Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Hunt

After flops and dead-ends and lots-of-excitement-but-ultimately-leading-no-where-leads, after lots and lots of cover letters and answering, in interviews, honestly and confidently and then wondering, "Was I too confident? But then again, shouldn't I be confident?," I now have a new job for our new life in our new home. And, it's a good one: challenging, interesting, demanding of my teaching, leadership, communication, and creative skills.

We moved up here at Christmas, and I served as a long-term substitute for a friend on maternity leave—a temporary position that helped my friend and kept me busy while I looked for the right job for me—until school ended the last week of May. Since moving, I poured mental energy into finding a new worklife for myself up here, and not having a job nailed down taught me a lot. Here's some of what I learned:

1) Being unemployed is terrifying.

I started graduate school two weeks after I graduated from college. That very summer, I completed my student teaching responsibilities and, by August, I had the job I would hold for the next 18 years. Never in my adult life had I been jobless. Granted, I am very lucky to be married to someone with a strong career, so we have been able pay rent and feed ourselves, but this was the first time since I was 22 in which I feared I'd have to depend on someone else's income. And, I hated that. I hated losing my sense of independence.

Additionally, while I've always known that I'm an extravert (though I need my periods of solitude, just like everyone else), when my substitute position ended and an undetermined future of days alone in a place where I still didn't know many people loomed ahead, that characteristic rose up inside me like a spector, a ghost of fear, echoing around my head like the voice in "The Rocking-Horse Winner," except my voice whispered, "You must have community, you must have community."

2) Humility is tough for me but it is something I must embrace.

I went into the job search thinking I'd be immediately hirable. My resumé was stronger than any resumé I'd looked at while helping to make hiring decisions at my old position, I spoke well and could draw on many experiences in interviews, and I had a whole slew of recommenders ready to speak about my skills. But I didn't get that job, and then I didn't get that one, and then that one. And no one even responded to my application and follow up call on that one. I had one interview then another interview, and another and another, but they went no where. I would try to figure out why, why that school or organization didn't want me, what skills I didn't have, what I didn't answer well enough, how I could improve presenting myself. I believed—and I still believe—that it's always good to aim for self-improvement and every attempt at getting a job was another way to grow.

But, the part that I had to accept, that really only came to me in the last couple weeks before finally getting a job, is that I had very little control over whether or not a school or organization hired me. There were thousands of other factors which I couldn't even see going into the hiring decision process. I had to stop crying to myself, "Why don't they want me?," and begin taking a roll with each punch then hopping up to try again each time.

If employers didn't think I would be a good fit for whatever reason, you know what? They're probably right.

3) I should try for even the unlikely.

One of the jobs I applied for was—at least in theory—the dreamiest job I could imagine, one that tangled up my love for plants and people, but it was also something that I didn't have the required experience for. I pulled out the stops on my cover letter and refined my resumé for the position anyway. I called on the help of excellent friends who had relevant job experience to comment on my application before sending it in.

No, I didn't get it. But I got practice applying for that type of job, and it gave me a clearer idea of what I needed to have to get that type of job, so, if that is a career direction I eventually pursue, I've got an idea of where to go.

If you're chasing prey through the woods, whether or not you catch it, your prey will leave a trail.

4) I need to mind my own gaps.

In addition to my big, new, very exciting job, last month I took on a small side job: maintaining an organic vegetable garden for a family in a neighboring town. I found this opportunity through a neighborhood online bulletin board, and it has been a lifesaver for me. My arrangement with my employer also allows me a little space to grow some of my own plants, providing me the ability to keep some of my rarer seed strains going. More importantly, the job gives me place to have my hands in the dirt, my eyes in their deep observation garden mode, and my head organizing crop starting, maintaining, clearing, and rotating.

I no longer mourn the garden I once had. Taking this side gig has both filled and freed me. It feels so good.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Blank Slate

I keep talking about oatmeal and people keep asking me why. Why? Because it's awesome. It's not mushy or tasteless; instead, it's a fun canvas with which to play. Take, for example, my breakfasts this week. And, I didn't even stray into the realm of savory, but stayed with the sweet.


This is a favorite gild-the-lily version of oatmeal that I've written about before.


Since I know I like that teaspoon of bourbon in oatmeal, I figured I'd riff on the booze theme today and I made a version of rum raisin oatmeal. In the last minute or so on the stove, I dropped in the golden raisins and a teaspoon of dark rum. Off the stove, I stirred in dark brown sugar, then scattered walnuts and Maldon salt over the top, and of course, cream.


I made a tart seedling plum jam this week that didn't set up well but made a flavorful, tangy sauce that I wanted to try on the porridge, so I cooked the oats with a sliver of cinnamon stick and salt, sweetened very lightly with vanilla sugar, then dolloped on Greek yogurt and the plum sauce.


This morning, the overripe banana on the counter was my inspiration. After cooking the oatmeal, I stirred in a little dark brown sugar and chunks of the banana, then topped the bowl with walnuts I fried in a tablespoon of butter until the butter browned and the walnuts were fragrant. I added a sprinkle of Maldon salt for flavor and crunch.


I made a granola a few days ago that combined the flavors of vanilla, fennel seed, and grated orange peel for a delicious, Creamsicle effect. This morning, I worked with the same flavors. I sweetened the oats as they cooked with chopped dates, fennel seed, and a splash of vanilla extract. Off the heat, I salted the porridge, then topped with finely grated orange peel, almonds, and cream. This may have been my favorite bowl of the week.