Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ISFJ Seeks Meaningful Work

I have been unemployed for almost 5 months, and it's starting to get to me.

For a recovering workaholic who has been employed since she was 15 years old (even through college) it has been a rough adjustment. First, a little background:

I am a hard worker... like, to the point of insanity. I throw everything I am into my work, no matter what it is. If you asked me to clean a toilet, I would spend 30 minutes making sure it was spotless with the hope that someone would come along and be like, "Damn, that is one clean toilet." I try to be the best at everything I do - not to satisfy my ego, but so that I can go to sleep each night knowing that I did the best I could. I have always assumed this quality came from my dad. He has always worked really hard and been very diligent about saving money and being responsible. I have him to thank for my financial savvy - he taught me everything I know about managing finances (until I learned for myself later in life... mostly through the mistakes of others around me).

Until my junior year in college, I was double majoring in International Business and Accounting. But then I had a personal crisis: suddenly I looked around at my friends and all I saw were nurses, teachers, social workers, etc. I felt cold and heartless. I said to myself, "What am I doing to help people? Their taxes? Ugh..." so I dropped the accounting part and figured at least with international business I could do something useful. Not to say there is anything wrong with doing people's taxes, but it just never felt like the right thing for me. I have always felt like I should contribute something more to the world, to help make a real difference in an important way... either improving someone's life or
saving the world from itself.

But, I digress. I started at my last job as an intern while still in college. I worked my ass off, as usual, so they decided to hire me when I graduated. 6 years and about 7 job titles later, I left that job to move to Oregon. It was a good job for a while, and most of the time I was there, they rewarded my hard work with money and promotions. But, being a workaholic is hard. You reach a point where you can't sustain that level of commitment anymore without sacrificing happiness, health, and your personal life. I blamed the company for that for a long time, and only now after 5 months of breathing room do I recognize that it was my fault too.

So now, being unemployed is hard. I am slightly OCD about a lot of things, and my work has always been my outlet for those tendencies. Without it, I have nowhere to channel that energy. But, I looked at it as a great opportunity. I was tired of the industry I was in, and the job I did was a thankless one. To be honest, I was planning to leave anyway even if we didn't move to Portland, so the timing was perfect. I figured it would give me time to take a break from working 50 hours a week or more, and figure out what I want to do. Unfortunately now isn't the best time to be looking for a job here in Oregon... just today they announced that the unemployment rate jumped from
6.4% in September to 7.3% in October. And apparently, there is never a good time to look for a job in Portland (especially for a non-native like me), with unemployment being historically higher here than the national average.

When I came out here, I wanted a green job, and everyone was like, "Awesome, you're in the right place for that!" Since Portland is the
greenest city in the country, I figured the possibilities would be endless. Not so. It is super competitive, and while at a job fair a couple of months ago I found myself standing next to my clone. She said my exact spiel word for word. "Hi, I don't have any experience in the environmental industry, but I really care a lot about the environment and have some excellent transferable skills..." etc, etc. I was speechless. I called Justyn in a panic and said, "No wonder I haven't found a job. There are tons of people trying to get into this industry that are exactly like me." So, it was time to regroup and re-evaluate my approach.

I decided to take the
Myers-Briggs personality test and attend a class, where I learned that I am a classic ISFJ. Which basically means, I could do any job as long as I'm working for a good cause. (Gee, I already knew that, sort of, but it was nice to have confirmation anyway.) Upon learning this, I thought maybe I should look into other types of organizations besides just environmental. I mean, my last job was such a life-sucking experience, that really anything to help serve people and the community would be an awesome change for me. So I joined Idealist, Hands on Portland, and CNRG to try and get connected to the non-profit world here in Portland. (For my Nashville readers, Hands on Nashville and Cool People Care are some really great organizations if you want to donate some time to the community. Sometimes all they need is a couple of hours of your time!)

Now, a couple of weeks and more than 40 volunteer hours later, I feel like a full time volunteer. And, I love it. I wish I could do this all the time. It has been such a fantastic way to get involved instead of sitting on my rump and browsing job ads, and also to learn about the non-profit community here and make friends. I never realized how many fantastic organizations there are, and how much work there is to be done. I have been so inspired, in fact, that I've decided to start posting about some of my experiences at different non-profits, and highlight those that I think deserve special notice. There are so many unsung heroes in the non-profit community that really should be known. The plus side of all of this (aside from the obvious) is that I have actually realized through this experience that I really love working with kids, especially in education and literacy. In fact, I think I'd rather do that than anything else.

So, I'll continue working for free. I'm a strong believer in
karma, so hopefully it will come back around at some point, and then I can find a way to get paid for it...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Admission of Guilt

Hello friends. I have bad news. I have been waiting, hoping I wouldn't have to write this post, but today I realized that it's time.

I hurt my ankle. Well, I didn't hurt it, really I think it hurt itself. I didn't fall down or anything.

The 5k training was going really well, actually. I was starting to find my groove. I got the wardrobe thing down, started covering my ears, got the intervals timed out correctly, etc. I was actually starting to feel like a real runner. Then around the end of week 3 of our training program, my left ankle started to hurt a little, but only when I ran. So I figured, maybe it's no big deal, just a little adjustment my body needs to make, you know?

