Friday, August 16, 2013

My Cross-Country Journey, Part 5

By the time the offer was made, I'd known I was going to accept.  I'd already been mentally distancing myself from my job months beforehand, and upon coming back, knew that--no matter what--I wasn't going to be staying at the Santa Fe job.  Whether it was Baltimore, or another place in New Mexico, I was ready to leave the place in Santa Fe for hopefully greener pastures.  It was only a matter of time.

3 weeks' time, it turned out.  Once I'd been offered and accepted the Baltimore job, they told me they needed me the first week of April, which gave me 3 short weeks to figure everything out.  I told my family, told my friends, and started my research.

Turns out, moving is HARD.  And expensive.  Finding an apartment in a city you don't live in and aren't familiar with?  Scary and stressful.  Condense all that in with a time crunch?  Given my body's past reactions to stress (ulcers, rashes...) I'm surprised the flu didn't come roaring back with a vengeance.

I tried to keep a level and pragmatic head.  I looked at furniture I'd collected and held onto over the years (an impossibly heavy armoire I particularly loved, procured at Target for 75% off; a baker's rack and dining set I'd bought for $50 and repainted to look like new), and made harsh cuts, selling a large amount of it on Craigslist (though, at a very nice profit from what I'd originally paid for it all, so that was a nice bonus).

I packed.  I made reservations for a moving pod.  I found an apartment and signed the lease, having only their website and Google street maps to go off of.  I finally put in my notice with 2 weeks to go, giving them no more notice than I had to.  I notified brides and hotel contacts, many of whom seemed genuinely upset to see me go.  I watched as days ticked by, and the Santa Fe bakery failed to make any provisions for wedding cakes once I'd left.  I enlisted my amazing family to help me move my things and painstakingly arrange them into a moving pod that looked entirely too small to fit everything (and yet it did, with a bit of room to spare).

With the help of my mom, I cleaned out my condo, packed the last of my belongings and my cat into my car, and headed down to Albuquerque for a last few days with my family before my Monday departure.  I was feeling the stress: the stress of change, of money, of leaving the support system I'd had close by all my life.  Up until that point, my parents and younger siblings had pretty much never been more than a 3 hour drive away.  This was to be the first time I'd live so far from them.

My lovely younger sister was coming on the road trip from New Mexico to Maryland with me--we had a plan, hotel reservations, roadside attractions to visit--we were ready.  Monday morning came, the car was packed, the GPS loaded up, the treats stashed away...and I was bawling.  Thinking about it now, even, I tear up.  It was one of the hardest things ever to get in that car and drive away, and pretty much the only thing that spurred me on right then was knowing that--at that time--I was at a point of no return.  My stuff was on its way, I had a years' lease signed that I had to honor, and a new job to start.  I had to be a grown-up and see it through.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Cross-Country Journey, Part 4

The interview in Baltimore came toward the end of my visit and, all too soon, it was time for me to go back to Santa Fe.  The night before I was due to leave, I helped make a dinner of an oven-baked "fried" chicken recipe I'd made and loved in Santa Fe, accompanied by some mashed potatoes.  The chicken didn't turn out as good, and the mashed potatoes were gluey--not my best meal ever.  Especially not when we all got sick the next day.  Lovely older sister insisted it wasn't the dinner, as the chicken had cooked far too long (while we waited for brother in law to come home) to have been undercooked.  I maintained I must have somehow contaminated the mashed potatoes.  However it happened, we were all feeling ooky--myself moreso than I had been.  Enough to not want coffee--big mistake.

Brother in law drove me to Union Station to catch a train up to BWI, as planned.  On the train, I started to feel it--the onset of headache.  I attributed it to my lack of caffeine, but still didn't feel I could stomach coffee or the like.  Got on the plane to go home feeling the continued flu symptoms, now expounded (as the flight went on) by a severe caffeine headache and the general nastiness of air travel.  All I wanted was to sleep, but had managed to sit in the one seat on our full flight that didn't recline, and spent the entire flight miserable contorted in various ways, trying to find a way to nap.

When we finally arrived in New Mexico, I was picked up at the airport by my mom, who drove me back to her house to retrieve my car.  I was due at work the next day, and felt I couldn't call in.  We had 3 cake decorators--one part time, and one who had pulled 13 continuous days of work to allow my vacation (as that was, according to our manager, the only way to make it happen).  Even if I'd wanted to call in, I had no idea who to call or what to do if the other decorator refused.  I figured I would tough it out, miserable as I felt.

My mom was urging me to go to the urgent care clinic--she didn't say so at the time, but she apparently thought rather strongly that I had flu that had progressed to the borderline edge of pneumonia.  Working in a hospital, it was something she saw happen, and apparently something that could quickly become bad.

