Catching up

I have most certainly neglected this blog. It’s been almost 3 months since my last post. A large part of that is that nothing exciting is really happening in my life. I’m as happy and content as ever, but happy and content is my normal, not my response to outside events. However, the main purpose of this blog is to memorialize little things which I would probably otherwise forget, and I have been slacking.

 

Let’s start with Meramec Caverns. My mom had been talking about doing a family camping/rafting trip for years, but it didn’t actually happen until this past June. Now, I say “camping” with a large grain of salt because we stayed in the motel as my mother is absolutely against anything resembling real camping. My family picked me up after work on a Friday and we arrived just in time for dinner at the one and only restaurant within 10 miles – which also happened to be the official Meramec Caverns restaurant. I had a chipotle black bean burger. It was delicious. We walked down the river and skipped stones for a little while before heading back to the motel for the night. The next morning I got up and went for a jog. Disappointingly, there were no trails, so I was forced to jog along the desolate strip of pavement which connected the campground with the wider world. I stayed within half a mile or so of the campground, because I wasn’t all that comfortable running at 6 in the morning in a completely deserted area with no cell phone service. I’m glad I did, because on my way back a convertible sped by three times – first towards the campground, then away, then back again. But the third time I heard him slowing down as he approached me. I watch way too many true crime shows, so my mind started racing. He was a white guy in his 40s or 50s. He asked me if I had seen his black girlfriend who had taken his wallet and “run back to the hood.” I stayed as far to the side of the road as I could, said “no” and started full out running back to the campground. He sped past me and that was the last I saw of him. Now, logically, I was within screaming distance of the campground and it would have been hard for him to find somewhere to shove me in his little convertible, but I don’t care how honest your intentions are, you don’t stop a girl who is jogging by herself in the middle of nowhere to ask her a question. You just don’t.

 

Anyway, I headed back the motel and said not a word of this to my family. After all, nothing actually happened so there was no point in freaking everyone out. After breakfast we boarded the bus which was to drop us off for our 6 mile canoe trip. There were 3 of us in each canoe (we switched frequently) and the trip took us around 3.5-4 hours. We stopped often to let the kids play in the rarely-higher-than-waist-deep water and had a wonderfully relaxing time. My parents zip-lined in the afternoon before we went on the lantern cavern tour. The tour was a little too campy for me (they had guides dressed up in period costumes) but the cave was pretty. The next morning my brother and I went zip-lining- not as thrilling as I thought it would be, but I do love roller coasters, so my thrill threshold is higher than many others – but it was fun none-the-less. Afterwards we piled back into the van for the hour or so drive home.

 

Two weekends later I drove up to Champaign after work to spend some time with Emily. That night we chatted in the garden of her apartment complex before watching the incredibly inappropriate movie Bridesmaids. The next morning we went to the Farmers Market and some other random shops in downtown Champaign before grabbing lunch and chatting at her apartment for a little longer before I headed home. Nothing earth-shattering, but the girl time with my best friend was awesome and much-needed. It’s just not the same talking on the phone.

 

The following weekend I went up to Chicago with my mom and brother. My mom had to go to a Vet convention and my parents thought this would be a good test run for me and my brother traveling together, seeing as how I’m taking him to Europe next year (side note: the kid changed his country of choice from Germany to France, so now I get to see Paris and Normandy in addition to Rome and Venice!). Our hotel was kind of in the ghetto, but it could have been worse. At least it had an exercise room so that I didn’t have to go running in south Chicago at 6 in the morning 😉 That first night we ate at a Thai restaurant (my choice, naturally) before heading up to Navy Pier, strolling along the shops, and eating ice cream. Because, really, you can’t visit a pier and not get ice cream. Mom was at her conference for most of Saturday, so the brother and I purchased the CityPass and went to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium before meeting up with mom to have dinner at the Taste of River North, which was like a smaller version of the Taste of Chicago. It was fun and the tacos were delicious, but it was incredibly crowded. On Sunday Tyler and I went to Millennium Park and the Art Institute before eating deep dish pizza for lunch (Tyler’s choice). We headed back to the hotel (where I had to do a second workout to get the pizza out of my system) then met up with mom for dinner in River North followed by a stroll along the Magnificent Mile while we killed time waiting for The Book of Mormon to start. Oh my god, the musical was so inappropriate, but so hilarious. As a lover of Broadway, I naturally enjoyed it, but my mother and brother (who generally dislike musicals) were also cracking up the entire time.

 

On Monday Tyler and I hit up the Field Museum then waited for mom in a Starbucks near the Willis Tower. I introduced Tyler to Frappuccinos – I’m sure his wallet will hate me later 🙂 We went up the Tower, experienced the plastic see-though “Ledge” and then headed back to collect our luggage from the hotel and wait for our Amtrak train. It was a nice little break from work – it didn’t hurt that I had taken Tuesday off (since our train didn’t get in until almost midnight) so I still had a day to myself before going back to the daily grind.

