Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Time After Time

Today is a tough day for me. Sure, it's the last day of May and the first sunny day we have had in I don't even remember when. All good things. However, it is also an anniversary. And not the good kind.

I still remember the phone call like it was yesterday - May 31st, 2007: Me, calling home to my mom on a calling card from my dorm at Regent's College in London, England where I was staying on a month-long course in International PR with 15 or so other students from the US/Canada. I was set to get up at 4 in the morning to catch a bus and then a train to Paris on a solo 2-day tour (with a group bus component on Day 1) and wanted to call home to say "hi" one last time before taking off.

I knew something was wrong as soon as Dawn picked up (a co-worker of my mom's at the time). Why would Dawn be answering mum's phone? Mom came to the phone anyway though and I assumed, in that case, that I was worrying too soon (as I often do). However, the heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach still sat there with a numbness. Like a toothache. I could tell she was upset about something only a few minutes into the phone call. She didn't want to tell me and begged me not to press her, but I had to know. How could I go to Paris knowing that something was wrong? I wouldn't be able to get it out of my mind.

And then she told me. And it was almost as if I knew it had happened before she told me. It was a thought that passed through my mind as a possibility, but quickly dismissed as overreaction (that couldn't possibly be what happened). So, it really did happen. The thing that I feared the most, but easily dismissed. It's a very strange moment and a shock to the system when the worst thing you could imagine turns out to actually be true.

Phil, my mother's boyfriend of 10 years (and basically more of a father to me than my own father) was gone. He had been out walking and collapsed. Not really an impossibility for someone with serious heart problems, but the last thing you would expect just to look at him - a tall, husky, strong man with huge arms and long strong legs. Like a huge tree - roots deep into the ground. How could such a strong, stable object fall down and crumple so easily?

I had no idea what to do. I didn't want to go to Paris anymore. I wanted to go home. I wanted to hug my mom and tell her everything was going to be ok and cry with her, but I couldn't. I couldn't even get in a cab and cross the ocean. I have never felt so helpless and alone. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, kick the walls, tear out my hair. I felt like my brain had separated into several pieces and were scattered around the room. Luckily, my roommate was gone for the weekend by that time so I was able to grieve into my pillow without someone who wouldn't understand looking over my shoulder, but I think even if the dorm were full of people I would have felt alone. In the end, I decided to go ahead with my plan and go to Paris. He would have wanted to me to (mum agreed), I had already paid the money, and there was no way for me to get home that weekend. Besides, escaping seemed like a great idea in that moment.

I have never been prouder in myself than I was in that moment. I am so proud that I had the strength to pull myself out of bed, walk to that bus stop (even though I got sick on the way, and was *thisclose* to turning around and going back), and board that train alone. To venture to a strange city where I knew no one and not even the language and follow through on a commitment I made to myself. I realized in that moment that I am a tough person. However, under the tough coating, I spent most of the weekend in a kind of fog, with a million thoughts and none flowing through my brain all at the same time, and feeling completely lonely in a city of millions. I felt like I had spent months tethered to a wonderful island and someone had come along and cut my moorings and I was floating in the middle of the ocean - alone, with vast expanses of water between me and the land, which I could not even see.

As anyone who has lost someone close to them knows, the pain does not stay so acute forever. Slowly, your body and mind recover and you start to smile and laugh again. You have whole days where you never think of the person and don't need to talk about it anymore.

But (at least in my case) the person is never completely gone. He is always with me even though he's no longer here. I see him as a small figure - a kind of spirit - that lingers somewhere near the back of my brain and my shoulder. I think of him often - Phil would have said this, Phil would have gotten a kick out of that, Phil would have been able to help me with that.....etc. Whenever I see fish cakes on a menu (whether I order them or not), I can hear him laughing and feel him winking, knowing that he promised to make them (his specialty) for me when I got home from England, although he never got that chance. I can eat dinner with Phil whenever I want just by ordering fish cakes.

Sometimes I think of all the things I didn't get a chance to say and I cry. Some days it seems like only yesterday that that horrible phone call happened, and sometimes it seems like 10 years ago. Sometimes it's tough to focus on the positive, but I try to do that every day. As tough and sudden as his passing was, it taught me incredible lessons and I count us lucky to have had his positive presence in our lives for as long as we did.

