Careful of Those Wishes

For the better part of my working life, I wished to not be working. Don’t read me wrong, I’m not a layabout (except when I am, which is sometimes because I friggin’ love naps). I need purpose and action, it’s hard for me to do nothing for too long…which is kind of where I’m at right now. I hesitate to complain, working at home and freedom throughout the day is usually exactly what’s at the finish line of my brain. However, I don’t have much freelance work to do and the whole reason for being home all day, was to do freelance work.

Last week I clocked I think 18 working hours. I won’t get into pay or anything like that, let’s say that was alright, but it didn’t keep me busy for more than three days out of five. The other two were taken up with unpacking, collapsing boxes, arranging and rearranging the kitchen, running errands, etc. Again: I’m not complaining about that bit because I loved being able to run around during the day when most people were not on the roads or in the stores and make real headway getting the new place in order. That’s not really the point, though.

I need to feel like I have something going on that isn’t housework, since housework needs to always happen, particularly after a move. It feels good to get my hands dirty with design work. I throw my earphones in, put a playlist on, and have at it. Hours go by, I don’t even realize that it’s quitting time until either my stomach or my butt tells me so and I like it. Love it, maybe. But right now, the well is if not dry, at least so deep I can barely see the water in it and my boss goes radio silent sometimes for days at a time. Our agreement before I left my job was that he’d give me x amount of hours per week to a) keep me working on whatever they (urgently, according to him) need and b) make not working freelance financially viable for the summer. After much discussion, we decided against paying for insurance for the handful of months I’d be freelancing, and pray for health and safety (thanks, America!), but we still have to pay rent and bills. Our handshake was that I’d stay on doing freelance through the summer and not start seriously job shopping until fall, which would ostensibly help both of us during the transition. As of today, Thursday, I’ve done three hours of work this week. I sent my boss a chat an hour ago asking for more work and after a basic response of, “I’m sorry/I’m really busy/I’m working on it” finally gave me the option of working on a project he allotted 12 hours’ pay to. Uh, yes. Hello, yes. Why did I have to pull that out of him?

So now the question is: Do I stick the freelancing out through August as planned, or do I gear up for the harder conversation that may or may not involve a professional boundary of something like, more work by July or I find a real job. A risky move, but not as risky as working less than the agreed-upon hours per week, indeed.

It makes me cranky to be bored or aimless and while there are other hobby-type things I could/should be doing, or geez, even sit in the sun and read a book or wander around Target noting the things we still need to set up house, that’s not what I want. I want to work. If I don’t work, I don’t enjoy my leisure time because I haven’t earned it.

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From Under Boxes Comes the Light (grab some crackers, this is a long one)

Oh friends, I have so much to share about our move experience but rather than kill the next 17 minutes of your time reading the details, I’ll just give you the list:

1. Paced our packing nicely throughout the weekend, with enough time to spare to have dinner at the site of our first date, our last night in town.

2. Got a call 16 hours before we were to pick our moving truck up that the truck had mechanical problems and there were no other trucks available in the Chicagoland area. This resulted in a mad scramble to find another one (successful) and a $50 (accidental) charge from the initial company for not officially cancelling (reimbursed).

3. Truck packing went fairly well if not slightly delayed, and in spite of my inherited dining room table getting a large scrape/chunk taken out of the edge of the table leaf, everything arrived intact.

4. … this is the longer story of which I’ll spare you most… We signed our lease online over 25 days prior to moving in. They knew we were coming, we emailed several times between when we applied and when we left Chicago. Upon arrival to the subdivision, we drove past our unit and found the garage door open. Hmm. We drove around to the office and went in, everyone was happy to meet us and Fred finally, and excited to get the move-in going. Our mover Mario (found on Craigslist, fully awesome individual) was already there waiting for us. Together, we drove back to the unit and went in. We found the only thing in order was the internet installer present. Everything else – aside from the new flooring and paint on the walls – was in total disarray. Nothing was ready for us. The upstairs carpet smelled of dog pee and clearly still needed to be replaced. Doors were off of hinges, light bulbs were out, the new paint was marred and marked with dirty handprints, new toilets were off their mounts, the master bathtub had water in it from somewhere, etc… we stared at each other in confused silence.

