Too much of a good thing?

Hello, wonderful readers. Sorry for the posting delay–I had many photos, but couldn’t post them until I managed to track down my SD card reader. So now I have photos!

Specifically, I have photos of the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show, which I attended on 16 November.

Fine Chocolate Show

2012 Chicago Fine Chocolate Show

The Show took place in one of the Festival Halls on Navy Pier. I love visiting Navy Pier as often as I can–generally to people watch and indulge in fried dough–so I jumped at the opportunity to attend this event when I saw a deal pop up for it on LivingSocial. Incidentally, this was the only way I heard about the Show, and I suspect it was somewhat poorly attended as a result of poor advertising.

Now it may come as a surprise to some readers that the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show displayed chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. I hazard to say too much chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate as much as the next red-blooded woman, but this event was pretty much the Taste of Chicago, but with chocolate.

Chocolate Art

Chocolate sculpture from the French Pastry School.

In fact, it functioned much like the Taste of Chicago. For the uninitiated, the Taste of Chicago is a summertime gluttony fest where patrons purchase tickets, which are then traded for food from vendors representing popular Chicagoland restaurants. The Chocolate Show was similar: admission included tickets, the currency required for chocolaty bliss.

Eagerly clutching my tickets in my fist, I carefully surveyed the exhibit hall. My plan was to scope the vendors to carefully choose where to spend my tickets. However, it turned out that only about half the vendors required tickets in exchange for a sample. In fact, the very first table I approached furnished me with an incredible slice of chocolate mousse cake, ticket-free!

And so I embarked on a journey through a sea of chocolate. Chocolate truffles, chocolate cream puffs, chocolate cheese, chocolate cake, chocolate wine, chocolate cheese, a drink made by steeping roasted cocoa beans (like you’d steep coffee beans), chocolate vodka, and even chocolate sandwiches!

Chocolate panini

A chocolate panini–the least-sweet item in the show

And as weird as it sounds, the chocolate panini was fantastic. By the time I found that vendor, I was craving salt something fierce. And, of course, anyone who ever dipped fries into ice cream knows the bliss of the sweet-salty flavor combination.

While eating my sandwich, I watched a demonstration by the French Pastry School. I actually watched three of them over the course of the day. I learned how to make chocolate marshmallows, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate bouchon. Of course, each presentation was accompanied with samples of the items being created–without tickets!

Chocolate demos

Chocolate demonstration given by the French Pastry School

In addition to guaranteeing I wouldn’t eat another chocolate bar for weeks, I bought a bread knife. I passed the Gunter Wilhelm knife booth. As I dutifully sliced tomatoes to test blade sharpness, I mentioned I was looking for a bread knife but couldn’t afford designer cutlery. The nice guys at the booth kindly sold me one of their demo models for a very reasonable price. I don’t know much about knives, but it slices my nice hot loaves (no, I do not have the patience to let them cool, and I never will) rather than squishing them, which my prior knife did. And I’m a sucker for a good deal.

One booth in particular deserves mention: the folks of Icing Smiles Inc.  were holding a fundraiser. Three fancy cakes were on display and you “voted” for your favorite by putting a dollar in the appropriate fishbowl. And got a chocolate sample in exchange. Icing Smiles is a nonprofit that matches volunteer bakers with children suffering from critical illnesses. Once matched, the bakers make–for free–incredible custom cakes to help cheer up the child and the family. Bakers can also provide cookies and less fancy cakes for fundraisers and the like. It’s a really great idea and makes me wish I had crazy pastry talent.

Icing Smiles, Inc.

Icing Smiles Inc.’s “voting” fundraiser

I finally left the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show with half my tickets still in hand, total chocolate overload, and tons of truffles and other chocolate samples. They have been hanging out in my kitchen like Halloween candy nobody wants–and might just stay there until next Halloween at this rate.

Thank you as always, readers, for following along. Hopefully there will be a smaller interval between now and the next post. In the meantime, I leave you with a few more miscellaneous Chocolate Show photos.

