Tuesday, January 10, 2012


In my post about my first night in Montreal, I mentioned having poutine for dinner. What is poutine, you may ask? Why, it's a Montreal specialty -- french fries with cheese curds and gravy. Here's the one I got that first night, at Franx Supreme, a hot dog restaurant in a mall food court.

It didn't taste very good. The gravy was kind of nasty. But I felt I should press on. After all, there are all sorts of poutines and chances are this just was not the best poutine Montreal had to offer.
The next day, just before we climbed Mount Royal, the city's namesake, we stopped at a cute little cafe where the French guy behind the counter was chatting with an English-speaking friend. We got the house specialty poutine, which was covered with grilled vegetables.
I'm not usually a big curd fan, but the heat of the fries and gravy melts the curd into gooey globs and makes it palatable.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Montreal With No Kids

Epu's unemployment has not in general been a good thing for our family, but a couple happy side effects have occurred. One is that the number of companies inviting him to interview and urging him to consider relocation has been a great confidence boost to him. He did not realize his skills were so much in demand!
The other side effect, we are living right now. We were offered the opportunity to travel to Montreal for a job interview/getting-to-know-you trip this weekend. Our only expense would be my flight, which I got with miles, and of course our meals while we are here. We're still in Montreal as I type this at a cafe near his possible future employer.
When you get an email on a Wednesday telling you you fly to Montreal on Friday, some scrambling ensues. We had house guests for the weekend, who willingly converted themselves from guest status to babysitter/cat sitter status. I demonstrated diaper changing for them and thanked my stars that one of them has worked as a lifeguard and therefore knows CPR. It would just be for one night, until my parents could get there to pick up the little ones and Nutmeg's best friend's parents would pick her up.
You have to appreciate friends and relatives who are so willing to step up even though they DON'T want you to move away. It kind of makes you think, would I be able to get this kind of support if I moved 1,000 miles or more away? Well, maybe, after years of cultivating new friendships.
We flew separately, because the company put Epu on a flight on a different airline than my miles. I strolled through O'Hare kid free, enjoyed a smooth flight with an empty seat next to me (wish I could have given it to Epu, who had to take a later flight with a connection and layover), and touched down in Montreal at 5:30 p.m. local time. The customs line zigzagged through a large room but moved pretty quickly. I was sad to realize that my smart phone would not get data here in Canada unless I paid for roaming or upgraded my plan to an international one. Oh well.
Once through customs, I took a bus to the city center for just $8. Canadian and US dollars are about the same right now, I guess, but you can assume I mean Canadian when I quote prices here. The bus driver was the first person I met who did not speak English, so I was able to pull out my dusty French to ask, "Is this stop No. 7?" It was, and our hotel was just a few steps away.
Downtown Montreal looks much less dense than downtown Chicago. There was a parking lot directly cross from the Hyatt hotel charging just $8 a day. Not a parking garage, just a lot. With a car wash next to it.
I soon found out that what Montreal lacks in high rise, it makes up for with low, um, sink? That is, there are several levels of corridors, stores and other stuff below the street level downtown, and you can walk for miles without going outdoors.
So after I checked into the hotel, I strolled underground, bought some poutine for dinner at an underground mall food court, and then wandered through the Place des Arts -- a museum/theater complex -- until I ended up at the subway entrance. There was a drunk man with a very bushy black beard singing The Doors' Riders on the Storm, keeping perfect time by stomping with his big winter boots. His deep voice sounded just awesome in the underground chamber, and yet, with him booming out, "Killer on the road ..." I was not about to go close enough to give him any change.
I went back to the room and watched the local news in French, pleased to discover that I could follow most of it. What I didn't pick up the first time, I caught the second time they played it, and by the time Epu showed up around midnight, I was able to fill him in on local events (unarmed man shot by police in the subway, that afternoon before we arrived) and the weather report (cold, snow).