The property manager was horrified and obviously embarrassed at the failing. He apologized, I think we guessed before it was all over, somewhere around 47 times. He promised he’d get his crews on the unit immediately and we’d be fine to come back at 4 pm to a sparkling, perfect apartment. We agreed, easily rescheduled with our mover (because he’s awesome), and left to find a dog-friendly patio with food and beer (found and loved). By 4pm we were rested and ready to face unloading the truck.

We drove up to the unit and discovered a car parked in our garage, and when we walked in, the Mr. & Mrs. Nice Guy we’d put forward at first left the room along with all those 4 pm promises. Nothing was done, there was absolutely no difference in the state of things other than the cleaning lady who was in the kitchen, scrubbing away (it was her car, turns out). We drove over to the office and let the manager know that it was after 4 but nothing was done. Again, together we drove back to the unit and walked through. He apologized, made many phone calls to his crew, and apologized some more. We rescheduled our mover again (did I mention he’s awesome?) and took the manager at his word that the carpet would be changed, cleaning finished, and we’d have some help unloading our truck since our mover couldn’t coordinate a crew with so much shuffling. At about 5, they unloaded the contents of the truck into the first floor (of two) and we trusted the manager that we’d have help moving the upstairs items to their places.

By 6:30, the carpet was almost finished being installed but the manager’s upstairs-moving crew was nowhere to be found. I’d overheard them say they couldn’t install the toilets or threshold strips until the carpet was done, so by 6:45 it was clear we weren’t going to be able to stay there that night since our bed and mattress were buried in one huge disorganized, conglomerate pile of our life contents, in the living room.

The manager assured us we’d be reimbursed for any expenses incurred due to the screw up, so we called to let him know his crew disappeared, nothing was done to completion, and we booked a hotel that night. It should be noted that he too, vacated the property by 6 pm, presuming his crew would stay and help us. He stammered yet another apology and let us know that his boss sent his apology as well as the offer of a $100 rent credit and… my favorite part… an Edible Arrangement. It was all so ridiculous by that point that all I could do was laugh, and laugh through the rest of the evening every time I remembered it. The hotel room was nice but the $100 non-refundable pet fee just to have Fred with us, was not.

The next day around noon we went over to the unit and remarkably, found it all to be in order. The carpet was installed and aside from paint that still needed touching up and an accordion door off its hinges, it was done and ready. Our belongings filled up almost the entirety of the living room in absolutely no order, with the larger pieces of furniture blocking the boxes (because they were loaded into the truck first, they were the last to come out and the last to go into the home. Professional movers would never have allowed that to happen but we were long past professionalism).

Now it was time to negotiate terms. We had a feeling the apartment manager was promising things he couldn’t pull off, indicated by his manager’s subpar restitution, and it was clear we had to come to some sort of agreement. We started out nice, our mover, the internet guy, and the manager all made it a point to say so and wonder aloud what they would do if it was happening to them (“probably not be that nice!” /laugh). With each progressive letdown though, we got less nice. By the time the three of us were standing in our freshly-carpeted bedroom, the gloves were off. Manager asked straight up how much we wanted to make it right. We did the math and told him how we came to the number (let’s say it was under $500), but that was just to break even. To make us less livid, we asked him to waive Fred’s cost to move in ($250, non-refundable…which is a ridiculous rip off but par for Columbus, as much as we could tell). We also asked we be assured his staff would help us carry things up the stairs, particularly because we paid a mover to do it who couldn’t, and my back doesn’t allow it anyway.

From there, he started to get a little defensive and less willing to take responsibility. I said at least twice that we weren’t even supposed to be having any of the conversations we were having, and the reason we were was because of an epic failure on their end that somehow took a month to come to fruition. He admitted he outsourced the work to a third party (on the Friday before a holiday weekend, three days before we were to move in…makes sense) and didn’t stay on top of his employees. He also said that he spent some time the day it all blew up purchasing a white board and meeting with his staff to explain how it can never happen again.

