Back To (No) School

Oh, friends.  I know it’s been awhile since I posted.  As always, life happens and I find myself procrastinating on posting for days upon days until suddenly weeks past and I just pretend that no time has passed at all when actually it’s been three months.  Thanks to everyone who was still reading, commenting, and emailing me (postcollegiateblog at gmail, if you’re interested) and I hope to be more committed to this blog as the summer melts into fall.

When you’re growing up, late August/early September is always the back of school time of year.  Being the kind of kid who hating playing outdoors and loved the feeling of freshly sharpened pencils in her hand, I loved the back to school rush.  Picking out new supplies, seeing old friends, and the feeling of temperatures dropping below 90 degrees was always a welcomed feeling for me.

After college, the back to school feeling became something different – it became the “going back to school” feeling.  Every fall since I graduated in 2007, friends have announced their intentions to attend medical school or law school or graduate school or air conditioning repair school.  Going back to school has become everyone’s fall back plan and as you probably know, earlier this year, it became mine.  This past spring, I applied to Expensive DC University’s Business School.  I submitted my application just days after being laid off, wished on a bottle of beer, and hoped for the best.

And I got in!  With a scholarship!  And there was much rejoicing.  Until I realized how much this little excursion back to school was going to cost me.  Even with the scholarship (and extra money cajoled out of the department, because I am supremely gifted at manipulating funds), I’d be looking at taking on a loan debt that just felt outrageous.  It would triple my current debt, limit my ability to make money with my new career (more to come on that!), and would drain my savings.  After a few days of reveling in my acceptance and cursing my ancestors for never leaving me a hefty inheritance to cover my educational needs, I had to say no.

That was six weeks ago.  It hadn’t really started to bug me until now.  Scrolling through Facebook, I see the announcements of various acquaintances getting excited about going back to school and their various graduate school acceptances, and I feel a sickening sense of envy.  I could be stocking up on school supplies, scoping out hot professors online and preparing “I’m so tired of studying” tweets but instead, I’m staring down a fall surprising similar to every other fall I’ve faced for the last five years.  I think the thing that’s really getting under my skin is that if this business school acceptance had come to me when I was 22 or 23, I would have said yes in a heartbeat – financial responsibility and loan burden be damned.

I’m proud that I’m being more financially responsible but it worries me that I’m losing that aspect of my personality where I was willing to take big risks.  I’m not as naive as I used to be and I worry that perhaps with the little wisdom I’ve attained in my post-college years, I’ve lost my sense of risk and adventure.  Maybe I should have jumped into this opportunity and worried about the money later.  Or maybe I made the right choice in keeping my nose to the grindstone to work as much as possible and pay down my current school debt.

Or maybe I’m just obsessing because I feel rudderless during a time of year when someone else used to hand me a schedule for the next eight months and tell me exactly what to expect.

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The Time I Got Laid Off The Day After My Birthday

No use in burying the lede on this blog post, folks.  One of the things I’ve always striven to do with this blog is be honest and forthcoming about how my life has played out since graduating from college and as I have come upon another one of life’s little surprises, it feels right to lay it out here for you.

First things first.  I turned 28 years old last week.  It felt strange.  I usually enjoy birthdays and don’t get too fussy about them.  They’re a great excuse to get a lot of people together and celebrate – in this case, I rounded up about two dozen of my closest friends and we enjoyed a fierce Nats/Phillies baseball game.  I was perfectly content to have people buy me beers and wish me well in the coming year and not dwell on my age.

That is, until Monday night – the night before the actual day.  I don’t know if it was just the exhaustion from coming off a packed weekend or one of those momentary nervous breakdowns that come out of nowhere because someone looks at you wrong, but I snapped.  All of a sudden, I felt the distance between me and my youth (10 years since high graduation!  5 years since college graduation) and the weight of each of the twenty-eight years weighing down on me.  What had I accomplished with that time?  By any factor of success (wealth, health, wisdom, self-fulfillment), did I have any achievements of note?