Most of all it taught me immense amounts about myself, and brought me closer to my mother than ever - enclosing us in an invisible bond, leaving a special knowing and shared experience linking us together forever. I know that I can get through whatever life throws at me now, because I made it through this. The worst thing. I'm a different person because of it - a little more worn, a little rougher around the edges - but I am still me. Just a stronger me. Stronger because I can be, but also because I know wherever I go that he is holding me up and pushing me.

Holding and pushing me with those huge, strong arms.

*I should mention that this post is not meant to garner sympathy or comments. I am not normally one to talk about my personal life in-depthly on this blog, or ever in my "real life" either but writing about it helps me feel better, helps the painful memories I have associated with this day less acute. I also feel I owe it to Phil to keep remembering him and what happened. I hope that others who have lost people close to them can read this and take solace, too*

Friday, May 27, 2011

Try a Little Tenderness

I wasn't planning on posting today, but then Hayley at Learning the World was lovely enough to pass on this little blog award to little ol' moi:

Thank you, Hayley, for thinking I am stylish - I certainly love style but most days I feel I look less than stylish (though I do feel a bit less boorish today with my new much-needed haircut, I must say!). It sounds cheesy but it always means a lot when other bloggers acknowledge you as someone they enjoy following. I continue to be blown away by the humility and friendliness of this odd little community!

Anyhoo, I am supposed to list 7 random facts about myself (which shouldn't be hard considering I'm a rather random person) so here goes:

1. I have 4 tattoos
2. I count stairs whenever I go up or down them
3. I love eating raisins by themselves but absolutely hate eating baked goods (cookies, muffins) containing raisins (don't ask me...I think it might be the texture)
4. My mom and I have the same birthday
5. I am practically a midget (I'm just 5 ft tall, pretty much on the dot)
6. I love elephants and collect elephant paraphernalia (even though I hate that word)
7. I have an older sister with Down's Syndrome and an older brother who's gay (and married - so I am therefore a huge supporter of both gay marriage and disability issues)

And now it is my duty to pass this award on to 7 other bloggers I think are great!

I'm looking at you:

Go forth, you chosen 7, and spread the blog love!!

Have a lovely (and stylish) weekend!

Addendum: The lovely KG from Lost to Gain awarded me this same award on June 14th! Thanks so much! Rather than do the above twice, just thought I'd give you a shout-out and thanks :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sharing the Love (or hate)

Anyone who knows me or who reads this blog at least somewhat regularly knows that I love food. I also am opinionated and like to share my opinion. You might think there is no forum wherein I could combine these two loves, but that's where you would be wrong. It does exist and it's called Yelp.

Have you heard of it? Do you use it? I first heard of it last Fall and signed up, did a couple of reviews then promptly forgot about it until a couple of months ago when a friend of mine from University became the Community Manager for my city*! It motivated me to get back on there and get more serious about it. Once I wrote a few reviews, chatted with a few other Yelpers around town, and read their reviews I grew to really enjoy writing for the site.

Aside from my own writings, the site has come in handy when figuring out whether or not to stay, eat or visit somewhere. On my recent trip to Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa, I used my BlackBerry app many times to look up bakeries (to find out who makes the best cannoli's in Montreal), places to eat (to see what others really thought of the bars we walked by in the Byward Market in Ottawa), and hotels (is that 3-star really a 3-star on the inside?).

The thing I like about Yelp reviews is they are written by "regular" people, so the opinions are unfiltered and honest (at least you can assume). You can often find out things about an establishment that you would never know unless you had been there yourself (e.g. hidden charges, loopholes, services not offered that you would normally expect, things you should bring that you would not normally think about, etc). Company websites are great, but lets be honest - their entire reason for being is to MAKE you want to visit, which means there may be certain information left in the fine print and/or overhyped.

Now I will say that I am the sort of person who takes reviews with a grain of salt - some people are really picky and will write a bad review about every place they visit because it's impossible to placate their enormously high expectations. Also, I firmly believe that a restaurant or hotel should not be judged based on one bad experience - sometimes you catch a place on a bad day (short-staffed, technical issues, etc) and if you went back another time, your experience might be very different. However, I do think reviews are a good way to at least get a GENERAL idea of the quality of a place. Chances are if a place has 5 reviews and they are all 5 stars, it's likely a pretty awesome place. If reviews are all over the place for something, I will generally ignore them and go see for myself. But, if all or most of the reviews are either really bad or really good, I would be lying if I said this does not inform my decision to go there.