Not so... it got progressively worse, and so I grilled Amy since she's basically my running coach. She said as long as it wasn't radiating up to my knee, it was fine. Well, sure enough, within a couple of days my left knee started hurting. But again, it was only when I ran, so I still didn't worry a whole lot. I thought maybe I just needed new shoes, so I started running in different shoes to see if that helped. Then one morning, I woke up, slung my legs over the edge of the bed, stood up, and BAM!

I mean, seriously intense pain in my ankle. Couldn't walk. Hurt. So. Bad.

So, I tried soaking it in epsom salt, which didn't seem to help, contrary to my dear mother's belief that an epsom salt bath will cure any problem you have. (I love you mom.) In her defense, I have often soaked in epsom salts after a rigorous hike, or if I'm just feeling achy, and it actually does help a lot. And epsom salt is cheap at any drugstore...you should pick some up and give it a try.

Then I asked Mom, who is also an amazingly talented massage therapist, if she had any other ideas to relieve my pain. Then she proceeded to convince me that I had a stress fracture. She has had a stress fracture before, and all of the symptoms seemed to match mine, so I proceeded to freak out and start checking into my insurance to see if I could get myself an x-ray.

Finally, while gently probing with my curious fingers around the ankle joint, I found something. I found my peroneous longus. And it hurt. I was actually glad, because finding a sore muscle, to me, negates the existence of a broken bone (which, I know is not necessarily true, but let me have my moment). I have been working on this muscle to try and relieve some of the constriction, and I can say now after over a week of sitting on my ass, that my ankle is feeling a bit better. But, I still feel a little twinge of pain when I walk, so I'm not 100% sure my troubles are over.

Needless to say, and to finally come to the point, we are NOT running the planned 5k on December 7th. I have now learned the importance of building in plenty of extra time in your training plan so things like this don't screw you over. But, as soon as I am feeling fully mobile again, I will be picking up where we left off, and setting a goal of my own to run 3 miles anyway. So, I'm not a total failure.

P.S. Give some kudos to Justyn. He's been running his tushy off without me, which is no easy task especially when I was like, "Nah, just skip it. Don't go. Sit here on the couch with me and watch CNN and eat Mississippi Nilla Mud Cake." (Yes, that recipe is forthcoming. Just a little teaser for you.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Filling the Void

I feel compelled to comment on what's happening here in our country, while trying to avoid going too political on my loyal readers. It's hard to sit by and NOT say something about the amazing thing I've just been alive to witness. I think I can say, honestly, for the first time (at least in a long time) I am proud to be an American citizen. And, by the way, I hope we can do away with the whole "generation X" or "apathetic generation" crap now. I think we've proven that's not true.

I think we'd all agree that what Obama has done is truly phenomenal. Not just because of his race, but the way he ran his campaign, reached younger and disenfranchised demographics, and turned red states blue for the first time in 4 decades. I cannot even describe what it feels like to actually be part of making history. To be honest, I didn't support Obama during the primaries. I thought he was overrated and underqualified. And, I don't like being part of a "movement" just because it's a movement. In fact, the more hype there is, the more skeptical I am. But, after he won the nomination, and really when the financial crisis started to set in, I began to watch him very carefully. I was waiting to see what he would do, what he would say, how he would respond.

Day by day, I was increasingly impressed at his sense of calm in the face of such a crisis (especially compared to McCain, who in the past has won my vote). I know there was plenty of negative campaigning to go around, but I honestly feel like Obama was able to stay above the fray, for the most part. His message was clear and consistent, right up until last night's speech. (If you didn't see it, please watch. It is truly inspirational.) Maybe it makes me an idealog, but I don't care. I think it' s high time someone finally ran on a message of hope and change, something this country desperately needs. And looking out on the crowd, what an astounding variety of people. It echoed what he said in his speech: young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, rich, poor... dividing lines did not exist. I've been privileged to vote in 3 general elections so far, and I've never seen anything like I saw last night. The quantity of people that showed up to Grant Park was awesome to see... and people, not only in our country, but all over the world, running out into the streets and celebrating. It was more like New Year's Eve than Election Day.

Back to his speech, I think it's a real testament to the kind of leader he'll be. How many candidates' acceptance speeches are so somber and pensive? I didn't detect an ounce of ego in what he said, and I think that's really something. It must be tempting, after 21 months of campaigning, to get up and say, "Yay me!!" But he didn't, and I think it's important to note. You can tell he is a man that knows what he's up against.

I'm a young voter, and fall into the demographic most political experts are talking about in the aftermath of this election. And I think Obama's biggest challenge is going to be keeping the interest of all these new, young voters. His campaign has laid the groundwork for what could potentially be a new type of government. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and all the other avenues he used to get votes, should not be ignored now that he's actually gotten them. With such an overwhelming victory, I think Obama now has a mandate to fulfill his part of the agreement people made when voting for him.

