Sick, Tired, Laid Off

Ooops. So I guess I’m not doing very well with this whole post-a-week thing. Um. I’ve been busy? And sick? And getting laid off?

Yeah. Those are good excuses. Except, I haven’t actually been all that busy. But, I have been sick, and I did get laid off–though not in that order.

I went back to work the last Wednesday of September and was offered the new position that had been created to replace mine. It was a full-time position, as opposed to an 80% full time position. It would have been somewhat of a raise, though not a large raise. And it would have included lots more responsibility added to a job that already felt fairly busy.

My boss made a point of making sure that I understood that I was technically not qualified for this new position based on my experience, but that since I was already in the old position that she still wanted to offer it to me. And that she knew that I could do the new job, but she also wanted to make very clear that it would require me to do a lot of work in areas that she had already identified me to be deficient in.

I said I’d think about it and get back to her, even though I already knew that my answer was no, even though I wanted to say to her, “Are you crazy? Do you honestly think that I would take this position after everything that’s happened in the past two months? Do you honestly think that I feel that I can trust you as a supervisor and feel that I can count on your support in this new position? Because, I’m not that stupid.”

It felt like such a set up! Here, take this new position, but you’re not technically qualified for it, and you’re going to need to do a lot of work in areas that I feel that you’re deficient in order for you to succeed in this new position. Oh, and I’ve already given you a disciplinary notice regarding those areas, so you’re basically already on probation, so if you don’t improve in those areas, I can fire you for not improving.

What was probably even more insulting, was that when I told my boss that I didn’t want the new position, she acted surprised. No, not even surprised–shocked. She was without words–a rarity.

The agency’s fiscal year ended on the last day of September, so I ended up having only two more days of work after I declined the offer of the new position. I offered to stay longer, to tie up loose ends and to write a manual for my job. That offer of helpfulness was declined and all I can say is good luck and godspeed to whomever takes the job. It won’t be impossible for them, but I was the first person to use a software package that the agency had purchased for the position. Unfortunately, the software’s online help and live tech support isn’t all that great and it has a fairly steep learning curve in order to understand all of its nuances and quirks. I was still learning after having been using it for a year and a half.

But, that’s not my problem anymore.

I’ve been enjoying unemployment as much as possible. Trying to get a lot of reading, writing, and knitting done. I’ve been succeeding at knitting at least–I’m about half way done with a cowl for a friend’s birthday gift. I’ve also been succeeding at watching a lot of Deep Space Nine streaming on Netflix (you’ll notice that this isn’t one of my stated goals).

I’ve been pretty actively looking for work, too. While I’d been on leave from work before getting laid off, I’d had one interview but wasn’t offered the position. I have a phone interview tomorrow for a position that I’m cautiously curious about–it seems like a lot of work for not a lot of money. I also have a couple of other leads on some potentially good positions. And, I’ve been thinking about grad school. I haven’t fully decided yet if I’m ready to go back to school, but I’m going to a grad school info fair tomorrow and an info session for the specific program that I’m interested in next week.

I’m looking into going back for a Masters in Public Health maybe, with a focus in Community with a concentration in Health Promotion. Basically, I think my ideal job would be to be a home ec teacher, but there seem to be woefully few of those types of jobs out there these days. I figure an MPH with a concentration in Health Promotion might be a good step. I’d still have to figure out exactly what I’d want to focus on–probably community nutrition, food security/food access, that kind of thing. I’m hoping that the info session next week will help to clarify what my options are.

So, that’s all from this end. Now that I’m over the nasty week plus long cold that I had, I think I’ll be able to get into a better groove about writing more often. Feel free to leave comments to prod me on that.

Communicating Food

(This is really long, almost 2,000 words. But I have to make up for not posting more often by posting long posts, right?)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life recently, what I want to be when I “grow up”. My usual defense for not having anything remotely approaching a career at this point in my life is usually to blame my father. Last time I asked, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grows up. And yet, it seems to me that there must be something out there that would satisfy me as fully as when I was in school. It’s true, the thought of going back to school to study history doesn’t hold much appeal to me right now, but I really liked how it felt. I really liked how purposeful it was, how I was excited to wake up every day and keep digging through readings and writing papers. (Okay, no university student is every excited to wake up, but once I was awake and had dragged my ass out of bed and had gotten some coffee in me, then I was excited.)

