Oct 27, 2009

If you wonder where I've been lately...

I'm not dead. I'm just planning a wedding.

Because I realize a lot of people are really not into listening to a girl blather on and on about flowers and frippery, I'm blogging about it on a separate website, located here: The Better to Wed You With.

I promise, once I get a few more things with venues and such straightened out and take a breather from the frantic oh-shit-I-only-have-five-months planning that's been going on for the last week, I'll be back to my regularly scheduled non-wedding blogging.

Oct 21, 2009

Getting Comfortable

Every few months, I toy with the idea of going back to school and completely changing directions in my career. I've considered going back for some sort of engineering. For marketing. For architecture. The idea of more school, though, really lacks appeal, and when it comes to making a decision, I find I don't really feel a strong pull in any of those directions. I always come back to the place where I am.

Let me be clear. I am not satisfied with my current job, and in terms of skill level, I've got a long way to go. But I think the field I am in now is generally the right place for me to be.

It's taken me a long time and a lot of struggling to say this is where I belong. I've been dancing around this career path since I was 13 years old, and while it's something I love, I think I've always felt I wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough or talented enough to make it. But I think I can. There's no reason why I shouldn't, other than laziness or a self-defeating attitude.

So I'm going to do it. This is my career, and the only thing I can do to further my career is to progress within the field. It's time to focus.

Oct 16, 2009

I'm going home!


In just a few hours, I'll be on my way back to Austin. I can't wait! Hope you enjoy the video...thought it was fitting.

Oct 15, 2009

So something big happened last night...

Here's my, as my dad called it, engagement bling.Yesterday was our second anniversary. It's been two years since Kellen and I started dating (again), and...to be honest, we didn't have any big plans for last night. Kellen had his brass ensemble practice, and I had big plans to do laundry and watch So you think you can dance? Exciting, right?

When I got home from work, though, Kellen was all excited because he got an e-mail saying Monsters of Folk were playing downtown that night, doors opening at 7, and he reeeaaaally wanted to go. Not only are they a great band, but one of the band members, Conor Oberst, was part of a little number called Bright Eyes. A Bright Eyes concert just so happened to be our first date, almost five years ago. It seemed like a pretty fantastic way to spend our 2-year anniversary.

I told him if he could swing some tickets and didn't mind missing band, I was down. (Very down.)

We headed downtown shortly thereafter and went to the box office to see about getting tickets, since we couldn't find any online. Just our luck, they had released some amazing tickets up close to the front. Kellen forked over some cash, and there we were--sitting 4 rows back in this amazing concert hall ready to watch us some Monsters. I'd never really been able to see the stage at a concert before (I'm really short), much less sit that close to the front, so I was very, very excited.

The show was SUPER FANTASTIC, and at the end, we were both amped up because it was a great performance. Kellen goes, "Do you wanna get someone to take our picture?" I'm a picture fiend, so I said sure. He goes over to a security guard and starts whispering to him. Then he hands the camera over, turns to me, and starts getting down on one knee while he holds out this black box.

I don't even remember him saying "Will you marry me?" I vaguely remember his mouth moving. I know I said YES! And then I poked him really hard and called him a jerk because I was completely surprised. Hehe. (I wasn't expecting it to happen for several months!) The ring was absolutely gorgeous, and I was more than happy to put it on my finger.

We got the camera back from the security guy and while he thought he'd taken pictures, he hadn't. BUT. Even without the pictures, I don't think I'll ever forget.

*siiiiigh*

I'm super duper happy. I've loved Kellen for years upon years. I've loved him through good and bad, and I know I'll always love him, no matter what. Lucky, lucky me, he feels the same way. I feel like I've won the lottery with him. He's such a wonderful person, and to think I get to spend the rest of my life with him...it doesn't get much better than that.

In all, I say this is building up to being the best week I've had in a very long time. Kellen got a second interview. We saw a great show. We got ENGAGED!!! We saw his parents last weekend for his birthday, and we'll see my parents this coming weekend. We're going to AUSTIN, my favorite city in the whole wide world. I couldn't have asked for a better week.