In all truth and sincerity, I told him that if that’s the good that comes out of all of it, that’s great and we hope it works. Ultimately, my feeling is that he’s a middle manager with almost zero power and is likely a terrible communicator whose staff doesn’t respect him a whole lot. I’ve seen it before, his staff may last at the property longer than he will. A manager in that situation does not go home without making sure everything that has to be done, is being done and moreover, stays to make sure it’s done at all. I kept that thought to myself until after he left.

Anyway, we stated our requests and he said he’d make some calls to corporate and get back to us but not before saying he thought it would be impossible for his staff to help us with our furniture after all, due to their insurance policies. I understood that but still felt my blood boil. We walked him to the door and waited to hear what he’d come back with after he spoke to his boss, while slowly unloading things from our car into the garage.

An hour passed and he came back to our door holding some bright green papers in his hand. He held them out and explained they were $100 rent credits, five of them (though actually six, accidental or no), and it was their best and final offer. We’d still have to pay for Fred, and we wouldn’t get help from them to move anything, the corporate office is again, terribly sorry for the problems and hopes it doesn’t sully our entire experience with the complex. We were out at least $500 in actual cash plus Dylan’s day of work revenue lost, and the ability to get a day’s worth of cash paid back for returning the moving truck early. They found a way to pay us back but only in terms that would ultimately benefit the company, how very GOP of them. We accepted our fate and watched the Manager get into his golf cart and drive off as I silently hoped I’d never have to talk to him ever again.

Sigh. So here we are, five days moved in. That door is still off its hinges, no one has come to clean the marked-up paint so I finally took a Magic Eraser to most of it, and about 30% of our boxes remain taped up and waiting in the living room. On the other hand, we still haven’t paid for Fred.

I overdid it moving boxes, bending and lifting and have had to take it easy for a day or two as my back was singing at me most rudely. The silver lining is that the rent credits, in addition to credits that we already received as a move-in incentive, mean we won’t have to pay rent until August. Our kitchen is almost done and has been used a few times already, and our shared office is set up. Today was our first day of working side-by-side with Fred asleep between us. I found myself smiling occasionally at the dream realized and wondering if I could really make it as a remote worker, freelance or not.

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At the end of the day, moving is still the best decision we could have made. We love the apartment (in spite of its paper-thin walls and loud but nice family next door), we really like our little neighborhood so far, and live ridiculously close to all the shopping comforts. We have friends nearby and are excited to celebrate our 2nd anniversary in a few days (possibly by visiting the Ikea up the street, due to open the same day). I could never have gone through this alone, Dylan has been a rock and together we feel like a very good team. He’s let me indulge in my badly needed naps and reminds me to take breaks whenever he sees me bending and lifting too much. We have patio chairs set up on our slab out front and are slowly getting those boxes unpacked and broken down. I told him the other day that I haven’t decorated more than one room of the places I’ve lived since I left Cleveland five years ago because none of them ever felt long-term enough to care about, but since our first night I’ve found myself looking at the walls, cruising Think Geek and considering all those canvases I have but haven’t painted anything on yet.

So entry was rocky at first to say the very least, but it’s shaping up well and we’re pulling through. Fred is adjusting and isn’t nearly as freaked out as he was the first few days of car rides and strange sleeping arrangements. We’re happy. Which, really, is what it was all about in the first place. Now if only we had a Weber grill…

Boxes, Markers, and Stepping on Fred

This week has been long, this is an earned Friday. Tuesday was my last day of work at the office, Wednesday I was in an inexplicable funk but managed to get some errands run between naps (my escapist drug of choice), and yesterday marked the first day of Full On Packing. Today, my plan is to pack at least half of one very crowded room and not leave the house until we go to dinner tonight to the Thai restaurant which was the site of our first date.