For the past five years, I haven’t been overly excited. Coffee was cool for a while. This hotel thing is definitely not my cup of tea but it gives me a chance to interact with a rotating cast of characters and it’s certainly clear that I like interacting with people from the safe side of a counter. The one thing that I’ve enjoyed most about all of my past jobs has been communicating information to people, whether it be why a textbook isn’t on the shelf, where a particular coffee comes from, or why Balch Creek is my favorite spot in Portland and why you absolutely must take the five minute bus ride from the hotel to see it.

And then there’s this other passion of mine: food. Even before some people thought I was too young to start cooking (ahem, Mom), I wanted to. My Nana, thankfully, had a more liberal approach to involving children in cooking and I cherished every chance I had to make fresh pasta with her, or sprinkle something into a soup, or lick the cake batter off the mixer.

My first solo forays into cooking weren’t entirely successful. When I was maybe seven or eight, my Nana sent me home with a package of pudding mix. We had made some earlier that day and I figured that having done it once with a steady and experienced guiding hand that I could do it on my own. I burnt the pudding to the bottom of the pot. I’m pretty sure that my mother still has pictures of it. She was not happy. She was also not happy when I served her coffee for Mother’s Day that year or the next. I watched her make coffee every morning. How hard could it be? It turns out there’s a difference between Instant Coffee and Drip Coffee. And Instant Coffee brewed through a drip coffee maker doesn’t taste quite right.

Fast forward a decade or so.

I was getting ready to head off to McGill, where, though I would be living in a dorm, I would only have a meal plan five days a week. This was something that I never mentioned to my mother, who still wouldn’t let me into the kitchen, but it was something that I had discussed with my Grandmother (my dad’s mom; Nana was my great-grandmother on my mother’s side, the Italian side). As a graduation gift, she gave me Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and told me very mater-of-factly, “If you can read, you can cook.” I was skeptical but it was either take her at her word or live off mac and cheese and pizza two days out of the week. Most university students would eat three meals a day of that and not think another thing about it. I, however, had always been really curious about this cooking thing. And now I wouldn’t have to worry about Mom shooing me from the kitchen.

I started out ever so slowly and probably didn’t really eat too much better on the weekends than mac and cheese and pizza because I don’t have any strong food memories from my first year of university. After that first year, though, I was completely on my own as far as food went because I was living off campus. I was probably still eating a lot of processed and packaged foods, but I was making use of the cookbook. I had given up on trying to keep the dust jacket on the book–a good sign that it was getting used often enough according to my Grandmother.

Initially, I was afraid to cook meat for myself. I had a brain full of imprinted fears of undercooked pork or chicken. Salmonella. E. coli. Food poisoning. Meat was scary! This isn’t to say that I was becoming a vegetarian (that came later). I just wasn’t cooking meat for myself. Eventually, though, I was starting to feel comfortable with the basics of cooking. And I kept looking through the cookbook when I probably should have been studying. And those meat recipes sounded good. Finally, I took the chance and bought some chicken and tried one of the recipes. I think it was some kind of ginger soy sauce chicken recipe. It became one of my standard go-to’s proven by how mangled and stained the page is.

It was a revelation.

The chicken was moist and flavorful and just SO GOOD.

My mother is not a bad cook. I used to think that she maybe wasn’t a great cook, particularly if you were to judge her skills at cooking chicken. It was always dry and fairly flavorless aside from whatever gravy or shake n’ bake or glaze from a pouch might be on it. As I’ve become a more accomplished cook myself and as I’ve learned more about the history of modern American food, I’ve come to realize that she is of a generation that was always scared of meat, always told to cook it till it was good and dead lest it poison you. (If it was so dangerous, why were we eating it?)

