Friday, February 20, 2009

Prove Yourself

Along with not having a job to go to comes a lot of time on my hands. 

I was hoping that my freedom would slowly make my creativity come back. After 5 years in business school and 6 years of non-creative work my creative bubble has shrunk to the size of a pea.

And come back it did. My creative bubble grew and grew and finally burst with a loud bang. 

My brain is like an over-soaked sponge dripping with ideas I'd like to pursue. 

Since coming to the land of plenty I have been:

*Taking a sewing class
*Taking a class in which I made an ottoman
*Painted every wall in every room in the house (except the storage rooms) in a different color
*Renovated at least three pieces of furniture
*Made one scarf and started a new project
*Sewn a bag
*Made my own chicken stock and two roast chicken
*Tried out at least 10 different cookie recipes
*and many more normal dinner recipes that I have never made before

One of my newest projects is to make my own face cream. I have all the ingredients and just have to get started. I actually I don't know if this all counts as being creative but it feels like it. Luckily I don't start a project and then get bored of it. I want to do all of those things and keep on doing them.

Most of the stuff I am learning to do has to do with the house. I was confident that I could turn this apartment into "me". Into a place I would love to be in, a place that is unique and different and reflects my own and Es personality. 
I think I managed pretty well so far. But there is one thing missing.

Wall art.

I could buy it. Sure. But I feel a tad too old to hang my Klimt posters on the wall or a Van Gogh print of Starry, starry night. I was looking at original art. I could be an art collector!
Unfortunately I quickly found out that original art that looks good starts at around $500. Maybe some other time.

Or - I could just make my own. I am studying Photography after all, so it might be a good idea to hang up some of the stuff I made. Only that most of my best work is semi-nudes of people I know. Hanging those up in my living room would be awkward. To say the least. And it's not like my photos look particularly artsy either. They are just plain nakedness in high contrast black and white.
I decided that I will do one room of my tame pictures (landscapes and such) but for the other rooms I will have to come up with something else.

After some thinking I decided I will now dabble into painting. In my excitement I spent some money at an art supply store. I bought a book on watercolor painting, some paint, paper, water color, oil color. So now the only problem is that I haven't painted a thing in about 12 years and I am not very good at painting either.

It wasn't always like that. Until I was 10 years old whenever somebody asked what I wanted to be when I am all grown up I would say "painter". I was mostly drawing, not painting so much but I did it all the time. At three years old I couldn't write but I wanted to write down the fairy tales that I had made up in my head, so I drew them.  My mom kept on telling me I was incredibly talented which made me think I would  eventually become the next Picasso. I did not yet know about the "My mom says I'm cool!"-factor. Since I really like to draw but didn't like painting so much I eventually decided I better become a graphic designer. This was my plan until I was 12 years old (except that I also wanted to be a professional wrestler and a movie star. But who doesn't). I had always been the best at drawing in my class but then we had that assignment. The assignment was to draw a poster, either about a movie or a pop album. The young, smug, show-off I was I painted a movie poster for "Dead Man Walking". Nobody (not even my teacher) knew what the movie was about and nobody was impressed. Another girl, let's call her B. had painted a picture of Genesis doing their dance from "I can't dance". It was awesome. It looked great and realistic and people KNEW Genesis and were impressed!
There was somebody who could clearly draw and paint much better than me and that didn't even want to be a painter. How could I possibly want to do this as a career if there are people who do a way better job than me and don't even appreciate it? I gave up and ended up going to business school instead. Today young B. has a career as an insurance sales lady. Oh the wasted talent! 

I did however take up Photography as a hobby. I am not sure why I didn't give that up because the first few years I was an absolutely awful photographer! I tried to do artsy and took pictures of eggs, covered in shaving foam on our washing machine. You'd think that this would at least look interesting but it didn't. 

I just found one of the old pictures and scanned it in - so this is an "The Austrian" original from about 1994:

Yes, this is indeed and egg on top of a curler surrounded by other curlers on top of a washing machine
Don't ask me what it means

But I kept on trying and taking many, many classes in Austria and Holland and I got much better at taking pictures. 
If I would have not given up drawing and would have taken classes, maybe I could have become good at that too, who knows.

But I didn't. And now, more than 10 years later I am excited to take up painting and drawing again. I am not expecting to be good at it. I just want to have something that looks good enough to put on our walls.

And if it doesn't work out, I'll always have the Klimt posters

Work It

Lake Michigan, Belmont Harbor

A few weeks ago I decided it's time to do something. It's time to seriously look for a job. I really miss the structure of a day job and just the general feeling of contributing to society.

So I updated my CV and started applying. I applied for a lot of jobs and got exactly one answer (I had sent a blind application to the Goethe Institute but they had no jobs to offer at this time) - a negative one. I mean, come on, can't you even find the time to tell me that I am not good enough for your damn job?

