Thursday, July 22, 2010

What's the Deal with Shopping?

Please recognize the title appropriately as a "Seinfeldism."  And please understand that this blog has evolved into more than just my PhD program chronicles, for at times, the action there is slow.  

I need a new pair of sunglasses.  My poor Ralph Laurens are easily 2 years old and showing some fashionista age.  Not that I'm a fashionista.  I hate shopping.  How is this possible?  I used to shop, I used to spend every last dollar on my credit cards to find deals in the pursuit of happiness.  I'm not sure when it happened, but it's been several years now, I've reformed.  I have thrown out so many things, some new, that I bought on a shopping spree and never used.  What a waste.  Life, as trite as it may sound, is not about things.  It's about experiences.  Now, before you pass judgement, I don't wear the same clothes for years on end, as if I've stepped completely off the fashion train.  I shop online, and here's why:  Shopping online does not expose you to shallow twiggy women, to screaming babies in strollers, to dingy stores with salespeople eager to earn commission, to size 0 clothing when you need something a little more - well, let's say - substantial. 

I trekked up to the Buffalo-Niagra Fashion Outlets this evening in search of sunglasses - and realized why I've put it off this long.  What a waste of a trip.  I should have had a beef on weck and watched the Falls (even though I did have a really nice dinner - a much better way to spend my time and money).  The sunglasses store was a disaster.  When did sunglasses grow into the size of ski masks?  Do people like looking like giant flies?  This is a ridiculous trend that really should die.  I ended up with nothing.  I browsed the Coach store, my favorite handbag (I do hate to shop, but when I do buy, I want a great label - and one that lasts), stylish, functional, well-made - nothing.  Even the Gap disappointed (my favorite online retailer, though).  I left with nothing, just a 40 mile round trip, and $2.15 lighter from tolls. But, with the realization that nothing is worth buying at a mall.  Now on to the web to find what I'm looking for, wine in hand, TV on, and no screaming babies.  Ahhh, isn't Internet grand?   

Monday, July 19, 2010

Business Travel is for the Birds

Flight delays are inevitable to me now.  I don't blink an eye when I miss a connection.  I shut out the poor cries and screams of infants, and empathize with the exasperation their parents must feel (for I, too, wish I could throw a big ol' fit on the airplane and get away with it).  I assume my luggage won't arrive with me right away.  I fall into bed in a random hotel and wake up every hour wondering where the hell I am, only to wake up bleary-eyed in a different time zone.  I spend free time pouring over restaurant menus, hoping for some glimmer of home in a somewhat bleak day.  This is what I chose, for now, but what I know I don't want.  I am good at meeting people, listening to their stories, remembering the details, getting the job done.  I can work with four different manufacturing plants through e-mail, voice-mail, phone calls, in person, when I'm there.  But where am I?  I'm tired.  Broken a little.  Lonely.  Homesick.  Who knew I'd be homesick for Wyoming?  I'm really just homesick for my husband, my friends - who I just assume will always be there for me.  This isn't right.

I did have a great meal at Seabar in Buffalo, NY.  I sat at the bar, where single diners feel more comfortable.  Usually watching TV diverts the fact that you are there alone.  I had a really friendly bartender who engaged me in conversation and made me feel like I was less a party of one, and more a passing friend in the evening.  The food was superb.  Asian with a twist, I suppose you could say.  I started with cucumber salad.  My Japanese grandma makes cucumber salad to rival no other.  I try to duplicate her recipe (which sadly, is the way I cook, eh, a little of this, a little of that, taste it, and make it your own), but my recipe always falls short of hers.  This cucumber salad was cold, refreshing, cucumbers so thin I know the chef knows how to use a mandolin: I do not, mine sits in a drawer, begging for attention.  The sauce was mirin - maybe - it was sweet, sesame oil, vinegar, sweeter than what I'm used to, but delicious none-the-less, served over cold, perfect sticky rice.  I was in heaven.  This paired well with my passion-fruit cosmo, by the way.  Next came the Tiger-Eye roll, salmon, hamachi, and I believe salmon roe, lightly tempura'd, dipped in soy and wasabi, I felt bad not eating all of it.  There is nothing like eating with chopsticks to make me feel like home - or rather, that I've transcended the earthly realm.  Then the main course, lobster - my true culinary love because I first had lobster maybe 3 years ago, and it's ridiculously expensive and rare in Wyoming - formed into a perfect circle, poached in butter, and decorated with fresh snap peas, pea shoots, shallots, onions, and a butter/cream/lemon sauce (I dove for the lactose pills as soon as I hit the car, I'm sure I'll pay for it later, though).  It was utter perfection.  The atmosphere was great, the service friendly.

