A job, job-type job

Well, it’s looking pretty much confirmed now that soon I will be giving up my happy-go-lucky, working-from-home, freelancing lifestyle. The work will be pretty much the same as I’ll be going to work full-time for one of my clients. The company just needs to complete divesting themselves from their current parent company and lift the hiring freeze that said parent company has imposed. This will probably happen sometime in April, and I’m expecting that by May I will be gainfully employed.

In the words of David Byrne, there are good points, some bad points/it all works out/but I’m a little freaked out.

Good Points:

    • Even though my freelance work has been very steady, and I have savings, being a full-time employee is probably a lot safer in this economy
    • Good benefits package (medical/dental/401K)
    • I know the ropes already, been working for this client for fricking ever
    • Most annoying parts of the company will be going away when divestment happens
    • Will be able to essentially write my own job description
    • Will have a lot more direct influence on process and vendor relationship decisions
    • Will probably get to go to an annual tradeshow in Amsterdam
    • Already have good relationships with most of my co-workers
    • After 5 years of freelancing, I think I’m ready for more structure
    • Office is very close to MAX, and a very good birding park
    • Will get a lot more reading done on the train every day
    • Will probably be able to continue to work from home periodically
    • No more winters in my cold, dark basement office

Bad Points:

    • Will probably have to take a pay cut, but with the benefits it’ll probably even out
    • Will have to give up my other clients, they are good people and I will miss them
    • Will have to get up to an alarm and haul my butt out to Beaverton most mornings
    • Much longer hours
    • Meetings and lots and lots of conference calls
    • No more 2-week summer vacations at the cabin
    • Will have to buy a whole new wardrobe. No more working my bathrobe and sweatpants
    • Will have to start wearing make-up and getting haircuts again
    • Will probably have to get a Blackberry (maybe that’s not too bad a point)
    • Will probably have to work on a PC part of the time
    • Won’t be able to make soup on weekdays anymore, though the Crock Pot will probably see more use
    • Will have to pack all my errands and garden chores into the weekends
    • Will miss most of the east coast hockey games
    • The kitties will miss me during the day

It all works out. I think the balance between good points and bad points is pretty even, and I can live with sacrifices. I probably wouldn’t be going for this change if the company buy-out wasn’t happening. The parent company is very political and somewhat infuriating to work for. With more independence, I think we can take the brand in a good new direction, and I’m looking forward to being part of that.

I’m a little freaked out. The buy-out is not a done deal. I don’t have anything in writing, and until yesterday I really only had second-hand information that they were actually planning on hiring me. And it’s going to be a pretty big lifestyle change. But, I think I’m ready for it.


A Day in Chicago

Our first day on the Chicago trip. It started badly. Departure at 5 o’clock in the morning, after only two hours of sleep (remember Boston). Flight on 11th of September, violent turbulence, landing in the rain and to finish, nowhere to sleep! Yet, barely out of the subway under the cloudbursts, on an empty (Sunday and weather working together) street in the Loop (the business district),  we lift eyes and know instantly, “that’s it, we are there. Chicago.” And without being able to explain it, we’re already won over…

The issue of housing has been quickly resolved. A room reservation website, has, despite ourselves, put us in the Hilton hotel… the living room was luxurious, in perfect sync with our backpacker lifestyle. To honor the class, we enjoy our MacDonald’s burgers on the 2 king size beds in the room. So chic! Note in passing, that it is in the suburbs of Chicago that the first MacDonald’s opened, there is even a museum! We have not had the time to visit it. Personal disappointment! It seems that there is the entire collection of Happy meal toys, in other words the cult objects!

The time to settle, the question of the weather has also been resolved. Lucky you say? The weather would remain beautiful throughout our stay. We didn’t need more to make this city, that we would discover over 5 days, a real favorite.

chicago the loop

The loop: open air architectural Museum

Chicago has everything that a big city should have, and everything urban tourists such as we are, dream to see.