I love food. I love to go out to eat, to events and try new places and things. Yelp is a great way to do keep on top of the new and best places to visit and to connect with others that like the same things. If you like to write, and like to go out and try places like I do then I would definitely recommend creating a Yelp account. The great thing is, there is a Community Manager for most cities so you have a person you can interact with directly, that manages activites on the site and in person (our manager has been hosting some really fun networking events lately, totally sponsored by Yelp!). Like other social media, like blogging, Twitter, etc, it is a great way to develop relationships online, that can then be taken offline. Besides, it's all FREE!

I like free things.

Besides, it's a good excuse to go out to eat, now isn't it? (Oh, I really should visit that new pizza place and order their Ginormo special so that I can write a Yelp review! >this kind of rationalization often runs through my brain now, not gonna lie)

Feel free to visit http://khumes.yelp.ca/ if you want to read my reviews!

So, what about you: Do you use Yelp or a similar site? What do you think of it, or of review sites in general?

*Note: My friend did not ask me to write this review, nor am I receiving any compensation for it - I am simply writing it because I want to share something that I enjoy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Well, I'm back from vacation! Well, I was actually back yesterday but considering yesterday was a holiday in Canada and we had been driving since the previous morning, I was pretty zonked yesterday and not up for doing much of anything productive. Today is the 1st official day back to "real-life"...

I had a lovely vacation though! It was just so nice to get away, have a change of scenery and make our own schedule for a few days. This trip was an interesting one in many ways* - of course, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the places we visited were all interesting - but it was also a milestone of sorts because it was the first extended trip that the boy and I took together.

I always say that if you really want to get to know someone and learn whether or not you are truly compatible with each other, you should take a trip with them. When traveling, you can see sides of a person that you might never see interacting with them on a day-to-day basis. You could know someone for decades, talk to them on the phone or see them every single day, and exchange many deep, dark secrets and still be surprised at how they act and how you get along when you travel together.

Generally when you travel, the full gambit of emotions tends to come out at one time or another. Travel is tiring and it dehydrates you, plus you are eating, getting up, going to sleep and doing other things at different times (and sometimes in different ways or in a different order) than you normally would, meeting new people, being thrust into completely new situations and generally experiencing unfamiliarity wherever you turn.

This, of course, is one of the great things about travel (and one of my favourite things about it) but it can also wreak havoc on your disposition. Regardless of where you are going and when, the actual "traveling" part of the travel is not the most enjoyable - it's normally very tiring and tedious (being squeezed into a tiny airplane seat or standing in endless line-ups when flying? Sitting in traffic and staring down seemingly endless stretches of highway, dealing with reckless morons and countless detours when driving? Anyone?). I personally hate the actual "traveling" part, and just can't wait to GET to where I'm going. It depends of course, but generally I wish I could just teleport myself to wherever I want to go and skip all the bull.

Given the fact the traveling can often be tiring and tedious, it often means that either you, your traveling companion or both end up cranky, irritable, moody, stressed and frustrated at some point or another and this means that one or both of you gets to see the other in a light that is not necessarily the most flattering.

Aside from the conditions of traveling, different people have different traveling "styles", meaning that they like to structure their trip in different ways. Some people prefer to be uber-organized and have every hour of every day planned ahead of time, and like to cram in as many sights as possible during their time in that place. Some people prefer to be laid-back and not plan anything, just go out and wander and see where the day takes them. Some people like to visit every museum and read every plaque, while some people are content with a quick look at one or two things, or prefer to skip the tourist attractions altogether in favour of exploring back alleys.

I would say I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I DO like to make the most of my time somewhere, so I try to figure out what main things I want to see before I go and at least come up with a basic plan for what to do and when. I also like to try and get up as early as I can so that half the day is not wasted. However, I DO NOT like to schedule my day so tightly that I have no wiggle room and I am exhausted after only a few hours. I like to keep my schedule flexible and I always like to take time to just wander and explore and visit some lesser known sights.

