December 31, 2015

My Best of 2015

I'm in love with the idea of living perched in that happy in-between space occupied by year-end “Best of” lists. You’ve got the joy and sense of accomplishment of looking back at good things that happened, while looking ahead with this vague sense that maybe more amazing things will happen next year. All the while mentally shutting the door on all the stuff that did not make that "Best of" list because most of the year likely was not a demonstration of the best of you or really was just life.

You’d think I might be excited to say goodbye to 2015 - it is the year I got laid off, after all. That whole experience could have ruined my year, but it really didn’t. I’m happy to say that my quest for new experiences, supercharged by my 40 by 40 list, has created a stockpile of amazingness that even losing my job could not deplete. I have so much for which to be grateful. So here, organized loosely on a scale of “I love that I got to do that” to “I’m eternally grateful that happened,” are my favorite experiences of 2015:

10. I went to SXSW Interactive!
It’s unusual for a work trip to make the list of my favorite things, but this was such a great experience. What an awesome place with smart people doing cool stuff everywhere - so much inspiration per square inch. Plus, I got to attend with two coworkers that I didn’t know would no longer be my coworkers just 3 short months later, which makes it both bittersweet and even more special in retrospect.
Jimmy Kimmel at SXSW.

9. I met Mary Karr & Mary Louise Parker!
It’s not like I actually got to hang out with either of these amazing ladies, but I did, in fact, get to meet them and attempt to absorb some of their creative energy in those 30 seconds. Truth be told, I went in the most starstruck by MLP, but I left with the most admiration for Mary Karr. So funny and poised and genuine. But really, more important than the actual meeting is that when I learned of this book event back in July, it was like a beacon in a fog of anxiety and uncertainty about the whole finding to find a job thing. It was a risk to buy tickets to an event in LA when I was sitting in Minneapolis without a job, but I needed something inspiring at that moment and it turned into an amazing trip with my husband, which included me turning into a blushing schoolgirl upon meeting two women whom I fiercely admire. (Plus, were it not for this trip, #6 would not have happened!)
The Marys talking about writing.

8. I got my favorite tattoo!
When I originally added “Get another tattoo” to my 40 by 40 list, I didn’t know what I wanted to get for sure. But when my mom said she would finally go get the tattoo that she’s been talking about for a decade - my name on her arm - I knew I wanted the names of my boys somewhere I could see them every day. And with the help of a talented artist at Jackalope Tattoo, I now have my heart. And it’s perfect.
My heart.
7. I got my travel certification!
As part of getting laid off I had the opportunity to get free training. I thought maybe I could parlay my technology experience into a future in the travel industry, but I didn’t have any travel experience other than my personal travel planning addiction, so I did some research and learned that there is an entry-level certification that gives you the basics about the industry. Thinking this could help me land a job, I was able to enroll. What I didn’t know is that A) I would love this course, and B) it would actually teach me that it might not be so crazy to think that I could someday make a living planning trips (not just working for a big company that makes travel software). As I write this, I’m in the process of getting set up with a host agency so I can begin moonlighting as a legit travel agent. It remains to be seen if this is a life-changing event, but it’s pretty awesome either way.
Thanks to my travel course, I learned about the Tiffany card system, which is how airline reservations used to be made! (Photo from the NWA History Centre)

6. I met Brian Henson!
This is a big fucking deal. I know that he didn’t personally birth the Muppets, but the Muppets are essentially his siblings. Henson blood runs through his veins. Plus, the fact that we just happened to meet him in his office while getting a tour of the Henson Studios made it even more incredible. He sits at the same desk his father used. I was in the presence of greatness. (And he was really nice!)

Not Brian Henson.

5. I ate the menu degustation at Joel Robuchon!
I’d been talking about this dinner forever. The 16-course menu! Chef of the Century! Las Vegas! I don’t remember when I first learned that it existed, but it had become a goal worthy of my 40 by 40 list. With the help of my friend Rachel, I decided to make this dream come true this year for my 38th birthday. I had no idea I would be laid off the next week, but I'm so glad I got to have such a decadent experience right before the axe fell. From the purple velvet booth to the dessert in the form of a window box with tiny edible flowers, it was perfect. Definitely a meal that I'll remember for a lifetime.

The cutest damn dessert.