Dylan, champ that he is, worked hard enough all week to hit his 80 hours early so he could take today off to run errands for himself and for us. Reminding myself that I’m not in this move alone, well, for the third time in our history, is a constant companion. A little string around my finger that I glance at when I’m suddenly overwhelmed at the pile of boxes and seemingly endless amount of tiny things that can’t be thrown away but appear to have no actual home. Last night I asked him the best favor to which he replied, “That’s it? Of course!” and that is: Clean out the fridge. I can manage a lot but cleaning out the fridge makes me nuts, I don’t know why. Knowing I have a willing partner that will carry a load for me when asked is, to put it mildly, a relief. Literally lately too, since I strained my back during our yard sale prep of last weekend.

We’ve seen our friends to say goodbye, most of them anyway, we’ve eaten our foods, we’ve said our silent see ya later to various buildings and neighborhoods as we drive around town. It’s all gone by so fast but it feels like we’re careening towards something amazing. While I’m rarely unhappy these days, I’m rarely at peace. My mind runs, it goes through lists with items checked and unchecked, I wake up at 3:30 am and wonder if Fred was taken out after I fell asleep while we watched TV, I finally get up an hour later and take some Benadryl or read to force myself back to slumber and while that usually works, I’m awake before 7 most mornings where the brain fires up all over again. TV

Our new home though, that feels like peace. We haven’t even set foot in yet or experienced it with our own eyes, just a walk-through via Skype and good friends. But it feels like ours already and I know we both decorate and organize it in our minds, only occasionally discussing our ideas. Woodburning fireplace, chest freezer, our shared office setup,  all the mall stores nearby we can wander around when bored or curious. We don’t know much about Columbus yet, and the mystery is part of the allure. Cleveland I knew, at least I knew people and a lot of things about it, but Columbus I only really know through our friends’ eyes, there is so much to discover. And all those trees and hills! And cheaper! And like, 60% less people everywhere!

But today, right now, it’s 10:24 in the morning and I have yet to do much but put a load of wash in the dryer. So I’m going to get up and attempt to tackle the kitchen, starting with a small box for the spices. In all this fast, drastic change, starting small seems like a good way to quiet the chatter parade in my head.

Goodbyes to Good Pizza

I remember when I was getting ready to move to Cleveland six years ago. It seemed that people who I never saw or made the effort to see (or see me) had the strongest reactions. “You’re going?! Really? Awww! (sad face)” and I thought… yeah. I’m going. Did you want to make plans after lo these four years of living in the same city but never spending intentional time together…? I felt like a face in their own personal Sgt. Pepper and suddenly having a blank spot where I was, would mess up the whole composition. There were also times I’d run into people I so rarely saw that it seemed the universe was conspiring to make sure I said goodbye to them, particularly in places I’d either never been before or meant to go or accidentally wound up in, which was pretty cool. And then there were the friends who just kind of vanished altogether. They didn’t attend any going away events or even send goodbye texts. I wondered why, if we were really friends at all or if I was being too sensitive to the very normal thing of transience in life. Now I know they simply just weren’t good friends. My good friends helped me through that entire situation. Packing, loading, little gifts, even driving with me to Ohio and making sure I had a soft landing there.

Now I’m watching that whole thing play out again through D’s experience, and it’s a little hard to witness. Simply put, he’s so far disappointed by the silence of friends he’s had his whole life. Granted, we have almost a month before we head out and so much can happen before then, but right now he’s struggling the same way I did. A stoic and resigned shrug that indicates he doesn’t care if they show up to this or that, but sad eyes that reveal his heart if you look closely enough.

I submitted my resignation today, which felt so good. My boss has asked me to stay on as freelance for design needs, and we’ll need to hammer out exactly what that means and how many hours of work he may need per week, but he also offered a letter of recommendation (without me asking) because he’s smart enough to know that I will eventually want something local and more (without me saying).

Not being much of a daydreamer or fantasizer anymore, I haven’t spent a lot of time on my back staring up at the sky, imagining wall color or furniture placement. That is, until we were approved for our lease, booked our truck, and started collecting boxes. Now it’s happening, now that the wheels are in motion. Now I find myself cruising Amazon for firewood holders (because we’ll have a wood burning fireplace), and wondering which bathroom (of the 2.5) should have the Hahn and Leia towels in it, and if we should decorate around them as a theme.