Given my middle-of-the-road traveling style, chances are I would go nuts traveling with someone whose style is closer to either extreme end (hyper-organized or super-laid-back) or has completely different interests. For example, my mom and I travel great together because we tend to want to visit the same sort of attractions (we both love anything arts-related, interesting museums, historical places, shopping/markets, etc) and we have a similar attitude to travel. On the other end of things, when I visited Amsterdam a few years ago with a group of girls from a University in the US (we were all living in London at the time taking a course at Regent's College), one of the gals and I ended up breaking off on the second day because all the other 3 wanted to do was sit in "koffee houses" (for those of you that are not familiar with Amsterdam's well-known attractions, it should be noted that these places do not actually serve coffee) all day long. BOR-ING. And lets be honest, if I really wanted to smoke weed all day long I could do that at home.

Luckily, I have discovered that the boy and I have similar travel styles as well because we traveled quite well together this vacation. I would definitely say I am more of a "planner" than he is, but generally we wanted to visit the same things and were open to suggestion from the other person.**

Which brings me to another point about traveling companions - you also need to remember that it is your COMPANION's trip too. You should try and compromise and do your best to ensure that you BOTH get the most of the trip. Don't throw a tantrum because you do not get to do exactly what you want when you want. Guess what, kid?! That's life. I'm not saying you should compromise all the time as you are guaranteed to not have any fun and I do not think you should miss things you really want to take in just because your companion doesn't want to, but you should be flexible, considerate and open-minded. If you can't manage to do that, you should probably travel alone. Or if you and your companion really cannot agree on a compromise, than go your separate ways for a few hours! Hello, you are not attached at the hip! And trust me, you will regret it forever if you come home having followed someone else around the entire week when you really didn't want to.

Anyway, my point is you may not be a good traveling companion for everyone in your life, even for people that you see on a daily basis and love very much, and not everyone in your life will necessarily be a good traveling companion for you. And that's ok! But if you can find someone that you can travel with, it is certainly a nice thing and I think it's a tougher thing to find than a lot of people realize. I am happy that the boy and I made it through this trip without murdering each other (as you can see, I am clearly still here and I can assure you he is, too - you will just have to trust me on this one, unfortunately). I see many more trips in our future and that makes me really happy. Traveling is something I really enjoy and will always really enjoy, and it is so nice to have someone in my life that shares my passion. We are already planning our NEXT road trip!

Who do you like to travel with and why? What is YOUR traveling style?

*this trip was also awesome because it means I get to cross another item off my 30 B4 30 list!! (see left sidebar) That would be #20: Take a Road Trip - DONE! Bazinga!
**of course, it helps that my boy is very laid-back and easy to please - I have to admit I would not necessarily say I am "laid-back" (I tend to be high-strung and a "worrier") but he is helping me do this more and I am becoming more so over time when it comes to travel

Friday, May 13, 2011

Whatcha Got Cookin', Good-Lookin'?

Since I started Weight Watchers about 2.5 months ago, I have gotten a lot more into cooking at home.

I always hated cooking before and figured I was not very good at it. But I wanted to cook more at home to ensure I was eating more fresh, wholesome food as part of a generally healthier lifestyle I am trying to cultivate. So, I started looking up a few easy recipes and once I made myself cook more I discovered that I actually quite enjoy it! And not only that, but I'm not too shabby at it either.

I mean, I'm certainly no expert (yet) but I have discovered that I have a bit of a natural ability for it. A lot of the time, I will just throw things together thinking they MIGHT turn out good, although really not knowing for sure, and a lot of the time my instincts end up being on the money. I have learned that cooking doesn't have to be a chore, expensive or complicated. Now, I'm not going to become a gourmet chef anytime soon and I'd be lying if I said I LOVE to cook all the time, but I definitely don't find it to be as much of an annoyance as I did before. I actually look forward to trying new recipes and it makes me feel really good when I make a meal for my boyfriend or someone else I care about and they really enjoy it. There's no better feeling. Plus, it's kind of amazing to trust your instincts on something and turn out to be right!

Being right is fun.

Just since the start of my focus on a healthier lifestyle I have had the following cooking "firsts": roasted chicken (twice!), roasted veggies, sushi, pasta sauce, quiche (artichoke for Mother's Day - it was yummy, if I do say so myself), chili, chicken cacciatore, macaroni and cheese, guacamole, biscuits (though those didn't turn out, alas), etc. Obviously, I have recipes that I have repeated because I found them successful and/or a good meal to "fall back" on and I tried things that did not turn out so well, but I do try to make new recipes when I have time and money and I'm happy with myself just for trying.