I, again working that extreme denial, refused.  I just wanted to get back to my apartment, sleep in my bed, and tough it out.  She did impress upon me a Z-pack (a course of antibiotics designed to hit hard and fast), and thank god for that.  In hindsight, she was probably right (as most moms usually are) and goodness know what would have happened had a pushed myself to keep going to work without any sort of treatment.  As it was, I had just started to feel like myself again 2 and a half weeks later when I got the call from Baltimore, offering me a job.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Cross-Country Journey, Part 3

As my sister and I drove up to Baltimore from DC, I was pretty quiet, I think.  I was pondering possible questions, and how I'd respond.  Thinking of which cakes to point out to best highlight skills of mine I thought might help me get hired.  Mentally calculating my finances, and trying to piece together how I might pull off a cross-country move, while at the same time trying NOT to think about that, lest I jinx myself.  

Also, I was steadily working my way through 2 travel packs of tissues, and my voice was all but gone from the illness that continued to plague me and wreak havoc on my body.  We got there early, thank goodness--early enough to track down the nearest Starbucks so I could procure a venti peppermint tea with honey, in the hopes it would let my voice sound halfway normal, rather than the scratchy, raspy thing it had become at the time.

My sister dropped me at the interview, then went to entertain herself for an hour--the place was small enough that her hanging out in the lobby would have been extremely conspicuous and odd.  I met with two people: the decorator supervisor and the office manager (not their official titles--just the best descriptions of what they do, as I've been able to suss out).  We talked cakes, we talked frostings.  We looked at my photos, and we talked about what techniques I was familiar with, my speed, my job duties at my Santa Fe job, and how this job would differ.

At my job in Santa Fe, I was IT when it came to weddings.  If someone so much as mentioned the word wedding, they got bounced to me, no other questions asked.  I handled the inquires, baked the cakes and made the frostings for them (after too many bad batches from the people who were supposed to do that, I took it on myself to ensure they'd be right), built them, decorated them, and delivered them.  At this job, I'd be doing nothing but building and decorating--no face-time with the client (they had consultants), no deliveries (they had drivers).  And where my busiest weekend at my Santa Fe job had been 4 wedding cakes (couple with the other duties they had started piling on me), this place regularly did upwards of 30 weekly, and sometimes as many as 60.  In one week, with 3-5 decorators.


I put on my best interview face--joked/apologized about being a little sick, answered all their questions, showed off my work, expressed how much I wanted a challenge and wanted to learn (and how that was never going to happen at the Santa Fe bakery).  We'd been talking awhile (and I was feeling it), and I felt the interview was winding down.  But then they asked if I could build a cake for them.

I shouldn't have been surprised.  For cake decorating, it would be all too easy for someone to slap together a book of photos pulled from the internet, claim it as their work, and try to get a job with it.  Bench tests (or "bench trials" or "working interviews") are common--you have to prove your skills, your familiarity with kitchen standards, and it's also a chance for your potential employers to see how your work style might fit in.
But I was startled, a bit.  The woman who had scheduled my interview hadn't mentioned the possibility (she'd forgotten), and I had forgotten to ask.  I was in completely inappropriate clothes for it--slacks and a button down shirt and (if I remember right) my fake Ugg boots (while my sister and I share clothing sizes, we do not share shoe sizes, and those had been the only black shoes I had with me).  Usually, if I know I'm in for a working interview, I'll dress in "work" clothes: jeans, non-slip shoes, and a chef's coat.  I'll bring an apron, and a kerchief for my hair, and sometimes my favorite tools (better to have what I need, than not).  But I pulled my hair back, tied on a borrowed apron, and built the little 6-inch cake according to the directions they gave me (and was relieved--I had a moment of terror when I thought they'd want me to construct a tiered cake--I could have done it, of course, but my energy at the time was so low, it would have been rough).

I worked as quickly and cleanly as I could while still maintaining an eye for the finished project and let them know when I was done.  The frosting was new to me--full of air bubbles due to the chilly temperature, it wouldn't smooth out, and I obsessed about it (even though they assured me that was normal).  They told me they'd get in touch, and left me to get back to work while my sister and I waited for a decorator to finish making a 6" version of her wedding cake flavor they'd very, very nicely agreed to do on the fly.  She quizzed me on how it had gone and I, not wanting to rehash it right there in the lobby, quietly told her I thought it had gone very well, indeed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My Cross-Country Journey, Part 2

When I came to DC in February of this year for my visit, it was just to be a vacation.  Watching my niece all day (fun for me--I got so little time with her during the year, I was happy to watch her all day to try to get my fill in the few days I got to be there), hitting up the Smithsonians, running on the National Mall, and just hanging out with my sister and brother in law and having fun.

And, for the most part, that was was happened.  Sort of.

As I'd mentioned, it turns out I'd picked up a rather nasty bug somewhere along the line days before my vacation was to start (naturally--isn't that how it always happens?).  And, despite my dedicated use of nasty ZiCam dissolving tablets (dear ZiCam--please bring back the nose swabs!  Seriously!), my symptoms just progressed leading up to and during my trip.  But I am stubborn and, when I feel like it, particularly good at denial.

