Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Week in Chicago Neighborhoods

Just a brief list of the neighborhoods I've traveled through/ran errands in/chauffeured teenagers around so far this week:

Humboldt Park
Logan Square
Roscoe Village
Lake View
Lincoln Park
Old Town
Gold Coast
North Center
River North
Near North
Cabrini Green
De Paul
Magnificent Mile

It's only Tuesday. Good thing the Subaru has heated seats.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


It took me approximately four hours to read A.J. Jacobs' third book, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment. In it, he describes several month-long challenges he takes part in, and their consequent results. I feel a strange connection to this man and his projects (see here, here, and here, plus posts from April and May of 2011).

For me, challenges like refraining from a certain type of food or doing a certain activity every day give me something to focus on. It's a boost when I manage to complete a challenge, it's something to blog about, and I believe total immersion in something is a great way to learn about it. There was a time when I exclusively read books about people's year-long projects, most of them related to environmentalism or the ethical consumption of food.

And now I get to be a part of someone else's project, which of course I'm all about. The Disposable Film Project is in its early stages right now. I know this because I am the first person with one of the disposable cameras, and I have yet to send it to the next DFPer, the unsinkable Stephanie Salinis. (Note to Lara: wanted to wait until I dyed my hair before starting...the dirty dishwater blonde was not about to be immortalized for this.)

Today I am taking picture number 2 for the project, one of my city/neighborhood. I know a certain image comes to mind when one thinks of Chicago, but I don't live in the Loop, the Gold Coast, or at Wrigley. Shoot, I don't even live at Mercy Home anymore. No worries, the Logan Square/Humboldt Park/Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood has plenty of photo-ops: just the other day the traveling circus next door practiced juggling bowling pins.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I am a Hired Housewife

I rearranged my room again. Third time in three months. This time it even involved me pulling out the screwdriver and dismantling my tacky closet door. I'm not completely satisfied with the current arrangement, so I'm sure by December I'll have it switched around. Who knew this little cube of a room could accommodate so many arrangements?

Other life changes: I dyed my hair. With the help of Becca, I am no longer a blonde/dirty blonde/dull brunette. The technical term for my current hair color is Cinnamon Stick. I guess that's a fancy way of saying auburn? Warm brown? It's been three years since I've dyed it, and when I told Mom my plan she replied, "I guess that's okay for you to do." Moms. Always thinking they're in charge.

I have one week of my shiny new job under my belt, and so far so good. It's hard to describe--part maid, part nanny, part personal assistant is about as close as I can get. I'm essentially a housewife, except for the part where the children are not my children and I'm not married to their actual mother...and I don't live at the house. But in all other respects: she goes out and makes the big bucks while I stay home, take care of things there, drive the kids around, and make sure they eat their vegetables and do their homework.

I spend most of my evenings with the 12-yr old, and so far I have found out that he loves Crazy 8's and board games. He is also very honest about his homework. They have the teacher's edition of his math book and he made me read the questions out loud to him so he didn't look in the book and see the answers. What a gem! When I pick him up from school, I always make sure to have that day's redeye with me & we do the crossword puzzle together on the way back home.

The 14-yr old, who "doesn't need a babysitter," spends most of her time in her room "face chatting" (her brother's words) with her friends. I think I'm starting to win her over, though, since I fixed the zipper on her North Face the other night.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Eleven Eleven

Besides witnessing hipsters cheering for a full minute and snapping iPhone pictures of the date/time clock on the bus yesterday at 11:11 PM, nothing else really marked the day. Throughout the entire month of November, though, I've had several special moments that endear me to November. A few posts ago, I expressed a hope that November would be my month. Here are several reasons why so far it is:

Employment: You already know about this. I start on Monday! A lot of people have asked me what "house manager" means, and I honestly have no idea. I researched it and found this: "The titles of Butler and House Manager (HM) are often interchangeable and can have the most varied meanings in the business." So there you go.

Working Laptop: Sometime during October (a month that, when placed next to November, as it always is, pales) my laptop screen decided to take a little break. I strained to see anything until I unplugged the power cord. For some mysterious reason, the screen would only stay at full brightness when running on battery power. This meant I had about 1.5 hours to use my laptop before the screen really went dark. Unless I was on more than one website, playing music, or watching a video, then I had about 40 minutes. It was rough. About a week ago, though, the good old HP healed itself. I have no idea why it works again except that it is November and the universe has decided to smile on me.

First Snow: Doesn't matter if I don't want snow just yet, or if it was pitiful flakes that melted as soon as they hit the ground, for a Wisconsinite the first snow is always magical.

Television: This is a tricky one. After several furniture rearrangements ending with everything in the same place it started in, my roommates, Brit's mom, Adam, and I set up our television in the previously empty corner of our living room. After we scanned for channels and Judge Judy showed up on the screen, we let out a sigh of relief, but also one of knowing we were no longer the people without a TV. Not having a TV used to be our thing. It was something visitors always commented on as we sat on the couches and--God forbid--actually had a conversation. Now we are have nothing to set us apart from our crazy neighbors. On the other hand, we can now watch football in sweatpants on Sundays.

Visiting Sisters: Surprise! Bailey is coming to visit me today. It was a last minute thing, but I can only guess the month of November had something to do with it.

Now if only there was a day in November when it would be appropriate for me to express my gratitude for these things by eating far too much and falling asleep on a couch somewhere.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Much Success!

After filling out and submitting 48 applications and having 21 phone or in-person interviews over the course of four months, I was recently hired as a nanny/house manager for a family near me, which means I am in the process of transitioning from "funemployed" to "fun employed."