Now, I know that I had been lucky in Holland. The job market was very good. It was easy to find a job. A lot of people were looking for native German speakers so I had that in my advantage. In some way the jobs always ended up coming to me. The two jobs I've had the longest I both got through friends. And that's what I keep on reading about the American job market too - you need to network. Maybe I just haven't met enough people yet but that hasn't worked for me at all.

There are some things I won't do. I won't ever go back to working in Customer Service. I'd rather do a mind-numbing data-entry job for a year even though I know I could do better than that. Having pretty much 5 -6 years of Customer Service on my CV - even if I did lot's of things in my job - admin work, training, even translating - makes it that much harder to get anything outside this field. I wonder if I should modify and fake my CV around a bit to get a job. First of all, maybe I have to dumb it down? I wonder if my last employed year that stated "Supervisor" makes people think I am going to be bossy or not happy in a secretarial position.

I also won't do Sales (I am way too honest, I could never do sales) or a financial job (I am not good with numbers and Accounting was my worst subject in school).

I applied for one job that just seemed perfect. It was a job to be a photographer for an Ebay-shop. People would drop of whatever they wanted to sell and they needed a photographer to take nice pictures of whatever people wanted to sell on that Ebay-shop. This job however was only for 15-20 hours per week and the pay was $9 per hour. That's not much money. This is a lot less than I earned in my first real job and that pay had sucked already. Still, I wanted that job so bad. I was going to actually be a photographer! And they wanted somebody who was a bit fashion savvy - hellooo! I worked for a fashion company for three years! Score!

This company like all the other ones didn't even get back to me. I am still thinking to myself what I did wrong in my application. I mean for those hours and that salary I cannot imagine that they got an experienced photographer to do the job. I know times are hard but still. If they would have at least invited me for an interview, you know? But to not even answer me ...

I applied for an admin agency too. A JOB AGENCY! I remember when I was living in Holland, looking for a job, putting my CV on Monster I got at least 8 phone calls a day from agencies that were desperate to hire me. This agency, like all those other companies didn't even call me. Not even an email saying "Sorry but we don't deem you employable".

I am utterly flabbergasted by this hostility.

So I am continuing to apply for jobs and hoping to score an interview. I have always been pretty good at interviews so I think if I could just get to talk to them I would have a much better chance to get the job.
Also I will try to be better prepared. Maybe that photo-job would have been more interested in me if I had made an online portfolio and included a link with my email. Or maybe it would have been like that writing job I applied for who asked for a link to a personal blog as a writing sample. I sent them the link to this blog and they never even looked at it.

Slow and steady wins the the race, right?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Detox - The Analysis

Today is the last day of my detox. I have to admit that my dinner today wasn't quite detox anymore. That's not because I couldn't do it anymore but because we had some food in the fridge that needed to be eaten before the weekend. 

Anyway here is an overview on how it went:

Health: In general I have to say I didn't feel much better. One reason I did this was to find out if I might be lactose intolerant or allergic to preservatives or anything like that. I have had some nervous stomach problems for the past few years and this was my way of finding out if they are food related or of a different nature. Well, seems like they are not food related. I don't feel "cleaner" like the people on the websites I read feel like when they detox, I didn't particularly feel better either.

Mentally: The first few days I felt awful. I am not entirely sure this had to do with the detox or something else but fact is that I felt really, really bad. I felt exhausted, so exhausted in fact that I only went to the gym once and that was on the first day of the detox. I was so tired after the gym that I didn't move much for the rest of the day. This is not how I usually feel like after the gym. After that experience I was a bit afraid of the gym and since I did a lot of physically challenging work in the apartment, like paint walls and I went for lot's of walks in this nice weather we were having, I didn't think it was so bad that I didn't make it to the gym. I'll definitely be back next week.
Strangely I felt so bad last weekend but then come Tuesday I was almost ecstatic. I felt so great. At that point I had started taking supplements like iron and multivitamins and maybe that influenced my mood. I don't know. I am just glad I am feeling normal now. I was afraid I was becoming bi-polar.

Appearance: That didn't change at all as far as I can tell. I expected to get this really wonderful, glowing, healthy looking complexion but nah. Nothing happened. The rings under my eyes still compete with Uncle Festers. I am still pale as a ghost. My pants are a smidgen less tight but that's really it.

What did I get out of it? I think the best thing I did was to reduce my salt intake and cut out my sugar intake. I didn't miss either, strangely. And now I can get away with salting much less and still like the food. It's funny how quickly your taste buds get used to something like using less salt. And the sugar I didn't miss at all. I am not a "I really would always prefer chips over chocolate" person. I like sweets and cookies and ice cream but it's not something I need to have everyday. So not having it for a week wasn't such a big deal. I read somewhere that it takes your body three days to get rid of a sugar addiction. Well, I had no withdrawal symptoms at all.
And I found a really tasty way to make smoothies - throw some frozen fruit (my favorites are pineapple, strawberries and mango) in the blender, together with a banana (not frozen) and some soy or almond milk. Turn on blender. You'll get something very similar in taste and look to fruit ice cream. It's delicious. 