Even though I enjoy cooking a lot more, I still do not like to "fuss", so I always try to make things that are quick (under 45 mins prep time, preferably), not too expensive (occasionally I'll splurge on a more expensive ingredient, and now that I have "built up" my stores with staples I find expense not to be as large of a problem because I have more on hand, but for basic cooking I try to stick with things I already have or can easily  buy), and not too high in calories (you can usually cut out a lot of calories just by using low or non-fat things instead of the normal - don't underestimate reading labels).

One of my favourite cooking successes to date was the recipe I tried out on Monday night. My mom gave me a great Diabetic cookbook recently - I am not diabetic, but the recipes are great for anyone who is watching calories - and it has some great recipes in it. Unfortunately I can't find a link to the cookbook or even an image of what the cover looks like, and I don't have it on hand so I have no idea when or where it was published, but the recipe is SUPER basic and can be modified depending on how much time or mouths to feed you have. I also did not remember to take a photo of the finished product so you will just have to imagine what it looks like by my description (or cook it yourself so you can taste it and get the full effect...I'm a terrible blogger. Sorry).

Anyhoo, here it is:

Orange Sweet Potatoes
- Pre-heat oven to 400

- To be honest, I am not sure the person who wrote this recipe had a good handle on math. For one, the recipe calls for 3 sweet potatoes sliced, which for me was WAY too much. I cut about half of one SP into slices and that was enough for my boyfriend and I for a side dish. They also call for lining the SP slices in ONE layer on the bottom of a 9"x13" pan, and it only took the 1/2 SP that I cut to fully line the bottom of my pan, which was only slightly smaller than their recommendation. I would suggest using your judgment - slice line the pan with as many slices as you want, just don't make too many layers (the bottom ones may not cook properly), and only make as many slices as you feel are necessary to feed your brood (if you have a larger group and therefore want to bake more slices, you may want to try making two separate pans). 
Not very scientific, I know, but that's how I roll - I like to wing-it! 

- SP slices should only be about 1/4 inch thick - be forewarned, SP's are frigin hard to slice unless you have a fancy knife (which I don't), really strong arms and hands (which I don't) or actual cooking skill, wherein you know the proper way to slice SP's (which I don't). Needless to say I found the slicing tiring, so if you are anything like me you will probably give up after only slicing half a SP whether that's enough or not! ;) You could probably make them a bit thicker if it makes them easier to slice, but just be careful because if they are too thick, they may not cook thoroughly

- After slicing the SP's and lining the bottom of the baking pan with them (don't worry about being neat, Anal-Retentive Folks, just lay them out however you want), I mixed together about 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1 TBSP of melted margarine, and 1 TSP of cinnamon (if you don't like too much cinnamon, I would use less but I like the flavour so I added a bit more than they asked for - again, winging it, baby!!) and poured the mixture evenly over top of the SP slices. I also brushed the slices with a bit of EVOO before pouring the mixture on, just to add some moisture for baking - I have no idea if this actually did anything to change the cooking quality/taste of the SP's, but couldn't hurt I guess! 

- Stick the pan in the oven for approx. 30 minutes - the slices should be tender and a bit browned when done. This is a great side dish for any meal. 

- And the BEST thing about this recipe?! As they cook, your entire kitchen will start to smell like cinnamon/cinnamon apples, and the finished SP's will actually taste like cinnamon-ey roasted apples!! No joke. I know that is sort of weird, but trust me, that makes them more delicious.

Do you like to cook? Why or why not? What are your cooking strategies or habits?

*On a sidenote, I am leaving for my totally epic Road Trip of Awesomeness on Saturday and will not be back until the 23rd, so it will be quiet over here at GNM. Rest assured I am not dead or injured, just having gobs of amazing, exciting fun in Montreal and Ottawa (and busting out my sweet dance moves and kleenex at my friend's wedding). As Ahnold would say, "I'll be back"*

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Follow-up Post: Job-Search Tips

As a follow-up to my last post I thought I would share some job-searching tips:

* Always write a cover letter when applying for a job (even if they don't ask for one - and it doesn't have to be long and in-depth, before you start whining)

* In fact, make sure your cover letter is NOT too long - you don't want to be vague, but you don't want to be too verbose either (fit on one page if you can!). And PLEASE GOD people PROOF-READ, or better yet proof yourself then have someone else do a 2nd proof for you! If the spelling and grammar in your cover letter is a mess, you might as well write "please throw this out" at the top, because that is exactly what employers will do with it.