I tried to shake it off.  A low-key afternoon on my actual birthday – a little museum strolling, sangria with friends, a chance meeting with Jose Andres, and sweet phone calls from my parents – helped to ease the tension and I felt as if perhaps I should save the freak-out for when I actually turned 30.

But apparently, it was the perfect time to freak out.  The very next day, about halfway through my morning work routine, I was called into our department supervisor’s office.  I have written about the end of my previous employment before, but I have to say, this time was different.  You usually have a clue, an inkling, that these things are coming – either because they’re mutual or you can feel it in the air – but this truly took me off-guard.  I knew as soon as I closed the door behind me and the shock was so palpable, I found it hard to catch my breath.

I didn’t cry.  I didn’t argue.  I didn’t fall back on snark or sarcasm, which is really the triumph for me in uncomfortable situations.  I listened plaintively as they explained that there were too many and not enough work.  That they were happy with my performance, that everyone liked me, but it wasn’t a good fit and it wasn’t the right time.  That they could see that I was unhappy.  This last one really stung – because it was true.  I hadn’t been happy in this job, chained behind a desk, with little work to fill my days.  But I had always prided myself on being an outgoing, upbeat person, especially in the workplace.  How could they have known I was wilting inside?

And that was that.  I was truly so stunned, I just grabbed my purse and walked out the door.  I didn’t even clean out my desk – so, you’re welcome, person who gets that desk eventually, for the free granola bars and cough drops and the one fancy pen I brought from home.

I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been a tough couple of days.  Telling my parents was like pulling off a band-aid – it stings initially but it’s better just to do it quickly.  They are loving and supportive, which in some ways makes it worse.  It must not be easy for them, a few years away from retirement, and worrying about an adult child who seems to skip and hop her way through life instead of hunkering down and forging a real career path somewhere.

Honestly, the absolute worst thing about getting laid off is telling people.  The financial worries aren’t great and the lack of daily routine is not well-suited for someone as OCD as myself, but the aspect of this entire ordeal that is so trying is having to let people know.  I know that it’s the right thing to do – your support system of friends and family exist to support you when times get tough but having to volunteer the information that, for not the first time in your life, you’ve been let go is a frustrating endeavor.  Trust me, there’s no easy way to do it.  I am so terrible at it, my roommate completely missed what I had said the first time.

I know there are lessons to be learned here and that, in some ways, this is a relief.  Iwasunhappy at my job and even though I thought I was a spectacular actress, it was obviously clear to others.  I’m learning that I am truly not cut out for a run-of-the-mill desk job and that I have to stop accepting so many administrative tasks just because I’m good at it when I’m better at creating, innovating, and implementing.  I can be proud of the fact that I cultivated strong connections to previous employers and prospective employers, which have already given me a couple of opportunities for the summer and possible beyond.  I have always been happiest when hustling, pursuing projects and working with organizations and people that I’m truly excited to be with, and perhaps I shouldn’t have let my desire to appear more “adult” or “grown-up” to others pull me away from that.

Or maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself to get through this weird first week of non-working.  All I can say for sure is that right now, from my current “office” aka my kitchen table, it’s a beautiful sunny day and I get to go outside and enjoy it.

So, it could be worse.

Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Ashley Blom

The Internet is a great place – it allows you to shop for shoes from your desk at work, find gifs from your favorite TV shows just moments after they air, and they can bring you together with like-minded peers to become Interweb besties.  That’s how I feel about Ashley.  She’s the brainchild behind Quarter Life (Crisis) Cuisine and is smart, witty, and clever in the kitchen.  She was nice enough to share a little bit about her story, her blog, and her secrets (she’s a heterochrome!)

The lovely Ashley Blom

As is the custom here, please tell the readers a little bit about yourself!

My name is Ashley Blom and I have lived in Massachusetts my entire life. I’ve always had a passion for writing, which was jump started at age 6 when I won a children’s fiction contest sponsored by Jane Yolen, an author who lived in my hometown. As all little kids are wont to do, I immediately assumed I was the best writer in the history of the universe and I was immediately hooked. Though I’ve gotten a bit more humble in my later years, that initial passion of “this is what I DO!” has always stuck. Writing will always be a part of my life in some shape or form.