Then I return to a lonely hotel room - a dump this time, if you ask me, the "suite" I'm in gives me a taste of a Manhattan apartment, and I'm not lovin' it.  I'm used to 3,000 square feet of space, in the house, and a yard and garage to spread out even more; moving down to 400 is a shock to my Wyoming-space-livin' body.  After three tries with the Garmin, I found a nice wine store, and am sipping a nice Italian white, watching the Travel Channel, and wishing like hell that I was cooking for my husband in my kitchen, in my surroundings.  Sure, I've got an opportunity here, but is it really worth it when you come home at the end of the day to no one?  I'm learning that lesson.  Coming home with (since we work together) and to the one you love are better than just about anything else on the planet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

They Call it Work for a Reason

Today I felt the exhaustion of being the HR Manager for two plants, the Labor Relations Manager for one plant, and my normal full-time job as HR Rep for one really large plant.  I'm working every other week in Wyoming, and the other week in upstate New York, covering two New York plants, and one in British Columbia.  Which means I work remotely for some plants at any given time.  I won't get a full weekend in 12 weeks, and I've only just made it through week two.  I receive over 100 e-mails a day, and send at least, if not more, that amount.  The phone calls, of course, have increased, and the projects that have remained dormant seem to be popping up like my garden is not.  I shouldn't complain, and I really can't.  It's a great opportunity to work with so many great people and learn so many new processes.  But my PhD conference call on quantitative statistics has driven me over the edge!  It also makes me realize what a lonely life this would be, if I continued it for a long period of time.

Tonight Top Chef is on, and I haven't seen the last two episodes.  This is one of my guilty pleasures.  I was able to whip up a quick dinner, simple sukiyaki (my Japanese grandmother's recipe - only simplified for weeknight fare) with fresh peas from the Farmer's market.  Add a bottle of central coast Pinot Noir, and I think I might make it!

If I had enough brain power, I would dive into the new shipment of Amazon books I received on culinary careers and tales of food and wine.  If only I were independently wealthy, and not dependent on my nice income now ...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday's Momentum

I was able to take the momentum from yesterday's realizations and apply it to my job.  Difficult Person A appeared in my office nearly the first thing this morning.  But I persevered.  I didn't let the personality bother me.  Maybe because I no longer care about this person's unqualified and not respected opinion.  I, of course, was respectful, but letting go of that emotion helped me.

I was invited to an important meeting where I was given meaningful work.  I was polite and pleasant with everyone who came into my office or called me on the phone - even the ones who had with what I used to perceive as dumb questions.  And you know what?  People responded - as they always do.  When I'm nice and smiling, people mirror that instinctively.  When I'm ruffled and defensive, they react twofold.  Not taking myself too seriously with my career really helped my attitude and my day.  The work was fun again.

However, I am exhausted.  I think last week's travels, the weekend's fun, and the day's worth of work on four different plants scattered across the U.S. and Canada is taking its toll.  I can't focus on my quantitative statistics homework, due Wednesday at noon.  I did receive an A for my first paper, which gave me hope at least to try tonight.  I am putting it aside for the night, because I'm only making myself frustrated and more exhausted.  I'll pick it up again tomorrow with a fresh, rested set of eyes.  I can do this.  I just have to keep moving forward.  I will reward myself by starting a new book and going to my luxurious bed early.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Lesson Learned

Traveling alone is a good way to learn what is important to you.  I travel frequently for work, by choice, and just completed my first week in our Buffalo, New York plant, the first of an every-other-week assignment for the next three months.  It takes approximately 12-14 hours of connecting flights and airport time to get to anywhere on the East Coast from Wyoming (unless you count delays!).