The last few days I found better ways to make tasty meals and I actually didn't mind the whole vegan thing so much anymore. The only thing I really don't like about it is how damn complicated it is. You need to read all the labels to see if there might be something animal related or processed in it and since there are less things to put into your meal to make it tasty, you really need to watch what and how much of what you put into it. It takes a long time to cook a vegan meal and it's not very practical. So that's one reason why I won't become a vegan. Well and because I love cheese and milk and yoghurt. 

But I might throw in a vegan detox day every once in a while.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Delayed New York post

About a month ago I had the pleasure of meeting two of my friends from Holland - Beate and Maria (let me now if you want your names taken down) in New York for a long weekend trip.

We had a great time doing all the girly stuff like shopping and walking around and doing the Sex and the City bus tour ...

The Sex and the City tour was fun if a little silly. Our guide showed us video snippets from the show and then made little jokes like "That guy has some serious anger management problems, hallooo!". So that got a bit annoying after a while. But we did get to eat a cupcake from the Magnalio bakery (which I already did at my last trip to New York) and we went to the sex shop where Charlotte bought the "Rabbit". We also got to have Cosmos at the place that in SATC was owned by Aidan. 

One of the most unexpected, fun experiences I had was at the big Toys'r'us on Times Square. It's a crazy place!

They have a life sized spiderman hanging in the air:

A giant t-rex that moves and really scared me (and a lot of other grown up people):

And a barbie dream home - big enough for people to walk around in. On the bottom of this house there was a floor with all the barbies currently available on the market and a few special ones. I was especially surprised to see:

Dominatrix barbie:

and Gold-digger barbie:

Times sure have changed since I was begging my mom for Totally-hair-barbie (called Ultra-hair-barbie in Austria). I guess girls today just have different goals in life.

We also ended up eating at a Michelin star Italian restaurant in Little Italy. The food was pretty great but we were kind of annoyed that they added a 20% tip on the bill themselves. That's something pretty common in Italy and all the people working there were Italians so maybe that's why they did it but I still prefer to decide what I want to tip myself (but I usually do tip pretty well, so it's not that).

So to sum it up we had a really great time and it was wonderful to see two of my friends again!

And a quick update on my detox: Yesterday I felt so exhausted, I thought I couldn't do anything. I guess in general I feel a little bit less achy but the having no energy is really annoying. E suggested that maybe I am lacking Iron (I also have the tell-tale raw edges at the corners of my lips) and other vital vitamins, so I took a multi-vitamin and an Iron supplement last night. Hopefully I will feel more active today.

I also don't really feel hungry or have an appetite and almost have to force myself to eat. I am in a bit of a vicious circle. I am really not the kind of person who can eat the same thing more than twice in a row (unless I really, really like it) but I have been too tired to make new things, so I ate lentil soup and nothing but lentil soup for two days, after that I ate vegan Chili for three meals in a row - I am so BORED of it!
Hopefully the extra vitamins and minerals will help me have more energy and inspire me to cook more.

Also I have been feeling really depressed, like, very, very depressed. I don't know where this is coming from but I wonder if it has to do with my body getting rid of toxins? Because there is no other reason for it. If it's the toxins then I expect to get better soon. 
I am halfway done with the detox and I will see it through the end even if it's not really working the way I was hoping it to work so far but sometimes symptoms have to get worse before they get better. Also this is a challenge I set for myself and I am not the kind of person who just gives up.
So, three more days and then I am done!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

All by myself

Today was a gloriously beautiful day in Chicago. The sun was shining, it was about 12 C but felt like 20 C in the sun. Everybody was out on the street enjoying the beautiful weather.

I decided to go for a walk the moment I woke up. It was so warm that I actually walked down half a block and turned around, swapping my pea coat for my thinner jacket (which I had worn all through the last Dutch "summer") - and I was still a bit too warm!

It was one of the first really pleasant days this year, so I wanted to make my walk a long one. I decided to go down to the Belmont area. The area is cute and full of little, nice shops and cafes and young people. 

On my way there I saw at least 100 dogs being walked by their owners. I am not exaggerating here either - I have never seen as many dogs in a city!

As I walked down Clark Street and got closer to Belmont, I saw more and more young people and with young I mean under 24 years old.  The cafes and pubs and restaurant were filled with hip, young boys and girls, having a nice big, greasy hangover breakfast. The people who weren't in cafes were wearing work out clothes and walking around with their friends. 