Musings

A strange thing happens when life is good: there’s much less to write about. At least, that’s what’s happened in my case. I follow the same routine most every day: wake up, eat breakfast, exercise, study Russian, work, come home and do a little more Russian, eat dinner, read/watch hockey/hang out with friends/do whatever, sleep, repeat. Nothing life shattering.

 

Not to say I don’t have complaints, I just try to let them drift away, rather than memorializing them. And for the first time in a long time, the majority of my complaints are not directly related to my job. I like my job and I love my company. Not to lock myself in to anything, but I could see pursuing a career here. Probably not in claims, but possibly in management. I’ve become even more of a mentor to CW now that I’ve left AAA than I was when I was her actual trainer/mentor there. We meet about once a week to get dinner and watch GoT. Most of the time is spent listening to her complaining about AAA (while I can sympathize, the reason that I left AAA was so that I could stop complaining about AAA) and despairing of the future. She bounces ideas off me and asks my advice on work and life choices. It’s an interesting dynamic, and she’s quite amusing and fun when I can get her away from the AAA rants.

 

My biggest challenge right now is patience. I want to get my MBA pronto, but the top schools want work experience, so I’ll be applying in December 2014 to enroll in the Fall 2015 semester. My top schools are UChicago and UC Berkeley. Boston U is my fallback-yet-still-very-highly-ranked school. It seems so far away, but I’ll have my SCLA and CPCU designations to keep me busy in the meantime (and the company is going to fly me and a guest to Hawaii for the 2016 conferment when I finish the CPCU!). I’ve also ramped up my Russian studies. Clearly, I am not one of those people who love having lots of free time. I get bored easily.

 

I’m also planning my next trips. June 2014 – Italy (Rome, Florence/Pisa, Venice) and Germany (Hamburg and Berlin) with my brother; Spring 2015 – Vietnam (Halong Bay), Bangkok, and Singapore. Summer 2016 – China with whatever MBA program I’m enrolled in. I haven’t told my parents about the 2015 trip yet because they will not be fans at all, and there’s no point in worrying them if things might change.

 

After 6 weeks of not blogging – that’s really all I’ve got. Kind of sad, but good in it’s own way. I’d rather have a pleasant, yet slightly boring, daily existence punctuated by exciting trips and friendships than a roller coaster filled with more than it’s fair share of despair.

Dallas

On Sunday, I flew down to Dallas for my first ever business trip, complete with company credit card. I was scheduled to attend Casualty School, which sounds more exciting than it actually is. Four and a half days of training. Woohoo….

 

I arrived around 6pm, picked up my rental, and was at the hotel restaurant in Richardson (a northern suburb of Dallas) by 8. We stayed at the Hilton Doubletree. Pros: King-sized sleep-number bed, free breakfast, gigantic room, literally 3 minutes from the office, free warm cookie with check in; Cons: no mini-fridge or microwave (some of my coworkers had them, some, like me, did not. I was not pleased); during the free breakfast buffet the wait staff hovered constantly, looking for any way to get a tip (as in, literally taking the glass from your hand as you approached the juice machine).

 

Training ran 8-4:30 Monday-Thursday.  I headed downtown on three of the four nights. Though I had a rental to myself, traffic in the Dallas area is HORRID, so I elected to walk ten minutes and take the train.

 

Monday night I saw the infamous grassy knoll.  There was an ‘x’ in the road where JFK was assassinated.  Slightly morbid.  I then walked around the Downtown Art District, taking in the architecture.

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Note the ‘x’

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Tuesday I planned on going to Fair Park, where the State Fair is held every year. It had a 4.5 star rating on Trip Advisor and was rated one of the “best public spaces in America” with a lot of art deco style buildings. What all the reviewers neglected to mention is that Fair Park is in the ghetto. I started getting uncomfortable on the train based on the scenery, but I assumed that Dallas was like NYC, where one block is ghetto and the next (generally a tourist-trap) is perfectly fine.  Boy was I wrong.  I got off the train and attempted to walk the few blocks to the entrance of the park, but I felt completely unsafe and turned right back around. Even I have limits to what I’ll do in the name of exploring. If I don’t feel safe, it isn’t happening.

 

Wednesday I stayed in the hotel. Boring, I know.

 

Thursday is the day when the art museums are open late.  I hit up the Dallas Museum of Art and the Crow Collection of Asian Art. DMA was a bit bigger than the STL Art Museum and had a nice variety of exhibits.  The Crow Collection was tiny and wouldn’t have been worth a trip on its own, but it was a nice add-on to the DMA. I especially loved the photographs by John Thompson.