I come from a very small farming town–I graduated with only 28 kids in my public high school class. I chose to go to Emerson College to major in Writing, Literature, and Publishing because it was the one school that had the exact major that I wanted. I wanted a major with creativity, literature, more of my own voice, so creative writing was what I decided to focus on in college, with publishing classes supplementing my education so that I could have hope of finding a “real” job. The big city was a big change from my hometown, but one I embraced with my whole heart. I loved my college experience, to be surrounded by other creative minds was just a paradise for me. The fast pace of the city felt more like home than the endless farm lands of Western Massachusetts ever did. I truly knew I was a city mouse who had somehow grown up as a country mouse by sheer accident.

I’ve always loved anything creative. Writing is my first passion, but acting and singing are a close second. I often act in community theater and I know it will always be a part of my life in some form or another. I also love artistic things and am always trying to find new outlets to showcase my creativity. More recently I’ve been using my food blog as a way to practice photography techniques, since this is yet another creative outlet I want to explore.

College was also where I developed my love of travel (I’ve made the effort to see two new cities each year as a result). I spent a semester in The Netherlands, living in an old castle with 80 other students. This was in 2007, and at the same time that I had this amazing experience I also had a terrible one–my father died. He was my best friend and I was totally not ready for it. I had to take a plane home by myself, attend the funeral, and then since the trip was already paid for I returned to finish my semester. I think these two events were the most life changing things I’ve ever been through, and they’ve inspired a lot of my writing and life decisions ever since.

Currently I am living with my mom and stepdad and working as a Marketing Assistant 45 minutes away. The drive is terrible, but I love my job. After a terrible apartment search experience I’ve decided to continue to live at home until I have enough money to move to California–which hopefully will be soon!

It sounds like you’ve always been tuned into your passions.  What was your initial life plan after college?

After college, I saw myself working at a publishing house in New York City–living with other Emerson alums and working my way up the career ladder to be an editor while in my free time penning my first novel or collection of short stories. Today, I am living at home, working in marketing for an energy company, and dreaming of the day I can escape to some big city again. I didn’t expect my loan repayments to be this high every month, and it’s keeping me from getting too far from my safety net. I see friends who are getting financial support and I get utterly green with envy that I have to do it all myself. I feel like my finances are keeping me from my dreams and I get bitter. But I have realized that so many other people are in my same exact position, and I feel better.

I recently had a “quarter-life-crisis” where I decided I needed to stop being scared and pull myself up onto my feet and make my dreams come true on my own. So I’ve really buckled down and started to save my money. I traveled to California last year and fell in love with it, so LA is my goal. NYC will come later, since I know it’ll be easy to stay there once I’m established, and I really want to live somewhere different than the East Coast for at least a part of my life. I am halfway to where I want to be savings-wise and am trying to work up the nerve to actually make such a dramatic move.

You’re lucky to have a job that’s at least mildly related to your interests but you also blog as well.  What benefits have you derived, personally and professionally, from blogging?

I’ve been blogging in some capacity since age ten. My blogs have never been overly popular or gained thousands of hits, but I have a little cluster of loyal commenters that make me smile, and that’s enough for me right now. I love cooking, and writing, and since my current job doesn’t really let me do either in a professional environment, it’s a great way to keep my foot in the door. My hope for the blog is that it will be profitable someday, but at the very least I have a fun accounting of my recipe triumphs and failures and it’s a great and useful hobby.

My passion for food started with my internship at the Lisa Ekus Group. She’s a cookbook publicist (among many other things!) and I loved my time working for her. She still sends me cookbooks to review on my blog! I study her clients and take notes on what they do and how they’ve made cooking into a career. I’m finding that I probably could never have the patience or skill to produce my own cookbook, but I would love to be in the food publishing business in some way. Working for Lisa really helped me come to that conclusion and figure out what my “dream job” would be.

