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Fire up your resumes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is hosting more spouse only job fairs in March.

If you live in Europe, there will also be a transition summit near the end of the month to help spouses and military families tackle the task of leaving the military.

Don’t forget to dress for success and bring several copies of your resume. For a full list of job fairs the foundation hosts throughout 2018 visit, www.uschamberfoundation.org

March 7

Dover, DE

Military Spouse Employment Forum at Dover Air Force Base

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/military-spouse-employment-for...

March 10

Detroit, Mich.

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/detroit-military-hiring-fair

March 13

Tampa, Fla.

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/tampa-hiring-expo-tampa-bay-lightning

March 21

Fort Bliss, Texas

Transition Summit

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/fort-bliss-transition-summit-2

March 26

Europe

European Theater Transition Summit

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/germany-transition-summit

McLean, VA.

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/mclean-military-spouse-networking-event-0

March 27

Washington D.C.

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/washington-dc-hiring-expo-washington-wizards-0

March 28

USAG Kaiserslautern

March 29

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

AMPLIFY Military Spouse Career Intensive - Joint Base Lewis-McChord

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/amplify-military-spouse-career...

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Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, made headlines earlier this year for announcing that she vowed to change senate rules to make it easier for future senators to take maternity leave.

In fact she told CNN, it was ridiculous that these types of changes were still making headlines in 2018.

She’s right. The U.S. lags far behind the rest of the developed world in granting workers not just maternity leave, but also any guaranteed paid leave of any kind. The U.S., in fact is the only advanced economy that does not mandate paid sick or maternity leave.

Most American works are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which grants 12 weeks of leave per year to care for family members, but that time is unpaid. Nearly 40 other countries offer some level of paid time off for new mothers with the bulk of those nations offering between 15 – 20 weeks. Bulgaria tips the scale at 60 weeks off.

There are no U.S. Federal laws mandating paid sick time or vacation time. While the federal government closes for 10 federal holidays each year, these days are not mandated as time off for all U.S. workers.

You can Google the reasons why the U.S. is so different from every other developed nation when it comes to granting paid time off. Much of the reasoning comes from the aftermath of World War II. According to NPR, when the men came home from battle, the women left the jobs they picked up to help the homefront and returned to their roles as wife and mother. There was no reason to legislate policies that helped them balance work and home.

Meanwhile in Europe, the infrastructure was destroyed, as was the population. Women had to be in the workplace so paid leave policies were put in place to urge more women to join the workforce and rebuild the nation.

Now that American women are an integral part of the workforce, they are still fighting for their rights to be mothers as well. Trade groups and chambers of commerce have rebuffed efforts to implement paid-leave laws.  

Sen. Duckworth is right. Why are we still discussing this in 2018? Why should American women constantly be asked to choose between being an integral, important part of the workforce and an attentive mother?

They shouldn’t. Sen. Duckworth is a purple heart recipient who lost both legs during the Iraq War in 2004. She the first disabled woman and the second Asian-American woman to serve in the Senate.

It is time to stand behind her and demand changes be made to require paid maternity leave in America.

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By Amy Nielsen

Next week I add a new dynamic to this already crazy life. My younger daughter starts weekly medical treatment at a hospital three hours from home.

Normally this would not be a huge addition to our week as it is really just a day trip and easily done. We’ve been doing it for years almost like clockwork in the early part of the year. Because of the nature of her treatments our appointments are conveniently always on Monday.

This year however, we have the added wrinkle of my on-campus, weekend long classes at a school an additional hour south of the hospital. This would be terrific for us as we homeschool and we could really get a chance to explore two near-by big cities with an abundance of history, attractions, and proximity to other far flung friends.

Seems like a total no brainer. Pack up the fam, including the dog, and head to the adopted home for the next five weekends. Find an air B&B to rent or as the weather warms hop in the RV. In my other life this is exactly what we would do. However, this is not my other life, where things fall neatly into place.

