Saturday, July 27, 2013

the wrong way to ask questions.

I got my bachelor's degree in computer science, but I went to a small liberal arts college (I started out in theater), and my major was a small minority of the credits needed to graduate. I took a lot of classes just because I felt like it, either for good material or a good professor. (People will tell you "choose professors, not classes," and while that's ridiculous as a universal policy, it's a decent rule of thumb.)

One semester I took a class on the Holocaust. The professor was from Union College, and was, to put it most plainly, a cranky motherfucker. Maybe that's how he managed being an expert on human horror. He was a good guy, as far as I could tell. He wanted us to learn, and he worked hard at it. But some people, when they have learned to be authentically themselves, are crabby bastards, and every sentence out of them feels like they're squirting you in the eyes with a water pistol.
One day Italy came up in a lecture.
"...going back to the architect of Italian unification, who was...?"
Awkward silence. Who the hell studies Italy? I took a year of European History in high school and I have no idea who he's talking about.
"Come on, you refugees from social studies class!"
Seriously? You learned about Italian unification in social studies? What society do you think you're teaching in?
Behold, the sound of 90 students thinking, "Who the hell is Garibaldi, and why did you think it was reasonable we should know that?".

(The class was amazing, by the way. Success in college means weathering these kinds of half-assed attempts at interactivity during lectures.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

meet the neighbors

We hit a milestone in home ownership! Our first zoning hearing.

There's a duplex directly across the street which is obviously used for some kind of residential program, with 6-9 people or so always milling around, getting in a van and driving somewhere, smoking outside. When we moved in, we had a few people say, "That's a halfway house, you know," except that none of them had bothered to actually look into it and discover that it's the residence house for a private substance abuse rehab clinic. The patients live there, and the van takes them back and forth to the meetings downtown.

We thought to introduce ourselves, but when I walked over there, the staff member came out and we didn't have an encouraging conversation.
"This is private property."
"I know, I just bought the house across the street and wanted--"
"Yeah, this is private property."
Oookay then. Anna tried another time, and had the same conversation. She sent them a "Hi, we're your neighbors" email, and didn't get a response. Well, fair enough. Maybe there's a policy or something. We think rehab programs are important, and we understand they have to protect the patients.

Other neighbors' hushed voices notwithstanding, the rehab center isn't really any trouble, except that the residents' smoking/social area is right outside all our bedroom windows. They can come out as early as 6 AM, and are sometimes outside as late as midnight, and because they're humans, they're talking and sometimes laughing. It sounds like they're right outside our window, because they are: 65 feet with no obstructions.

We've been living with the noise, because there's not that many people and it's bearable. Then we got a notice about them applying for a "Use Permit modification" to let them have more patients.
More noise + They won't communicate with us = We have a disagreement
We showed up for the hearing, which was fascinating, and we met the treatment center people in almost the most awkward way imaginable, by getting up afterward and testifying why we think they shouldn't get their permit. The Executive Director and Manager were very gracious and concerned to meet us afterward. They were shocked that the patients were out that late, that we had been chased off the property, and that we hadn't been able to establish communication with them.

Today one of the Residence Supervisors stopped by, and he was also shocked at all those things. Even though there's staff awake 24/7 at the residence house. So...that's three layers of management, none of whom seem to have any clue that their patients are outside after lights-out. It doesn't seem a good omen.

At least they're nice, so far.

Except for the lady who chased us away.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

fruit explosion!

As I catalogued earlier, we have a ton of fruit trees. Figgy has been going gangbusters, so I made a nice quickbread with whole figs in it, which got split between Anna's grandmother and Arlene, the nice old lady who lives behind us. Delivering the bread to her was, of course, a half hour of sitting down and chatting, but she's fun to talk to.

Then we had too many figs, so I made whole wheat muffins, replacing the water/milk with fig puree, and additional sweetening with maple syrup (one of the delights of our white figs is that they're not super sweet). They came out fabulous, getting stickier and more filling every day. I may seek a lighter recipe.