Post-college cuisine can be a challenge – we have limited time, money, and talents for good meals.  What are some tips for young struggling chefs?

In the kitchen with Quarterlife Cuisine

Use your weekends to cook and shop for the week. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is so nice to come home and have a ready-prepared meal waiting for you in the freezer if you just do not have time or energy to whip something up from scratch. When I lived in my own apartment I would make big pots of Hamburger Soup and freeze them in portion-sized bags for easy eating. Or I’d make salads on Sunday in little containers and eat them for lunch through the week–just don’t add dressing until you’re ready to serve them, otherwise everything turns to mush. I learned that the hard way!

Also, learn substitutions for hard-to-find products. One of my new favorite substitutions is for baking powder, something I never seem to have on hand. You use 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/4 tsp baking soda in place of 1/2 of your liquid in the recipe (and if you don’t have buttermilk, you just mix whole milk with vinegar, ta-daa! Buttermilk!) and they come out just fine. There are whole books dedicated to substitutions, but a simple Google search will usually suffice.

Also, sales are your friend. I find myself checking circulars and coupon-cutting like an old lady sometimes but it really helps! Buy fresh produce when you can, and save a few bucks by not buying it pre-prepared (chopped, peeled, etc) and do it yourself. Buy in bulk whenever you can for non-perishables like rice, beans, and frozen meat. The cost up front might seem like more, but it’ll last longer.

Can you share some easy, go-to recipes that are sure to help post-collegiates dazzle their friends and family?

Sure! Here are some of my favorites!

Spaghetti Carbonara – This is my absolute go-to for a quick meal that seems fancy

Chiang Mai Curry Noodles – This is a complicated-sounding dish that is really very easy to do

Chicken Cacciatore – This is another recipe that has lots of ingredients, but they’re generally cheap and easy to find–plus you get to drink all the leftover wine you don’t use!

Crowd Pleasing Taco Dip – My go-to party dip. People love it!

Turkey Ravioli – This is the best thing I’ve ever made. The recipe calls for wonton wrappers in place of making ravioli from scratch, which I think is pure genius and something I’ve definitely experimented with in recipes since.

Summer Sangria – And finally, what good gathering is complete without a punch bowl? Sangria is so easy to make and definitely does not break the bank.

Being a Millennial often means living your life online.  What’s your experience been with blogging?  Do you have positive/negative experiences you’d like to share?

I’ve had plenty of good experiences and friendships result from my blogs, but also my fair share of trolling. Most recently, I had a horrible experience where a blog I frequent that tends to discuss sexuality and women’s reproductive rights was targeted by either a person or group who wanted to shut the site down. Since the blog owner wasn’t about to shut down any time soon, the troll/s decided to go after her commenters–of which I was one of them. Somehow they got my personal information (full name, age, college, where I worked) and paraded it around the internet with claims about what a “whore” I am. They tried to attack my employer’s Facebook page and they took some of my pictures from my flickr account and put hateful things in Impact font over my face. All because I left a comment on a somewhat feminist blog that they didn’t agree with. Suddenly my Google results were tarnished. I went into hiding on the internet and was too scared to do anything that would give the trolls more things to throw at me.

After about six months I was itching to blog again. I remembered what my friend, a schoolteacher, had told her class during an internet safety lesson: “Nobody cares what other people write about you on the internet–they care about what YOU write about YOURSELF.” By locking down and shutting down my entire internet presence, the trolls’ hateful messages were the only thing left about me when you searched for my name. That’s when I began to rebuild my online presence. Due to the right of free speech I can’t get those hateful words taken down without a lawyer, an expensive process I can’t afford right now, but I can put positive, truthful things about my character back on the web.

I really appreciate you sharing that with our readers.  I think we take Internet safety for granted too often.  If you could go back to graduation day and give yourself advice, what would it be?