Goodbye events are starting to be planned, dinners and lunches scheduled, and most importantly maybe, time blocked for packing. It always comes down to the last second and I always forget that part until I’m well in it. Fortunately this time I have a very helpful husband who won’t let me take so much on myself, as I do, and who supports my desire to throw money at the problem by hiring muscle either with money or pizza, to pack and unpack the truck.

It all feels slightly dreamlike still, it’s far enough away that the pressure isn’t quite on yet, but there is a small stack of large, sturdy boxes leaned against a wall just waiting. Taunting. Promising. Tempting. After mid-May and we participate in a neighborhood yard sale, the house will be emptier as I mentally and emotionally prepared to sell the kitchen table I inherited from my grandmother. The 1963 chrome and Formica table I grew up making Christmas cookies at and eating spiral Kraft mac & cheese on. I’ve kept it with me through five apartments, two states, and two storage spaces, and now it sits against a wall where it supports plants, a computer monitor, mail, and the cage of our Leopard Gecko, Stavros. It’s a great table and I’m sad to part with it. Fortunately, the story is not so sad because in our new home, will be another table also inherited from my other grandmother. It’s beautiful wood, mid-century and has rapidly become a cherished piece I now get to attach to the way I attached to the other.

 

 

 

 

Moving Right Along (footloose and fancy free)

A decision has been made: We’re moving to Columbus.

How did we get to this point? Allow me to back up. About three weeks ago, D and I drove to Columbus to visit two very good friends. J and N married three years ago, I know J from high school and N went to high school with us too but I don’t remember him (he remembers me, always awkward). She and I were very great friends and ate lunch together for two years, stayed in a bit of touch but didn’t really reconnect until she moved back to Chicago about six years ago. She flew to Cleveland five years ago to pack me up and drive back to Chicago with me, and from then our adult friendship was sealed. She was I think, my first actual close adult friend.

They moved to Columbus two years ago for her job, set up house, and have loved it since. We visited once in August and once three weeks ago and by the time we drove home, we asked each other, “Could we live there…?” and D being his amazing self said right away, “I’d follow you anywhere” which while sweet is factual because his job is remote so he literally can follow me anywhere. Still, aww.

D unfortunately had the flu the whole time we were there, eventually passed it to me, and here we are three weeks later still coughing and feeling the affects. The flu is no joke… I used to think that flu shots were stupid but now I can say: the flu is stupider. We weren’t able to explore quite as much as we both wanted to because of his illness, but that leaves more to discover in five weeks.

Forward two weeks of sleep and drugs, and lots of research later: We found an apartment online that J & N were gracious enough to walk through and Skype us, we submitted our paperwork for it later that day, and now just have to pay the processing fee. After that, we can move into it anytime after May 15th. Because the calendar is full and there’s so much going on the month of May, we’re likely not going until May 30th but the truck has been secured! There is also the question of work. My boss asked me to give him until the end of this week to let me know if they can keep me on and how, and if they can’t, I have to find something as soon as I get to Columbus. There will be relief if that’s how it goes, I’ve been unhappy for a while, but it’s better to have a job in this situation than not and I’m fortunate that they aren’t the sort to fire me on the spot just for leaving.

This all feels right. It’s time to leave Chicago and has been time for quite a while. We will miss our friends (and food and drink) so much, but the pull to a new place is greater than the missing. My family while 30 miles west, has never visited us in the almost two years since the wedding, and D’s family is spread across the eastern part of the country; we will miss family the way we always do but I don’t anticipate much changing there nor do I anticipate a visit from my own. In fact, we’ll be only an hour away from his younger sister and her family, so we’ll be on the circuit. And while we’ll be about six hours away from friends near Chicago, we’ll be six hours closer to friends on the east coast and only two hours south of my beloved Cleveland.