I was sniffley, had chest congestion I had never before known the likes of, had fatigue like woah, and often felt extremely short of breath (the cold air felt like FIRE in my lungs), but still insisted on pushing my niece the mile or two to whichever museum I thought would be a fun visit that day.  So while I had the presence of mind to forgo running on the National Mall, the repeated field trips into the cold weather were--in hindsight--also not helping my case.  My symptoms got even worse as my visit went on--one afternoon, I found myself lying face-down on my air mattress at my sister's condo while my niece tore pages from a magazine next to me.  It occupied her, and I honestly hadn't the energy to get up and try to entertain her myself.  I figured if she was happy doing that, I'd let her.  Of course my sister came home right around that time--I'm sure I looked like Auntie of the Year.

So that was the state I was in when I received an unexpected phone call.  During some downtime, I'd hopped on my laptop and perused the DC and Baltimore Craigslists, just seeing what cake jobs were around, if any.  I'd found a couple Baltimore jobs that looked interesting, and had sent off virtual copies of my resume, photos of my work, and notes explaining very clearly that while I was not living in the area, I was visiting for the week and very much considering a move.  I figured, worst case scenario, I would just never hear back, and I would head back to Santa Fe and ramp up my search out there.

But then I got a call from a well-established Baltimore cake shop--they'd gotten my e-mail and wanted me to come in for an interview!  I agreed--I didn't know exactly how I'd get up there (it was about an hour's drive, and nowhere near the Metro lines), but I was determined to rent a car if I had to.  Luckily, when I told my lovely older sister about it, she excitedly told me they had provided HER wedding cake years back, and she would be happy to drive me (and get some cake after).

She dredged up some interview worthy clothes for me to wear (those, I had not packed--I honestly had not thought I would ever get an interview, despite my hopes), we dropped my niece off at daycare for the morning, and headed up the 95 to Baltimore.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Cross-Country Journey, Part 1

Or, "Why Baltimore?"  I get this question a lot--not so much from the few readers who happen onto here, but from my co-workers, a lot of whom have never lived anywhere BUT Baltimore, and can't seem to fathom someone purposefully coming out here.  :-)  So, be warned--this series of posts has very little to do with cake, and more to do with personal life.  Maybe this is evolving into a combination of the two!

Earlier this year/late 2012, things at my job in Santa Fe had been...let's say strained.  They'd promised me a lot of things when they'd hired me, and then conveniently forgot those things/delayed indefinitely delivering upon them.  I'd been trying to push them to follow through for some months, and had reached the end of my tether when, after all that, they cut my hours and started scheduling me as though I were some sort of fill-in baker/decorator.  Instead of having more wedding cakes than I could handle, as I'd been promised, suddenly I was relegated to early morning shifts of baking cakes and decorating cupcakes--not what I wanted to be doing.

The kicker was that even the wedding work I DID have (returning e-mails, taking consultations, creating invoices, etc.) suddenly was to take a back seat to this other work.  The owner claimed there wasn't enough wedding work to meet the hours I wanted (the full-time 40 hour workweek I'd been promised, which--even with the grunt work--I was falling FAR short of).  But he also refused my repeated requests to purchase booth space at local wedding events, claiming he only did the shows that were free for him to attend (BTW, these don't exist or, if they do, they don't bring in the clientele he would be aiming for anyway).  I saw the writing on the wall: while I was bringing in a fair share of work from the referrals sent by hotel and coordinator contacts I'd made, it was clear to me that they would do anything they could to avoid fulfilling the golden job opportunity they'd claimed to want to give me a year prior.

I'd asked for and been granted time off in February of this year (unpaid, naturally, as paid time off was one of those things they conveniently forgot having offered me, and I--trusting as I was--had never gotten the details of my offer in writing).  My plan was to visit my sister, niece, and brother-in-law in DC--in the weeks leading up to my trip, the manager (a clueless, micromanaging "I want to help you, but only if it doesn't inconvenience me" types) kept alluding to how much fun she was sure I'd have, and how I'd be so much happier when I came back (as though my trip would magically erase my memory of just how much I felt I'd been screwed over by this particular business).  My response was usually the same: "yeah, sure--if I come back at all."  To which she'd always chuckle, as though it were a funny joke.

Thing was: it wasn't.  I'd been thinking for some time about a change.  At that point, I'd actually interviewed with a couple other places in Santa Fe, but nothing yet had been something I was willing to leave my wedding cakes for.  Because while I had definite feelings against the owners and management of the Santa Fe bakery, I felt a strong connection and obligation toward my wedding clients--both those I'd booked, or was even just in the process of getting to know.  Most of those clients had only ever worked with me--I was the person they e-mailed for first contact, I was the person they met with for tastings, I was the person who helped guide their design, and I prepared their quotes, took their payments, and answered their questions.  In my mind, though I worked for this bakery, these were still MY clients--my responsibilities.

Nonetheless, I went out to DC for my visit, armed with gifts for my niece, the beginnings of what I now believe was severe flu, cake portfolio.