Chocolate log

Chocolate log

Truffles

To-pretty-to-eat truffles

Chocolate mustaches

Chocolate mustaches

Chocolate Buddha

Antiqued chocolate Buddha

A Fair Day for a Faire

One reason I love Chicago is the street fairs. There are street fairs going on all over the city throughout the summer. Last Saturday I went to the Custer’s Last Stand Festival in Evanston. It was conveniently nestled around the Main St. El stop, so it should have been simple to get to.

The General Himself

General George Armstrong Custer, in the flesh.

Even more pictures (and, incidentally, some more words) after the cut. Continue reading

Friday Food Review – June 8th 2012

One of the beautiful things about living in a big city like Chicago is the infinite variety of food offerings. Especially a city that worships food the way Chicago does — I’m looking at you, Taste of Chicago (which I will actually be able to attend this year!). You can get off at just about any bus stop or El station and have hundreds of different little (and big) local food joints within easy walking distance. That number climbs into the thousands if you want to take a nice long walk to work off those calories!

And I love food, so I will be partaking of Chicago’s food variety as often as my budget allows. So because I wanted to post some lighter fare before Part 2 of Networking for the Socially Challenged–and because this blog is as much about me being in Chicago as much as my job hunting/networking issues–I’ve decided to create a repeating feature in which I talk about some of the food I’ve eaten here recently. It will also serve as emergency filler when I need a post but can’t think of a topic. It won’t be every week; I don’t eat out that often (but I wish I did!). I’ll post whenever I amass enough photos to make it interesting.

Fondue, pancakes, hot Asian buns, and soup after the cut. Continue reading

Networking is a four-letter word…

…and those letters are H-A-R-D. I am a very shy introvert, and after yesterday’s (May 22) back-to-back networking events, all I could do was come back and collapse. I was going to blog about it all right away, but I had to spend some time mentally “unpacking” the day’s events.

What were these two events?

The first was the Society for Technical Communication’s (STC) 2012 International Summit. The other was a meetup of local content strategists.

STC Summit 2012 Logo

The STC is one of the largest (if not the largest) professional societies for the field of technical communication. The organization holds a yearly conference that draws technical communicators from all over the US–and internationally, as well. I went to the ’08 Summit in Philadelphia. I hadn’t been to one since then, primarily because it always landed during finals week or “dead week” (the week prior to finals, during which most final projects and papers are due). I did not originally intend to attend this year’s event because I felt the expenses of registration plus the plane ticket wouldn’t have been worth the return on investment (ROI).

Then I moved to Chicago. Suddenly, the price of a plane ticket was no longer an issue. And the ROI would be MUCH higher because I would be meeting with local technical communicators, thereby greatly increasing the value of my network. Attending the Summit was no longer a choice; it was a necessity. I did decide against going for the whole three days, choosing instead to purchase a one-day ticket.

I remember going to the 2008 Summit and being overwhelmed by the information I was getting from the sessions. I spent those three days ultimately learning how much I didn’t know about my own field. My head was so full of new tech comm knowledge that I really didn’t have the energy or inclination to network. Plus, at the time, I had no inkling of the importance of a good network. And even less an idea of how difficult it was to develop one. As overwhelmed as I was after three days of the ’08 Summit, I was far more overwhelmed during my single day of networking at this year’s Summit.

For 2012, my main goal was networking. I did attend two sessions, but they were incidental. However, they both directly contributed to my career goals. The first was about developing and maintaining one’s professional network (“Building Your Professional Network—Beyond the Social Media Maze”), and the other was about maintaining one’s portfolio (“Portfolios for Tech Comm Professionals.” The former was so valuable to me that I plan on writing a blog post or article about it if I can get permission from the presenter, Jenna Moore. I took copious notes, and I’d enjoy sharing what I learned.

The rest of my too-short day up in Rosemont (where the conference was held) was mostly spent at the event’s Hospitality Desk, which was manned by members of Chicago’s STC chapter. I managed to suppress my shyness for the day and chat, quite comfortably, with 8 or 10 locals. They were all super friendly and got me even more excited about continuing my career in Chicago. I really want to become involved with the chapter, and these folks were so welcoming, outgoing, and enthusiastic that I think it will be easy to motivate myself to contribute. For instance, now that I’ve decided I like blogging, I’ve already reached out to the person in charge of STC Chicago’s blog. Because I feel like I have something to contribute, I feel much more comfortable among their ranks.