Now that meat wasn’t scary, I was anxious to start cooking more for myself. Though I have owned How to Cook Everything for a decade, I have not yet cooked every recipe in it. However, I know that I have looked at and possibly read every recipe. It wasn’t always as easy as macaroni and cheese, but the more I cooked, the easier it became. And the more fun it became, too. Cooking dinner became a study break and so it was a good excuse to find something intricate and involved that might take two or three hours to cook, eat, and clean up after. In fact, now that I think about it, dinner was probably the only thing I took as seriously every day as my classes. Going out on a Friday and drinking with my friends was always fun, but so was staying home and baking a pie.

How to Cook Everything is the most important book that anyone has ever given to me. It’s no longer the only cookbook in my library and it’s not even one that I open very often anymore (I often don’t look at a recipe anymore), but it was my first cookbook and the cookbook that taught me almost everything I needed to know to start cooking for myself. It was the cookbook that gave me the confidence to tackle things like lasagne made completely from scratch and pie crusts and, yes, even beef bourguignon (I had heard of Julia Child but she was just that strange old lady who had a show on PBS that I sometimes saw bits of).

In the decade since I started cooking for myself, mac and cheese has never left my pantry (I’ve moved on, though, from Kraft Dinner with neon yellow cheese to Annie’s Organic Shells and White Cheddar) but lots of other things have entered it: yeast, pimentón, sardines, anchovies, capers, lentils, Swiss chard. None of these were things that were in my pantry when I was growing up. My mother was busy. Both she and my step-father worked full-time. She put a hot meal on the table every night thanks to Lipton noodles or rice microwaved with powdered sauce, Shake n’ Bake, and frozen vegetables. She always tried to include a salad, too. That was usually mostly fresh but we usually drowned it with ranch or creamy Italian dressing. It’s not that they were unbalanced or blatantly unhealthy meals–they were meals based on the meals that my mother probably ate growing up: meat, grain/potato, vegetable.

But times change and my food habits have changed as I’ve grown and learned more. My meals these days are almost always vegetarian. Aside from the mac and cheese, there are virtually no processed or pre-cooked foods in my pantry. I go grocery shopping a few times a week to keep my stocks fresh. I do my best to buy local, organic and in season.

So how does this come full circle back to what I want to be when I grow up?

Every time I bake something, people tell me that I should open a bakery. But then I’d be back to working crazy hours like I was in coffee, and I hated that. Every time I cook something, people tell me I should open my own restaurant. But part of what I love about cooking is getting to sit down and enjoy it with friends around a table, and I couldn’t do that if I were running a restaurant.

But I like talking to people. I like communicating information. I like teaching people things. I like writing. And I definitely like food. There’s probably no clear path here. It’s not as if I can become a home ec teacher (are there any of those left?). The idea of becoming a nutritionist has occurred to me but I’ve yet to explore it very deeply. Plus, the idea of reducing food to its component nutrients drains all the romance from cooking. I wonder if Michael Pollan is hiring for apprenticeships.

If I could design an ideal job, it would probably be something like what I imagine a home economics class might have been like (I know not of such things because they were dropped from my middle school and high school long before I got there). I want to give people what How to Cook Everything gave to me: basic tools to be able to cook for themselves, not to be afraid of food, and to enjoy cooking.

And, sometimes, if you ask it nicely, the Universe gives you a chance to do a test run.

I’ve been bugging the Man for ages about letting me teach him how to cook. He’s finally given in. I realize that this experience will be very, very different from anything I might encounter were I to be granted my ideal job, but it’s a place to start. I’ve also convinced him that we should start a blog to document how things go. He’s just started rehearsals for a show, and so is way too busy to worry about cooking for the next six weeks or so. When we finally do get around to starting, I’ll post the link here, though.

Who knows if this really is what I want to do when I grow up but if I think about the things that make me happy and that I’m most passionate about, it seems as good an idea as any.