I still can't believe we're engaged!!! What am I supposed to do now? :)

Oct 13, 2009

PS:

Kellen got through to the second round of interviews at Microsoft!!!!!!!! We've heard the second round is a doozy, so I'm sure the next few weeks will involve a lot of studying and prep. BUT. I'm so proud of him, and again, any good vibes you can send our way are much appreciated. :) YAY!

(PPS: If any of you have ever interviewed with Microsoft and have advice for him, that would be great, too.)

Pam and Jim's wedding...

...convinced me that eloping is still the right decision.



:)

Oct 12, 2009

When our parents get old...

Last week, Kellen went on a John Mayer kick. We listened to Continuum for hours on end. Not that I'm complaining. I love me some JM. Listening to the songs over and over, though, I started paying attention not just to how they sound, but what the songs were about. I'd never realized the song "Stop This Train" was about losing your parents, and listening to it got me thinking...

It's not as if I've never thought about my parents growing old or passing away before. I have. When I was 16, my mom ended up in the hospital for two months. I remember my younger brother and I having the discussion about how afraid we were, driving home from Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt's by ourselves. I got to experience what my life would be like without her. I didn't like it.

My parents are only in their 50s, and God willing, they'll have another 30 years of healthy, happy, independent lives. After all, all of my grandparents are still around and for the most part healthy and independent. And my grandmother had her parents until she was in her late 60s. But still, in my 20s, I'm having to come to terms with the fact that my parents are getting older. They'll be retiring soon. The list of doctors they have is growing longer, and the list of problems is starting to grow, too. Someday, I'll be the one taking care of them. And someday, I'll have to say goodbye to them.

My parents have always been at the center of my life. I've never made friends easily, and I've gone stretches of my life without anyone I could count on or lean on but my family. My parents are the people who always reminded me that I was loved, that I was special to someone, and that I had someone to go to, no matter what. They've gotten me through so much. It's impossible to imagine a world where they aren't there.

But I know someday, it will happen. How do people ever find the strength to get over that loss?

Oct 10, 2009

Twenty-Somethings in the News: "The Lost Generation?"

Business Week: The Lost Generation

So this is depressing.

In this piece, Peter Coy outlines the abysmal unemployment rate and long-term career prospects for young people. And boy is it ever abysmal.

For people just starting their careers, the damage may be deep and long-lasting, potentially creating a kind of "lost generation." Studies suggest that an extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods.

Yikes. "Damaged goods"?! Really?! Apparently this argument isn't just doomsday sensational journalism, but is backed up by statistics:

For each percentage-point rise in the unemployment rate, those who graduated during the recession earned 6% to 7% less in their first year of employment than their more fortunate counterparts. Even 15 years out of school, the recession graduates earned 2.5% less than those who began working in more prosperous times.

Perhaps I'm being overly-concerned because I've got my boyfriend graduating from college in a couple of months, ending his paid internship, and entering the real world...which at this point looks like it's going to be the real world, sans job. (Keep your fingers crossed, say a prayer, throw a little salt over your shoulder--whatever it is you do--for him, please, that he'll hear back from someone in the next few weeks.) It's depressing to know that in the long term, our earning potential could be dampened by the recession. It's also depressing to know that my incredibly smart, talented and skilled boyfriend might be one of the casualties of the recession, something which I have (likely just to make myself feel better) been telling myself is IMPOSSIBLE for the past year or so. My boyfriend is way too smart and awesome for that to happen to him...right?

The truth is, there are just so few jobs to be had for young people. Three years ago, when my ex was graduating with an engineering degree, there were tons of jobs available for the newly graduated. Companies were actively recruiting college students, wining and dining even the mediocre potential employees. Now, many of the same companies that were hiring recent grads in droves have hiring freezes on, or if they are hiring, they're only hiring those with experience (3+ years is the lowest I've seen--the vast majority are looking for those with 10+ years of experience). It's depressing. And the number of people applying for the scant entry level positions out there is even more depressing.