* Make sure your cover letter is personalized to the position you are applying for - pull out specific requirements they mention in the job posting and talk about how your experience lends itself to those things. Sure, using a generic cover letter for every job and just changing out the address/name/date at the top is easy, but it's also boring and lazy. Personalizing your resume can't hurt either - I have a section at the top of the 1st page of my resume that acts as a kind of "intro" or "summary" that outlines the position I am applying for, and my general skill sets. Not saying employers ever notice this, but you should never assume. 

* Make sure your cover letter uses positive tone  and highlight what YOU can do for THEM, don't just talk up your skills or use "I" constantly as you can easily come off as arrogant and self-absorbed. Employers want to know what you would bring to the position, not how awesome you are.

* If you have not heard from anyone about the position 2 weeks after the closing date, follow up. I would recommend calling rather than emailing (email is super easy to ignore or overlook). I would also recommend doing some research to find the name of the actual HR manager at the company/organization before you call, because:
A) if you just call and ask the 1st person who answers the phone about the status of a job, they will most likely not know because they are likely to be a receptionist or some other front-line person, and...
B) even if that person does know what the job status is, the person who counts will likely not hear about your call and therefore will have no discerning information about you when they actually see your resume in the pile.
(This is a tricky one though because you want to show interest, but you don't want to be a pest, so use your judgment. Also, pay attention to the job posting because some companies will ask specifically for candidates NOT to call, and if they do you really should wait for them to get in touch with you. You want to show initiative, but you don't want to piss people off or make them think you don't know how to read or follow instructions).

* Speaking of job postings, always save a copy of the posting for all jobs you apply to. I usually just copy and paste into Word (easy-peasy). This may sound like a no-brainer, but I have forgotten to do this many times, only to be scheduled for an interview then have no way of tracking down the job posting to refresh my memory because it was deleted from the web. This saves a lot of heartache and hair-pulling later, as it is good to be well-versed in the expectations of the position before you go into an interview (don't forget to review the cover letter and resume you sent them so you know what exactly you told them about yourself, too!).

* If a job posting intrigues you, but it is not necessarily in your preferred field or location, has a salary that is a bit lower than you were hoping for, or has some responsibilities listed that you are not sure about, apply anyway. It is nice that you have a "Dream Job" in your head and want to hold out for that, but frankly that is an unrealistic notion. Finding your "Dream Job" is an extremely unlikely scenario and most people who are working in their DJ's are there because they paid their dues at jobs they didn't necessarily like and were open to experiences. You SHOULD want to do something you enjoy and that is suited to your personality and skills, however you never know where something will take you - you may discover a passion for something you didn't even know about, make a great contact or two, or gain some really valuable experience to put on your resume. No job is permanent - you can always leave if you don't like it - and there is no shame in working a job that is less-than-glamorous for a while either because you can't find anything else or just to build your portfolio. I always say that as long as there is a POINT to what you are doing, than you will be fine. Besides, the worse thing that will happen if you apply is that they won't call you, and then you will no worse/better off than you were before, but if you don't apply you will never know if you possibly missed out on a great opportunity.

*Expand your job search methods beyond the traditional job listing websites (CareerBeacon, Monster, Workopolis, etc). Think about what organizations or companies you might like to work for and go directly to their websites - most companies/organizations have Careers sections where you can peruse postings, or if they don't, it can't hurt to email them with your resume and ask about possible opportunities. Chances are you won't hear back, but you might. Many companies will take your resume and put it "on file" for the future or may even be open to meeting with you if they are intrigued by your skills and initiative.
If you are not sure what specific companies or organizations you would like to work with, think about what fields or industries you might be interested in and Google companies/organizations within those fields. Put a notice out on your Twitter or Facebook or Blog about what you are looking for and ask for any leads anyone might have. Go out to networking events and career centres and talk to others about what you are looking for, again you NEVER KNOW (my motto) who you are going to meet and who they might know.
Or consider temping! Temp agencies often have access to job postings that do not necessarily go public and there is always a possibility of being hired on permanently - I found a mat leave job through my agency that ended up being a job I really enjoyed a lot and, even though they couldn't hire me permanently, I gained more than a year's awesome experience to put on my resume. And actually, the boss I had there recently recommended me for a position at another related organization. See? YOU NEVER KNOW.
Sites like CareerBeacon are really great, but there may be postings out there that you are missing by focusing ONLY on those forums, and great companies maybe be missing out on YOU because you are being lost in the shuffle.

