Thursday, October 25, 2012

Free Time

It seems like my free time has been coming in snippets lately. About two weeks ago I had an idea. An epiphany, really. That I should really be using the down time I have while I am unemployed to DO stuff.


Start writing and addressing Christmas cards.

Unpacking the remaining boxes in the garage.

Get back in the habit of blogging regularly. (Or exercising regularly for that matter.)

Actually organize the closet from when we moved in an just put stuff where ever.

Rearrange where I keep things in the kitchen now that we've been here for a year and I have a better idea of how I work in there.

Start compiling our one-year punch list for the builders so it's ready when they ask. (Too late, they've already asked.)

Finish organizing the filing cabinet and shredding old documents.

Maybe actually make one of the cute crafty things I see on Pinterest.

And the list goes on.

But of course, now that I have had this epiphany (and even bought the supplies I need for one of the crafts—notice how crafts seemed to bump the more important stuff aside for priority?), I have become incredibly busy with freelancing and other stuff. Isn't that just the way?

Which is a good thing. It is an excellent thing and I am not complaining. I have actually logged 30 hours in each of the past two weeks and out earned unemployment check, and probably will again this week. I am very thankful for that.

And the social committee decided we needed to get together on 4 different days to decorate for the Halloween party this Saturday. Really? Four days? I went for 3 hours last week and another 3 hours on Tuesday, but we were having friends over for dinner on Wednesday and I needed to be home to tend to the roast pork (so yummy!), and they want to decorate some more on Friday.

I am meeting with the Director at UNC Press Friday morning. We both worked for the same employer before, though he was in NY and I was in CA and we never met. I asked a mutual acquaintance to arrange an introduction and we're going to meet for an informational interview. I would like to learn more about UNC Press and how a university press differs from mainstream publishing, and maybe get some input on particular skills I should hone in order to pick up freelance work from them, or Oxford or Duke who also have university presses in the area.

And I've been consulting with a friend who recently launched her own business, helping her organize content on her website so it's easier to find, finding ways to streamline her workflow so she can spend more time creating instead of promoting, showing her ways to get more mileage from her social media efforts, and thinking up ideas for promotions and product packages she could offer. (Which reminds me, I still need to type up the summary from our last meeting.)

So I got all that in motion when I received a call on Monday from a recruiter for one of the big tech companies. They're looking for an editor for their technology and business web and blog properties, and it's local with some telecommute flexibility. So I set aside my freelance work and put together a resume and cover letter for the position.

Then on Tuesday I got a call from another recruiter, this one for an ebook conversion house in New Jersey doing almost exactly what I am doing now as a freelancer. They need a somewhat techie person with a background in publishing who understands book layouts and publishing standards, ideally with ebook or other digital publishing experience. This is so me! So again, I set aside my freelance work and put together a resume, cover letter, and portfolio for the position.

It is a straight telecommute position, though there is quite a bit of travel involved—New Jersey (of course) for training, orientation, and meetings as needed, but also 3 weeks in India, probably another week in the Philippines, 2 or more weeks in California to work on a "disaster" project, and traveling with sales/client reps when they meet with new clients to spec out their ebook conversion needs.

I would be happy with either position. The first one is a long-term open-ended contract and pays slightly more than what I make as a freelancer . The work would be predictable and it's local. The second one is a full-time position and would be close to a 40–50% raise. Yeah, you read that correctly. But I'll also need to be available outside normal work hours since I would be working with teams in India and the Philippines, as well as clients all over North America.

I never really thought I would be one of those on-the-go career women, but I have to say, the second one, while more demanding, sounds way more exciting. I know of this company and the work they do—the publisher I'm freelancing for is a client and I already interact with one of their off-shore teams. (The recruiter was stunned when I guessed who he was calling on behalf of during the interview—he didn't think I would know of the company and certainly didn't expect that I would already have a relationship with them.) The technology and solutions this company provides are in the direction publishing needs to move toward as it evolves to absorb ebooks and self-publishing.

I really am not a fan of outsourcing jobs, but that doesn't change the fact that India and the Philippines are where the coding is being done, not just at this company, but at all 5 of the companies like this that I've worked with. Okay, so these places aren't exactly on my list of places to travel to before I die but I bet I would still enjoy the adventure and have a wonderful time, you know, in addition to working.

I'm trying not to count my chickens, but I am pretty stoked about the possibility.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Life of an Ant

We've been buckling down lately and taking care of fall tasks and winter prep around the house, and generally living the life of the Ant from Aesop's Ant and the Grasshopper fable. Mostly this has meant working in the yard.

Now that the evenings have been much cooler (we've been dropping into the 40ºs), the ticks and chiggers have abated somewhat and we're tackling the under brush closest to the house, chopping and hacking and snipping and pulling. We have lots of sore muscles at the end of the day, but it's a good kind of sore. We're hoping to create a buffer zone between the house and spaces we eventually want a patio or outdoor living area and the vegetation to help keep the ticks under control in the future.

I am pretty brutal when it comes to cutting things down—if we want a cleared space, everything has to go and it has to go permanently. Especially the little tree saplings establishing themselves close to the house. Aside from tick control, the thick vegetation is a fire hazard and winter storms can really wreak havoc with trees too close to the house.