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Class ended around 11:15 on Friday, and it took me until 12:30 to return the rental car. The trip should have taken 20 minutes, but things tend to slow down when a major highway is reduced to one lane in a venue which already has some of the worst traffic I’ve ever seen (I was out around 8:45pm two of the nights, and it was still like rush hour traffic).

 

The best part of travelling on business is that all your food is on the company’s dime (within your per diem limit, of course). I took the opportunity to get in touch with my inner Thai. I highly recommend Ruang Thai, Noodlewave, and Bambu if you’re in the Richardson/Plano area.

 

The best Pad Thai ever

The best Pad Thai ever

Spring rolls, Pad See Ew, Sweet Mango Rice

Spring rolls, Pad See Ew, Sweet Mango Rice

Pad Kee Mao

Pad Kee Mao

I tried Indian one night, but discovered that I’m not a fan of cardamom.

 

Rice, veggie curry, rice pudding, and garlic naan

Rice, veggie curry, rice pudding, and garlic naan

Another day we had lunch at a Mediterranean buffet.  Mmmm falafel. I also had lunch at a place called Twisted Root Burger.  The teriyaki and swiss black bean burger with sweet potato chips was delicious, but the atmosphere was dive-y.  Later on I learned that it had indeed been featured on the Food Network show Drive-Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. And, of course I couldn’t pass up the chance to have the company pay for the Cheesecake Factory.

 

Overall, I wasn’t impressed with Dallas, and I’m glad I didn’t spend my own money to come here.  I suppose I’m just a Coastal girl (imo Chicago is better than Dallas and STL, but pales in comparison with NYC, Boston, and San Fran). The Richardson/Plano area did have some amazing restaurants, and the weather was pleasant, but the atmosphere of the city itself was…grungy for lack of a better word. That said, it is another pin to add to my map and another story to tell 🙂

You know how I hate goodbyes

Today was it.  My last day at AAA. It started normally enough: I woke up, ate breakfast, worked out, went to work, checked my voicemail and got down to it. They have a tradition of having “food days” for birthdays and departures, so I walked in to donuts and had chili-mac, cake, brownies, chips and dip, and cookies to look forward to for lunch (yes, yes, I know, but I’m allowed to splurge every now and again). The day went fairly quickly in contrast to the rest of the week.  Emotionally I started off ho-hum (because, really, I’m going to do the same thing somewhere else, just for more money. I’d be way more excited if I’d gotten out of claims), then grew more and more excited with each person who came by and reminded me that it was my last day, then, during the last hour, the sadness crept in.

 

AAA has been one big roller coaster ride. I was elated when I was offered the job in late March 2011.  By that point I was desperate for work and would have been elated with just about anything, but the job itself sounded interesting and it was with a large company with opportunities for future growth.  The first year was a whirlwind of learning the trade, bonding with my coworkers, and finding a way to make the job fun.  We were all on top of the world at our one-year anniversary lunch (I’ll never forget blasting Michael Jackson in the smart-car with Brian).  Sure, no one really liked working weekends and holidays, but we were all in it together and, somehow, that made it better.

 

Then came the catastrophe.  In one month, all the goodwill I’d held towards AAA was obliterated. Not only were we taken advantage of and treated horribly as a group (is it really too much to ask for expectations to be spelled out clearly?), I personally was disrespected by my manager in the most unprofessional way for daring to bring up a concern I had with what was going on and daring to request one day off each week (while she took three vacations in a ten week period). Shortly thereafter, my previously-promised promotion was magically taken away.

 

I stayed at AAA solely because of my Japan trip. True, after the catastrophe, once I settled back into a relief adjusting Monday-Friday role, things were better, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t forget. I knew that as soon as another catastrophe hit, everything would go to hell again.  When I was offered the opportunity to jump ship and join Sonja’s team, I didn’t hesitate.

 

I got lucky – Sonja was laid back and knowledgeable, and all of my team members were easy to get along with. I’ll always feel a special bond with the original weekend team (going through hell together from day one breeds closeness), but my new team was just as amazing.

 

I started looking for a new job within days of returning from Japan. No matter how amazing Sonja or my team was, I couldn’t forget how the company allowed the weekend team to be exploited. I couldn’t forget that Katie, a girl who had started after me and still asked me the most basic of questions, was given the promotion I had been promised, simply because she was best friends with our manager, who herself was unqualified for her promotion from HO adjuster to manager of a team of brand new auto adjusters. I couldn’t forget that the company based promotions solely on customer service surveys, not taking into account work quality or skill. I couldn’t work for a company like that.