I am ambitious, you see.  I always have been.  I'm competitive when it comes to my career, and anything that proves that I have superior intellect.  This personality flaw, unfortunately, causes me a lot of stress and pisses off a fair amount of people around me.  I have been working hard in HR for 10 years to get where I am today, and I have always assumed I would just keep taking promotions, picking up my life and my husband to move to even more undesirable locations in the name of my ladder-climbing desires.

I read a lot.  (That was a terrible transition, but stay with me.)  I read only non-fiction because my ambitious brain wants to only learn, learn, learn.  Lately I've been reading feminist books, but I found a great food biography that I picked up at a Buffalo Barnes & Noble, Kathleen Flinn's The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry.  I finished it this morning, a deliciously lazy Sunday day spent between my couch and my kitchen.  Kat was fired from a job she hated.  The man who had been just a friend had recently turned into a romantic muse, and he encouraged her to follow her dream - to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.  He even took a hiatus from his job in Seattle to be with her in Paris.  The story made me laugh - and cry - and the utter poignancy of her adventure made me realize what's important in my life.

You see, my husband is a Wyoming boy, he loves all things Wyoming, and especially loves our alma mater, the University of Wyoming.  We follow every home game for football (a 6-hour round trip), and as many road games as we can; for basketball, we go to as many games as I can muster up the energy for.  He's crazy, and my friends and co-workers never pass up a chance to tell me so.  But you know something?  He's loyal - to a fault.  That quality is among his best.  He supports me in my career, but lately has been reluctant to move for my next role.  I've been so anxious to prove my worth at work and move to the East Coast to live a rich and fabulous lifestyle, that I neglected to take into account his feelings, his career, which is more successful than mine right now, and his traditions.  Spending a few days alone in a hotel can either make or break a relationship.  This time, something transformed me into wanting to make the relationship, even if it cost me the next step in my career.  Reading what I did this week, I realize that no one wishes they could go back and do more with their career, what they do wish is to have more time with the ones they love and to pursue the things they love.  I have time now to spend with my friends and family, and usually I have enough time to do what I love when I'm not at work.  If I moved up to a larger role, that time would be sucked into a vortex of increasingly more phone calls, e-mails, and decisions.

My attitude has been negative lately.  I hate my job, I hate where I live, and I hate not being in a land of culture.  This week, though, has changed that.  My job is just a job.  I work with a few difficult people, but for the most part, I have people at work who respect me and value my worth.  I make more money than I would in any other company in a role even bigger than mine now.  I have job security and benefits, which is something that most of America wishes they can have in a recession.  I have friends here, and while we don't go to the opera or a 4-star restaurant, it doesn't matter.  Fishing on the lake in our small, old fishing boat and drinking the afternoon away with our friends on the shore is what life is about.  It's not North Carolina, but it's home.  And I'm going to stop wishing my life away; I'm going to stop wishing I had a powerful career and a fabulous condo in Manhattan; I'm going to stop wishing that I lived somewhere with great restaurants.  Because what I have here is so much better than that. I have friends who will drop whatever they are doing to help me, who will support me in my food and wine passion, and gratefully come to my parties and eat whatever I cook for them.  And I have a husband who, when it comes down to my happiness, would follow me to somewhere he didn't want to go in the name of my career.  I have a beautiful house and a beautiful yard and gazebo where I can relax.  I don't fight traffic.  I don't worry about crime.  Why would I want to give this up?  I could make more money, sure, but I'd spend more on housing, and luxury items and be caught in an endless cycle of wanting, needing, craving more.

I don't love working in HR.  It's an emotionally-demanding job, and one where you get little respect.  My passions are reading, writing, cooking, and wine.  My job is a safety net; I have the luxury of exploring my passions while continuing to work at my job.  And I will find the passion I'm searching for, without leaving the paradise, that I've realized, of living in Wyoming.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The American Dream

I read, with outrage, this article on the New York Times this morning.  I'm not that far removed from college at age 34, but I realize what a difference a decade makes.  The 24 year old college graduate in the article was living at home, has not held a full-time job since he graduated in 2008, and turned down a $40,000/year job as an insurance claims adjuster because it was a "dead-end job" that would kill his career.  Hmmm ... maybe I am being insensitive, but I want to shake this kid and tell him to grow up.  Or shake his parents and tell them to let him go.  I fear for this generation of young adults.  While each generation of young adults has their shortcomings, and their share of lessons to learn, you have to realize that life is simply not fair.  (Or as I say, Fair comes to town once a year, and today isn't the day.)