I have found elections to be pretty anti-climactic, and I hope this one is different. Think of all the people who got out there and knocked on doors for him, made calls, put up posters, etc. What are they to do, now that it's all over? How will they fill the void? I think Obama really runs the risk of a major disconnect with the very people who put him in office. His campaign was so innovative and groundbreaking... I can only hope his administration will be the same. I would love to see him do a weekly radio address where he tells people what's going on (not just on traditional airwaves, but satellite and internet radio), and maybe even takes calls from people, or even start a blog that HE writes. If he doesn't, I'm afraid 4 years from now when he's up for re-election, he'll be starting all over again. Anyone who's read The Tipping Point knows that this kind of momentum is hard to get back once it's gone. It is my dearest hope that Obama can live up to everyone's expectations, including my own.

I'm not a person that is easily moved (especially when it comes to politics), but sitting on my couch last night, watching Obama quote Abraham Lincoln and talk about uniting our country, I couldn't help feeling like I was watching the John F. Kennedy of our generation. Obama said last night in his speech, "I need your help." We're here to give it, Mr. President. All you have to do is tell us what you need.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mac & Cheese & Cheese & Cheese...

Mmm... macaroni and cheese. Just say the words "comfort food" and it's the first thing I think of. So, when I learned that Tillamook was hosting their 4th annual macaroni & cheese cookoff, of course I had to go.

Oh, and let me go ahead and apologize for my picture taking skills on today's blog. Taking delectable photos of tennis ball sized portions of mac & cheese in a clear plastic cup isn't easy. Especially when you're inside a big, not very well-lit tent with hundreds of other people bumping into you. And, a bit of advice, don't get in the way of people and their mac & cheese.... seriously.... I've seen it first-hand. It's not pretty.

There were a few special guests: one of the hosts was none other than 2nd season Top Chef winner Ilan Hall. He made his own special macaroni and cheese for the crowd while we were waiting to taste the 6 finalists' recipes. And it was.... okaaayy. I mean, I've had way better mac & cheese. This is him, I promise... he just has a beard now:

Also while we were waiting, we were served Kells Lager & Cheese Soup (courtesy of the hosting venue, Kells Irish pub in downtown Portland). I didn't try it, but Justyn said it was good, and had a nice, strong beer taste. Another celebrity was there: Miss Tillamook, 2008. This is her:

Incidentally, I was trying to google Miss Tillamook's actual name, and this is what I got. I guess Miss Tillamook can be a cow, also.

Okay, so anyway... on to the finalists. My personal favorite was the recipe submitted by Catherine Wilkinson from Arizona, for her Smokey Black Pepper Cheese & Macaroni with Wild Mountain Chanterelles. And I don't even really like mushrooms all that much... especially weird ones I've never heard of. But it had a very nice flavor, while still embracing its mac & cheesy-ness.

Poor Catherine, she didn't win anything except an honorable mention. But, she didn't do as poorly as Jennifer Crackel from Michigan. Jennifer made Souffle Style Macaroni, and I did not enjoy it. Too eggy. She didn't even get an honorable mention (but I guess making it to the finals is something in itself.)

Next up was Melissa Lacaille from Washington state for her Cornbread Topped Apple Macaroni and Cheese:

It looks pretty good, right? It wasn't bad.... just not to my taste. While I have been known to dip some apples in a cheese fondue at the Melting Pot, I don't mess with the mac. A little tweaking is okay for sure, but no fruit. I'm not down with that. I'm a macaroni and cheese purist.

The one I was really excited about was our own Rhonda Allen from Oregon, and her Tillamook Mac & Cheese Chile Relleno Pie. Now THAT is something that I could get into. I love green chiles, and how could you go wrong here?

I'll tell you how: it needed salt. Now, I don't know if it was Rhonda's fault or not. I mean, while she was up on stage making her cutesy casserole dish of mac & cheese, and placing it delicately inside avocado halves for the judges, maybe the chefs in the back kitchen who were preparing the 10 "identical" stainless steel vats of it forgot the salt. We'll never know. I do think it would be good, though, with some salt added. It had a nice green chile flavor. She won 2nd runner up, though, and $1000 cash and 15 pounds of free cheese is nothing to balk at.

1st runner up was my personal 2nd favorite: Kathi Jones Del-Monte from New York for her Tillamook Triple Play Macaroni & Six Cheese Strata. This one, by far, had the cheesiest consistency and richest flavor.

I mean, if I were judging a mac & cheese cookoff sponsored by the cheese company, I would have given this one first. It definitely represented Tillamook cheese the best.

Okay, drum roll....and the winner is.....
Angie Phillips from California for her Caramelized Sweet Potato, Garlic & Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese!!!!

And, can I just say, "Blech. No thank you." I mean, come on, people. Sweet potatoes??? I do like sweet potatoes, don't get me wrong. But definitely NOT in my mac & cheese. I should have been a judge.

Overall, I would say this event was a minor disappointment. I was really looking forward to some crazy, uber-cheesey, super fattening, carb overloading portions that would blow my mind. (I'm glad I went, though... so now I can say I've been to a macaroni and cheese cookoff. Seriously, how many people can say that?) But, you should try for yourselves. Click the links to get each recipe, and let me know what you think! You'll never have a better excuse to eat mac & cheese all week long.