The Job that Wasn’t, the Continuing Saga

Wow. You don’t log on for three months and you’re greeted by a snowing front page on WordPress. I guess it is seasonal, especially considering the freakish cold spell we’re sitting under here the Pacific Northwest. There’s only a high of 30F today! This is NOT supposed to happen here! But, it is. Global warming or El Niño or something. And yet, there’s not a cloud in the sky, which is also very odd for this time of year here. It should be grey and drizzly.

But it’s not the freakish weather that I want to write about today. And I’m going to save my usual apologies  about not writing as much and vows to write more because I never live up to them. And I figure that it’ll happen eventually…maybe. And, if not, I’ll just be a sporadic blogger.

Anyway.

Continuing with my job saga, the job that I wrote about last time–the couple of days a week at a new coffee shop–well, they laid me off last week due to slow business. The good news is that I still have my hotel job and though I won’t be able to pick up any more hours there, I’ll still be working about 30 hours a week. That’s something. And something is definitely better than nothing.

I’m continuing, as I have been for almost a year now, to look for other work, but, just as has been the case over the past year, I’ve had little luck. I comfort myself by saying that it’s difficult to stand out amongst an applicant pool of 500 people and that the most likely way for me to find a job in an economic climate like this is through a connection. Still, I’m really tired of getting rejection letters, if I get them at all. There is one company, a non-profit energy efficiency consultancy, that I have applied to at least 20 times. They always send out automated rejection letters. I guess it’s nice to know that they’ve selected someone else but at this point the cheerful photo of the sun shining on a field of California poppies just makes me angry and feels almost like the poppies are mocking me. Or maybe they’re suggesting that I should try opium. I’m not really sure at this point.

I know that something will give at some point but I’m running out of tricks for keeping positive. I have already received a potential coffee job offer but it wouldn’t start until February. And I’m also not sure that I really want to take another coffee job.

I’ve been working in coffee since I graduated from university four years ago. (It’s crazy to think that it’s been that long!) It was always fun and interesting but I’ve realized that the reason it held such appeal for me while I was living in Maine was that it seemed to offer the best way for me to get out of Maine. I had a great and secure coffee job while I was living in Maine and when I decided to move to Oregon, I knew that it’d be easy for me to get a coffee job once I got here. Since I’ve been here, though, the excitement has dwindled. I knew that I would never become a competition barista but I always thought that I would be able to continue to nurture my passion and continue to be able to grow as a barista and get back into coffee education and training and maybe even administrative work for a coffee shop/roastery.

But that never developed. Part of the problem was that I was never able to find a coffee job that I could work at full-time so my energy was always divided. And working a schedule that included a couple double days a week meant that generally the last thing that I wanted to do on my days off was to think about either job. So I never put a lot of energy into getting myself really connected with the coffee community here in Portland. Things may have worked out differently otherwise.

There’s no point in thinking about the ‘what-ifs’ though: there are way too many. Instead, the point is to keep moving forward. I was working on my cover letter and resume last night, tweaking some things to apply for yet another position, this one at the university as a department front desk administrator. I was going through old files on my computer from when I was working in the office at the coffee roastery that I worked at in Maine and remembering how much I actually liked doing all of that mundane office work! I know, I’m weird. But it was good to refresh my memory about how much of this stuff I’ve done before as I’m applying for jobs that would be very similar.

Moving into the new year, clichéd as it sounds, I want to start focusing more on me. Start using my gym membership more than once a month. Start going to yoga at least a couple of times every week. Start writing and photographing more. I have three days off a week now so I have very little excuse not to do at least some of this stuff. But, I also want to start volunteering with the Oregon Food Bank. I found out recently that they offer cooking classes to low-income families and though they’re not looking for any volunteers to help with those right now, they’re always looking for sorting and repacking volunteers. Though I’m in a tough spot financially now, there’s no reason that I can’ t use some of this extra time to help out others who are worse off than me.