I remember the things I experienced when I arrived in Cleveland that were so different than life in Chicago: strangers say hello and smile as they pass one another, crowds are never actually crowds the way they are in Chicago and time to prepare for those crowds is mostly unnecessary (it took me about five events to stop arriving half an hour early to get standing or parking space because there’s always space), how very white the Ohio population is, how spread out everything feels and that a car is a necessity, and generally just how slow things can seem. My shoulders released their tension within months, I wasn’t so wound tight or in a rush, and mostly I didn’t feel a complete and total cynicism about my new city or its government. People in Chicago don’t realize how pervasive that feeling is, the sense you’re being swindled and what it truly costs for the honor of having a Chicago zip code.

What we get for our rent in Columbus will be staggering:  Two beds/two and a half baths, a patio for grilling, two floors, an attached garage, more storage than you can shake 50 sticks at, washer & dryer in-unit upstairs (brilliant), a wood-burning fireplace, a huge guest bedroom/office for Dylan to work in, and the complex has a gym, pool, firepits, a clubhouse (I never know what those are for besides baby showers or sports watching), and a dog run. The square footage is something like 1300 feet in our unit and our back door faces a wooded lot.

Now compare that to our current place on the north side of Chicago: no storage but three small closets (we rent a storage space downtown), one bedroom and one bathroom, a small kitchen with few cabinets and one skinny drawer (honestly one. One drawer that’s about 8″ wide), very little grass, street parking (a spot is $150 a month), 650 square feet and… $200 more than what we’ll be paying in Columbus. Granted, there’s in-unit washer & dryer, central air & heat, and a dishwasher, but that’s not that hard to come by anymore.

I have friends who are bound and determined to stay in Chicago, they even feel like they will be able to afford to buy homes here eventually, and they can’t comprehend why anyone leaves. To them I say: Make your choice. Between the ability to say you live in Chicago and have all it offers a few blocks in all directions (even more to the east because everyone has to keep going further out to afford anything), let alone the ones who want to have kids at some point, and the ability to have so much more for your money, make your choice. The stress of knowing our income has to increase every single year to keep up with rising city costs just isn’t enough to keep us.

Ohio is the first of what I imagine will be many places we’ll settle. We want to live somewhere warm and maybe even tropical, somewhere across an ocean, and even maybe one day on the road. We have all sorts of plans and dreams for ourselves, our little family of just D, me, and Fred the dog. And for now, those dreams begin in Columbus, Ohio somewhere around May 30th.

Time to Change, Time to Rearrange

I’ve decided to resume the job hunt in earnest, for several reasons. Top-most is that I have a deep (and unsatisfied) desire to work with a company that values design as a vital part of its identity and face, is interested in design innovation, and has a deliberate method for the development of concept through execution.

To say that my company is lacking these things is an understatement, though I don’t think they’d admit to it. I was hired initially for Marketing, but because I have over nine years’ experience as a designer, and they knew that, I find myself 90% of the time, creating graphic design items and doing PowerPoint layouts. It’s not what I wanted for myself, it’s not challenging or interesting anymore, and aside from what I learn on my own, I’m not exposed to much in the way of professional growth. Throw in a dash of sexism and a total confusion of process which leads to undermining by unrelated departments, I think I’m done.

I was done last fall really, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know about job searching in the User Experience Design field then and I did it poorly. In the last two weeks, I’ve gathered my work and put it into a much better (albeit temporary) portfolio and have shopped it around carefully. The biggest lesson I learned last fall, is to keep my information out of the hands of recruiters save for one or two, as the majority of them simply don’t know the field enough to know what is valuable and what isn’t, and I eventually stopped trusting them as a whole. I believe they see most people as potential bonuses or paychecks rather than actual humans who seek a career change. Don’t get me started on the exclusivity requests.

