Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Work Situation

Believe it or not, we're coming up on one year back in the USA quite quickly. We've settled into a rhythm of life that's different from Luxembourg, but also very different from when we left Portland in the first place. There are two main reasons for that: 1) the kids are older, and 2) our work is very different.

Before we left for Europe, Daphne was in "half-day" kindergarten (really, only a couple of hours a day) and James was in preschool two days a week for a couple hours. Pete was a traveling consultant for an international firm, meaning he was away 80% of the time. Both of these factors meant that "Stay-at-Home Mom" was still very much my main job title, although I worked part-time and volunteered a lot. This time we're living in Portland, however, both kids are in school 6+ hours per weekday.

So what do we do for work now? Let's start with Pete. As I've mentioned before, we moved straight back into our old house in Oregon. (Sorry, renters!) We made this move instead of transferring to Seattle with the corporate job he'd had in Luxembourg, per our original plan. The plan shifted last minute because Pete felt ready to start his own business. Living back in our paid-for house in Portland made it possible to take the financial risk. The end goal of moving to Seattle was to eventually move back to Oregon anyway, so we were able to streamline that processes.

In fact, Pete has started two businesses. The first is a sole-proprietor consulting business, in which he builds custom data analysis tools for various companies through connections who are familiar with his past work. Since his last job was overseas, and his connections are spread across the globe, he still travels a fair amount (not nearly as much as with his old consulting job, however). The consulting gigs pay our bills right now as he simultaneously works on the other business: developing a software platform that does custom analysis. For this project, he has a business partner who's helping him on the user-interface end.

And that's about as detailed as I'm gonna get on the technical side of Pete's work! Feel free to ask him about it, though. He needs plenty of opportunities to work on his sales pitch!

Except for before we had kids and both worked full-time, Pete has always been the main income earner of the family. So, the major change in our life in moving home was going from a regular corporate job to self-employment. Over the past year, we've thrown ourselves into the world of irregular income, irregular schedules, lack of traditional "job security," buying our own health insurance, and giant tax bills that include an extra self-employment cut.

If that all sounds a bit rough, I will tell you that this new setup has also given us way more freedom and autonomy than we ever had when Pete worked a traditional 8-to-5 job. He's also able to complete many projects remotely, so even though he still travels, we also get to have him home during the day most of the time. As a whole, our family spends WAY more time together--which is great!

Now, over to me. When we first decided Pete would quit his corporate job and go it on his own, we planned for me to look for full time work with medical benefits. Although I'd made some decent headway on securing a full-time job in Portland, Pete's consulting work was picking up steam straight away upon our return. It soon became clear that he'd be traveling a lot for his first few projects, and that a telecommuting position would be ideal for me, so I could be parent-on-duty while he was away.

We also decided that part-time work would probably be okay--that we could afford to buy our own health insurance, and that I should be prepared to chip in admin work on the new "family business" where needed. As fortune would have it, my sister-in-law is the editor of a website that was looking for a writer. The position had flexible hours, and only required a laptop and internet connection. I took the writing sample test the week we arrived back Portland, and they hired me!

So now I write reviews of "merchant account providers" for small business owners at a website called Merchant Maverick. I'm not even going to bother explaining what that is, because honestly, it's not all that exciting. However, I wouldn't describe the work itself as boring. It involves a lot of detailed research, which I do enjoy. I get to put my teaching cap on as I wade through tons of information and try to present it in an understandable way. The best part of the work, though, is that the tone of the website is very casual. We're encouraged to use our own voice and add humor. The fun and challenging part of the job for me is taking a topic that is normally quite dry, and turning it into a somewhat engaging read.

Writing sample

So, now you know part of the reason I don't post over at the family blog very much anymore. Writing somewhere else is my job! Great excuse, eh? Meanwhile, Pete and I are enjoying working side-by-side at coffee shops and libraries most days. That's livin' the digital nomad dream, right there. We're practically Millennials!

Anyway, that's a quick snapshot of our work situation right now. At this stage of our lives, we don't make detailed future plans, so things may change quickly and dramatically at any time. But now you know--for now!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reverse Culture Shock

Hey there. We've now been back in the US for about eight months. Honestly, it feels like much longer. Sometimes our four-year stint in Luxembourg seems like a dream. Wait, did that actually happen?! Being back in our old house in our old neighborhood has undoubtedly heightened the odd sense that we must have just imagined it all.

Before we completely adjust back to American life and forget what it was like to re-enter our home culture, I thought I'd quickly share a few experiences of reverse culture shock.

Driving everywhere
In Luxembourg we managed without a car for a year and a half, but only because we purposefully arranged our living situation to make this possible from the start. While we might be able to get away with this in certain areas of the city, the fact is that Portland (and America) is much bigger, and our house here is in the suburbs. Granted, we're at the border of the suburbs and the city, so we have relatively good bus access. Not only that, but we both work from home, and the kids' school is across the street. So we still are able to easily live with one car and the occasional Uber/Lyft. Nevertheless, driving everywhere is a key part of the culture here and we had to readjust to that mindset. And by the way, the roads here are so dang wide!