Due to the ever changing crucible that is my husband’s job, he has no static schedule. He is often times on 12-hour shifts that turn into longer as is the case with all first responders. The schedule changes weekly with no rhyme or reason. Somedays its morning, some days evening; others just for fun its eight to two. If he worked a standard Monday to Friday, weekends off kind of job – if such a thing even exists anymore – we would have a much easier time juggling this. While he could opt to use his Family Medical Leave Act days, his team is already short staffed and adding the burden of taking a three day weekend off, five times in the next three months puts undo pressure on an already stressful situation.

So I am forced to do the thing that makes the least possible sense. I will drive five hours south on Friday – passing within mere miles of the hospital - go to class Saturday and Sunday, then drive five hours north home; to turn around on Monday morning and drive three hours south back to the hospital and round trip it so we still have a prayer of doing anything else in the week.

I love to drive. Don’t get me wrong. I really, really do. But senseless driving makes me a bit crazy. If there were a way for me to find someone trustworthy in that central city to park my kidlets with while I go to school, we would be golden. Unfortunately, I know exactly no one in that city. There is no way I would trust someone off the internet to watch them in a strange city, with no other contacts for support.

As our nuclear family has journeyed and we no longer live within a neat village system like military housing, let alone inter-generationally in the town of our birth, child care has become a growing need for us. For the most part we just travel all together or at least the kids and I. If we are traveling it is usually something educational for them or an event we are all invited to. When the event means I have to be otherwise occupied and unable to be primarily attentive to them, we run into trouble.

To be honest, they would probably be just fine doing their own school work in the corner of the classroom, and when done, entertain themselves on mindcraft or stupid cat videos until we were ready to wrap up. We homeschool and they are used to pulling up a corner of rug and opening their workbooks to the lesson at hand and digging in. It’s one of my greatest joys of schooling them. They like to learn. My school, however, frowns on children in the classroom.

So we are at a crossroads scrambling to find overnights and schedule shifts that leave us with the fewest hours of unminded children we can. Once we have that sorted out, I will begin to completely panic. I might have a few leads on friends of friends still in the area, but that is only one step removed from total strangers.

The other hurdler is where to have them hang out. I’m not sure the hours in the hotel room with kids doing homework is what the sitters on SitterCity are envisioning when I posted testing the waters for a person more local to the school. It is not the reason to bring them with me either. The reason is for them to see the city and learn about things first hand.

My other option is to try to hire someone from home to travel with me for the weekends. The drawback I can see to that is expense. I have a feeling that a weekend Nanny gig including going out of state, might just be too much for my meager wallet to handle. I’m not even sure I can swing a sitter for the eight hours over two days of classes.

I really want to have my kids explore another iconic American city and this is the perfect opportunity. I just need to find the right person to help me while I sit in class for a few hours each day. The call of the adult student Mom – if only I had childcare.

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You know that old saying about Murphy, and how he always seems to show up during a deployment?

I’m here to tell you he likes to visit during retirement, too. In fact, Murphy followed us all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, although it did take him awhile to catch up.

We left Stuttgart, Germany, on terminal leave in August, 2016, and spent most of the next year traveling the country in our RV, with a cat and two teenagers.

We were on edge much of the journey, just waiting for something to happen. We knew Murphy had to be around somewhere, lurking and ready to strike at the most inopportune time. The RV life had its challenges, but surprisingly we escaped mostly unscathed. We did have minor issues here and there, but no major mechanical breakdowns or injuries or other catastrophes.

We arrived in Florida around Memorial Day and decided to stay. This is where Murphy caught up with us.

A month or so after we got here and started house hunting, we decided to put our RV up for sale and move into a temporary rental. That rental had the weirdest bathroom I’ve ever seen. You had to walk down three steps to get into the shower (hello, Murphy!). Those steps took my husband out one night, and he broke two ribs. He’s still not completely healed.

Shortly after that I got a huge gash in one of the tires on my car. Luckily, I was parked when it went totally flat, but I did have to call roadside assistance because my poor injured husband, who normally would have taken care of it in five minutes, could barely move, let alone loosen the lug nuts. And I had to replace a tire that had less than 10,000 miles on it.