I hadn't really been homesick to Holland at all so far and I do miss my friends but keeping in touch with them via email and Skype has helped a lot. I haven't even really felt lonely, I was pretty ok by myself and of course I have my husband come home to me every evening ...

But walking down Clark Street and Belmont I all of a sudden felt all of those things. I felt old, lonely and unfashionable. The smell of the streets reminded me of the streets of Amsterdam on a Sunday. It reminded me of Saturday afternoons spent with my friends, discussing the night before, having the best hot chocolate ever at Cafe Aroma on Leidseplein or shopping down Kalverstraat followed by cappuccino with my roommate at the time or letting the weekend ring out with a beer on Nieuwmarkt, next to a canal. Today I missed all those things and oh I missed them so much it hurt.

But my nostalgia is not for the life I left behind when I left the Netherlands on 22nd October 2008 - it is for a life much longer ago. A life that me and those friends that I miss so much have left behind a long time ago. And though I know that almost all of my life now is much better than it was then, I still miss the old life sometimes. 

And the thing is - when I have my husband next to me - I don't think about the old life. I don't miss it so much because you know, I have him and he is the best thing that ever happened to me and he makes me happy. But he wasn't here today and that's why all of this came up.

But just so you know, at the end of this long (3 1/2 hour) walk, I started feeling much better already. I might just be too old for that area. Tomorrow I'll go for a walk on the lakeshore instead.

Maybe it's also this detoxing thing that is bringing me down. I have been good and not eaten anything that I wasn't supposed to eat so far. I managed to make a really tasty, all-veggie lentil soup last night. I had a craving for cumin, so I used lot's of cumin and garam masala. I also put lemon in and some balsamic vinegar at the end. It was pretty delicious and the sourness of the lemon and vinegar made up for the fact that I didn't use much salt.

Today I am making veggie chili, topped with avocado.
I was really tired yesterday but am feeling better today. I don't know if that and my strange mood has anything to do with detoxing but it might. Who knows? We'll see if I start feeling really good soon. That's really why I am doing this - to feel clean inside and out and not feel so tired anymore.

Friday, February 6, 2009

New Year clean-up

This might come a bit late since it's already February but inspired by this blog post from The Kim Challenge I decided to do a one week detox.

I have been trying to cut out processed food as much as possible recently - for example - I just made my own chicken stock last Sunday. It took me about 10 hours but no more bouillon cubes for me! I boiled the stock down and froze it in handy portion sizes. Anyway - I am trying to cut out as much processed food as possible but it's more difficult here in America, where everything is processed and enriched and somehow modified to taste better than in Austria and Holland - where you can buy a yoghurt that is just that, a yoghurt. 

On top of that it is so common to go out for dinner in America. I never thought I would get so used to eat out but we eat out at least 2 times a week, most of the time more than that. When you go to a place that isn't a fast food place you would expect to get nutritious food, right? Well, I found that every place (that's not some sort of Asian cuisine) serves burgers and fries.

So to sum it up - I have had much more meat and unhealthy foods in t he last 3 month than I ever used to eat and that even though I am making a much bigger effort to avoid those foods. 

Today is my first day of a 7 day detox. The rules:

* No dairy - that will be difficult for me because I love cheese more than anything. Soy and almond milk are OK though.
* No processed foods. Everything has to be in its original state and only I can make it into something else. That cuts out pasta for me.
* Everything has to be organic. I had been eating mostly organic anyway though, so that's not really a big deal.
* No meat. I am going to eat vegan for a week. However I am wondering if I should include fish into my detox plan. What do you think? Obviously if I include fish it wouldn't be vegan anymore.
* No eggs.
* No sugar. Honey is ok but not more than a teaspoon a day.
* Cut out salt as much as possible. This one will probably be the most difficult for me as I have been salting my food like the citizens of Chicago salted their streets recently. However this is also the most important change I feel I need to make.
* No caffeine.

My breakfast today was oatmeal made with soy milk, a bit of honey, spices, almonds, flax seeds, banana and blueberries. However this is my breakfast most days, only that usually I use low-fat milk instead of soy milk. 

I will keep you updated on how it is going!

On another note I have done a lot of painting this week. I painted our dining room in two different colors - a light blue and a beige. My father in law is coming to Chicago for a poetry convention (he is a published poet) and I want to have the apartment as ready as possible until then. So the other project for the next 7 days is painting and re-doing three pieces of furniture and get the house clean and in order.

I will post pictures once it is all done!

My dear husband is off to Las Vegas today until Sunday for a work-bonding experience, so I have all the time I need to get this stuff done.

And little kitten Penelope is back and as healthy as could be. She is a little devil! Her and Anouk spend all day hunting each other through the apartment but they seem to get along most of the time.

I wish you guys a wonderful weekend!