Everything's easy
You don't fully realize until you're back in a place where everyone speaks your native language just how perpetually tense you were in every interaction abroad. We constantly braced ourselves for miscommunication, confusion, frustration, misunderstanding, scolding, humiliation, and failure each time we set out to accomplish the simplest of tasks. Back in the USA, we speak the language and we know how all the systems work. And if we don't know, we're confident we can find out. Add to this the friendly customer service culture, and life feels like a cinch. Sure, the over-the-top American eagerness to please can be a bit obnoxious at times, but we laugh it off and thank our lucky stars we (mostly) understood what they said and got exactly what we wanted in a reasonable amount of time.

Endless options and variety
We can attribute the stark contrast between the US and Luxembourg partly to their comparative sizes, but there's no denying that America is the land of options aplenty. I'm trying to think of cases of more options in Luxembourg. Cheeses? Castles? No doubt there are a few more. But when we set out to buy anything here in Portland, whether online or in person, a product or a service, we are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices.

Not only are the food and restaurant options expansive in the US, but we also really missed the flavors. We learned that the central European palate is much more refined than the American palate. While they are probably distinguishing all kinds of subtle flavors, all our American brains register is "bland." With the possible exception of some parts of the middle of the country, we Americans like our flavors and spices turned up to 11. We are now bombarded with flavor every time we eat out, and we absolutely love it. Also, free tap water at restaurants is amazing.

Job permanence
Luxembourg is a land of transient expats. Most of our friends and colleagues moved countries and/or changed jobs every 2-4 years. Therefore, it's quite jarring to walk into Target or the gym or the post office and see the same people working there as before we left. I even see the same people in the same jobs since I was toting around a baby and toddler. Why haven't they moved on to a different job yet? Oh, wait, that's actually totally normal!

School culture
Obviously, there are lots of differences between public school in Luxembourg and the USA. Since we first moved to Luxembourg and faced a school culture that was different for both us and our kids, we've tried to instill the idea that one is not better than the other. I think they have a good grasp of this philosophy, and they are hesitant to judge and compare when asked. Nevertheless, here are a few key items we've been adjusting to in Oregon school:

  • Tons of opportunities (and expectation) for parent involvement and volunteering.
  • Lots of technology use, such as class sets of iPads and laptops, learning software that automatically adjusts the level as you go, email addresses and Google drives and blogs for the kids, etc.
  • Baffling playground rules like "no running on the wood chips" and "no pushing each other on the swings."
  • Lots of positive reinforcement from the teachers in the form of games, contests, verbal praise, emails to the parents, stickers, candy, earning rewards and parties, special privileges, etc.
  • Teachers rarely, if ever, yell at the class as a form of discipline or correction.
  • Lots of school community/social events.
  • Larger class sizes--approximately double!
  • Fewer and shorter tests.
  • Lots of fundraising.

Junk mail
This is kind of a random one, but it's very noticeable and extremely annoying. We get so much mail here and 95% of it goes straight into the recycling bin or shredder. What a waste!

'Nuff said.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Snow Days

December and January saw a couple of big snowstorms, by Portland standards anyway. Meaning: about a foot of snow.

Yes, you have our permission to mock our city. We're just not equipped for this level of the white stuff, only because it's so rare. We're talking abandoned cars, 30-minute commutes turning to 5+ hours, closed freeways, and a general shutdown of the whole metro area. School has been canceled 9 days this winter. Let's hope we're done.

Once again, a lazy blog post is better than no post at all. So, I'll leave you with some snow-based photos until next time.

the chill before the storms

at home

out the same window a bit later

in the same window a bit later

at the schoolyard


and then they tackled each other

walking to a friend's house

Monday, January 9, 2017

Home for the Holidays 2016

back in our old house for Christmas
This past holiday season, for the first time since 2011, we celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving in the USA. In our own house! In our hometown! With our own extended family! Amazing!

I didn't take a ton of photos, as I was mostly savoring the moments as they happened. Most of these I already posted on Instagram at some point, but I thought I'd gather a few together here.

Don't be too impressed, it was pre-built.

This tree stood up on its own at Home Depot. We were sold.


Chrismas with my side

Christmas with Pete's side
Malcolm + Connect 4 = hours of entertainment for all

cousin's first Christmas

it's fun to watch cousins open presents

more cousin fun

brother fun

NYE at Nana & Grandad's

made it midnight

And here are some bonus events from the end of the year/start to 2017, since I'm too lazy for separate posts. In reverse chronological order:

14th anniversary January 3rd, 2017

December birthdays

joint family party

D's party with school friends

James' October birthday

James' celebration with family and friends
Family: the hardest part of living abroad, the best part of being back!