A couple of days later, my car battery – with only 50,000 miles on it - went dead in a beach parking lot, and the vehicle’s whole electrical system shut down. Meaning the doors wouldn’t unlock. And also meaning I could not retrieve my cell phone or wallet from inside the locked car. My daughter and I walked the mile or so back to where we were staying.

Finally, things were looking up. We bought and closed on a house, and painted and replaced all the flooring ourselves, with no delays or complications. Two different home inspectors said the house was in great shape, especially the tile roof, which was expected to last another 30 years (Murphy alert!).

We moved in on Sept. 1. Our first and largest shipment of household goods that had been in storage was delivered on Sept. 6. Two days later, on Sept. 8, we were ordered to evacuate due to the approach of Hurricane Irma. We boarded up our windows, loaded up the kids and the cat and a few personal belongings, and left.

We came back home three days later, to a house that was still full of unpacked boxes but looked otherwise intact. Until we got a record-breaking amount of rain a week later and water started pouring through the ceiling.

Our roof had sustained hurricane damage that wasn’t immediately apparent. It’s still covered with a tarp, six months later (this one really hurt – thanks, Murphy!).

Six weeks or so after the hurricane, around the beginning of November, our air conditioner went out. Remember we live in Florida. Even in November, you need AC.

About two months after that, on New Year’s Eve, my husband decided to fix the shower knob in the master bathroom. Technically, there was nothing wrong with it, it was just really hard for me to turn on all the way. We discussed whether we should turn off the water before removing the knob.

“Nah,” I said. “It’s not like the water runs through the knob.”

Five minutes later, my husband yelled: “Grab a bucket and start bailing!”

The water seeped into the master bedroom closet and the kitchen, and ran out into the garage. The water shutoff was stuck, and we ended up calling 911, as instructed by the after-hours recording for the water company. My husband managed to get the water turned off right as the fire truck pulled up in front of the house. The nice firefighters said they get these kinds of calls all the time, although I am betting most of them come from people a couple of decades older than we are.

Final count: Murphy 6, Us 0.

We might be living an entirely new, unfamiliar life, but at least we know good old Murphy still loves us.

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By Amy Nielsen

I have a horrible habit of stalking the local real estate market. I love the house we live in. The property is beautiful. We have great neighbors and dear friends who live just a few miles away. The town has it’s quirks to say the least. But it’s the house we bought. As I have developed my path and envision my future and intertwined with that, my family’s trajectory, I know that we will not be in this house long.

We bought this property long before I started thinking about the path I am on now. When we purchased it I was of the mind that I would have different needs. As I have developed my vision of the future, I keep running up against the need for a dedicated space of my own with a teaching kitchen and space to do outside projects. It would have to be somewhere that the neighbors don’t mind a small business that occasionally smells funny or drums a bit into the night. It would also have to work as a home for us or have two buildings, one for the studio kitchen and one for us to live in.

Yesterday as we were finishing up our homeschool math camp at a friend’s house, she happened to pipe up that the house next door was just staged for sale. So being me and knowing that it was empty – you know you would too – I went and peeked in the windows.

It’s perfect.

Except that it has electric stoves. Cannot deal with electric stove, they will be propane. 

I need to reconfigure the teaching kitchen a little, but it has two full functioning kitchens – one in a room large enough to have a classroom kitchen and separate enough from the rest of the house to work in after bedtime, and not in the basement; the other is on the shared wall and is the through room from the studio to the house, a lovely division. There is a really nice functioning outdoor grill area with a permanent pergola. Fencing the back of the yard for a puppy play area would be simple, leaving plenty of the yard for kid play. There are even two well defined driveways so I could mark the studio entrance on the opposite side of the yard from the house entrance.

I couldn’t see in the garage/bungalow building, but the roof looked to be in good shape. I fully expect to have to build out a whole new building for this little studio anyway. This could be a bonus space for indoor classes. I have looked at several different buildings with much more grandiose plans in mind. As I have gotten farther along in my studies my plans have tightened and the space I feel like I need has condensed into a small studio from a large community center.