Perhaps I’d tell myself to stay in Boston for another year, before my loans kicked in. Try to get in with a publishing house out there. Don’t let boyfriends interfere with my life plans. Travel just a little more before I have to stick to a strict budget, and keep in better touch with friends from college. Cook more, write more, while there’s still time.

Hoping Ashley can make the move to California soon!

Many, many thanks to Ashley for agreeing to be featured and sharing so much with the blog.  Please be sure to check out the recipes listed above and read her blog!  As always, you can leave questions for Ashley in the comments section as well!

Neither An Oversharer Nor An Undersharer Be

21st century life is a strange beast.  We’re a generation so accustomed to living life online that it’s practically second nature.  When we meet someone cool, we Facebook friend them the next day.  If we want to get the latest on a news story, we check on Twitter.  Job seeking, apartment hunting, shopping, dating, food ordering, and just about everything else is done online or through an app or in some sort of virtual world that doesn’t involve actually going anywhere.  Everyone blogs or Tumbles or shares personal playlists on Spotify or contributes to crowd sourced Flickr streams – doing any or all of these things doesn’t make you stand out, it makes you part of the crowd.

With all of this said, it can make blogging both a very rewarding and a very challenging task.  I love to blog – I’m not particularly good at talking about my feelings or concerns or fears in person but for some reason, I’m happy to expose my insecurities and anxieties and small moments of triumphs with my wonderful world of Internet friends (and people who find me with really strange Google searches).  The sense of community and connection that can build out of something so small as putting a few words on the Internet about how life in your 20s can be terrible and awesome all at once is pretty incredible.

But it’s not always as easy as it seems.  I find myself culling not just my personal experiences but the experiences of others for blog fodder.  Whenever I’m having a conversation with a friend whose struggling with a job hunt or freaking out over a cross country move or drowning in financial uncertainty, my mind often starts drafting blog posts in my head.  Conversely, when I write a really personal, honest post about my own failings, I hesitate to put it out there too much, worried what my friends will think about me when they see me in the flesh.  Am I tapping into a vein of shared misgivings and misadventures or am I truly the one screw-up in the bunch?

I’m coming off of a couple of pretty good weeks – I’m hitting a stride at my job despite still having way to much free time, I have a great group of friends, and I’ve even had the chance to do some guest-blogging.  But all those fears and anxieties and uncertainties don’t go away and whenever someone I know confesses they share that fear, it takes everything in my power not to rush to the nearest laptop and start transcribing our conversations.  So, consider this blog post an apology of sorts – for my friends, I’m sorry if things we discuss occasionally end up on this blog and I promise to never purposefully share your stories without your permission.

For my readers, I’m sorry if sometimes I hold back on the really juicy real life examples until I can ply my friends with booze and promises of low readership into granting me permission to help illustrate that we’re just hot messes pretending to have our lives together online.

The Reports Of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

I am good at a lot of things in life, including, but certainly not limited to, pouring a perfect beer, being the ideal Jeopardy couch-contestant, remembering the lyrics to 60’s one hit wonder songs, juggling the various storylines of Game of Thrones by describing different characters as “Hot Dude, Stark Division” and “Hot Dude, Bastard Division”, etc, and remembering to refill the candy bowl so that when guests come over, it looks like we never eat candy (when it fact it makes up 37% of my daily television watching fuel).

However, I am not good at one thing – being sick.

I am terrible at being sick.  I eschew Western medicine, mostly because I’m lazy and complacent but also a little bit because I think the pharmaceutical companies will some day be our evil overlords.  I do not understand the concept of “resting” and “relaxing” unless I am purposefully procrastinating on something important.  Any type of illness that limits my daily food intake also comes with a dose of whiny petulance that is a direct result of upsetting my eatin’ schedule.  All in all, it’s usually not very pretty.

Sadly, I have been sick.  It started Wednesday with what I thought was just a light case of the chills, brought on by too much air conditioning and my insistence on rocking sundresses to work that are probably still a little unseasonably appropriate but by late Wednesday night, in the midst of a fever dream underscored by the tune of Zou Bisou Bisou, I was convinced that I was Patient Zero and it was the end.  I stayed burrowed on my couch for three days, rejecting sunlight, conversation, and pills, convinced that the copious amounts of alcohol that have passed through my bloodstream would easily flush out whatever toxins remained.