Figgy now seems to be on hiatus, and our peach tree in front finally self-destructed, its primary branch breaking off under the weight of dozens and dozens of rock-hard peaches. Four inches at the base, I had to cut it into four pieces before I could even move it out of the car-space in the driveway.

(By the way, if you ever do any tree-trimming, I cannot recommend highly enough the Fiskars Power Tooth® Softgrip® Saw (13"). I have never in my life seen a saw this efficient. (I once cut down a 5-inch thick tree with a small hunting knife. I know about efficiency. It's super comfortable to use and you'll just throw your straight-bladed tree-trimmer away.)

We collected all the peaches, and now I guess we'll try to ripen them? In paper bags, apparently. Or use them to break car windows. But really, we ripen them, and then what? We've got a hundred peaches. We'll figure it out.

The peach tree hasn't really been happy anyway, so we'd planned to replace it when tree-planting time comes around. Perhaps with a lemon tree that actually produces lemons instead of 2-inch thorns? Possibilities abound!

Finally, our scrappy little apple tree is getting into the act! The apples we know come from so much grafting and cultivating that we can't actually tell if the apples are ripe. We have yet to try the obvious thing of picking one and trying to eat it. While I can't speak for Anna, I know I've been resistant because there just aren't that many apples, and what if I pick one and it isn't ripe? I'll have wasted an apple! Such are the quandaries of urban farming.

Mmm, perhaps I will go have a fig muffin, and not have to eat for another 12 hours.

work explosion!

It's been a very full week! On Monday I was informed that it was my last day at my job of the past two and a half years. The head of HR was extremely gracious and kind, and treated me like a trusted colleague: I had time to clean the personal stuff off my laptop, send a calm, loving goodbye email, and wander around saying farewell to whoever I could manage.

It's always tempting to try and give people a narrative when you're shown the door. I've been strenuously avoiding that, but in the face of numerous emails saying "I didn't even know you were leaving, I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to say goodbye," I have to respond that it was a surprise to me too. It's important to me that these people, who I care about, know that I wouldn't just leave without warning or saying goodbye.

I've now talked to every available source, and I think I have a decent picture of what happened. Conclusion: what a clusterfuck. Time to move on, then.

As it happened, I was completely burned out and trying to switch teams so I could get a fresh start on something else. The outcome of that conversation was what told me it was time to go. On Monday morning I also got two informal job offers (where they say "please come work here, we're getting the numbers ready"), so I was already a little disoriented when The Fateful Meeting came. By the time I got home I couldn't really carry on a conversation.

I've had a couple of days to settle, and I'm wrangling the end of the job-search process. I despise interviewing, and I'm only erratically good at it, so to some extent I end up only at companies that see the value in me beyond my not-very-dazzling ability to solve programming problems. I've managed to tune the search process pretty well, so that all the possibilities condense relatively quickly into a clear choice. It's never quick enough for the companies' taste, but they can cope: hiring is incredibly difficult and expensive, and especially in the current environment and with people at my level, they can't afford to be petty and withdraw offers that don't get a quick enough response.

(I actually spent 20 hours in Boston last weekend for an interview, and I was explaining to my parents that it costs so much to hire one person that the $1300 it took to fly me out there doesn't even register. One way to measure the cost is to note that tech companies commonly offer referral bonuses of $5,000, and often $10,000 or $15,000, and they consider that a bargain.)

We're in the condensing period now, the home stretch, which is nice, because then this part will be over. I'll have a job somewhere, and life will go on to the next thing.