If I can figure out how to swing this place now before the season starts I can get advertising for the summer traffic. Our neighbors would be our dear friends on one side and another new family on the other side in a new construction house. That’s it, three houses on the street, tucked back behind in a little nook, right off the main drag in town. It has a full acre of land and woods surrounding it, owned by people we know. Our homeschool co-op meets in the same town – get this - within walking distance. There is a beautiful active library, a thriving private school should we need it, and even a well-stocked locally owned super market.

Most of our friends pass through this town at least once a week if not once a day. We have been feeling very isolated as a family living 45 minutes away from the majority of our tribe. It is equidistant from our current house to my husband’s job. In fact the trip is a little easier as it is a straight shot up the same road. It puts us in a better location to be reached on and off the major highways travelled by far flung friends who visit occasionally. Oh and if the garage/bungalow is what I think it is, we will have a whole guest house.

I need to explore the zoning in town, though I know many practitioners who work out of their homes in the community. The large and active integrative health community in town is a large part of why I want to base my practice there. Because of the other and varied modalities found, I think I can carve out my particular niche within it. I do something similar yet different enough, and if I have my own space to do it in, I can really run with my plans. Being part of an established business community would be a great benefit to building a practice of my own.

Did I just convince myself to buy a house?

That would mean prepping and selling this house quickly. I know the area the studio house is located in and it will go fast. If they have an open house this weekend, they will get offers. Of course this comes in the middle of my Master’s program, when I know we are moving into 12 weeks of traveling treatments for my daughter, multiple trips to prepaid events, and mud season.

I’d have to sell my RV to make the down payment and for that my eldest daughter may never forgive me. She is convinced that her first vehicle will be an RV. I do not for a second put it past her if it is even remotely within reach for her to accomplish. However, that doesn’t fix that we have several plans made this summer that involve travel with the RV. Not a hardship to change the plans as nothing is paid for yet, but still a radical change in familial direction and possibly expense.

I feel like I’m standing at crossroads. I have been complaining for ages that we are just too far away from where the action is. This would certainly put us squarely in the middle of the action. It is a thriving community with a great tax base and socially active and progressive thinking people. The town has fieldstone walls lining the streets and ancient trees. There is an active and growing integrative health community.

In my early morning fog, I think I even emailed the listing agent. I need to see this house. Today if I can.

It’s perfect.

Except electric stoves.

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It’s tax time! That’s right, time to figure out how to configure your most recent PCS move, combat pay and file income from two different states, or more!

Military life has its challenges. Tax season may present one of the toughest. Between the extra pay, taxed at different rates, moves between states and collecting paperwork from multiple employers and locations doing your taxes for many military families takes more than a few hours at a computer.

Luckily, there is help.

Large military installations often have a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program where volunteers are trained to help military families navigate tax issues as they file. The lines are long and even they may not know the answers to the trickiest of tax questions so come with all your paperwork and your patience.

Before you go, call ahead to find the location of the tax center, hours of operation, appointment scheduling procedures and a list of documents you will need to bring.

There is also several online tax preparers specifically set up for military members and as an added bonus, many are free.

Military OneSource provides free tax preparation not just for active duty but for their dependents, retired members, spouses of deceased veterans and veterans who have been medically discharged, among others. The service is an online tax preparation program that you enter your information into and then file the finished product for free. Military OneSource does have consultants available for questions by phone and email.

The IRS Free File Software is free to filers whose income is below $64,000.

TaxSlayer will prepare military returns, both federal and state, for a 50 percent discount.

TurboTax software is free for E1 – E5. E-6 and above can purchase the software at a discount.

If you don’t want to mess with any forms or filling, many local tax preparers located outside the gate of your local base will also offer a military discount. Don’t be afraid to ask!

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By Amy Nielsen

In the continuing saga of my quest to pass organic chemistry, this time with feeling - the second time around, I made my first of what I am sure will be many incredibly sophomoric mistakes. I got cheeky with my professor and he docked me points from an easy A for it.

Every other week we are required to write a short one to two paragraph check-in post, detailing how we are doing and how the teaching team can support us is learning the material. Simple. Done in 15 minutes on a long day. There are three specific questions to answer, all open ended and opinion rather than hard fact with citations.