If my boyfriend, with his holy grail of college degrees the engineering degree, his ridiculously high GPA, his year of real-world experience in a reputable co-op program, his willingness to transfer just about anywhere, with his professionalism and glowing employer reviews and impressive accomplishments and fantastic personality, can't get a job...what's going to happen to the rest of us? And what's going to happen to all of us in the long run? Are we really going to be lost?

Oct 8, 2009

Motivation? What motivation?

Last weekend, I put in somewhere around 12 hours on my sorority alumnae group's website, 8 of those on Sunday alone. Kellen and I woke up, got dressed, went out for brunch, then I came home and for 8 whopping hours and did serious work on a project that is, for all intents and purposes, optional. I didn't look at my gmail every 30 seconds, or my tumblr, or my twitter, or my flickr, or my google reader. Granted, I've been saying I would do this site since July and it needed to get done, but it was still something that I had no hard deadlines on and which no one would absolutely shit bricks if I never did at all.

I was kind of proud of myself. And then I started thinking, "Why am I not like this at work?"

I think approximately 500 times a day during the work week, "I seriously need to stop cycling through my frequently-browsed social networking sites and do the job I'm being paid to do." You know this routine: gmail, tumblr, twitter, flickr, google reader, gmail, tumblr, twitter, flickr, google reader. I seriously do it all freaking day. Every day. Even when I have an assignment due, one that's important, sometimes I still find myself not doing my work and instead flipping through all those other websites...even when I've read all the updates and am just staring at the same old crap I've been staring at for the last 2 hours.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I've got a serious case of ADHD or internet addiction or something. That's how difficult it is for me to focus. But then a day like Sunday comes along, and I realize that I have a crazy ability to focus...when I'm doing something I actually want to do.

I think my I'll-look-at-everything-on-the-internet-except-what-I'm-supposed-to-be-looking-at habit is borne partly out of the fact that I'm passive aggressively acting out my frustrations with my job on the assignments I'm given by procrastinating, and partly borne out of the fact that I'm just plain bored with the work and could do most of it in my sleep. (Some days, I'm not entirely positive I'm not asleep when I do a lot of this stuff.)

Part of the reason my direct supervisor was so adamant on shifting me to another team is that I was bored out of my skull on my old one, and the quality of my work was suffering as a result. (The degree to which it suffered, by comparison to my coworkers, actually put me about on par with a sizable chunk of the people I work with. But it was a notable departure from my usual omigodsoanalretentivethisallhastobeperfectorillhaveastrokeomg-quality work.) I can't say so far the change has been very beneficial, because in two weeks, I've had maybe 10 hours worth of work to do, and I get incredibly frustrated when I have so much open time that I have to figure out how to occupy. I don't like having to dig up menial busy work to fill the hours, and that's precisely what the suggested applications of my downtime are. I feel like that's just so many wasted hours of my life.

The problem is clearly motivation. And while yes, "This pays the bills, so I'd better do a good job," is sufficient reason to make me do passable work, it's certainly not inspiration to do my best work. I want work that I find exciting and interesting, that I see value in. I want something that makes me want to work, and that I get enough out of that I feel like my time has been well invested and my energies rewarded, if not in terms of praise from my supervisors (however rarely that happens anyhow), then at least in the sense that I did something that has value.

I want to be inspired. I want to be excited by what I'm contributing, and I want to be proud of what I've accomplished. I don't like thinking, "Yeah, I did some things....meh," at the end of the day. Maybe it's a lot to ask to be fulfilled by what you do, but that's precisely what I want.

Oct 5, 2009

I keep forgetting to tell people this...

kellen wins!
Did I mention my boyfriend caught the garter at his brother's wedding?

Some 8-year-old girl caught the bouquet, and it's not like it's even remotely appropriate to jump someone under the age of 12 in order to snatch something from their tiny little hands...the little snot. So I guess we'll have to settle for Kellen's victory over the mens.




PS: Actually, I've yet to embarrass myself leaping for a bouquet or mauling another girl trying to get it in my clutches...or worse, convinced the bride to clear the floor of everyone except me so that I was sure to grab it. (Yes, I've actually seen that at a wedding before.) It's not as if I've ever been the kind of person to get that excited about getting married...but I am kind of competitive, and just for once, I'd kind of like to win that stupid bouquet.