The Loop, the business district, is a condensed version of the history of the architecture of the buildings, or a harmonious mixture of recent glass towers in which are reflected the first skyscrapers, survivors of the great fire of 1871. It is crossed by the ‘El’, an above ground train running by the buildings at the level of the 3rd floor. It gives a peculiar air to the downtown. The shadow of the rails, the squeaking of the wheels of the subway, workers busying around by day, but one can imagine very well, at nightfall, the slums of Gotham.

getting me the gshock watch

Getting me the gshock watch

Um, one thing was trippy that day: my old G-shock watch died, after 6 years of faithful service. I hit the Internet in search for new options. Found and read the watch reviews there. I decided for the GA100-1A1. It’s a good looking analog-digital, with an inverted screen. I love those. For 70 bucks, I hit the road looking for a watch store to buy it. And here I am, watch on my wrist!

Chicago is the city of the United States which has the most green spaces, its motto is even “city in a garden”. It was founded on the shore of Lake Michigan which resemples the the sea, and its shores a coastline. Especially as we are on Sunday, magnificent sailboats and yachts sail and compete. A 10 mile promenade was built along the coast, generating an animation that makes the windy city (down to minus 40°C in winter) so summer-like, it’s hard to believe.

The water is omnipresent, the Chicago river flows right through the middle of building 1900, lessening the coldness of the wide avenues sometimes totally devoid of green areas. Chicago has even a beach! Sand, real, hot, white with green palm trees and the translucent lake water. A fake Miami-like air against the fantastic skyline. We fall for it…

With our hosts in the port

With our hosts on the pier

This city is amazing! The atmosphere is comforting and at the same time lively. Millennium Park opened in 2004 in the heart of the Loop. On our first evening in Chicago, we were able to attend a concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra, in the amazing Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Gehry, the architect of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, a mass of people of all walks of life and of all ages gathered to listen to a castra… Amazing. The Cloud gate called “the bean” is surely the element of this ingenious Park which held us longer, like many other passers-by. A species of bean therefore, but including the appearance of a bead of mercury, offers a deformed reflection of the surrounding skyscrapers. In General, the city is using all the ways to create animation (and certainly reduce crime, if I am to remind you that Chicago was the headquarters of Al Capone during Prohibition) focusing on art in the street: faces on large screens and a giant eye. A little Big Brother or a benevolent glimpse, your choice.

The Bean: Millennium Park

The Bean: Millennium Park

Our poor feet accumulate miles. Chicago is very extensive and we are going through it long and wide. The city resembles a puzzle of neighborhoods of distinct appearance, around the Loop and its Magnificent Mile extension, with no apparent connection. But it works. We travel from Greektown to Chinatown to the South. To the North, we are going through Old town; knowing that almost everything downtown burned at the end of the 19th century, this is limited to two symbolic doors and a few charming shacks.

At the edge of the Lake there is Lincoln Park, an upscale neighborhood with a free zoo (curious association). Further to the West, Bucktown is a neighborhood of small brick buildings of 2-3 floors with shared gardens and hip shops. Eileen and Elliott are our two colloquial Chicagoan hosts (curious but it is like that that the inhabitants of Chicago call themselves). They live in the latino neighborhood, close to Bucktown. Again the couchsurfing experience is successful. Eileen and Elliott are a couple that we would have never met in real life. Eileen is a fan of vintage, working her pin-up look. Elliott, biker with a big beard has a cult for beer (that he manufactures), barbecue (which he regaled us on) and has a beautiful Harley that he tends lovingly.

On to food. Chicago is clearly a culinary capital. Well Yes. Chicago is not only the MacDonald’s, it also has the Hot Dog. Chicago style, a traditional hot dog in bread brioche, with a sort of fluorescent green jelly. We learn later that it’s pickled peppers, but everything has the taste of sugar here. Otherwise, on the menu, we suggest the original deep dish pizza.