 

That said, I’ll still miss the people- Amanda, Daniel, Jim, Sarah, Casey, Scott, Mark, Jason, Kristin, Sonja, Cynthia, and others whom I never got the opportunity to know well. The worst part of today was all the goodbyes. I tell myself that I’ll keep in touch with a few of them and go to their Happy Hours to see the others, but, while that might happen, the more likely outcome is that I won’t see most of them again.  And while life is full of people flitting in and out of your life, that doesn’t make it any less sad.

Changes

It appears I spoke too soon about not getting the Liberty Mutual job, because I received (and accepted) an offer on Valentine’s Day! Unfortunately, the job is essentially doing the same thing I’m doing now, except I’ll handle primarily injury claims and will be getting paid a substantial amount more to do it. Add in the fact that LM has offices near all of the grad schools I’m considering, and I think this will be a great move. While I would ultimately like to get out of claims, I’ve accepted that this is my trade for the time being, at least until I get my MBA.  My last day at AAA is February 28th 🙂

Happy Chinese New Year!

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The past few weeks I’ve had absolutely nothing to blog about. I would open a new post and draw a complete blank.  Luckily, the Chinese New Year this weekend gives me something to start with. I’ve been in an Asian mood lately and my kitchen shows it.  Think Pad Thai, soba noodles, and homemade Japanese sweets. Whatever you think about Asia, you can’t knock the food 🙂

 

2013 is the Year of the Snake.  I hate snakes, but whether I like it or not, it’s my Zodiac sign (Just my luck, I missed the coveted Dragon by a mere 22 days).  So, maybe this will be a good year for me. 2012 wasn’t a bad year per se, but it was rather forgettable, travelling aside. I was hoping to start the new year off with a new job; I had a really promising interview a week ago last Friday but after a week with no word, I’m fairly certain I didn’t get it.  But that’s alright, because it was an injury adjuster position, and what I really want is to get out of claims and into HR. I saw a job posting for an international HR logistics coordinator the other day and fell in love.  I didn’t have nearly enough experience to apply, but it got me fired up again to get into the HR field so I can work my way there.

 

One of my favorite movies is ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’  The main character is often told that her element is water.  In one scene, she receives the gentle rebuke that “water is always in such a hurry.”  I feel like that character.  I want a new job. Now.  I want to move to Chicago. Now. I want to go to grad school. Now.  But I can’t have everything ‘now.’  A new job in a new field is going to take time.  No new job means no moving.  And without a couple more years of work experience, I’m putting myself at a disadvantage for the more prestigious MBA programs. What I need to do is slow down and enjoy life, rather than always looking ahead.  That doesn’t mean I stop being ambitious, but I should enjoy the extra time I have with my family while I have it, and be more appreciative of the job that more than pays the rent and is really not that bad.

 

I’m big on making plans and setting goals.  But this year, I want to try a year without all that.  Yes, I want a new job and I’m going to keep looking for one, but setting arbitrary deadlines is only going to stress me out.  I need to embody one of those other qualities of water- that of going with the flow.

My Sister- The Future Con Artist

While celebrating my mom’s birthday at the Cheesecake Factory (which was, as always, sinfully delicious), she shared a story which left us both proud and a little bit scared.

 

My sister is a 6 year old first grader.  Yesterday she got caught standing on the sinks in the school bathroom and jumping off.  She had recruited two of her friends to join her. She’s no follower, that kid, she’s the ringleader.  After a 1st grader and kindergartener told on her, she was sent to the principal’s office, where she proceeded to deny the entire thing until the witnesses were brought into the room. She then came clean and was given a referral slip, which she was to give to mom or dad to sign.

 

Fast forward to 8pm last night – Mom is listening to the messages on her cell phone, something she rarely does.  She has a voicemail from the principal.  She turns to my dad to ask him if he knew about this and had signed the referral.  He knew nothing even though he’d gone through her school folder that day.  They enter the kitchen…and find the referral in the recycling bin. Looking at her planner (which mom and dad are supposed to initial every day), they found that she had forged their initials – supposedly in the hopes that they wouldn’t see the page with “referral” written on it.  Mom was livid. It was on.

 

Mom called sis upstairs and gave her a long talking to, while Dad sympathetically watched (this was his little baby, after all). It ended with her writing an apology to the principal and being grounded for a week.

 

While we are strangely proud of her ingenuity, it’s a scary premonition of things to come.  Mom said the kid didn’t know the referral had to be signed, but if she had there was no doubt she would have forged that too.  If mom hadn’t listened to her voicemail (a completely out of character move), no one would have ever known. And, according to mom, sis didn’t even really understand what she’d done, this was all just instinct.  Kid’s got some intelligence.  Scary intelligence….. Can’t wait until she’s a teenager and her plots are deliberate 😉