Kick in the Pants Monday!

This week's kick in the pants is brought to you by William Kamkwamba, a 14-year-old Malawian boy who wanted to bring electricity to his village. Despite lacking the proper tools, loads of money, or even access to the local education system (he was kicked out when he was unable to pay the $80 fee for attending school), he did just that.

After finding a book about windmills that generate power at the library, he spent several months collecting materials, making his own tools, and then building the windmill itself. Despite being harassed by villagers, he not only built the windmill, but got it generating power...then built four more windmills. The windmills now supply power and water to his village.

I don't know what you were doing when you were 14, but I highly doubt you were bringing electricity to an entire community. I doubt you're even doing that now. So get off your bum, and go do something productive!

Thanks, William, for the kick in the pants.

Oct 2, 2009

Cooking really isn't so different from life...

melted pyrex dishI, like a lot of people who must depend upon my own culinary abilities if I want to eat, like to try out new recipes. The bulk of the recipes I learned growing up were Southern dishes (fatty, starchy, and delicious) and quickie foods (cheap, easy, and heavily processed) that, while often tasty, are not always good for you. And if the health reasons weren't enough to branch out, then the fact that I love food certainly is.

I'm not the best cook in the world. In fact, until I got my first apartment in college, I couldn't even boil water. (No. Seriously. I nearly burned the house down twice attempting to boil a pot of water to make tea.) And since then, I've had some pretty serious kitchen cooking disasters. In addition to overcooking and undercooking pretty much everything at least once, and accidentally leaving out ingredients or getting a little overly-ambitious with the ingredients, I once exploded an entire meat loaf all over my kitchen. EXPLODED. It went about 10 feet in every direction, and we were still finding errant pieces of pyrex and hamburger meat weeks later.

That being said, I have learned to cook a few dishes and cook them well. My vegetarian enchiladas are legendary, and my boyfriend thinks my meat loaf is the best he's ever tasted (as long as he doesn't have to eat it off the floor. *cough*) And because the possibility of delicious success is always enticing, I keep coming back to cooking, in spite of a few true disasters.

Take this week for example.

Wednesday night, while the boys (I have two male roommates, one being the boyfriend) were out doing other things, I decided to stay home and learn a new recipe. I've been eyeing this recipe for weeks and finally got all the ingredients together to make it. It was a challenging recipe for me. It was the first time I'd ever separated eggs whites from yolks on my own. It was the first time I'd ever even heard of a sabayon. It was the first time I'd ever whipped cream to soft peaks or folded whipped cream into anything. It was also the first time I'd had to improvise a double boiler on my own. In short, it wasn't an easy recipe, and I spent a lot of extra time trying to figure out the right way to do it.

The end results were magical. I was so proud of myself and all of the new skills I'd learned, and the best thing about food is, you always get to enjoy your success. The boys liked it too, and I gave myself a mental gold star for being so darned awesome.

Riding on the high of success, I decided to try another new recipe on Thursday night. I got some butternut squash last weekend at Kruger's on Sauvie Island. I've never cooked with butternut squash before, and I found a fairly simple recipe on Epicurious that I thought I'd be able to pull off with few problems. I had Kellen peel and slice the squash for me (he's my sous chef), and I basically stirred the cream and sage in a baking dish and made sure the squash was evenly distributed before I put the lid on the pyrex dish and slid it into the oven.

30 minutes later, I went to check on it, and...

Disaster. The lid on my pyrex dish was not oven safe. NOT AT ALL OVEN SAFE. Not only had it melted into the squash, I had little pools of red melted plastic all inside my oven. I was horrified. And embarrassed. Why couldn't this have happened the night before when the boys weren't home, and I could have dumped the evidence of my pretty epic mistake in the trash can without anyone finding out? And why had I been so stupid anyhow? I had my reasons (a friend of mine in college had had a plasticy baking dish, and I assumed wrongly that the lid for my pyrex baking dish was made of the same stuff), but it didn't keep me from feeling like a royal idiot. I got pretty upset about the whole thing, and really beat myself up about it.