Imagine a pizza baked in a flat cake pan, with a thick bread dough, crispy and chewy at the same time, topped with a good tomato sauce and a layer of cheese base… And to complete the picture of refined cuisine, there’s R.J. Grunt, the restaurant with Obama’s burgers, if you please.


Peer Pressure

Finally succumbed to the peer pressure and put myself on Twitter. I will continue to periodically post my more coherent thoughts here, but I can truly see the advantage of the 140-character post. Sometimes all I want to say is things like “Suck it, San Jose Sharks!” or “Trader Joe’s out of canned tomatoes, AGAIN!” and this isn’t really the place for that.

But I still refuse to involve myself in much of the rest of the social networking world. I did Friendster when it first came out. Then Orkut was cool because it had groups. Then there was MySpace and Facebook, and I just got sick of being asked to join one after another. First of all, I’m not a teenager, and really don’t care what other people think of me, so the majority of the “content” on those sites is pretty much lost on me. Wading through all the garbage from people I don’t know, and probably wouldn’t care to know if I actually met them, is just so tedious (not to mention all the spam). I’ve decided I’ll only partake in social networks that give me something back in return, besides a glittery animated star icon from some benevolent stranger, or a random insult from a troll. If I don’t know who you are, and you don’t have anything interesting to say, I just couldn’t care less.

So anyway, random thoughts on Twitter have their uses, so I finally joined. Follow me on Twitter if you will, but I’ll only follow you back if I know who you are. If you want to be my garden buddy, you can find me over on MyFolia, probably the most practical social network site I’ve found yet. If you want to know what I’m reading, I’ve recently joined GoodReads, which is really more social than I was looking for in a book cataloging tool, but I must admit I’ve enjoyed reading my friends’ reviews a lot. Of course, there’s always Flickr – looking at photos, anyone’s photos, is way more interesting than text; plus there’s no language barrier. If you’re into hockey, you might find me lurking around in the dark corners of CalgaryPuck, but you’ll have to guess my alias (actually, probably not that hard to guess).

And Sesame and Quanta would love to be Catster friends. Well, Sesame more than Quanta. All Quanta wants to do anymore is sleep and complain about her sciatica. But Sesame will take all the virtual love he can get. He’s a lousy typer, though, so all he can respond with is “bbdmdh;fdklad.”


George Washington

Our first president was the theme of this latest trip to the East Coast. We visited Mt. Vernon, his estate on the Potomac just s        outh of Alexandria; the National Archives, home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; Federal Hall in NYC, where he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States; and Mann’s City Tavern in Annapolis, where he celebrated the victory at Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War. While Jefferson has long been my favorite president (and the theme of our last visit to DC), this trip made me feel a lot closer to George Washington, the man, and not just the profile on coins, the general, and the subject of stupid stories about cherry trees.


Mt. Vernon was very interesting, even if not as spectacular as Jefferson’s Monticello. The farm has been maintained with a fair amount of historical accuracy, including a reproduction of his “treading barn” for threshing wheat; old varieties of sheep, cows, pigs and chickens (even a “Christmas camel”); and heirloom vegetables. I was also happy to find out that Washington was a proponent of “living fences” or hedgerows instead of lumber fences. In fact, it seems he was a great lover of trees, and advocated against cutting the trees on the estate any more than was necessary. The house tour was annoying, though, with rather obnoxious doyens and too many people crammed into tight stairwells. There’s also a newish interpretive center with stories and personal effects, including a rather off-putting display of Washington’s dental history – the centerpiece of which were his actual dentures.



For a little day trip we went up to Annapolis, which I had visited briefly on a previous trip and really enjoyed. Plus Mom and Pitt had to scope out the sailing school where they’re taking a class in a few weeks. We stopped at the visitor’s center for the Naval Academy for the sole purpose of viewing Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 capsule had to get some astronaut stuff in since we decided we were skipping Air & Space this time. Spent some time cruising the docks and scoping the nice boats, lunch in an old tavern, and a little walking tour of the old center of town.