4. I did 12 Hours in Vegas!
When my plot to squeeze in a beach vacation before starting my new job was foiled by my children, who didn't want to miss school, my husband and I took advantage of cheap red-eye airfares to Vegas with a plan to tackle sin city in a 9am-9pm whirlwind. We pretty much did everything we'd normally do in Vegas (gamble, drink, gamble, eat, gamble) but on a compressed schedule. It was a fun little adventure that I'd definitely do again if the price was right...though I'd much prefer to stay a few days. 
The best.
3. I went to Pastry Bootcamp at the CIA!
I can hardly even believe it happened this year, but back in February, I jetted off to New York to achieve my 40 by 40 dream of attending pastry bootcamp at the Culinary Institute of America. I spent a whole week in class with a real French pastry chef teaching me to make eclairs and tiramisu and, of course, the 3-day croissants. If I could be a professional culinary student, I think I would. It was so much fun and such an unusual break from my ordinary life. Plus, I now have my very own chef whites!

My croissants!
2. I took an Alaskan cruise with my family!
Another 40 by 40 item list...well, two actually: Take a cruise and See the glaciers in Alaska. What a fantastic way to experience both! I loved everything about all of it. The ship, the water, the casino, the glaciers! I even liked being confined to a small space with the people I love most in the world. But if I was making a top 10 list of memories from that trip (and I totally could), #1 would definitely be dogsledding on the glacier in Skagway. The helicopter, the dogs, the scenery, the feeling of being at the top of the world...AMAZING.
Dashing through the snow!
1. I got to have a summer home with my boys!
I won't list being laid off as one of my favorite parts of 2015 because it was really hard and I still think the way it all went down was really callous and stupid. BUT, I will tell you that I believe I will look back and know that it was all for the best...starting with the fact that my unemployment started in June, which meant that I got a lot of unexpected time to spend with my boys when they are just on the cusp of not wanting to spend time with me anymore. And I'm really grateful for that.
This is a generic summer photo from the internet because I didn't have one of my own.

I just realized my list spans the four edges of the United States, which I think is super cool and fitting, as I do feel like I've been all over the place (physically and mentally) this year. Things change. Life is good. Life is even better when you have something to look forward to, and it's up to you to make that happen. Bring it on, 2016.

Happy New Year!

November 8, 2015

12 Hours in Vegas

Once upon a time, a girl was unemployed. And almost as much as it bothered her not to know where her next paycheck would come from, it bothered her that she couldn't use all this "free" time to travel!

This girl vowed that when she finally found a new job, she would fit in a beach vacation before that job started. She just wanted to feel the sun on her face and enjoy the freedom of vacation one last time before jumping back into work.

Then one day, the job offer came and she rejoiced! We're going on vacation! I've got it all planned! The beach! The sun! Just a quick trip to renew my sense of joy and adventure, she said. But alas, the girls' children did not agree with this plan. School! They cried. We have school! And so the girl resigned herself to the fact that there would be no last-chance, don't-have-to-take-vacation-time vacation.

Until one day when really cheap flights to Las Vegas appeared...but wait, the return flight left at midnight...and it became clear what she (and her wonderfully supportive husband) must do...

12 Hours in Vegas

6 a.m. CST: Leave our house for the airport. It took hours to figure out what one wears when there will be no hotel and you must gracefully transition from morning flight to nice dinner.  I finally settled on black.

7:40 a.m. CST: Board flight. This is going to be the best day ever!

9:22 a.m. PT: Arrive! Air travel is magical!

9:55 a.m. PT: We are entering Planet Hollywood. Life is a dream. I am here to drink mimosas and play Britney slots. I get out my handy dandy players club bracelet (DIY) and get serious about having fun.

10:32 a.m. PT: Britney was a bust but I now have "3" stuck in my head. We have discovered a new Monopoly slot machine with a giant wheel a la Price is Right. There is also a crazy Big Bang Theory machine. Who makes these decisions? How do I get THAT job?

10:51 a.m. PT: We are on the Strip, determined to do the next thing on my list: Have the breakfast martini at Bound in The Cromwell. Sure, they probably didn't actually intend for it be had for breakfast, but this is my best day ever!

10:56 a.m. PT: Bound doesn't technically open for 4 minutes, but I am so enthusiastic about the breakfast martini that the bartender doesn't mention it.

11:00 a..m. PT: The drink has orange marmalade in it! It's amazing and I feel classier than anyone has ever felt drinking martinis before lunch. Also, The Cromwell is nice...I make a note to stay here sometime.

11:22 a.m. PT: OMG, they brought back the Family Feud slots and you can play Fast Money!!!!

11:39 a.m. PT: We are headed to the oasis known as Margaritaville. My plan is to sit on their rooftop patio and eat a Cheeseburger in Paradise with the sun on my face. When we arrive, we are informed that the patio is closed...because it's Tuesday...and 62 degrees. Oh, surely if Jimmy Buffet knew the distance I had traveled in order to eat a cheeseburger on his patio he would have opened it for me. But no.