UX is a growing design field to the point that most confuse “User Experience Design” with “User Interface Design”, including recruiters. Put simply, one is bones and one is outfit. I’ve spent my whole professional design life designing the outfits but once I discovered the thrill of the human-centric analytical bones, I fell in love with it. And quite accidentally at that, I was at an e-commerce conference and wound up killing time in a session that discussed UX and that was that. It spoke to me and I knew that’s what I needed to pursue. My boss gave me two large projects that were so UX/UI-centered, they’re now in my portfolio. But that’s all he’s had so far, and doesn’t have plans nor is he able to give me more. He knows it’s what I want, but I’m not sure he knows it feels as urgent as it does.

The difficulty, much like dating while lonely, is resisting the urge to jump at the first outfit who shows interest. Someone contacted me on Slack to ask if I was interested in speaking about a UX position he’s looking to fill. I followed up, twice, he followed up over a week later with an apology that he’d dropped the ball, cc’d his UX-focused coworker…. And then nothing. Silence. That was five days ago. Yesterday I sat there looking at my email and debated a follow up, then I thought about what it was like to wonder about a date who was supposed to call days later but never did (or did with a flimsy excuse). And also, what it’s like to work for a company that drags its feet, is highly unorganized, and leaps before it looks. I deleted the email and decided to be smarter about who I pursue this time around. Much like with people, I believe we are shown early who we’re dealing with, and it’s up to us to see them with clear eyes*.

Dylan and I have plans, places to go, things to do. He’s working at home these days for a startup and really loves it, they keep giving him more hours and training, and he can work anywhere he hangs his hat. I need to be able to work remote from time to time and that means we can go almost anywhere one day. UX is a profitable field and would allow for so much more freedom than we have now, our debts would be paid, we’d have options for travel and various life upgrades. That is of course, not the main draw but it certainly doesn’t hurt. As it stands, for example, I’d be looking at an average of about a 30% income bump, so… yes, I’ll pick up the check.

So tonight, I will four-wheel drive home in our freshly-fallen 9” of lake effect snow and plop down in front of job sites to see what’s out there, and pray my one year of UX & UI experience is enough to get me in a door. Wish me luck, a change is badly needed.

 

* If I’d have dismissed Dylan based on our first dating attempt, I’d have royally missed out. So not everything is black and white…

New Orleans

I wrote this post five years ago about New Orleans, or rather my lack of desire to ever go there. What a fool I was! I mean, to be fair, I associated the city with some unsavory people and unsavory stories and thus sort of wrote it off as a “meh” destination. I wasn’t going to dive headfirst into a town built on vice. Yet, everyone loves New Orleans. Everyone who goes there seems to always return and in the meantime, longs to.

Actually, I take that back. My first impression, very first, was the opening of Live and Let Die, where a funeral (a going home) marches down the street. I was probably 8 years old and 100% baffled how a parade and dancing went in-hand with a funeral procession, and why it started out slow and ended joyous. Now, I get it. But let me back up, and then go forward.

We celebrated our first anniversary in June of ’16 and spent the better part of the previous April trying to decide how and where to do that. We wanted anywhere we wouldn’t have to rent a car and anywhere that wasn’t a huge tourist mecca at that time of year. Incidentally all you wedding planners: keep your wedding month in mind for future anniversary trips. Turns out June is a really expensive time to travel anywhere. Anyway, we settled on New Orleans. Dylan lived in Louisiana for some time many years ago, and when Katrina happened, he went there to help. He was familiar with the city but not overly so, and it would essentially be new to us both. We bought our plane tickets and booked an AirB&B in the Lower Garden District, and researched the trip (that would be me, Dylan cares not for such planning). Unfortunately, a month before we were to arrive, our AirB&B host cancelled. We decided that rebooking would be costly in a short window of time, and put the whole thing off until I had vacation time and we really needed somewhere warm after a long winter.

I’ll spare you the starts and stops of rebooking. Suffice to say, we indeed wound up in New Orleans this month, we got home 10 days ago. It was unlike any trip I’ve ever taken, let me say that right now. We walked everywhere but for two Lyft rides twice every day, to and from our AirB&B and the airport. Of those rides, 12 in all, only two drivers weren’t chatty and/or from New Orleans. Every one of our rides involved long conversations with city natives who lived through “the Storm” and offered up so much information from the best oyster happy hours (discovered too late to go, arg!) to why the locals don’t use their a/c even in brutal summer. Of all the tips people ask for about what to do when they go there, “don’t rent a car” has been my top one. Talking to our drivers was one of my favorite parts, I learned so much from them that research would never have taught me.