I have one offer outstanding from a really excellent company, and the hiring manager has been terrific at listening and working with what I say about my experience. I noticed today that while I am more stressed, trying to manage everyone's expectations and communicate in a kind but firm way, he is also stressed! They really want me to work there; hiring at my level is practically impossible right now, especially once you filter out for culture fit and temperament. I was reflecting on how universally stressful the process is:

  • Recruiters get judged, one way or another, on the success of the hiring process.
  • Hiring managers need people.
  • Candidates need jobs.
This means that at every transition in the process--failing the phone screen, not getting an offer, turning down an offer--someone gets screwed, or disappointed, or kept from their goals. Usually several someones. Even when a candidate fails the interview, the company has lost precious employee time down a black hole.

I'm pretty beat, from the endless phone calls and emails and introductory talks and interviews. I'm glad it'll be over soon, and then I can start actual work, which is often a lot less work than trying to find work.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

work. :-(

A couple of people at work genuinely wanted to know how I was doing after last week's shenanigans, so I ended up venting the whole story to both of them. I hadn't realized how much emotion I've been carrying throughout this experience, until it started to come out in those discussions. Anger, sadness, helplessness, all kept in check until I could get clear of the whole thing and let it all out for processing. Once you allow a crack in the dam, though, you're probably done for. That's not a bad thing at all, but it did make for a heavy 3-day week, with many days to wait until the next bit of movement.

On the other hand, my response to the sad events is energizing. There's nothing to perk up your day and take the pressure off like taking charge of a rough situation, making some decisions, and taking action.

One of California's many quirks, if you're from the Northeast, is the presence of fruit trees. Did you know oranges and lemons grow on trees? And figs? And that these are things that you can grow in your yard, without very much work? In New England these are things you buy in a grocery store, full stop. This is also the magical fairyland where I can seriously plan to have a big grape arbor with multiple kinds of grapes, which I will then eat.

The majority of our trees are fruit trees, in fact. Mostly decades-old, poorly-pruned fruit trees.
  • 2 cherry plums (plus a dead one).
  • 1 loquat (not very happy, and the squirrels have eaten all the fruit).
  • 2 peaches.
  • 1 apple.
  • 1 orange, picked clean by the departing tenants and desperately in need of pruning.
  • 2 charmless, non-producing, incredibly dangerously thorny lemons.
  • 2 figs.
We had the first harvest of plums a few weeks ago, in the neighborhood of 10-15 pounds from one tree. (Anna made plum syrup, but we gave about half of it away.) The rest of them seem to be ripening in a nice not-all-at-once manner.

But the figs. My god, the figs.

One fig tree we call the Threatening Tree, as it's partly dead and looms over the garage (alas, not enough to do serious damage and have insurance build us a new garage). It's been showing ripe black figs for weeks, but they're about 30 feet up and we can't get to them.

The other tree is Figgy, who is the same vintage as her sister Threatening Tree, but instead of shooting straight up, has grown out more, to become about 15 feet wide and 20 feet high. She is currently covered in figs, mostly hard and green still, but ripening more by the day. They may number in the thousands. In about 10 minutes we gathered four handfuls. Figs appears to be more or less squirrel-proof, since fig branches are to slender and flexible to support a squirrel.

So. Many. Figs.

They're delicious! But we're trying to stay ahead of the coming Figpocalypse, and find people who want some figs, as well as researching recipes for ourselves. As I continue feeling better--I suspect resolving the work situation will make a big difference--hopefully I'll make some fig breads.

While I certainly don't urge people to buy a house, I have been really surprised by the sense of place it provides for the three of us. We won't be here forever, but while we's ours. It's good.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

...and sometimes you just feel bad.

There are shenanigans afoot at work. Shenanigans, I tell you! I wrote a post with the full story, but then decided not to post it. I probably never will: professionalism, not airing dirty laundry, that sort of thing. Suffice to say that good people with honest needs and intentions are coming together to produce an organizationally idiotic decision with a serious impact on my life.

A younger me would have taken this personally, but there's no malice or bad faith here. It's just not about me, which in some ways may be the problem. If they were responding directly to my needs instead of to their own guidelines, they might be making a different decision.

So there's only anger if I decide to let myself be angry about it. Mostly it's just sad.