieved, instructions and education sent to the veteran about the process, etc.), and review the entire record and make a decision on whether the evidence in the claim meets federal law to a sufficient degree that we are allowed to grant a benefit. If the criteria spelled out in the law (38 Code of Federal Regulations) have been met, I can grant the benefit. If they have not been met, I need to explain this to the veterans, and explain precisely what they need to do to get a positive decision.}

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