Slam, bam, easy A.

Unless you tell your professor you feel like the text book is laughing at you, even though you are trying your level best to make it work this time. I was much too familiar in my tone for a Master’s level interaction between a student and professor. He docked me three points for that sass and not answering the questions as assigned.

Where on Earth did I get off telling him that my textbook is laughing at me you might ask? Well, I cannot keep the letter abbreviations of the elements in a molecule in the right order as I am dyslexic. OH often looks like HO and that chemists write them interchangeably makes it even worse. So yes, when I get silly stupid after reading about this stuff for several hours in a row, I really feel like it is laughing at me.

I have a really hard time with this material due to this learning disability. I am trying to keep my head above water with humor this term. I often make chemistry jokes to my friends. I am trying to keep this subject as engaging on as many levels as possible so I can find what hook makes it finally all fall into place.

I have also learned to keep it to myself. I enjoy engaging with people and I am finding this distance learning gig to be pretty alienating. I have not spent much time one-on-one with other students either on campus or online. In every single class we are required to post and respond in a pseudo-conversation with other students monitored by the teaching staff. But you never really get the character of the person behind the keys in those stilted academic connections.

Those required check-in posts are also not the place to bring in one’s personal coping mechanism used to deal with the overwhelming sense of anxiety about the prospect that this one class could derail the entire plan. I know that I could easily start to struggle with the material in this class again. I need every bit of help I can get and offending the professor is a bad start.

I am terrified that I will end up just under the passing score again. Each point I lose is critical. I know that there are two timed exams that I will have difficulty with. I need to save up all of the points I can to spend them there and still pass. I need to play nicely and by the rules and not make waves. It’s better if I just do the work with my head down.

I am afraid that I have now earned an extra look this term. If I need help, I feel like I am going to earn even more looks, making it harder to just pass the dang class. He made no comments on my post, just docked the points. So everything here is completely my personal fabrication. But I suspect I need to shape up.

Going forward I will make sure that I answer the questions in a more dignified and worthy manner. I will remember that this is an academic institution. I will remember that each interaction is scrutinized in a professional setting and that this program is setting me up for success in my professional career. I can express my personality and my coping skills in other more subtle ways in more appropriate forums. It was a tap on the wrist I needed to get back on track.

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The U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation has long been a supporter of military families and veterans as they transition out of the military. Every month the foundation sponsors job fairs around the nation for military spouses.

The chamber also often sponsors planning sessions for families leaving the military and networking conferences. In February, the chamber’s calendar is especially full with spouse hiring events in every corner of the U.S.

In addition to the regular hiring fairs, the foundation will host two, Call to Action seminars, first in Virginia Beach and later in the month in San Antonio. During those events spouses will join local and national employers, service organizations, and government representatives as they highlight the local community’s commitment towards building a strong military community, share best practices in military spouse employment, and advance the narrative around supporting the 21st century military family.

Also in February the foundation will host several transition seminars. These day-long events are a strategic career planning experience designed specifically for exiting veterans and based on the nationally acclaimed veteran transition guide Down Range. Seminars are created and delivered by veterans who made the successful transition to civilian careers, and they include tactical job search skills that focus on the pathway to a civilian career as opposed to just a job.

At Fort Gordon, Ga., spouses can enjoy a Military Spouse Employment Forum and hear first hand from successful career-minded military spouses and get expert advice on growing your career, then build your professional network as you interact with dozens of companies at a free evening networking reception.

Finally, spouses, veterans and current military members are welcome to attend the American Legion 2018 Winter Conference & Career Event for free workshop sessions focused on resume building, networking, interviewing, and financial literacy, followed by a networking lunch that will feature a panel discussion on employment topics and best practices.

If you were planning to start your job search in 2018, February is a great month with lots of networking opportunities. Please remember to click on the link for the event and register. Many of these events fill up early and there is no day-of entry.  

 

Feb. 6 - 7

Fort Bragg, N.C.

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/fort-bragg-military-spouse-hiring-event

 

Alameda, Calif.