And, of course we had to do the museums on the Mall. The first day we got down to the Mall late because I had to wait for the airline to deliver my lost luggage (grrrr), and the lines at the popular museums were already really long. So we went to the Museum African Art, which was almost deserted, but had two excellent exhibits of jewelry and textiles. It really bothered me, though, that much of that museum was “courtesy of Walt Disney Co.” What business do they have buying African artifacts?


The next day was Archives and the Botanical Gardens, though I didn’t have my camera since we were going to a Capitals game later and I knew they wouldn’t let me take it in. Archives was always closed whenever I’d been to DC in the past, so this was a first time for me to see the original documents. The most important ones are all on display in roughly chronological order around the Rotunda, with the Constitution highlighted in the middle. I think my favorite part was seeing all the edit marks on the documents, and the archaic ss’es (Congreff affembled). The Botanical Gardens were packed with people coming to see some model train thing that I didn’t care about, but we got to see lots of cool bromeliads and begonias (a few of which I’m going to have to track down for myself). Then the Caps kicked some stupid Maple Leaf ass, and all was well. Generally pretty impressed with Caps fans – the squealing puckbunnies next us even played the game themselves. Ovechkin was impressive in person, though I did notice a fair amount of cherry-picking at the blue line that you don’t see as well on TV. The Leafs did a lot of standing around, as is their wont, but didn’t lose too spectacularly, mostly because of Toskala in goal.

On our last museum day we got downtown early (before the lines) and saw the Pompeii exhibit at the National Gallery, on loan from the museum in Naples. Then on to the newly renovated Museum of American History. Highlights were: Julia Childs’ kitchen, painstakingly reassembled in every detail; a diorama of Portland’s own Sandy Boulevard circa 1949, illustrating the start of the car culture; and, of course, the portrait of Stephen Colbert – thankfully hanging at the entrance to the popular culture section so we didn’t even have to wade through a crowd to see it. Then a quick skim of the Natural History museum mostly just to see the new Ocean Hall exhibit. Very nicely done, and covered a lot of subjects in not very much space.


Then on to big, bad New York City. Took the train up early, stayed one night, then caught an evening train the next day. That was about right, just enough time to see a few things, not so much time that it became unbearably annoying. We stayed at the Sofitel in Midtown (excellent European business hotel – especially the bar and bartender), and mostly just stuck to stuff within walking distance. The first afternoon we took the subway downtown to see Federal Hall – and Trinity Church, the Exchange and Battery Park along the way. We tried to do MOMA that afternoon, but it was their free Friday, and the line was around the block, so we just had a few drinks in the hotel bar, then dinner at Emporium Brasil around the corner (Aaron’s beef stew with butternut squash was divine). Accidently slept in the next day (oh well), so we only had time for a short walk through a bit of Central Park before meeting up with a friend from work for lunch in Bryant Park. We managed to prove that you can connect with someone you’ve never actually met in person, only in e-mail, on a street corner in NYC. Then we did finally go to MOMA, though the crowds were almost the same as they were the previous day. (MOMA appears to be somewhat of a hang-out for the natives, a very expensive one at that) Some Van Gogh thing was the big deal, but we’d already seen our fair share at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago, so we were happy to skip that and just get to the permanent collection. All my favorites were well represented – Max Ernst, Giacometti, Mondrian, Brancusi, and a delightful exhibition of Joseph Beuys.



Back in DC for our last day we took a walk around Roosevelt Island on the Potomac. DC’s parks are always funny to me (as a federal lands geek) because they’re all US National Parks, no matter how small they are. We also took a hike around Georgetown and tried to go to Dumbarton Oaks, but it wasn’t open until the afternoon, so we just enjoyed our walk around the neighborhood.

All in all, a great trip. Saw lots of sights, but still managed to do the whole thing without getting stressed out. There’s always more to see, but I’ve become comfortable as a tourist just seeing what you get to see and saving what you didn’t for the next trip.