Sunday, January 11, 2009

happy new year

And back again.

I won't try to summarize Christmas, as it was a whirlwind of turkeys and ferries and friends and I can't possibly do it justice. It was just the rest that I needed, and when Sean and I arrived back home on New Years Eve, I really felt like I could tackle 2009 with more energy and enthusiasm than I'd had in some time.

The shape of our lives has shifted a bit. Sean and Angus have new classes, of course; after a week of struggling with timetables and registrars, they've shuffled everything into a comfortable place. Sean even has a class with his favourite professor, Titus, and he's taking a music theory class with Megan at STU (his economics requirements are almost finished, having gotten them out of the way as fast as he could, so now he can take a few electives along with his statistics and whatever else). Angus has successfully gotten through the requirements of getting into the comp sci faculty, and is taking really complex sounding theory classes that make him very happy indeed.

January is notorious as a dead season for job openings, so I decided to at least use my time profitably. My mom gave me a pilates course at Garda's for Christmas, so I'm getting out and doing that; I'm also taking a fairly intense Japanese course on this fantastic website, Edufire. I can't recommend the free classes nearly enough; they won't be free forever, so take advantage of it while you can. Koichi, my teacher, is brilliant.
So on top of all this self-improving, I've also continued looking around for jobs, and took a spin around the mall applying for random things on Wednesday. Imagine my surprise when I had three calls on Thursday about job interviews! I had a fairly uninspiring interview at Le Chateau (not surprising; though I love their clothes, I don't really fit in there), but my other interview went very well, and so on this coming Thursday I have an interview with the District Manager for Wicker Emporium to be assistant manager. The girls who are currently manager and assistant manager (the manager is moving on, and the assistant moving up) are really sweet, and seem to really like me for the job, so I'm very hopeful about it. And on Tuesday I have an interview at Skillsoft, about which I've heard great things.
Maybe someday soon I will have a job...

We've been considering moving our weekly D&D session to Sundays, and so last night was not spent rolling dice, but painting miniatures. The boys - Matt, Will, Angus and Sean - discovered that they have all been quietly wanting to play a game called Warhammer, involving armies of little painted miniatures, and all but Angus already have a partially painted army squirrelled away somewhere, so they've dug out their armies and are preparing them for epic battles on our kitchen table.
Our two weekend habits have been D&D and a large, extravagant Sunday breakfast; now, in an inspired move, we are integrating them, so all the D&D crew are here already and Angus is making pancakes, and Sean is making bacon (both plain and fried with maple syrup), and there will be potatoes, and very possibly eggs.... and then we will play D&D.
Sundays: good days.

Friday, December 05, 2008

work, rock band, advent, and blog philosophy

Friday night: in eight hours I will be getting up to roll into the Market with a five foot sign (currently being inspected by Parallax in the kitchen) and good intentions. The boys are out at D&D this evening, so it's just me and the cats.

The job has been alright so far. It's still a bit early for Christmas shopping, but in the couple of days I've worked, I've sold more than I did the first two weeks of last year's run, which bodes well. I've had a couple of run-ins with people I usually don't talk to, and one fellow who had unkind words to say about the nature of gift certificates in general, but mainly my job is to look pleasant and smile at passersby, who will usually look at the sign and attempt to figure out what I am selling, presumably to be polite. Once in a while an old man will wink at me, which is usually enough to make my day.

Angus, who enjoys video games as much as Sean and revelry as much as I, bought Rock Band a few days ago, and we spent our Last Class evening banging away at it and discovering that it is way more fun than we were willing to admit. Angus blew us away with his mad Guitar Hero skills; Sean demonstrated an amazing ability to pick up the feeling of 90's punk bands on the first go; I stunned the boys with my perfect recall of Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know (from Jagged Little Pill), netting a 96% on Hard with my vocal debut. An Anth friend, Fraser, wandered in through an open security door and joined us on bass for a while just before we all stumbled off to bed, Rock Banded out.