But then, Max ran to the store to get a back-up side dish so dinner was still pretty tasty, and Kellen lifted my spirits, and the red goo was fairly easy to clean out of the oven. The only bad things that happened were I ruined a dish and still haven't gotten to make butternut squash. (And I probably added another item to the list of Ridiculous Things Katie Did in the Kitchen that No One Will Ever Let Her Live Down.) Oh, well.

Like most things in life, when you try to do something new, sometimes you fail. Sometimes you succeed, though, too, and often the failures are not as bad as they may seem at first. Either way you learn something from the experience. So whether you get delicious fig sabayon, or whether you get red-goo-covered butternut squash, the important thing is to keep trying, keep learning, and don't let yourself get discouraged by failure or the fear of it. Someday, you'll get it right.

Oct 1, 2009

So I switched teams at work...

A few months back, I expressed an interest to two of my supervisors in switching teams. I felt that after spending a year-and-a-half on the same team, I was growing bored with my work, that I wanted new challenges, and that I wanted to increase my visibility both with the rest of my team, but also the larger company my team works for. For a long time, it didn't seem like anything was going to happen, but then about a month ago, they announced layoffs.

After the layoffs, there was the usual shuffling of teams. It took several weeks for everything to be finalized, but at long last, I finally got shifted to the team where I had specifically requested to be moved (thanks to my direct supervisor advocating for me NOT to be moved to a team where he thought I would be unhappy and would be more likely to *ahem* reassess my employment situation.) This has been my first full week on the new team, and...

For the most part, it's just been kind of boring. Because I'm fully trained on the development platform my new team uses exclusively, I haven't needed to do any training or shadowing my fellow team members. Because the team was in the middle of a big project, and all the work was already divvied up, there also hasn't been much work for me to do. So it's been a lot of twiddling my thumbs, taking extraneous trainings (I've been looking into our social media training program), and waiting to wow my new team lead with my super impressive skillz.

There are some differences between my old team and new team. For one, my old team really pushed for the web developers to go the extra mile. If I was adding or removing content from one page and knew there was similar elsewhere on our website, I was encouraged to include those additional pages in my work. If I had an idea for how we could improve content I was working on, I was more often than not given the thumbs up.

Because I was on a small, tight-knit team before, it was more important that we all be aware of the content and ensure that we caught any problems, and it was more likely that if I recommended a change, I could go directly to the manager for my team and be given the go-ahead. My new team is larger and has a more formal relationship with those further up the ladder. You do not ask about additional work on other pages, and you do not make suggestions or comments on the content you have been given work on. You basically do what you are told. On that level, I'm not super-excited about my work, because I feel like I'm scaling back my skills several notches and losing, in a sense, my voice and my ability to prove that I am willing to (and often do) go above and beyond.

The new team also has more meetings, which is not super fun.

On the upside, I'm getting to share (and prove) my expertise with new people at work. A few weeks before I left my old team, we get a new person doing our quality assurance testing, and she was surprised by how thorough and how good our team in general was, and I know that her experience will be passed along, if to no one else, then at least to her supervisor. That sort of thing is good for my reputation at work. I feel confident that doing good work on my new team will also help to spread my reputation as a strong and conscientious worker. The biggest drawback on my old team is that no one except two or three people knew what I was capable of or knew the quality of my work. I know that my relative invisibile-ness didn't help me in interviews regarding promotion back in May.

Already, I'm working on building a better relationship between my old team and my new one. Because we work on the same platform at least some of the time, I think it would be useful to share knowledge about the platform between the teams, both about how to do things and about the latest problems we're having. I'm also taking on some new responsibilities regarding documentation, which should help me gain additional visibility and is good for demonstrating that I am willing to take responsibility.

This is probably the first time in several months that I feel I'm doing something really useful, both for my team and for my career. I'm hoping this horizontal move gives me some vertical oomf. Or at the very least, spices up my life a little with new teammates and new work.