11:56 a.m. PT: We walked the whole promenade they built leading up to the High Roller (which we went on during our last trip...4 months ago) searching for a place to sit in the sun and eat lunch. Apparently that's not so much a thing in Vegas. These damn desert dwellers take their sun for granted!

12:04 p.m. PT: I decide that if we can't eat outside, we might as well go somewhere reliably good, so we grab a seat at BLT Burger. The burger is good, but the Malibu Barbie boozy shake is GREAT. I momentarily feel like I'm on a beach vacation wrapped in a Vegas vacation.

12:52 p.m. PT: I once again declare this the best day ever. We do a lap around the Mirage casino and we're off to Caesar's. I take time to sit, then lay, on the side of the fountains at Caesar's. The sun is on my face. Life is amazing!


1:04 p.m. PT: I am horrified to find that my beloved Seahorse Lounge is closed for no good reason. Their website says they should be open. I angrily Instagram the hotel even though I know I should have tweeted them. I try the Gremlins slots. Seriously, who decides what gets a slot machine?

1:33 p.m. PT: Disappointed in Caesar's (as usual), we're off to the Bellagio. My M Life card won't work...I'll deal with that in a minute, but first I must play Wonka. I get a crazy bonus that let's me play like 4 mini-games in a row. I am triumphant.

1:46 p.m. PT: We make our way to the M Life desk. I give her my old blue card and am handed a shiny new white card. She informs me that I've been upgraded to Pearl level! Although I have no idea how this has happened, I suspect that the universe is telling me that every decision that got me here was correct. Thank you, universe...and M Life. 

2:21 p.m. PT: Starbucks break. There's a woman trying to use a coupon. That seems funny to me.

2:40 p.m. PT: We discover that the casino at the Cosmopolitan has nearly every game we want to play. Fun! I make a note to stay here sometime...But we have to come back here for our dinner reservation, so we must keep moving.

4:47 p.m. PT: We hit New York-New York already. It was uneventful, so we've found our way to MGM. We've decided to play video roulette and I order a cosmo. What could possibly go wrong?

5:04 p.m. PT: Ok, we're running out of money (as in, our allotted budget, not our savings account) so we decide to make our way back up toward Cosmopolitan because I have a thing for The Chandelier Bar.

6:11 p.m. PT: I am in the chandelier. It takes forever to get our drinks, but mine has cream cheese espuma on's alright. I feel underdressed for The Chandelier, but it's barely even dinnertime, so whatever.

6:50 p.m. PT: We arrive at China Poblano early for our 7 p.m. dinner reservation. It's not a problem, it's Tuesday. They seat us. This was a good choice - it's chic-casual. I can wear jeans, but I could also wear a dress and it would be ok. We order margaritas with "salt air" and a bunch of yummy things off the asian/mexican menu. I like it.

8:04 p.m. PT: Exhaustion is setting in, but so is the desperation that comes with knowing that I have mere hours left in Vegas. We've agreed we must be in a cab back to the airport by 9 p.m. because my husband is somewhat crazy about being early to the airport.

8:23 p.m. PT: I'm playing whatever catches my eye. There's a machine where you play 12 different slot machines at once. I want to try it all out before I have to go. I am not winning money.

8:53 p.m. PT: We are getting in a cab - probably should have waited until 9:22 p.m. to make it a perfect 12 hours, but my mind is not thinking that hard. I am saying goodbye to this city as if I will never see it again, though I already know I will be back before the end of the year.

9:45 p.m. PT: We are at our gate. It's almost midnight at home. I am so tired and nothing is open and there is no where to lay down. My husband tells me to lay on the floor. I decline and whine some more. Everything has been fabulous until this point. I vow to figure out how to join one of those swanky airline lounges next year.

10:45 p.m. PT: We are finally boarding. Hallelujah, the flight is less than half full, which means there's room to lay down! I am asleep before the captain can tell us our cruising altitude.

5:12 a.m. CST: We have disembarked and are almost to our car, which we parked less than 24 hours ago. I am ruined for the day, but if the price was right, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

November 6, 2015


Wow, so much has happened in the last month! I crossed another item off my 40 by 40 list, I went to Vegas for 12 hours, I passed my travel certification exam AND (drumroll, please)...I got a job!

I promise to catch you up on all that fun stuff, but rather than cramming all of it into one blog post, let's just focus on being employed. I accepted the offer exactly 18 weeks after being laid off. It's not the travel job I dreamed up and that's okay. It's a strategic marketing job in a place that values me as a writer (in addition to all of the other things I know how to do) and until I heard that fact out loud, I hadn't realized how excited I was about it.