Also in the news this week: My mother sent an Advent Box on the bus, which meant introducing Angus to the fun that is Advent. He's never had so much as a cardboard calender with chocolate inside little numbered windows, and so the large pile of presents on the sideboard is doubly fun for him. He was particularly intrigued by the unusual contents of some boxes in Advents past; there have been stemless wineglasses filled with candy, and miniature Christmas trees, but also things like instant soup and Stovetop Stuffing. He has (probably in vain) hung his hopes on more Stovetop Stuffing, which is apparently a guilty pleasure.
Our gifts so far:
1. A new and larger Christmas tree. I still have the original Advent tree from Brunswick Street, which has been folded down and packed in a shoebox with my Christmas lights and humourous cat collars (more Advent box treats) for three moves now, but this one is taller and altogether classier. While I am not getting rid of the original, I'm thinking the new one will have a high profile place, maybe the dining room (where we spend a lot of socializing time these days, while not "playing" classic rock tunes on the game box).
2. Decorations for said new Christmas tree. Which is good, because the veteran doesn't want to share (its metallic red and gold balls are tied on for maximum uncatability).
3. Three battery-operated toothbrushes and toothpaste, in varying colours. Sean immediately snapped up the lavender soft-bristled one, while Angus and I negotiated over the manlier medium-bristles.
4. A canister of Icy Squares. We opened the first three presents in order, but on the same evening, as we got the box on December 3, and so the progression from toothbrushes to large amounts of chocolate went a long way towards in explaining to Angus the internal logic of the Advent Box.
5. A large brick of Toblerone. Actually not strictly Toblerone, but bigger and better for it. Rose, a good friend of Angus' and newly-minted NaNoWriMo winner (as was Angus, by the way), was given the honour of opening the box and eating the first chunk of honey almond nougat filled delight.

I've spent the evening reading a couple of FSO (Foreign Service Officer) blogs and remembering why I was so determined to do well on those tests. While FSOs who write blogs are usually Americans, I imagine there's a certain amount of similarity between the services, and the lifestyle is just... so me. Lots of work that I can work hard at and feel like I'm making a difference, and a tight community within a huge expanse of new experiences, and a life where I'm paid enough that my student loans and phone bills don't have to battle over the last gasps of my chequing account. This whole blog is pretty great from beginning to start if you have a few hours; she starts just before her training begins, and is currently in the middle of language training between her first post and her second post. She's clever and well-read and writes about hard things as well as nice things, and she comes up with things like:
A Note on Dating in the FS: Don't. Really, it's just not worth the hassle. Just accept the fact that you'll wake up one day to find you own a fern and two cats named for TV characters, and that there's nothing you could have done to avoid it. The best you can hope for is that your siblings send their kids to live with 'Crazy Aunt [Your-name-here]' for the summers. Take solace in your career, and maybe a nice hobby like crochet or mah jongg.
Unless you're a man. Then accept the fact that you'll soon have a [country-of-first-posting]ese wife.
Luckily I get to avoid that, importing my very own house husband.
Skimming a number of blogs to find one I could get my teeth into, I've discovered a few things that make a readable blog for me:
  • Talk about things that are bad or unfortunate as well as your perky postcards home. Sometimes it rains. I'm guilty of this as much as some others - you never want your mom to worry about you when the thing you're complaining about is just a small bump in the road - but it makes a person much more real.
  • Lots more text than pictures. If all you have are pictures, and you aren't a Pulitzer Prize photojournalist, no one is going to get as much from your pictures as they would the proverbial thousand words.
  • Also pictures, though. And links out to other places where you don't want to write a long description of the weird Japanese fascination with KFC as Christmas food when someone else has done it justice.
  • If you are writing a mommyblog, write about your kids. If you're writing a foodblog, write about food. And if you are writing an FSO blog, please, sometimes write about being an FSO. It's a unique experience, and one of the awesome things about blogs is getting a picture of what your life is like, on the ground, day to day. (Teachers: if your students do a project on a career they want when they grow up, and are old enough to use the internet for research, recommend they check out a ____blog. It's the best way to research what being a ballerina/astronaut/veterinarian is really like.)
Anyway, enough of my dissertations on things that are in my head. The morning is fast approaching.

