Saturday, March 31, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

I got a canvass letter in the mail this week for one of the two civil service exams I took back when I was desperately looking for work. Both exams were for technician level jobs with the county. The scores had come out earlier, and I ranked third on both exams (although it was a something like a five way tie on one of them). The canvass letter indicates there are actual open positions that I am eligible to interview for. It is not an offer of employment; it is just to find out who among the eligible candidates is still interested in the position.

I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this so soon. I have been in my current job not even two months now. For the most part, I really like it, and things should only get better come the summer field season. I want to give the job a fair chance: I do not want to quit before I even have a chance to get out in the field.

There is also the fact that my current position is pretty much exactly what I went to school for, or about as close as I could ever get in the private sector. The county does not have positions specifically dedicated to the subject, and there are no federal or state positions in my field either (not locally). All the jobs I have ever worked in my field have been out of state. That was why I resigned myself to the stinky old lab job for so long... there just are not very many opportunities in my area.

The county jobs are both in a somewhat related field, and from my understanding, involve year round field work, of the variety where I would be driving around collecting samples. The work sounds low stress, and it sounds like I would be working independently, both of which are huge draws. Being “on” all day in an office can be challenging for me. I know from experience doing field work alone is much less of a challenge for my introverted personality.

Plus, there are the benefits to think about with the county. The starting salary is comparable to what I earn now, slightly more, but in the hundreds more, not thousands (pretty insignificant). The county position has predictable raises though, based on time in service, so I’d be guaranteed pay increases totaling approximately $5,000 by the end of five years. There are, of course, no such guarantees in the private sector. I could be making much more, or I could be stalled out not getting any raises at all. Furthermore, the firm I work for is fairly small, probably around 40 or 45 people total. There is very little job security with small companies, and they can skip out on all sorts of worker protection provisions. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act only applies to companies with more than 50 employees. New employer might choose to follow those guidelines, but they certainly don’t have to.

I am so torn. Excepting the last two months since I’ve been working for new employer, I would have been thrilled for this opportunity with the county. Now I just wish it came at a different time. What I ended up doing was indicating that I am temporarily unavailable, until September. This will give me more time to better assess my current job, but hopefully keep me on the list for future vacancies, in case things change. I am now out of the running for however many positions the county chooses to fill in the next several months, and there may not be any more open positions later (the lists are only good for so long).

I hope I made the right decision.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Self Portrait in Shadow

Normally when taking photos, I do everything possible to keep my shadow out of the frame. However, as the the sun sinks low in the sky, the shadows stretch out, and I grow intrigued. The shadows become a subject in of themselves. My human form is distorted like in a funhouse mirror, all legs and no head. The red-winged blackbirds were singing up a storm.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lovely Surprise

We moved into our house last May, so even though we’re coming up on a year now, this is our first early spring here. I didn’t do any landscaping last year, first because I wanted to see what was already here, and then because I got laid off. Plants and landscaping materials are not cheap. Plus, there is quite a bit of greenery here already: it’s not like I was completely bereft of botanicals. Maybe this year I can start gardening in earnest. I’d really like to plant a few currant bushes, and some ostrich ferns.

I love spring flowers, the ephemeral wildflowers and the garden bulbs alike. I have long admired the look of lawns in the springtime with crocuses scattered throughout. Crocuses have slender green leaves that blend in with grass and are unharmed by the mowing that comes later in the season. And they offer such cheerful little bursts of color popping out of the drabness. I had planned on planting some in our lawn here, but I didn’t have the cash last fall, so never got to it.

There are a few little patches of snow around, and I had to scrape ice off my windshield yesterday morning, but we are moving solidly into muck season. If the sun ever comes out, this might be the weekend I rake. Imagine my delight yesterday when I noticed purple and blue crocuses smiling up at me from my very own front yard! A previous owner must have had the same idea about putting them right in with the grass. Seeing what plants appear is definitely one of the fun things about being in a new house.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Power of Ten

I grew up in a village, a small town that is not really so small. Not by rural standards, not like the little town of 200 people in Minnesota, where the library was open two days a week, where the entire grocery store would fit into the produce department of my current supermarket, where I saw bald eagles soaring nearly every day, and where when I forgot my pillow upon moving there, I could not buy one in town and had to wait until the weekend so I could drive to a bigger town 35 miles away. That was a small town.

There were over 300 people in my high school graduating class, so hometown is really more like medium, I guess. It is only a small town by big city standards. The tallest building is three or four stories, located at the four corners.

When I’ve moved out of state for various jobs, it was usually to more rural areas, to the north woods I love so much. Excepting of course Cape Cod, which is highly developed, but not in an urban sort of way. There are no sky scrapers, anyway. So my life has included very little experience with tall buildings. There seems to be a recurring theme, though, with those few “big” buildings I have frequented. It is starting to seem a little strange.