On one hand, I’m glad I only went for one day. I felt so emotionally exhausted after that I don’t think I could have handled two more days. On the other hand, I wish I’d had more time to network and possibly attend more of the sessions. I spent the whole day feeling like I was behind the rest of the class: everyone already knew their way around the conference venue and had already established connections with each other. I felt like I was the new kid  in town a month into the school year. Everyone already had their playmates figured out, and I had to introduce myself or play alone on the swings.

Fortunately, I was dealing with professionals, not school children, so it was much easier to get into the flow of things. In fact, once I got in the groove of this whole networking thing, I found it got easier and easier as the day wore on. Which is good, because I still had a second networking event to attend, and it was even further from my comfort zone.

Content Strategists' Meetup

Chris Hester was the first STC Chicago member I “met”–via LinkedIn (we spoke for about 30 seconds at the Summit). She suggested I attend a meetup of local content strategists, which took place downtown. Unfortunately, this meant I had to leave the Summit a little early, but I think it was worth it. At the event, I found myself approaching total strangers and striking up conversations–unusual for a wallflower like me, to say the least.

I learned a lot about content strategy, which I can see myself getting involved with down the road once I have some more content creation experience under my belt. The presentation, “Connecting the Dots between Business, Brand, and Benefits with Content Strategy,” reinvigorated my enthusiasm for content creation. Then again, anyone could be inspired to creativity in that atmosphere.

The event was hosted by Manifest Digital–a company specializing in content creation, user experience, and content strategy–at its downtown location (see photo). The walls are painted with chalkboard and whiteboard paint, so employees can scribble and take notes any time creativity strikes. Since starting this blog, I’ve taken to hauling a notebook everywhere with me to jot down post ideas and outlines, so it’s easy for me to see the utility of writing down an idea as soon as it occurs. Those walls stood out to me as an indication of a place that fosters creativity and talent. The event as a whole indicated that Manifest Digital was interested investing in its community. It’s definitely the sort of place I hope I end up working.

Manifest Digital's Office Building

The riverfront office building of Manifest Digital, just across the river from Marina City. Everything about this location inspires creativity.

I was tired, but I did find the time to chat with the presenter, Rahel Bailie, about something she said that was so meaningful to me I wrote it down in my phone. She said, “All content is marketing content.” She specifically included technical communication and user-generated content. It was so poignant because my personal philosophy is, “Everything’s an argument.” It’s a very similar idea. Both statements imply that persuasion a necessary element in everything produced, even if the intention to persuade isn’t conscious. It’s pretty exciting to see my philosophy line up so closely with that of a successful professional.

I also spent some time speaking with one of the event’s organizers. We had a nice conversation about the kinds of work Manifest Digital produces and, of course, about the awesome office. About then, the day started to catch up with me, so I thanked her for opening up her workplace for the gathering and grabbed the train back home.

Despite the anxiety and exhaustion, the day was immensely successful. It was a success because I managed to paper the Summit bulletin boards with resumes, give out (and collect) impressive quantities of business cards, and  make some great local contacts in the field. But I feel my biggest accomplishment during these two events was overcoming my shyness enough to not only approach strangers and speak with them, but to feel comfortable doing so. I’m taking that as a sign that I really am ready for my career in the Second City.

Doin’ that tourist thang…

…although if I live here, I guess I’m technically not a tourist.

My colleague and former classmate Roger Renteria (author of the WriteTechie blog) arrived in town yesterday for the STC Summit, so I decided to take a break from my “personal branding” project (more on that in a future post) and show him around downtown. I hadn’t done more than pass through downtown on the Orange Line since I moved here, so I figured I was due.

Way too many photos after the cut.

Continue reading

The Hunt Begins!