I’ve been reading through Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings by Rob Brezsny, who writes Free Will Astrology, which is probably in your favorite free weekly. Yeah yeah, kinda hippy dippy but it was given to me by one of my favorite customers at the coffee shop back in Maine shortly before he left to follow his own cross-continental dreams and promised that it would a good book to dip into as I needed to. And it has been. This, in the very first chapter, is so far one of my favorite essays. Don’t dwell on the negative, because there are so many things that are going right!

So, onwards and upwards. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. And don’t stop believing.

The Job that Wasn’t, Part Two

So, I have a new job. But not the one I wrote about last time. It’s been a busy couple of weeks in my personal job market.

The same week that I got the offer of a temp position at the organization that I really really really really really want to work for, I had decided that absent any other options, it was time to change things up with my current work situation. For those of you keeping score at home, I’m currently working two jobs, at a coffee shop and at a hotel. I asked my boss at the hotel if the long-standing offer of picking up more hours was still valid. He said it was and though he couldn’t give me full time, he told me that I could have as many hours as I wanted up to a point (about 3/4 time). And he told me that I could basically write my own schedule and that since most everyone else was going to be back in school in September that it was Monday through Friday days that were most in need of coverage. What a luxurious schedule! I’m currently working Thursday through Monday and a mix of very early mornings, mid-days and two days where I work both jobs from 7:30 am until 9 pm or 10:30 pm with a couple hours off in between.

Of course, I knew that working 30 hours a week wouldn’t quite cut it in terms of making ends meet so I asked at another coffee shop if they had any shifts I might be able to pick up and they said that they could work me into the schedule a couple of shifts a week–not a lot, but just what I’d need to be working full time in terms of hours.

So, starting next week, I’ll be working Monday through Friday. I’ll still have two double days, but they’ll be a little shorter and the new coffee shop that I’ll be working at is in the same neighborhood as the hotel so it’ll cut down on my travel time during the day. I also won’t have any early morning shifts. Oh, and did I mention that I’ll be working Monday through Friday? It’ll be like being a real boy! I’ll have real weekends with everyone else!

I had never worked a job that I wasn’t able to have at least one weekend day off until now and, despite the rumors, it sucks. Especially when your weekend is smack in the middle of the week because it puts you completely at odds with the rest of the world. And working early mornings on the weekends means that you’re always turning down invitations to do fun things or accepting them but then leaving at 10 or 11 because you have to get up at 5 the next morning.

I’ll still be looking for something else but I think this will be a good change. I’d grown frustrated at the coffee shop I’m leaving for lots of reasons, not least of which was my schedule, so the opportunity for a change of scenery as well as a change of schedule is very welcome. In the meantime, it’ll give me a chance to get used to what it feels like to have a 9-5ish job (except on those two days I work doubles) and it’ll also mean that I get to sleep in a little later, have weekends with everyone else, and do things like take weekend trips with the Man to exciting places like Seattle and Vancouver and Ashland and Walla Walla. (Walla Walla? Ok, it’s just fun to say. But maybe we’ll have to plan a trip now, just to say we’ve been.)

The Job that Wasn’t, Teaser

I’m starting to like this biking thing.

Funny story: the bike I wrote about last time, I sold it. It was too small for me. But I bought another one that fits me much better.

Anyway.

I just got home from an almost magical bike ride. I was out dancing with the Man and some friends downtown and since I have to work in five hours, I had to leave earlier than everyone else, which was why I’d biked downtown in the first place because I knew it would probably be quicker to get home on my bike than to wait for the bus. Plus, I fit in a pit stop for some fried pie at the 12th and Hawthorne late-night food cart pod. It’s a cool night, a reminder that fall isn’t all that far away. The magical part of my ride wasn’t the vegan breakfast fried pie that I scarfed down but the joy of the silence of the ride. Sticking to the bike routes means sticking in residential neighborhoods and avoiding busy commercial streets. It also means that there are very few cars, but lots of other bikes. Except, it’s dark and so what you see aren’t the bikes but their floating headlights and tail lights. Disembodied blinking white and red spots gliding silently through the darkness between street lights.