Friday, November 28, 2008

baby steps

If you push long enough, eventually something will push back, even something small. I have a little job for the Christmas season - the same thing I did last year for Shasta, plus going to the Market on Saturday mornings with the booth. It's not a lot, but it will get me out of the house and make a little money to cover the inevitable costs of the season (bus tickets, ferry hot chocolate, Christmas junk food).

Also, I spent a few hours at the computer lab Sean was monitoring last night and finished up my JET application. At this point, all I need is Kate's letter of reference, which is currently being finished up and emailed to Amy so I can pick it up and mail everything out together on time (in Kate's defence, she was laid out with strep for two weeks and thus out of the office until midweek). My feelings are kind of mixed on JET - I don't want to leave Sean behind for a year while he finishes his degree. On the other hand, it's terrific experience for my DFAIT ambitions, and I should come back with pretty good Japanese, and I've always wanted to live in Japan for a while (in fact, if my five year plan goes as I hope, I could eventually work in the embassy there), and unless something unexpected happens I'm unlikely to get a decent job in Fredericton.

And I did my good deed for the week: last night Megan interviewed me as the focus of a story she's putting together for her radio journalism class. It's about being an accomplished BA graduate and not being able to find work in Fredericton, so I'm pretty okay talking about it. It's only really going to be heard by her prof, but I think I did fairly well - full sentences and so on.

So now I'm heading over to a sort of emergency D&D session (hard to explain) before Sean and I take off to his parents' place for the weekend to dogsit. We'll have the station wagon to drive up and back, so we are filling it with laundry and violins and possibly broken furniture to repair. I'm looking forward way too much to the curried salmon we're planning to make for supper.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

another no thank you

It seems I have less and less to write about, as the days get shorter and colder and I stay inside more. The guest room is finally together; the living room is pleasantly Christmassy; the cats spend a good deal of time moving from one comfortable napping zone to another.
Aside from the usual sifting through job banks and career resources and sending out five or ten resumes every few days, the only action on my job hunt was a somewhat anticlimactic phone call today, where the receptionist promised to have the HR girl email me. And she did. They are finished hiring for now, though they frequently need more people and will let me know if they want to pick me up. I always thought that "we'll get back to you and let you know either way" meant that when hiring was done, I would get a saddening but cathartic phone call to let me know, but this is two jobs in a row that I had to badger for an answer.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. I am back to coffee shops at this point. I had already perused the job offerings of the day before making my ill-fated phone call, and sent out another five resumes, so I spent an hour or so combing through random other cities and getting a little bummed about my chances of getting a job from this far away when I can't even land something here. There are a couple of call centers who have posted jobs closing the end of December, but none earlier, so it's hard to say what comes next, barring an answer to one of my many applications.

Friday, November 14, 2008

job applications

The biggest news first: I've done some preliminaries (phone interview, short written test) for a job with Professional Quality Assurance, a smallish Fredericton-based company with its headquarters about four blocks from my house. I applied through a CareerBeacon "online job fair" a couple of weeks ago, and was actually pretty pumped about this job specifically - anyone who knows my writing knows that I'm a bit of a spelling and grammar perfectionist (not as much in my blog, but I've always gotten excellent grades in papers and so forth that mark such things). It's copy editing and proofreading educational material for online university courses and things like that. I was excited enough to call them up a week later to make sure they had my resume (yes, yes, I should be calling everyone).
Since going over to write the test yesterday, I've done a little more research on the company (CareerBeacon profile, main corporate page) and I kind of wish I hadn't, because now I really want this job, and I'm nervous. They're small, as I said - they just hired their hundredth employee this October - and seem like they have a good thing going. They make the effort to make staff comfortable - a staff lounge with a pool table and foosball? - and have a casual dress code: "it’s perfectly appropriate to wear shorts and flip-flops to work when you work at PQA!", according to their terrific work life page (please check it out for the bonus Blues Brothers quote at the top of the page, these people are awesome). When I went in to write the test, the receptionist (who does the phone interviews) told me not to worry about dressing up, as she goes to work in a hoodie and jeans! And of course, that the receptionist is in charge of phone interviews is a good sign - if you don't need a full-fledged HR team to recruit forty people at a time (I'm looking at you, call centers) then you probably don't have a high turnover rate.
So I'm nervous.