I spent my two first years of college living on the 10th floor of the dormitory. I spent a lot of time visiting my grandmother in the nursing home over the last few years; she lived on the 10th floor. And now I discovered that when my company moves downtown next month, my office will be on the 10th floor.

I am getting really excited about the move, although it seems a long ways off. The leaky ceiling in my current space is really getting bothersome. A bunch of stuff on a co-worker's desk was ruined, including the computer monitor. I spent several days shuffling around using other people’s computers, which really dampens productivity: use X’s PC, he won’t be in until 10 am; OK, now take this laptop and set up in Y’s office; oh, wait the laptop doesn’t have the program I need, now what? Ugh. The roofers have been there twice, but the issue isn’t really resolved. And everyone who’s seen the new place raves about how nice it is. I am told I will share a “huge” office with two other people, and that all our desks will face a large bank of windows.

I can’t wait... tenth floor, here I come!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Two Walks in Two Days: Hurray!

This warm spell is really tickling my fancy. Saturday it rained all day, and you really have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy walking around in the rain. So I didn't get out and about until yesterday. We walked up to the local reservoir, which is always fun because it is somewhat off the beaten path. I don't mean that it is remote or back country, just that not too many people seem to know about it. We walked there from the house, up the paved road that goes to the top. The road is gated though. Maybe that scares some folks off?

Today was another gorgeous day. I took a five minute break and soaked up some sun in front of the office, but was otherwise cooped up. When I got home and SodaBoy and I were discussing our dinner plans, I confessed that I was torn: I really wanted to go for a walk, but was also quite hungry. What to do? SodaBoy came up with the perfect plan: we walked over and got sandwiches at the local shop that also serves milkshakes. I was a little too full on the walk home, as the sandwiches are ridiculously huge. We overate because we wanted different things, but didn't want to haul the leftovers 1.62 miles back home afterwards.

[I looked up on Google Earth when we got home: 3.24 miles round trip. How I love Google Earth!]

Tonight's evening walk was highly therapeutic for me. I think I yammered poor SodayBoy's ear off. I did not have the best day at work. I had to work on cleaning up and correlating two enormous tables that summarize the same 300 page document in slightly different ways. What was so frustrating was that the numbskull person who created the tables chose to do it in a word processing program rather than in a spreadsheet. The task would have taken no time at all had the proper program been used, but instead I had to bang my head away at the damn thing much of the day. Ugh.Ugh.Ugh!

I might need another walk tomorrow.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Easy Mac & Cheese

I hesitate to call this a recipe, because it is about the easiest thing a person could ever cook. However, I decided to share it because there are so many intricate recipes out there for macaroni and cheese, recipes requiring bechamel sauces and grated cheese and all sorts of troublesome complications. It is no wonder so many people eat the boxed junk. Although if I am going to be truthful, I must admit a fondness for Annie's organic mac & cheese, cooked with frozen peas. But this homemade mac & cheese is a major comfort food for me; I went through periods as a kid where it was the only thing I would deign to eat. That and "yellow pancakes."

16 ounces macaroni
16 ounces cheddar
1 quart milk
The mac & cheese I grew up on was made with elbow macaroni, but as you can see, I have switched to cellentani. It is pretty much the same thing, only with a few extra twists just for fun. I am quite particular about the cheddar I use: it must be extra sharp, and it absolutely, positively cannot be dyed that ridiculous orange color that is so prevalent. I made this recipe once while living in Minnesota, where the closest white cheddar was 35 miles away in a very expensive little health food store, and it looked so disgusting with the orange cheese I could barely choke it down. Cheese is not naturally orange, people! And the 1 quart of milk is somewhat of an approximation, I think it is actually somewhat less.

Boil water and cook the pasta al dente. While the macaroni is cooking, slice up the cheese.

Preheat the oven to 350ish.

Dump the cooked pasta into a large casserole dish and cram most of the sliced cheddar down into the pasta. Reserve some cheese to go on top.

Almost done!

Now just put a layer of cheese across the top, and add the milk. The milk should almost reach the top, but not quite.

This takes a while to bake, at least 45 minutes to an hour or more. Check on it when the whole house starts smelling good. The cheese should turn bubbly and golden brown. I should warn my delicate readers that if not cooked enough, the macaroni and cheese can be sort of soupy from all the milk. This effect disappears by the next day when you go to eat the leftovers. It can also be ameliorated by tossing the whole thing back in the oven and cooking it some more. I should also warn you that this makes a lot of food. Unless you have a big family, plan on eating it for several days. When I make this recipe nowadays, it is usually on a Sunday, and I eat it for lunch all week. Enjoy the cheesy goodness!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Restless Energy

The relatively sedate nature of office work can be a huge drawback. My job will involve a component of field work in the summers, and I am really looking forward to the variety that will bring to my daily routine. I am happy with any excuse to get outside and walk around. When working desk jobs, I will often leave the building and prowl around during my lunches, entertaining myself with whatever landscape happens to be nearby.