We've started some pruning on the shrubs for fall and finished getting the deer netting up around the flower beds. (Just in time, too. The morning after we finished there was a family of 4 deer grazing around the house.) When spring comes I should have really healthy camellias and azaleas instead of the nearly lifeless twigs the deer left for us last spring. In fact, the camellia near the front door started blooming this week.

We had debated trying to aerate and overseed the lawn ourselves, but ended up contracting a landscaper (not the original landscaper) to do it since there were large sections that had completely died off. I am so glad we did. As the guy was getting ready to rototill the dead section he asked about the irrigation system, and I assured him no water pipes ran through the area he was about to till up. About 20 seconds later he had to stop because he'd hit electric wires. How in the heck would I have known the electrical wires for the irrigation system ran through the middle of the lawn?

Not only that, but they weren't even buried. They should have been 6–8" underground, instead they were laid on top of the ground and the sod laid on top of them. They should have been run up against the house, or at the very least along the same patten and just under the water pipes. Upon further inspection we could see the wires had been nicked multiple times by the aerater, so I'm actually really glad he hit them with the rototiller too, otherwise we would never have known.

Anyhow, after numerous calls to the builder (who has had several problems with the all the properties this particular landscaping company worked on for them) they sent out their current landscaping sub-contractor who really walked me through the system. We figured out that the wires that were cut actually hadn't been working anyhow; we had 2 water stations that hadn't been getting any juice for about 6 months, which is probably why that section of the lawn and shrubs were not doing well.

He showed me how to manually turn on each sprinkler station so we could water the grass seed we'd just added to the lawn and found that we have a leak at one of the station valves. He then sent over a quote to run the electrical up against the house and bury it, fix the leak, and replace all the electrical caps with grease-pack, water-proof end caps. Very reasonable and the builder has agreed to pay for the repairs.

Hopefully they'll be out next week or the week after to do the work. In the meantime, I'll keep sticking my hands into valve box holes to manually operate the sprinklers and hope no spiders have set up a home in there. *shudder*

And speaking of spiders. Oh. My. Lawd. There are some monster spiders out and about. I finally named the one (Lloyd) who has been living in a web across my office window for the past month. The pest control company came out for our quarterly check-up and told us these spiders are really active September and October and are mostly harmless. I just thought maybe they were trying to help me decorate for Halloween since they're building webs under the eaves all around the house. He knocked Lloyd's web down along with several others, rebaited the mouse traps, and sprayed along the foundation.

The garden is just about kaput, though the basil is still flourishing. I had thought to plant some fall veggies, but I think the space we set up our garden boxes in does not get enough sunlight this time of year to make the effort worthwhile. I want to try to move them forward out of the trees about 10 or 15 yards.  I should probably float that idea by Scoob and see if he's up to it. We'll have to shovel out all the soil in order to move the boxes and his back is still bothering him.

On the job front, I've had a few phone interviews since I posted last. None in the local area though—one in Boston, one back in San Francisco, one in Austin, and one in New Haven. The Boston one sounded really good, but the company CEO is currently moving all the remote digital workers to Boston so they ended up not wanting to add another remote worker. The one in New Haven ended up being for Yale University, but they also want someone on site. I seem to have a skill set that is in demand, just not in demand here. At least not at the moment.

Happily my freelance work has picked up pace and the fall title list has been keeping me busy this week. (I actually out earned my unemployment check this week!) I also spent some time with a local friend who recently started her own business to help her map out an online marketing strategy and refine her current efforts. All pro bono, of course, but it could end up growing into something else. We'll see.

Anyhow, that's news here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Okra Fries

One thing I've learned since moving to North Carolina—Scoob loves okra. He likes it soups, pot pies, casseroles, and pretty much any way he can get it.

I, however, am not a big fan of okra's slimy qualities. Though, whatever it is that makes okra have that slime is supposed to be very good for you.

So I keep a bag of frozen okra in the freezer and Scoob can add okra to whatever he wants and I can stay happily okra-free.

I did make an okra and polenta casserole that wasn't too bad. (I love that autocorrect wants to change polenta to tadpole—okra and tadpole casserole would be beyond disgusting.) Though I was stunned at how difficult it was to find coarse ground cornmeal for polenta/grits here. Aren't grits a Southern staple?

And speaking of cornmeal, Scoob really likes fried okra, which is basically okra sliced into rounds, battered in cornmeal to soak up the slime, and fried. (This usually gives me heartburn, a tummy ache, or both.)

So the last time Scoob conned me into buying a pound of okra at the farmers market, I decided to fry it a bit differently. Instead of slicing it into rounds, I quartered it lengthwise, and I did not batter it. I just added it au natural into the cooking oil.

And once they browned a bit, I removed the okra fries from the oil, blotted up the excess oil with paper towels, tossed them on a plate, and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt.

I've now found Scoob's new favorite way to eat okra, and I like it too! If you like baked kale chips, you'll probably like okra fries. In fact, next time we get some fresh okra, I am going to try baking them instead of frying.