The mother of the family emailed me to let me know. Before telling anyone, I closed my gmail and opened it again to check that the email was still there. I read it several times to make sure I was reading right and that she was actually hiring me. After receiving only rejections, you start to assume all communication is going to be rejection. But no, the family really did want me. I did a victory dance in the living room, then ran and launched myself onto Brit, still asleep in bed, to tell her the good news.

I've been metaphorically patting myself on the back, but with some apprehension. I don't want to celebrate too much, just in case I wake up one day and find out it isn't real. I've gotten so used to not getting jobs it's weird to know I now have one. Here are some other things I've realized during my Funemployment:
  1. A generic rejection letter, though less awkward, is more dehumanizing than a personal rejection call.
  2. Though you generally have more time on your hands, you somehow don't get any more done in a day.
  3. You plan your life week-by-week, sometimes day-by-day, because thinking long term is depressing, and besides, that's how part-time support work is scheduled.
  4. You get roped into a lot of things because "you're not doing anything, right?"
  5. Job searching is a full-time job with no dress codes or weekly staff meetings.
  6. It's annoying to hear any complaints from the gainfully employed.
  7. Despite not wanting to hear those complaints, they do remind you that work isn't life.
  8. As desperate as I sometimes felt, it was never really that awful and there were still things I was not about to do.
  9. Community was a lifesaver. I don't know how I would have survived without a group of cheerleaders, meal-sharers, snuggle buddies, Twitter followers, and gentle friends to encourage me, send me job postings, help me write cover letters, and love me up when I was feeling unmotivated.
  10. Even though it was a stressful, frustrating period of my life, Funemployment gave me a lot of writing material and could be a very funny topic in conversation.
I know my period of funemployment was not as long or as intense as it is for many others--I was technically working, albeit sporadically, so while I wasn't working I tried not to be super dramatic about it. Now that I have regular employment, though, I'm feeling pretty damn good. Not just in the Paying Bills and Productive Citizen categories of life, either. This is a boost in the Self Esteem, No Shame in Not Doing Job-Related Things, and General Purpose for Life categories as well.

And now I get to do all those things people say they'll do once they find know, like get a tattoo, buy something outrageous, dye their hair, go to Spain for a week...people do those things, right?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hydration: My Night in Three Drinks

I wrote most of this in the very early hours of the morning yesterday during my overnight shift...then I revised it during the very early hours of the morning today during an overnight shift. Overnights are weird. I can do a lot of things, but then the sleep deprivation starts to make me a little loony.

I. Cherry Coke: 10 pm - 3 am

Right now I just need a boost of energy. Not that working the overnight requires energy, but I do need to stay awake for the next ten hours. Youth are in bed, almost asleep, and after working a regular shift I'm tired too.

This overnight was a surprise; I turned down two other programs' offers for overnights, unsure if working a double the day before an interview was the best decision, but when upper management calls you to fill in, you say yes. The universe must not want me to sleep tonight. In between room checks I browse the web, text with friends who are still up, and read a funny novel that's been on my to-read list for years.

As soon as the caffeine from this soda hits, I ride it out for the rest of the night. The carbonation fizzes in my mouth and up my nose and I remember I have a dentist appointment in the morning. Oh well. I also have an electric bill due in a few days. Working 18 hours straight seems like an awesome decision when there are no other employment offers on the horizon, even if you have three interviews scheduled that week.

II. Arizona Green Tea with Honey & Ginseng: 3 am - 7 am

It's just me now. Youth are fast asleep and past needing water or bathroom trips. Friends are also asleep, even the night owls. Now are the hours I need to stay awake. More caffeine would just bring jitters, a sugary drink would make my stomach hurt. Arizona has just enough sweetness and minimal fizz. It's a quieter drink for quieter hours.

I finished my book--as expected the plucky heroine gets the reclusive, recovering alcoholic, singer-songwriter. My eyes begin to tire; I can't look at a computer or a book right now. The TV goes on. I start to wonder about elderly women in household cleaner commercials. Do they have husbands and children? Is there a kid out there whose grandma is the Swiffer woman? Watching the news this early reminds me of getting ready for school when I was younger. Mom would watch in her room while she got ready for work. I'd come up to borrow her hair dryer or some lotion, or to crawl into my parents' unmade bed and avoid getting ready for the day.

Now is the dead of night--the absolute dark before the dawn--the time I get super poetic and think of blog posts like this. Drinking iced tea somehow helps my dry eyes and sore body, gross from work. Sweaty teenagers felt the need to hug me, shake my hand, or touch my hair after they had been in the gym. News gets boring. I channel flip until I find a classic sitcom. At this point, I'm just waiting for the sun to rise. That part of the overnight never gets old.

III. Naked Green Machine Fruit Juice: 7 am - 11 am

The boys are up now. They shower, get dressed, iron clothes, and try to sneak in some extra sleep on the couch. Day staff starts arriving. I see them park in the lot, dressed in business casual, coffees in hand. I'm still in my t-shirt and jeans. I eat some fruit and drink this super fruit juice between giving wake up calls and making sure everyone is out of bed.

The human body is not supposed to stay awake for this long, and it's definitely screaming at me for not letting it sleep. I know there are no magic foods, but drinking a fruit juice with tons of vitamins seems to make up for the torture I'm putting myself through. It can't hurt, and at the very least it's damage control.

Once all the boys leave for school, I can peace out. Usually I'd go home, shower, and crash, but today I shower and leave again. I get back on the blue line for my dentist appointment, then head to a nanny interview. I finish my drink on the way. The thing about overnights is it's not just your sleep schedule that gets messed up. Eating helps me stay awake. After ten hours of grazing on trail mix, popcorn, and fruit, this drink feels like a meal.

After the interview I can go home and sleep for several hours. Then it's back here for round two. Someday I will have a normal person schedule and my body won't hate me. Maybe November's my month.