Coast Guard Base Alameda Transition Summit

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/coast-guard-base-alameda-transition-summit

 

Feb. 7

Virginia, Beach, Va.

A Call to Action: Successfully Navigating the Military Spouse Employment Landscape

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/call-action-successfully-navigating-military-spouse-employment-landscape-0

Feb. 9

Houston, Texas

Houston Hiring Expo with the Houston Rockets

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/houston-hiring-expo-houston-rockets-2

 

Feb. 12

Fort Gordon, Ga.

Afterburner Military Transition Seminar

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/afterburner-military-transition-seminar-fort-gordon

 

Military Spouse Employment Forum at Fort Gordon

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/military-spouse-employment-forum-fort-gordon

 

Feb. 20

San Antonio, Texas

A Call to Action: Successfully Navigating the Military Spouse Employment Landscape

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/call-action-successfully-navigating-military-spouse-employment-landscape-2

 

Feb. 21

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/joint-base-lewis-mcchord-military-spouse-hiring-event

 

Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland Transition Summit

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/joint-base-san-antonio-lackland-transition-summit

 

Feb. 22

 

Universal City, Texas

Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph Transition Summit

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/joint-base-san-antonio-randolph-transition-summit-0

 

Feb. 23

 

San Antonio, Texas

Joint Base San Antonio- Fort Sam Houston Transition Summit

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/joint-base-san-antonio-fort-sam-houston-transition-summit-0

 

Washington D.C.

American Legion 2018 Winter Conference & Career Event

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/american-legion-2018-winter-conference-career-event

 

Feb. 27

Minneapolis/ St. Paul Hiring Expo with the Minnesota Wild

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/minneapolisst-paul-hiring-expo-minnesota-wild-1

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Salute to Spouses by Allison Perkins - 3w ago

“Mom!”

 “Are you done yet?”

 “Can you stop yet?”

“We’re hungry.”

“We’re bored.”

“He hit me.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Why are you still working?”

“Do we have school tomorrow?”

And that and a nutshell is a snow day while working at home.

If you’ve ever worked from home you know that your day is nothing like working in a regular office. We are often at the computer earlier than our in-office counterparts. We type through lunch, because hey, no one can see you ungracefully shovel that warmed up lasagna into your mouth while you continue typing.

Home-based workers may tell you they actually get more work completed in a day than in an average office. There are no distractions. There is no office gossip. You don’t have to waste time matching your belt to your shoes before you head off for a lengthy commute that might make you late. You just sit down and work.

But on the flip side, when calamity traps our office counterparts in their homes, they are free for the day. Meanwhile we are left to muster through whatever nature sends. Last week the unthinkable fell: snow. And here on the Gulf Coast, where snow doesn’t happen, we had two snow days - in a row.

There was no fun, fluffy snow to play in. Just ice. There was no opportunity to go out and play for the day. Temperatures dipped below freezing and in the land of short shorts and flip flops, few of us keep scarves, gloves or even long pants at the ready.

We were all trapped inside, while I worked. Or tried to at least.

I stopped my typing every 10 – 15 minutes to open snacks, reload movies or dig out another craft from the emergency stash in the bottom of the closet. Cups were spilled, popcorn was burned, glitter was sprinkled. Everywhere.

By noon I had given up. I let my boss know I’d be back online after bedtime that evening to finish up. Turns out, she hadn’t lasted past 10 a.m., trapped in her own snow day hell of paste, play dough and diaper duty.

Working from home is great. I love it. I feel I’m more productive and less exhausted at the end of the week. But at the end of our unusual snow days, I’ve never been more thankful for the hardest workers I know, teachers.

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By Amy Nielsen

There are 22 years between when I earned my Bachelor’s degree and when I made my decision to get a Master’s degree. In that time, a whole lot of life happened, including a career in the field I graduated into, two kids, and a stint as a Navy spouse.

I was lucky, I graduated from college into a field where work is really, truly, always available if you are creative about marketing yourself and use your connections well. I decided to leave that field when I lost my drive for it. I had followed the almighty dollar and strayed into a part of the woods that looked nothing like my dream. I had a few bucks in the bank and no strings. So when the company folded I was not crying rivers.