The first night we were there, it was late on a Thursday so we did as you do, we walked the French Quarter and drank the fruity drinks, which come to find out days later, was a moment of brilliance. It was empty and quiet in most parts and I fell in love with the buildings, even in the dark. In the coming days, we ate po’ boys and beignets, and we took the ferry to Algiers Point. We walked everywhere, logging something like 10+ miles per day.

Oh, second tip: wear the most comfortable shoes you own. I did not and I have the blisters to prove it. We didn’t get to City Park, the Bywater, or Uptown, and I didn’t get to see the huge trees with the hanging Spanish moss along a majestic plantation road as I’d hoped, but they’ll still be there when we go back. They’ll always be there.

New Orleans is the most special place. Music, as promised, is all over. It’s in the air and on the street corners, it’s in bars late at night with no one in them and bars that are packed, but the musicians (some of who double as bar staff in the venues) are the cells in the blood in the veins, the pulse and the beat. THAT’S why New Orleans funerals have brass bands, because music is as big a part of life as is death. It’s woven in. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, strange about someone walking down the street or sitting on their porch, singing their lungs out to the neighborhood. It’s a gift given freely. It’s love, really.

The people are made from the joy and stuff that could only survive and rebuild wholly after what they went through. And stay! And thrive! They know exactly what their city is, good and bad. The street art, the galleries (and so much Prince in both), the night craft market, even our disappointment at Frenchman Street, it all found its way to my heart. I cried happy tears walking through Treme and the Garden District, overwhelmed by the beauty. The gas lamps, the retired streetcar track lines which now serve as walking paths that divide streets, that we were staying in the same area as the Mardi Gras Indians are based (look ’em up), the raised homes and razed blocks, and the constant stream of greetings and conversations with strangers we passed on the street.

Chicago, I came to really realize, is very divided and racially kind of a mess. New Orleans though, everyone mixes and no one thinks twice. You literally greet everyone you pass just the same. At least, that’s how it felt during our brief time. We did find out after we got back that we walked through a really crowded and dangerous spot on a Sunday night, on our walk back to where we stayed. Two locals and a regular visitor looked at us in raised eyebrow silence when they found out, and asked if we were ok. It didn’t feel dangerous though, at least in the ways we know danger to be in Chicago, so I don’t know what to say about that.

As we strolled around the Garden District and began to recognize streets and places we’d seen before, we asked ourselves the frequently-visited question, could we live here? What neighborhoods would we want to live in? What would we do here? I don’t know… maybe…the humidity and bugs though…  Naturally, the neighborhood that stole my heart is the most expensive one, and there’s a lot to concede to living in those old houses with another flood just a season away, but it was interesting cruising Trulia for a few days to see what’s out there. I don’t know…maybe.

Before we went, like everyone who plans a trip there, we asked those who have gone before what we should eat and where we should go. Some experienced friends offered up their favorite lists, others remained silent and in a spirit of love, put hands on our shoulders and said, find your own NOLA, a phrase we’d hear over again. Therefore, I can’t tell you where to go or what to eat because what I loved, you may not love. Except for District Donuts, everyone should go there. Yes, we saw a parade, we hung out at a fantastic divey neighborhood bar a few times where we ate some fantastic crawfish boil and got to know the staff, we drank Hurricanes, ate a piece of king cake, devoured oysters (twice), visited some breweries, got some beads (without skin), and a few other fun things, but I’m not going to tell you all about that because that was our trip, it won’t be yours.

Now I’m one of those people. I miss it. I miss the people and the energy, and I’ve only been once! I understand why people go back again and again, and why so many want to move there. Some people party their time away while they’re there but their NOLA isn’t my NOLA and my NOLA won’t be yours. All I really know is that I only scratched the surface and barely, and that I want to go back. Soon.