So this is fantastic news and I'm looking forward to a new work life that gets me out of corporate America and back in the company of creative people.

And I am really, really excited about not having to look for a job anymore. Not obsessively checking LinkedIn. Not having to talk about myself every day with anyone who would listen. Not filling out another online job application! (Seriously, maybe ever...does anyone want to start a movement to overthrow the resume-eating robots?) But more than anything, I am free from the impending doom that comes with being a breadwinner thrown into unemployment unexpectedly. Halle-fucking-lujah.

I would love to compose some poetic and inspirational reflections on this experience, but I don't think I have enough distance yet, so for now let's just leave it at this: It was hard and sometimes awful but I feel strongly that things will be better as a result of it.

I start Monday. Deep breaths.

October 11, 2015

So Tired

I have to tell you something: I'm tired. I'm tired of looking for a job and worrying about when I'll find a job and most of all tired of talking to people about how and when I might find a job. 

I'm not really so much tired of not having a job. I'm not fretting about my lack of purpose or title or anything like that. I'm not wishing I had an office to go to each day. I'm just tired of knowing that I need a source of income without knowing where it's going to come from. I'm tired of the anxiety and the days when it feels like I've managed to make it to age 38 without acquiring any actual skills. I'm tired of doubting myself. And holy shit is this introvert tired of talking to strangers about herself. 

If I can't wait out the rest of this forced hiatus on a beach somewhere, then please, please let it end soon. Please let the interview I had Friday be as good as I think it was. Please let this be it. I've "enjoyed" as much "time off" as I can muster....unless you want to, say, hire me today with a confirmed start date of one month from now...then I can definitely muster up a little more appreciation for this "break."

September 30, 2015

Life at 2,520 Hours

Today marks 15 weeks since I was laid off. Oh, it sounds so very long when I say it like that. I prefer to savor this one last day of September and continue to tell myself that it's only been "about 3 months."

But! I didn't come here today to wallow in the passage of time. Actually, I didn't come here to wallow at all. I came to celebrate a couple exciting things (none of which include keeping my promise to blog twice per week...oops.) 

First, I have to give a shout out to MN Job Partners. It's a state-run program that really helps people who have been laid off. I've been using them for training, but they offer a slew of other assistance for those who need it. I'm so grateful for them because they enabled me to enroll in travel school! 

Ok wait, I should back up...we all know I love travel and travel planning, but it wasn't until I was laid off that I really considered what it would take to get a job in the travel industry. My research revealed that the baseline industry certification is the CTA (Certified Travel Associate). There are other certifications, but they require you to actually work in the travel industry for at least a year. (And no, you don't have to be a CTA to work in this industry, but when you're trying to break in with no experience, it helps.)

My counselor in the Job Partners program asked me to define my job search goal so that any training assistance could be aligned to that goal. So I set a goal to try to find a role that leveraged my existing skills within the travel industry.

Now, I wasn't sure if the right job actually existed here in the Twin Cities...and I'm still definitely applying for jobs outside the travel industry...but I needed a dream so I dreamed one. 

Ok, so travel school. That dream allowed me to start this training course. It's all online with a proctored exam at the end. I'm learning everything from basic geography to deciphering all those codes on your airline tickets. Stuff lots of people would find totally boring and I. LOVE. IT. Like, I love it more than I thought I would. (Btw, did you know Venice is actually 118 islands? I'm full of fun facts these days.)

The 118 islands of Venice.
And the realization that I had - which makes this different than, say, pastry school - is that it's actually pretty easy to set-up your own travel agency. Sure, you have to find your own customers, but the cost of entry is low. 

No, I'm not here to announce my own travel agency (not yet, anyway), but I am here to say that I've discovered that I could really do this. Maybe not as my full-time source of income (not yet, anyway), but I could still do it. I could get paid to plan trips! I could write about my travel and actually market myself. I could learn everything about every place I ever wanted to know about. I could help people have life-changing experiences!

And I never would have known how attainable this tiny dream of mine actually was if I hadn't been laid off. Also, I never would have discovered that my hometown had so many companies that are affiliated with the travel industry. 

Which brings me to what is perhaps the most buried lede of all know that goal that I set without knowing if such a job existed? It not only exists, but I'm interviewing for it! And maybe it's ill-advised to shout such things from the rooftop when you don't know if you'll get the job, but what I'm really shouting is I WANT THIS. I really want this. And even if I don't get it, I think it's pretty cool that I got this close. 