Don't be a "sheep". Make yourself stand out. 

Anyway, I could go on and on, but those are just some of the main tips I would recommend. Now, these are tips I would give based on MY experience - you can agree or not, but I think I have enough job-searching experience (8 jobs in 8 years) that I know at least somewhat what I am talking about.

What are your tips for job-searching? What have you found works/doesn't work for you?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Work It

I had an interesting conversation with a friend on Saturday night.

She is in the middle of a job search because she is not able to find enough work as a substitute teacher, and it is really tough for new teachers to get a permanent contract (at least where I live it is). She is thinking maybe she needs to change fields altogether.

She is not exactly sure what type of work she wants to do, but has been applying for a bunch of different things just to see what happens. She was complaining about how she has not heard back from any of them, and I asked her if she follows up with any of the companies she is applying to, and her answer was...

"Oh I don't know".

??? Okaaaaay......

Her answer was clearly defensive, almost as if she was aware of how silly it was that she HADN'T followed up on any of these jobs, but just didn't do it anyway for whatever reason. And really I can't blame her. Following up with potential employers is annoying, and it can be embarrassing, too. And, there is no guarantee that following up on a job application will even do anything to help your chances.

Still. I couldn't help but wonder if she is going about her job search in the right way. If there is anything I have learned in the past "Year of Magical Temping" (as I very sarcastically like to call it), it's that you HAVE to set yourself apart from the competition. If you are not offering a potential employer something unique, why would they want to hire you?

The answer is, they won't. Not because you are a bad person or not qualified (necessarily) but because they will forget about you. In a stack of hundreds of resumes, and in an age where managers are more and more limited for time, yours will be passed over. Or if you are lucky enough to have them pick yours out and contact you for an interview, you STILL have to set yourself apart in some way or you will lose your place in the race at that stage instead.

In any case, the fact is there is a lot of competition out there for jobs and many employers have their pick of great people to hire, so anything you can do to make them notice you and remember you is important.

In talking to my friend, I was surprised at both the lack of effort on her part to find a job, and the long list of "requirements" she said she is looking for in a position. I feel bad saying this because there is nothing wrong with having standards, but you have to be realistic. You can't expect a job to fall in your lap just because you apply and you have the qualifications. Sending cover letters and resumes out into the void and leaving it up to chance is simply not enough anymore in today's job market. You have to work hard - it's like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it, and if you are putting very little effort in, well...

This fact really sucks, but it's also true. And the sooner you accept the fact that it IS true and you can't change it, the sooner you will find a job. You can't control what a potential employer does, but what you CAN control is your own behaviour. You can choose to let the suckiness of the job search get your down, throw your hands up in the air and proclaim "I'm just never going to find a job!", or you can change your tactics. You can grab the job search by the balls and make it come to you.

I mean, why do you think I'm temping?! I'm certainly not doing it because the money is good (HA!!). In fact, I hate temping - I make just enough to get by, I have no health plan or vacation/sick time, and can be fired at any time with no just cause. But the reason I am temping is because I tried (to no avail) to find permanent work, needed something to pay the rent, and recognized that temping was a way to get my foot in the door of some notoriously hard-to-get-hired-into companies quickly (e.g. unionized organizations, such as the University I currently temp at, are very picky about their hiring and often have a ton of competition for any positions they post bc of the job security, high salaries, etc). I am temping because I know if I work my butt off in this position and really show what I can do, when the time comes for them to fill this position permanently, I will be at the top of their choice list. Bottom line is, I am willing to deal with some short-term frustration for long-term gain.