At my last job, the lab was located along a railroad track. I had some good walks exploring the right of way in both directions. Railroad ties are spaced at a distance that is challenging for walking, but that only adds to the fun.

One of the temp jobs I worked was up north of the airport, adjacent to an old abandoned military base I loved exploring. Parts of it still had structures, a housing subdivision crumbling into reclaiming vegetation. The police trained with dogs there sometimes, so mostly I'd go off in another direction, down old streets to nowhere. It was a post-apocalyptic landscape, fascinating to behold. I used to see a flock of wild turkeys up there regularly, completely unfazed by the low flying planes buzzing overhead.

I have not had the opportunity to escape outdoors at lunchtime in my new job yet, due to the enormous snowfall we’ve had this winter. Even with the warmer weather we’ve had this last week, the snowbanks have simply settled into themselves. There are no shoveled sidewalks near my office, and the roads are narrowed by the snow. Walking on my lunch break would actually be somewhat dangerous. So I’ve been a little restless lately.

This afternoon I convinced SodaBoy to accompany me on a walk to Tall Trees Cemetery, an enormous old graveyard just two or three blocks from our house. It is a beautiful place to walk under any circumstances, and today we benefited from the snow removal. Perhaps to afford access to mourners, the grounds people keep all the major lanes plowed throughout the winter. We saw several other pedestrians out enjoying the day, but not a single automobile. And that was nice.

I have a comfortably tired feeling from climbing so many steep hills, and that flushed windburn about my cheeks. I should sleep well tonight. Now I just have to figure out how to get out more often.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

My Office Space

We had a catered lunch at the office yesterday, with food provided courtesy of the firm that does our printing. The food was from a local barbeque restaurant named for a prehistoric creature, a universal favorite, guaranteed to please. A general office meeting was held at the same time. Meetings are a bit of a mixed bag for new employees like myself. They are a source of information, but not all of it makes sense yet.

There were two topics of particular interest to me: direct deposit, and the office move. We are getting direct deposit sometime in the next month. I am super excited about this, because my bank charges a service fee for checking accounts without direct deposit. I never did anything to resolve the situation while I was unemployed, assuming I would soon land a job, resume earning an income, and no longer be affected by the fees. It never occurred to me that my new place of employment wouldn't offer direct deposit. What century is this? Plus, the only paycheck I’ve thus far received sat in my purse for eight days before I could make it to the bank. So a big cheer for convenience!

Onto the move… next month our local branch will be moving downtown to a new office space. The current building is architecturally interesting, but much too small. It is an old building, originally used for a very different purpose. Conversion to an office was inefficient, and there is a lot of wasted space. There are two floors, with high ceilings and big windows. The receptionist (who shares my real world first name) sits by the main door, answering the phones and greeting visitors. On both levels, a large open room with cubicles occupies most of the space, and smaller offices with doors line the far wall.

The stairs are numerous, because of the high ceilings, two whole flights between floors. You go up the first flight to a small landing. There is a closet on the landing with a water cooler and it's refill bottles. It dispenses both cold and hot water. I immediately became fond of the water cooler, not for the mythological office gossip, but for the ease in making hot tea. I have brought two kinds of tea to work so far, morning breakfast and millennial mint. From the landing, stairs split off in two directions.

The right-hand set leads to a conference room, for meetings and interviews and such. To the left, the stairs lead up to my little room and the rest of the second floor. There is an administrative assistant who sits at the end of the corridor through cube-land, right in front of the private offices for important people.

I share a tiny little room with two other people, right at the top of the staircase. There is a huge window in my room, set high on the wall. The bottom sill is shoulder height, and it rises many, many feet above. The window faces south, so there is a lot of light, so much we have to lower the blinds in the afternoon. My desk faces north, away from the window and into blank wall. The desk has no drawers, just a desk lamp and the computer peripherals, a very nice flat screen monitor and a keyboard with an odd layout. I still need to personalize my immediate space.

As interesting as this building is, a few more modern amenities could be hoped for. Water leaks in from the ceiling in my little office, dripping down the wall. There are only two one-seater bathrooms. One is upstairs off the main room, just a few feet from someone's desk, with servers in the closet. When the servers need work, we're down to the one lone toilet, which unfortunately is downstairs, right off the kitchen. Lovely. The kitchen is microscopic, essentially just a hall equipped with a fridge, coffee pot, sink, and microwave. It is uncomfortably crowded with any more than two people, and that’s assuming the refrigerator door is closed. There is no lunch room or space to eat, and no vending machines.

I do not like the current bathroom situation, with its forced intimacy. I have already been warned to avoid the bathroom after certain people use it, and am mortified to think that private emissions are being tracked and discussed. The new office is rumored to have separate men’s and women’s bathrooms, located far away from the kitchen. Everyone is very excited about the impending move, and I was eager to hear more about it.

Best of all, the new building has gargoyles on it. How cool is that?