Now that my blog is up and running, my portfolio is populated, and my resume is (almost) updated, I only have a few more tasks for my “personal branding” project. I still need to create a personal logo and business cards. However, I think it is time to start compiling lists of possible jobs so that I can start applying as soon as everything is ready.

Since I needed a post for today, I decided to briefly discuss some of the locations where I find job possibilities. I will point out the sites I use most as well as some tips and warnings associated with each.

Disclaimer: I’m not exactly what anyone would call “experienced” in job hunting. These are the methods I use and the things I’ve learned in my brief time job hunting (~8 months). Caveat emptor! If you see any misinformation, please let me know via e-mail or the comments. 

Craigslist, Indeed, Dice, Linkedin, and MetroChicagoJobs after the cut.

Continue reading

Of Western and Women

I play a game called Starcraft II, which has a very active online community. It also happens to have a very active “real life” community here in Chicago. Within hours of my arrival, I knew that there was an Internet cafe/gaming lounge with SC2 player meetups every Thursday. The cafe, Ignite Network, has similar brethren in Albuquerque, but they never seemed particularly successful, so I was skeptical. However, I could make no judgments until I got there.

Which meant navigating Chicago’s public transit system.

Ignite Network

Ignite’s cafe as seen from behind my assigned monitor.

This wasn’t a particularly bad thing. Chicago’s transit is so far ahead of Albuquerque’s that you really can’t even compare them. Plus, I’m armed with Google Maps and GPS on my smartphone to ensure that if I somehow got lost, I’d be able to get un-lost.

The route seemed pretty easy: Grab a westbound bus from near where I’m staying, and then grab the southbound bus at Western. However, it is not clear from Google Maps that Western actually has three distinct bus routes: North Western, Western, and South Western. With minimal overlap. So I hopped on the North Western bus, only to get booted off to hunt down the Western bus. It wasn’t hard to find, but it did mean a 15-minute wait I could have avoided by taking the train-to-bus route option instead. Well, lesson learned.

Anyway, I got to Ignite and had a good time. There were other girls there! Most SC2-related events have very few, and most of those are wives/girlfriends who don’t actually play. I come from a school and a work environment where a male-female ratio of 3:1 or even 4:1 is normal. You get used to being “one of the guys,” but it is really fun to be able to meet and connect with other women who play.

We’ve come a long way from the isolated basement gamer stereotype. Online gaming and Facebook have really enabled these tight-knit, and surprisingly large, geek communities. However, even among guys, it’s hard to find people who really “get” gaming and its community–especially in a game like SC2 that has a very specific niche audience. Most people still believe in the basement gamer, so it’s even more amazing to find other women within the community who genuinely enjoy playing.

I had a great time. The atmosphere is great, the people were welcoming, and the cafe makes a good cup of tea. And it was nice to be able to play and chat with other women and not feel like “one of the guys” is the only option.

There’s a joke among gamers: “There are no girls on the Internet.” I’m glad to say that’s finally changing.

Oh Sweet Home Chicago

Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to live in Chicago. My dad was one of six born and raised in Chicago, and most of them stuck around. As a result, we visited the Second City nearly every summer. More recently, we began visiting in the winter as well. Despite having seen Chicago weather at its worst–July and December–I still fell in love. Born and raised a New Mexican high desert rat, I could not be attracted to a more dissimilar climate. But the allure of the buildings, the “L”, the parks, the lake shore, the festivals, the museums, and the concerts all greatly outweigh the cold and the humidity.

Lake Point Tower and Navy Pier

Some day I will live here… (via )

And now, nearly one year after I graduated from New Mexico Tech with a BS in Technical Communication, I have my chance. My contract with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array is winding down, so my boss gave me permission to travel to Chicago while telecommuting part time. I also have some freelancing work I can do to help bolster my savings while I hunt for my city dream job.

So I packed as many necessities as I could into a suitcase and pulled up my roots to move to Chicago and dwell in my aunt and uncle’s basement. I will spend the next three (or more) months searching for a job. If I get one, I will move here permanently, and my childhood dream will come true.

Part job-hunt blog, part travelogue, this blog will detail my various misadventures as I try to make my way in the big city. This is my Second City Odyssey.