I'm not trying to be preachy here, or act like a know-it-all. I sure as HELL don't have all the answers (if I did, I would be super-rich by now). I can only speak from my own experience, and what has worked for me may not work for others. But I hope that my advice at least helps people who are job-searching realize they are not alone and that they might, in fact, be just steps away from success and just need to change their tactics or way of thinking a little bit.

There is nothing wrong with you. There is just something wrong with your strategy.
And that, in a nutshell, is the most important thing to keep in mind as you conduct your job-search.

I would love to hear about your job searching experiences! Please share your own experiences in the comments!

Friday, May 6, 2011


Let's call this post Thinking Gratefully going Into Friday (aka TGIF - catchy, right? I know, you can say, I'm a genius with the wordsmithing). Though, technically we are going into the weekend, not Friday....ah well, whatevs!

Just a few things that I'm loving this week & this weekend:

* Mocha Coconut Fraps from Starbucks
* My friend Lauren's new wicked awesome blog!
* Realizing there is a Zara and  Forever 21 within walking distance of our hotel in Montreal - WIN!
* Trip planning with the boy (oh so many emails back and forth, but we got some wicked deals on our hotels thanks to his awesomely big brain...ok not writing awesome again)
* It's not raining today!
* Games Night and Retro Dance Party on Saturday!
* Getting back on track with eating and walking
* Getting summer clothes out of storage!
* New writing opportunities (stay tuned!)
* Mentally listing new books I want at Chapters
* Long overdue call with the bestie on Sunday!
* Finding a super cute dress for my friend's wedding at H&M
* Bringing delish homemade chili for lunch every day
* Random dance party to Usher in the car with my sister

Hope your weekend is full of lovely things! Remember to thank and hug your mother!
(Mothers are awes....dammit)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happy Trails

I am really excited today. I (finally) got some time off confirmed at work which means I'm taking a trip I've been looking forward to for a few months now...

From May 14th to 22nd, my boyfriend and I will be visiting Montreal and Ottawa! Ok, so it's not Hawaii but since I can't afford an exotic trip right now, this is what I have to take. Besides, who cares how far away or exotic your trip is if it's somewhere you have always wanted to go, right? My friend is getting married in Ottawa on the 21st so it was the perfect excuse to make an extended trip out of it...

Part of my excitement is just about taking a trip period. I get the urge to move and change the scenery once in a while (don't we all?) and I feel I haven't had that in a while so it feels good to finally be doing it. Do you ever get that itch? To just get away?

I think it's kinda crazy that there are so many great cities in my own country that I have never visited! I have been to Toronto, Vancouver and Quebec City but other than Atlantic Canada that's all (well, I have traveled extensively outside my own country, but that's all within Canada). I mean, there is something sort of crazy about that! I have always said it and will continue to say it - I am really proud of my country; very proud of where I come from. I feel very lucky to live here and so it really does not make sense that there is so much of it I haven't seen. In my defense, Canada is pretty freakin big (I don't think people who live outside of it really get it, but to give you some perspective it is about an 8-hour flight from Halifax, where I live on the very Eastern coast, to Vancouver on the very Western coast - however, I can fly to New York City in about 2 hours).

It is going to take 14 hours alone to drive from Halifax to Montreal (or 11 hours to Quebec City, where we might stay overnight on the way, haven't decided yet)! I'm not going to lie, that drive is going to be uncomfortable, but it's soooo much cheaper than flying and renting a car. Plus we are sharing the driving, and also road trips are a lot of fun! I don't know what it is, but there is something really exciting about being on a journey and having the open road just folded out in front of you. The possibilities are endless and I feel like you get to see so many corners that you miss if you fly.

Did I mention I'm excited?!

Things are a little hectic in terms of planning since I just got the time off confirmed today and we leave in 10 days, but there is something exciting about that, too! It's fun to make last minute plans sometimes, or to resist the urge to plan to death too much in general, just let the chips fall where they may. That is something that is hard for me because it's in my nature to plan and organize things, so I have to hold myself back from scheduling in every. little. thing. But I try to be spontaneous whenever I can and this is one of those times I am going to try and do this.

Anyhoo, if anyone has suggestions for cool things to see and do in Montreal and Ottawa, please let me know in the comments! Even if you don't, I would love to hear your thoughts on travel and escape in general!

I'm excited...did I already say that?