I knew that I was going to have to leave dancing early because of my early start at work but I was hoping to be in a somewhat better mood by the time I got on the dance floor. See, I got a job offer yesterday from the organization that I really really really really really want to work for. It was a temp position, but I was willing to take a leap of faith that there would be a permanent position at the end of it. However, I found out today when I went into the temp agency to do my paper work that they were expecting me to start on Monday. This despite the fact that I’m already working two jobs and would have to give two weeks’ notice at both of them. True, I don’t HAVE to give two weeks’ notice but I’m not the kind of person to just walk out of a job and it’s probably not the best precedent to set, especially when one is starting somewhere new.

So, I don’t have a new job to write about because they definitely needed to have someone start in the position on Monday. Still, I feel like it was a good sign and that my job hunt is finally moving towards a conclusion.

You’ll have to wait to hear about it though, because I’m down to four hours and fifty-one minutes before I have to be at work and I need to fit some sleep in there somewhere.

Job Ramble

I think that one of the most frustrating things about my job situation right now is how completely it rules my life. It’s not as if I’m constantly working (even though it feels that way) but because my schedule is so out of sync with everyone else in my life (not least of whom, of course, is the Man) it’s always very difficult to coordinate doing anything with anyone. I was at a bbq last night and had to leave just as things were settling into that nice after dinner rut where people hang out and shoot the shit and drink beer. I didn’t have to leave because I had a bus to catch–if I’d stayed, I could have caught a ride from someone–but because I had to work at six this morning, which means getting up at five thirty, which means that even though I left early, I still only got six hours of sleep.

And now, I’m sitting at a great coffee shop called Posies in far North Portland that I’ve been wanting to check out for a while. My plan coming here was to work on my resume and cover letter but I feel so drained from working this morning (even though I took a nap after work) that I don’t feel like I can focus and martial what little energy I have into working on finding another job. Instead, I’m writing this, complaining about how much my current job situation sucks rather than working to change that situation. Maybe after finishing this I’ll have gotten into a good enough groove in writing that I can work on my resume and cover letter. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just want to take another nap.

I called a couple of temp agencies last week and was basically told that unless I’d just been laid off from an office job, they couldn’t help me because there are so many people looking and so few available positions. It was this that made me realise that it might be time for me to seriously rework my resume to highlight what office experience I have, which, technically, isn’t much. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t DO office stuff. I mean, half my job at the bookstore was helping to process requisitions and returns. And when I was managing the coffee shop in Maine (not to mention the work I did on the espresso training program and when I was the office assistant [duh]), a good chunk of that job was administrative stuff as well. So, it’s not as if I don’t have the experience necessary–hell, I have a college degree and a pulse, of course I can do office work! Still, with the economy as shitty as it is right now, it’s not been very easy to convince people of that because they don’t want to take chances and they get so many applications for whatever position they post that they can just take the most experienced person.

And there’s the rub. Even once I finish polishing my resume, I’m still probably not going to be the most experienced person in the pile. So how do I get them to take a chance on me? (Cue Abba) I keep hoping for something through someone who knows someone but even the most well connected of my friends have had nothing to offer except promises to keep their ears open.

Times are tough and I should be thankful to be employed at all right now–let alone with two jobs that are getting me by ok despite the shitty schedule and the state of complete burn out that I’ve achieved working them. Living in the state with the second highest unemployment rate in the country doesn’t bode well–but at least I’m not in Eastern Oregon, where one of the counties has a 20% unemployment rate (yikes). Of course, the dismal unemployment rate statewide (and city-wide, for that matter) hasn’t stopped people moving here without jobs. In face, I just talked to someone last night who moved here just a few weeks ago and is living off savings until he can find something (though he has absolutely no prospects right now). I’m happy I moved here when I did because I wouldn’t have left Maine if I’d stayed much longer. And I also at least had a few interviews set up before getting here which helped things a great deal. It’s kind of funny, though, because as my savings started to dwindle before I found work I started to think about signing up with temp agencies. I wonder where I’d be now if I’d done that…. Probably not completely burned out but maybe without a job, too.

Everything happens for a reason, right?