I remember the evening after I locked up the office for the last time. It was surreal dropping the keys into sealed in a FedEx pouch to ship back to the regional manager. I sat out on the patio listening to the hum of the highway mixed with bullfrogs and crickets thinking – geesh, I can do anything I want this summer. I can do anything I want with my life now. I have time. For the first time in my life I have time to figure out what I really want to do.

So there I sat, feeling like an adult with the world ahead of me. I was exactly 30-years-old and I was a free bird! I made a list of things I was good at. Things I liked to do. Things I wished I could do. Things I knew I was never ever in a million years going to do. Things I was bad at. I asked a lot of people what I liked to do. I tried really hard to hold up a mirror and see me. Perhaps for the first time ever – and that created a tidal wave through my life upturning a whole lot of other things – but let’s keep to this wave.

So I set about choosing what I was going to do next with as much dedication to detail, cost to resale potential, and personal fit as most pay to their first luxury car. You see, while I dearly loved my first career, I never really thought about it as a career when I was picking it. I’m not really sure any high school senior can make that decision.

In that summer of introspection I decided that what I really loved was food. I was a good home cook. I had a good understanding of food and it’s implications within culture as a whole. I was worldly and had travelled extensively. So I decided to go to culinary school and see where it went. I knew I was not interested in restaurant kitchens. But I really had no idea what I could do otherwise. I though perhaps I would write a book, or something.

My first day of culinary school was September 11, 2001.

Upon graduation I knew I knew a whole lot more about food and how it has been manipulated in the classical French tradition. I could make a soufflé that didn’t fall, aspic covered salmon, and perfectly poach an egg, but I still had no idea what I wanted to do in the industry. So I went into a kitchen and did basically the same job I had been doing in my previous career, only difference was the medium. But I still missed a drive, a spark. I loved the kitchen but I was – to be honest – bored.

So I packed up my life and moved to a seaport to follow a Sailor. I didn’t get back into cooking at what I considered a professional level until almost 10 years later. The Navy life will do that to ya.

In the intervening years however, I spent a lot of time thinking about or talking about or playing with food. I dabbled in lots of parts of the food world from learning new techniques from international neighbors or new regional ingredients in the supermarket or finding a beloved item half way around the world because someone else missed home.

I read a lot. I read everything I can about food, from the New York Times food section to blogs on deep end fermentation to cutting edge research in phytochemistry to current law on licensing for integrative health practitioners and how patent law pertains to herbal formulae. I met people who use ingredients in ways I have never seen or called them names I didn’t know. I collected this all in my little foodie brain bank.

And still I had no idea how to regurgitate it all so someone would listen to me and not get bowled over by my over-zealous enthusiasm for the expansive topic that is the world of food. I know a lot of weird things about food.

I was directed to a program that seemed as broad on the topic as I was and was a good place to perhaps distill more clearly what it is that I really love about the world of food – other than Sacher Torte mit schlagg and deviled eggs. The year-long intensive was the kick I needed to see where I might be able to fit in outside of a kitchen. It gave the chance to meet people doing foodie things that had nothing to do with being in a kitchen. I was stoked. Better yet, there is an emerging field into which I felt I could maybe fit. It was the start of a spark.

It was also the bridge to the Master’s program I am enrolled in now. I am finally finding that I am with a bunch of students with drive and intensity that matches my own for talking about all aspects of food and culture. I am much happier talking about changing food access policy during the week and playing with meringue on the weekend.

The point of this ramble through my whys and wherefores of my educational stepping stones is to impart to you that time is not your enemy, time is your friend.

As I work my way through this process I keep reminding myself that no path is set in stone and that I am the only one who can decide if it suits me. My strength is breadth, I see a bigger picture and a wider scope. I am not good at the daily little fiddly bits. I also keep reminding myself that each step in this road is something learned. Now is the exact time for me to be trying out new ideas, learning hard lessons, and making connections. The career part will sort itself out eventually.

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