So yeah, 15 weeks. It seems like forever and five minutes all at once. But I'm so, so happy that it got me here! Where will I be 15 weeks from now? I do not know, but here's hoping that I'm even happier...and also collecting a paycheck. 

September 7, 2015

Must be Present to Win

The rebound gig is over and now that I'm officially re-entering unemployment (and feeling much happier about it this time), I figured I should revisit my 40 by 40 list, which seems to be perpetually stuck at having 15-16 things left on it. I don't know how that's possible, but it is.

Obviously I have to put all travel-related items on hold at the moment until a steady steam of income can be obtained...I'm saying that knowing full well that I intend to travel to LA this winter, but I'll save that for another post...when you hear the explanation, you'll agree that it meets the stringent exception criteria.

Ok, so removing travel items still leaves me with 10 things I could theoretically set my mind to accomplishing during my employment hiatus:

7. Write a rough draft of my book
17. Get another tattoo
18. Be debt free (excluding mortgage)
19. Make exercise part of my life
21. Win a contest
27. Wear a ball gown
30. Plan another treasure/scavenger hunt
34. Read “Don Quixote”
35. Write each one of my friends a letter saying what they mean to me
38. Learn to change a tire

What jumps out at you when you read that list? For me, it's #21 Win a contest, because that seems fun and like it won't require a major expense.

I should add that I have started #7 but I don't want to talk about it and I think it's possible that I've accomplished #19, but I'm not ready to call it yet. I also tried to buy "Don Quixote" at a bookstore in Ketchikan and interpreted the fact that they didn't have a copy as a sign that it wasn't time yet...ok, so back to winning a contest.

There was a debate about whether that time I auditioned for Wheel of Fortune counted as winning a contest because I had to make it through some type of vetting process to get that far, but I decided that it did not because, well...we did not make it on the show. Had we actually appeared on Wheel of Fortune maybe I would have said yes.

So how does one go about winning a contest? Well, first one must enter a contest. And since I've got less than 2 years, it seems like I should probably start entering many contests. People have asked me to qualify "contest" - like, could I just challenge my friend to a cake eating contest and be done? Sure, I suppose, except I think the spirit of #21 was that feeling of random luck that comes with entering something out of your control and coming up a winner. So, those are the vague guidelines I'm working with here.

Have you ever Googled "contest"? It's pretty amazing how many contests are underway at this very minute. So far today I've entered one at the Food Network and I'm considering another one where I have to make something out of apples... I now intend to devote time each week to finding new contests to enter until I win one...

My hope, of course, being that I stumble across something super interesting and/or amazing that leads me to discover something else interesting and/or amazing...because that's pretty much how both luck and the 40 by 40 list work...because if you try to do something interesting and/or amazing every day, that adds up to some interesting and/or amazing years and that ultimately means you're living an interesting life. And that's all I really want. Plus love, TV and cake.

August 29, 2015

The Rebound, and Wishing on a Star

I tried to avoid the relationship analogy for my layoff at first because I didn't like the idea that I was "married" to my job, but the longer it's been, the more apropos that analogy seems.

So yes, my job suddenly left me. Everyone said enjoy your freedom! But I could not, because it was too scary not to have a job and it was too scary not to know what I wanted to do next. So when this other job came along, just three weeks into my breakup, I was relieved. I knew it was too soon, but I was wooed by the promise of income and feeling needed. Plus, it was a contract gig - nothing serious.

And we can all see where this is going...that was my rebound. I'd like to say it was fun while it lasted, but...instead, let's just say that it was different. It got my brain focusing on something other that resumes and job postings and excel spreadsheets that calculate how long we could stretch my severance in a worst case scenario, slightly-less than worst case, and on and on. But I've given my notice. It's time to say goodbye and stop considering jobs that I know won't challenge me in the right ways. You see, I stopped myself from saying "jobs that I know won't make me happy" because I don't know if that's the right bar.

I don't work to be happy. I work to support my family and complete my 40 by 40 list. I work because I like to use my brain and yes, because I even like being part of team...once I get to know my teammates.

None of that is to say I can't find a job that I like. A job where I want to stay and become an expert and where I like my coworkers. That is an achievable goal. But I won't get there if I keep ignoring my Jiminy Cricket voice that tells me right away when something isn't right for me. I'm choosing to stop allowing "make money" to trump that voice, because that voice knows me best.

So, Jiminy Cricket and I are now jumping headfirst into finding Mr. Right Job. Because as Jiminy says, "If you don't have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?"

Let's hope one of us remembers how to date.