In job application news, apparently Obama is requiring politicians who want to be part of his cabinet to fill out a 63-item background check asking for a summary of everything from real estate and speaking engagements to internet habits, handles, and posts. Some people may call it nosy, but from the number of embarassing politician stories that have come to light recently, I can't blame him for wanting to properly vet his team to make sure there are no nasty skeletons in the closets. It's not like they're applying for just any job.

Anyway I'm off to put up Christmas lights and knit replacement mice for my nephews, who have destroyed the original mouse:

Sunday, November 09, 2008

report card

So I checked my government test scores in case they may have come in early, and imagine my surprise when they did! Also, I managed to find the minimum pass marks to qualify for Foreign Service, so it's in brackets after my score:

Graduate Recruitment Test: 44/55 (pass: 23/55)
Situational Judgement Test: 76/100 (pass: 60/100)
Written Competency Test: 39/50 (pass: 18/50)

This by no means guarantees that they will be interested in me, but it gives me a fighting chance, I hope.
God, it feels good to succeed at something for a change.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

new leaves

It's Sunday, and the beginning of another month. I've been finding the passing of months to be kind of depressing the past while; another month without a job, another month closer to wintery deep freeze. This Sunday is particularly telling for the latter - it's the end of Daylight Savings (did you turn your clocks appropriately?) and it's frosty out there.

I have a few projects to work on this month, a few things to establish as habits that I've been meaning to get around to for a while:
1. Counting points again, of course; the battle to not eat too much delicious, delicious food is never won.
2. Allied with that, starting to do Pilates videos every day; strong core muscles are a good thing and I need to do some sort of exercise other than walking up and down the stairs all day long.
3. This one may shock some: picking up the violin again with a vengeance. I've actually been noodling around with it a bit the past couple weeks, and it's surprising how much of the muscle memory has stuck, but my actual brain? Not so much. I've wanted to get back into it pretty much ever since I stopped, but until I graduated, I was just too busy to commit to the amount of practice it would take to get back what I've lost. Sean is partially to thank for this, too - he's been quietly pushing to have me teach him violin for years, and even has a decent beginner violin of his own, but I can't really teach him much past Suzuki Book One at the moment, so as we start lessons in earnest, I'm going to try to get my chops back.
4. Lastly, NaNoWriMo, my yearly battle that I have never won or even made any headway with at all. I keep publicly declaring my challenge (here, and older defunct blogs) and then quietly failing to give any updates. Angus is doing it this year, along with Rose, and so I have support this time. Angus has been plugging away with his writing faithfully the past two days (it starts November 1 and runs the whole month) and has an interesting historical fiction premise (Canadian history? interesting? really?). I'm a bit behind. I will prevail.

The hope is that when December comes around, I will have successfully lost about 10 lbs, be more fit in general, have made a habit of violin again, and have written a novel. Oh, and hopefully have a job.

Interesting side note: Gail stopped by yesterday to drop off an apartment warming gift: a Magic Bullet! I was already aware of the neat things you can do with it, as Michelle has one, but this morning Sean read the booklet a little and got all excited about the many things his culinary mind could think of to do with it (pesto! salsa! spinach dip!). We liquified a couple of onions for latkes and then he had to play will-it-blend with some ice cubes and other things (ice cubes into snow in thirty seconds!). So thank you, Gail... we are going to have a lot of fun with this :)