I left home the day I turned 18 (which coincided with college, I might add).  I dropped out after a year because I got pregnant and married.  My husband, at the time, dropped out, too, and worked in fast food for the next decade because he refused to work hard enough to finish college (I eventually left him and have not regretted the decision at all - as his attitude of laziness and entitlement reminded me of the kid in this story).  Determined to get my bachelor's degree, I held down three part-time jobs, went to school full-time, and took care of my family and household chores (of which I received no help) the rest of the time.  In 2000, I graduated with a B.A. in Elementary Education, about 2 years after I had imagined when I graduated high school.  I couldn't find a job in teaching immediately, so I took jobs through a temporary agency.  I had a family to feed, I could't afford to live with my parents and hold out for corporate America, or worry about taking a "dead-end" job.  However, I worked hard, I put everything I had into my temp jobs, and on my second one, I was asked to stay permanently.  I started at the bottom, even with a college degree, as a secretary at a hospital in human resources, for a $9.50 an hour (yes, in 2001 - and I was grateful for a job that had a stable income and a nice benefits package).  In one year, I proved my worth and created my own job description as an HR assistant, and then a year later, after putting everything I had into a project, I created yet another job description as a Compensation Analyst/Compliance Officer/HR Generalist (at a non-profit hospital, you have to take on many roles - but the experience I got was invaluable).  In 2006, sadly, I realized I'd reached my potential at the hospital and had to move on.  I was fortunate enough to use my experience to land an attractive job, in a less-than-desirable town 220 miles away.  I took it.  And while the location isn't desirable, the job is - most of the time.  I have worked my tail off for this company.  I've been rewarded with travel and interim assignments, which, unfortunately, take me away from my new husband, who is very supportive.  I've earned a Master's degree from a top tier university, and an currently pursuing my doctorate degree from the same university, while working full-time and traveling for work.  It's been a long road, and don't think for one day that I don't appreciate the pay, benefits, and experience I get.  And all while starting off in a "dead-end" job.

The point I'm making is this: There is no such thing as a dead-end job if you are willing to work hard, build relationships, and earn your way to more experience.  If I had held out for my dream job in corporate America straight out of college, I'd probably still be a substitute teacher/teacher assistant/congressional assistant (yes, I've always been big on multi-tasking!), barely making $20,000 on three part-time jobs.  I'm not saying my job is perfect, or even very meaningful.  Most days I wish I could do something that I thought made a bigger difference, or used more of my creativity, or let me slack off, work from home, and watch The Today Show followed by The Price Is Right everyday.  But let's be real.  You get what you give.  The American Dream still exists, but you'd better be willing to put the time and effort into achieving it.  Just like every single other American who is now living the American Dream.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Double Standards

So I'm reading Jessica Valenti's He's a Stud, She's a Slut: And 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know.  Duh.  That's what I have to say.  I hear on a weekly basis the "double-standards" men and women face - let's just say it's women who get the sharp end of this poisonous stick.

I'm a feminist - loud and proud - anyone know how difficult that is to be in Wyoming?  Sarah Palin is revered here, Republicans are the heroes.  Really?  At the expense of 51% of your population?  I am so angry at Palin-lovin' women who think she is so powerful.  Powerful?  Really?  We hear about her kids, ad nauseum, her husband, dude, the first dude, but she is so far behind women's rights it's not even laughable.  Yes, women CAN have it all, but is it so wrong that we need some friggin' help?  Yeah- talking to you men, here.  Equality - especially in Wyoming - the equality state - let's move forward for women's rights.

I am a feminist - and I want all of us to be equal.  Be who YOU want to be.  Feminist-male, hetero, homo-sexual, butch, femme, metrosexual, homosexual, be who makes YOU Proud - screw the damn labels!  I am woman, hear me roar - but I love wearing heels, lipstick, and earrings. (but I'm not a Playboy bunny wearing a size zero with huge tits and freakishly small hips, destined to swoon for men with millions).  But to those who feel pretty while waking up and moving to life immediately - more power to ya!  I want to be pretty - for me - but I totally laud women who want to spend less time on appearance, more time on substance.