Sunday, January 01, 2012

Wish We Could Just Pray

Recently I had dinner with a devout Christian who I have admired from afar for years: Crystal Paine, author of the blog Money Saving Mom. I've interviewed her before and she has featured one of my guest posts on her blog, and despite how different we are, we really like one another.
During our dinner, she mentioned that, like all parents but especially we self-employed moms, she had trouble balancing work and family and deciding how much time to spend on each.
"But I know God wants me to be doing this right now," she said.

I'm an atheist, and a lot of other atheists I know would respond to that statement with an eye roll. Me? I felt sincere envy.

See -- for those few remaining readers here who don't know us IRL -- we've got some crazy decisions looming in our lives right now. Major, unexpected life changes. And I so wish I believed that we could pray about it all and get some direction from on high about what to do.

I might have mentioned that I was laid off from my job last summer. This was disappointing, but not a huge deal financially, since my job had been part time and we weren't depending on that income to pay our bills. I immediately started building my a blog, Frugalistic Mom, and hoped to soon be earning enough to replace my Tribune paychecks.

But on Dec. 2, while I was typing away on Frugalistic Mom, Epu called me from work to say that most of his company had just been laid off.


I immediately Facebooked a friend in a similar situation and typed the F-word many times.

Thank you, friend, for listening to my digital freak out.

I assumed, in this economy, that it would be weeks or months before Epu would be able to line up any job interviews. Although I had been looking around for job opportunities since my lay-off, I got more aggressive in my own search.

To my surprise, Epu lined up two multi-hour interviews during his first week of unemployment.

During his second week, he flew across the country to an in-person interview.

Across the country.

Epu makes video games. Since we moved to Chicago in 2006, the game developer scene here has shriveled. When we moved, Electronic Arts had a big studio in the Loop which is now closed. Midway was still in business.

Now, there are just a few other companies in town, mostly small. So if he's going to get another full-time job, he's looking at either scoring a slot at one of these smaller firms, getting a job outside the game industry, or moving.

Or, if I'm able to score a really good full-time job, he could do what I've been doing -- take care of the kids and pursue an independent project on a part-time basis. What with the world of cell phone games, this is a realistic and tempting prospect for him.

After we both had some promising interviews, this Longest Holiday Week Ever descended upon us. Do you know how long the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve feels when you are waiting for job offers? Do you know how weird it feels to go to holiday parties and have no answers for all your sincerely well-wishing friends and family who want to know if you're going to leave them and rip your adorable children out of their grandparental or friendly embrace?

Yeah. We had a lovely Christmas, and we went to a fun New Year's Eve party last night, but the days and hours between parties drag on as we run all the potential scenarios in our heads right now.

I love adventure and traveling to new places. And yet, our whole family is happy where we are right now. We've spent the past four years putting down roots in a community we love and are finally in a place where we have a local network we can count on for friendship and support. This was not easy to build.

We moved to our town in 2007, with a preschooler and a newborn. I spent the first 2 or 3 years here mostly getting settled -- well, that and having babies. It's only been since Toth was born that I've been able to rev up my career again. And now that I finally got to a place where I can focus on building a part-time, at-home career on my terms, I'm faced with either going to work full-time (albeit possibly at a really cool job) or starting over and spending another year or so doing nothing but getting settled in a new community.

And that's just me. The kids are upset at the prospect of moving, our parents don't want to lose the opportunity to see their grandkids on a regular basis, even our babysitter has been depressed since we had to let her go. Epu is faced with making some really huge career and family choices that might just contradict one another.

So we wish there was someone -- God, village elder, Siri, anyone -- who would just tell us what to do.

Despite all this angst, I have to admit that I do feel lucky. I'm so impressed with Epu over the enthusiasm that companies are showing for him. I'm grateful for some very interesting prospects that have cropped up in my own career -- prospects that I would not have been pushed to investigate had this unexpected situation not come up. I'm so glad that we were able to save some money while I was working, even if we didn't really want to spend it all on living expenses.

This will all work out. And despite the agony of waiting, it's exciting too to wonder what is going to happen next.

Happy New Year, guys. I hope we all make good decisions in 2012, with or without divine guidance.