Alas, it seems that I have survived.  I felt chipper enough yesterday to eat steak, drink beers, and soak up a little Vitamin D while deck-sitting and listening to Bob Dylan – that’s basically my preferred modus operandi.  I waltzed into the office today, wearing a seasonally-appropriate shift and feeling healthy enough to even change the water jug.  It seems that all is well.

I apologize for the lack of posting during my unannounced sabbatical but I am feeling full of vim and vigor and am confident that you are in for a great week of bloggery!

Thanks for your patience, and stay safe out there!

You Can Always Go Home Again

Helloooooooo everyone!  It feels like years since my last post, even though it’s only been six days.  But I always feel like vacation time is some sort of strange black hole that warps days into feeling like minutes or hours into feeling like years.  Or something like that.  I have no idea, I’m still completely exhausted and think that today is Monday.

Going home is always such a mix of emotions for me.  On one hand, it’s nice to get away from the problems and stresses of my every day life and go back to a simpler times, when meals and basic necessities were provided to me without question and where I rarely have to make any decisions.  On the other hand, because I tend to suffer from a bit of revertigo when I go home, I also find myself acting in a manner which Normal Me would find appalling but Visiting-Home-Again Me thinks is totally acceptable, such as throwing a temper tantrum when the PostCollegiate Parentals do not provide warm fresh kolaches at my first breakfast back.

Being back home is always this weird, schizophrenic mix of feeling unconditionally loved and accepted for the special little snowflake that I am while also feeling like the world’s biggest disappointment for my lack of career achievement/advanced degrees/impressive salary/numbers of lives changed through my actions.  I vacillate between basking in superiority to Baby Sister for eschewing the option of ever moving back home and seething in jealousy when I realize what a smart decision it was.  I love watching the PCPs discover the wonderful world of the Internet through their iPads, especially as PCD realizes that he can stream the Rachel Maddow show “just like on a real television” or PCM finally gets through the first three levels of Angry Birds.  But then I worry if those little “senior moments” are just that or indicators of something more or if that nagging cough is a harbinger of another bout of medical disasters and it’s hard to enjoy the funny moments.

On top of my own parental-related crisis, this trip home was intensified by the inclusion of attending a conference for an organization that I’ve been involved with my whole life.  The conference was fun – I love seeing little dudes dressed in tiny suits and catching up with old friends – but I hate, hate, hate having to do the “life recap” every five minutes.  It goes something like this:

Yes, it’s hard to believe I’m almost 28.
Yes, I hope I always look this young – not that 28 is young but you know what I mean…*awkward laugh*
Yes, I’m still living in DC.
No, I’m not working for the museum anymore.
No, I wasn’t fired.  It’s sort of complic–never mind.
Yes, I have a new job.  It’s sort of complicated.  I like my boss but I’m a little bored but I’m applying to grad school but it’s a tough economy but I have no idea why I keep rambling about this job.
No, I’m not married.
No, I’m not close to being married.
No, I’m not too worried about not being close to being married.
No, I’m not defensive about the idea of marriage.  It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it.  Oh, you just got married?  That’s great.  For you.  I mean, I think it’s a human right that should be afforded to everyone regardle-  why are you walking away?

This is not an exaggeration.  I’m truly this awkward in real life.  And whenever I am forced to interact with people whose life choices are so different from my own (married at 24, brood of kids by 27, stay at home mom/supporting their family via etsy crafts), I find myself completely unable to articulate why I’m generally happy with my child-less, husband-less, craft-less lifestyle and why it’s actually pretty good to be me, despite all the confusion and worry and feelings of inadequacy.

After a weekend of giving of feeling like that, it was actually very therapeutic to spend my last night in town curled up on the couch with my fam, watching old episodes of Combat!on an actual old-fashioned television.