Change of Plans; or How I Saw Santa Taking a Big Big Dump under our Christmas Tree

Airstream Christmas Tree

Getting into the Christmas Spirit in Portland.

Santa arrived early and dropped off a big ol’ stinky lump of coal. Our plans for a four-month Portland fulltime sabbatical while Anna worked at a local hospital were completely squashed by the Jolly Fat Man (no not me, I’m not that jolly). But he wasn’t the sole Grinch in this story; he had a little assistance from the bungling and bureaucratic elves at both the health care recruiting company Anna had been working with and the Oregon Medical Board. Two weeks into our Portland stay everything had started to fall apart—we weren’t sure what the future would hold, we were back at square one, and we were feeling pretty dejected and discouraged…

It’s been a challenging few months since late-August. We had finally arrived in Washington State after a few wonderful Oregon weeks hanging with friends and watching the eclipse. However, our stay was short-lived after we learned about my stepmother’s death and turned around and headed back to Michigan. Late-August and all of September were angst filled and stressful. We were concerned about my dad and wondered how long we would be in Michigan. We had previously roughed out our fall and winter plans and weren’t sure how things were going to shake out after the Midwestern detour. Anna was knee-deep into finding a west coast locum tenens assignment and we weren’t even sure where we would be when the time came. We were definitely not sure if we were ready for another cross-country drive (our third in six months!)

However, as Michigan’s fall leaves began to turn and drop to the ground, our plans started to fall into place. We eventually reached a détente with our inner voices and an autumn and winter game plan slowly developed. While a winter assignment in Portland wasn’t ideal, it was back within the fleece-clad embrace of Mother Pacific Northwest. Portland is a major city with plenty of distractions to keep us occupied during those short, grey, and wet Upper Left Coast days. Plus, being in Portland would enable us to have the Airstream reupholstered and let us take care of our lingering household goods storage problem. Even though it was on the other side of the country, we could make Portland work. However, in the back of our minds a grey cloud of doubt remained. While we were feeling outwardly optimistic, for some reason we both had subconscious doubts and were waiting for the next shoe to drop…

A cold, frosty, foggy morning in Portland.

A cold, frosty, foggy morning in Portland.

So it wasn’t a complete surprise when, over the last few weeks, issues began to surface. We could see our previously stable and strong plan slowly becoming more delicate and begin to fray at the edges. We had done our part with due diligence, but were completely powerless. With no control over the situation, we watched as the ham-handed recruiting company haphazardly worked with the apparatchik of the Oregon Medical Board. Ultimately, buffoonery lost the battle and Anna would not be getting her Oregon Physician Assistant license until at least March. I could go in detail about the behind-the-scenes machinations, but suffice it to say that the headhunters dropped the ball and we were left holding the bag.

We spent the week before Christmas unpacking the substantial bag of shit coal the recruiting company Santa left us. Unpacking that bag consisted of the daunting task of undoing all the things we had already done in order to live in an Airstream in one spot for four months with a manageable quality of life. We had reserved, paid for, and moved into our monthly RV Park campsite. We had procured a small storage unit and emptied the truck and trailer of some of the fulltime detritus that we wouldn’t need while parked long-term. The recruiting company promised a rental car, so we secured a very nice Hertz Hybrid to make Anna’s 60-mile round-trip commute easier. We signed up at the local YMCA and enrolled Owen in both swim classes and Homeschool PE classes. The list goes on and on, but you get the point…

Willamette River [Portland, Oregon]

Willamette River [Portland, Oregon]

As I write this on December 23rd, we have managed to undo most of our commitments, but a lot of entropy remains. Besides the simple chaos that this SNAFU throws into our winter schedule, it also has far-reaching implications to the future of the Big Big Trip.

Anna needs to periodically work in order to maintain her proficiency as a Physician Assistant. In her field, once an employment gap approaches the two-year point, red flags are triggered and eyebrows are raised. One’s proficiency and dedication is called into question and, ultimately, their marketability and employability plummets.

Not biggies if you hate your job and want to go in a different direction or continue a fulltime traveling adventure. However, Anna loves her career and wants to continue to practice medicine. Plus, we don’t intend to continue the Big Big Trip forever. We eventually want to settle down. However, our settling down has always been a post-Alaska proposition. Therefore, we are now at a crossroads. Either we 1) Quickly find another locum tenens position in a state where she is already licensed (I’m looking at you Washington, California, and Michigan), work for a few months to reset the proficiency clock, and maintain course and speed towards Alaska this summer; 2) We ignore the two-year dictum, enjoy the next 10-months (including Alaska), hang up our fulltime traveling boots in the fall and deal with the career fallout; or 3) We give up on a locum tenens assignment, give up on Alaska 2018, and start looking for a place to settle down this winter.

Owen cutting up at Portland's Saturday Market - on a Sunday.

Owen cutting up at Portland’s Saturday Market – on a Sunday.

At this point we have no idea what we’ll ultimately end up doing. Due to time constraints, we’ve decided to spend Christmas in Portland and start heading south sometime in the next week or two. We’ll meander southward down the Oregon coast (can you say Steelhead fly-fishing?), into California and towards the southwest while continuing to pursue another temporary assignment. If nothing materializes by the end of January the timing of finding and completing a temporary assignment isn’t feasible and we’ll take a good hard look at the options listed above. If nothing pans out, then we’ll assume the fates are trying to tell us something and we’ll be forced to sit down and make a Big Big Decision.

[Ed. In all seriousness, while this post comes across as pretty negative, we are actually doing fine now.  We were angry and frustrated earlier in the week, but have settled into a comfortable acceptance of things. While this may be the beginning of the end of the Big Big Trip, it may also be the beginning of a new chapter. That’s pretty exciting! In the depths of our irritation at the State of Oregon and the Recruiting Company, we forgot how lucky we are and how many options we have available to us; after 24-hours of moping about, we remembered. There are a lot of people who don’t have the freedom or the options that we have. Maybe we started to take those freedoms and those options for granted? So, if there is a silver lining in all this, it is that it reminds us to appreciate and be thankful for all that have and all that we’ve already done. We’ll be just fine.]

Thumbs up to the Saturday Market.

Thumbs up to the Saturday Market.

Enjoying a mid-morning fuel stop at Portland's Blue Star Donuts.

Enjoying a mid-morning fuel stop at Portland’s Blue Star Donuts.

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