Sunday, September 29, 2013

In Which I became aware of the Fiscal Year

As a recent college grad, the term “Fiscal Year” used to just be something thrown about casually on the news. I vaguely knew it had something to do with money for companies and the government, but it didn’t really touch my life and I sure didn’t get involved.

Amazing how all of that changes when you start interning for a rather large international non-profit. The Fiscal Year and I are pals now. We know each other quite well. Too well perhaps as September 30th came closer and closer…it became a deadline. Or a fresh start. And in some cases: the cause for panic.

What I first learned about my new friend was that he opened and closed doors. Before learning I would be able to extend my internship, there was a glimmer of hope in the possibility of staying on as a temp through the end of September- through the end of the Fiscal Year that is. The reason? The money would dry up after the Fiscal Year. This was not big CNN or ABC news about Wall Street and the government, this became personal: my job, and if I could even stay - all because of my new friend’s timing. Suddenly it was important. Thankfully, my wonderful department was able to get creative (it’s in our name. seriously.) and found a solution in partnering with two other departments to keep me on.

Fiscal Year and I have gotten so comfortable in the last few weeks that we go by nicknames now. I call him FY. In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in the swirling world of design production right before the end of the FY, which let me tell you, is quite the happening place. To give you the quick story, it goes like this:

Global Creative Services, my department, deals with the graphic design and production needs of World Vision International. From publications in print to electronic PDFs, reports, online website work, flyers, brochures, videos, and banners. You name it, we generally have a hand in it. What I love about this work is that I get to interact and learn about all other groups and departments within World Vision, from Peace Building to HR and Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs (HEA for short).

That is our general scope, and as a non-profit all departments generally have very limited budgets. What this means is that everyone is trying to get everything completed before the end of the FY. Completed, and most importantly: billed! For us, that means wrapping up last minute design, translation and printing work. Suddenly I know all about invoicing and production schedules and partial billing to get the Spanish translation and layout costs on this FY’s budget, but the French on next FY’s budget. It all comes down to making sure much needed design and layout work will somehow be paid for! Everybody is happier when they actually get paid you see.

But perhaps you, like me, have often wondered: why on earth does the Fiscal Year end on September 30th, and start on October 1st? Seems pretty arbitrary to me. No starting with the actual New Year, not even the academic year, but October 1st. No offense to October, but it’s a pretty random month generally signaling the full throttle ascent into fall for the east coast. To satisfy my curiosity, I had to do some digging…

For those who like random tidbits of information to collect, a fun fact is that the Fiscal Year for the US government used to start on July 1st. This was before 1974, after which it was decided we should give Congress more time to arrive at a budget each year. Which has clearly worked out quite splendidly, with no stress to anyone. All that extra time you see.

The nearest explanations I could find for why the lovely month of October was chosen by the US government and majority of businesses ranged from “tax reporting” to “no good reason” to possibly the most helpful answer regarding company expenses. Essentially, if a business or organization gains the majority of its income in the fall and has most of its expenses in the spring, October 1st starts looking like a pretty nice time to start their FY on. Then they can know what their income will look like for the year, and can attempt to match their expenses accordingly. Companies can also choose their own FY dates, and they differ by country as well.

There you have it. Nobody is quite sure, but we have a few ideas. I’ve come to accept that my new friend FY has a mysterious past. I’ll be happy to see him turn a new leaf though. Here’s to October 1st after an exceedingly busy two weeks!

Quest for truth sources:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Surfin’ USA

While driving down to Huntington Beach the other day, that famous Beach Boys song came on in the car: “Surfin’ USA”. I suddenly realized I have absolutely been doing justice to getting my beach experiences in when I discovered I now recognized all of the beach names, and that the line “All over Manhattan” did not in fact reference New York. La Jolla, Pacific Palisades, Del Mar, I actually knew these places now!

Better yet. I have now actually gone surfing. Welcome to my quintessential Californian day.

California is a pretty big state in case you weren’t aware, and there is so much to see and do out here that it would be a shame if I didn’t get out of LA now and again to explore. So when I was given a week off in between my summer and fall internship programs, I figured what better opportunity to explore? With part of my week off I went down to Huntington Beach to stay with some old friends of the family who graciously took me in for a few days.

Ironically, one of the first things I noticed driving to Huntington Beach was how wonderfully smooth the roads were. Driving in LA makes you notice things like this: freshly paved roads truly are glorious things. Apart from the roads, Huntington Beach is a lovely area. I could definitely get used to having the beach just a 5 minute drive away from my front door! The very first day I arrived I had to get in some beach time. Which, for me means that I must get in the water at least once, or it doesn’t count! There is something wonderful about relaxing at the beach alone with a good book and just the sound of the waves crashing. The water though…was freezing. I did my duty, thanks to my mother’s training, and got completely wet…and then promptly went for a long walk on the warm sand to dry off and warm up!
Huntington Beach: beautiful roads, palm trees and the beach just behind!

Day two of Huntington Beach however, we decided it was time for me to actually learn to surf. After all, how can you go to California and not try surfing? The date was set, the time and place were…approximated. No matter though, we were determined. Finally, in the late afternoon we set out, swim suits on, boards loaded into the car, wetsuits and wax at the ready. My lovely hosts go-to beach for learning to surf is Seal Beach, but when we arrived and sent out the scouting party, the waves were deemed too small.

Thus began the surfing quest as we scoured the coast for a suitable beach and decent waves. This, I was told, is all part of the surfing culture. Constantly checking the weather and wave forecast, calling up mates that run a surfing school to see what the waves are like – the amount of planning needed is actually pretty intense. After trying out two spots on Seal Beach with no luck, we decided to make our way back down to Huntington Beach, stopping at Sunset Beach along the way.

I was getting nervous. What if I didn’t actually get to try surfing? It was getting later in the afternoon too, so soon we would be racing the sun. My fearless leaders however shot down any worries I may have had with a simple, “No matter what, we will be getting you in the water with a board today Mara.” True to their word, Sunset Beach was found to be perfect, with robust yet gentle waves that would work well for a beginner.
Ready for your surfing lesson? Step one: put on wetsuit. You wouldn’t believe the difference these make! The freezing cold water of yesterday suddenly became pleasantly cool, and we had no qualms about staying out in the water as long as the light allowed. Next for a brief into on the beach: how to lay on the board balancing your weight towards the back, and hands ready to paddle and pop yourself up. This is infinitely easier on the beach than in the water I might add. Not sure whether I was “goofy” or not, meaning standing up on the board with my left leg forward, or the typical right leg forward position, I strapped the ankle strap to my right ankle and out we went!

My faithful surfing instructor did not have a board, but just helped me get into the waves and shouted directions for when to stand up. It took a while…but I can say I successfully surfed! Once you do it once, you can’t wait to get out and try to get better. It turns out I’m not goofy, and midway had to switch my ankle strap. We had the most beautiful time of day for surfing: the sun was setting over the water, casting a golden glow all around.

Sitting on my surfboard, floating on the waves as the sun turned bright red and melted into the ocean, lighting up the waves in fiery red and gold, I couldn’t help but be completely content. This was California. It was peaceful out there. Soothed by the gentle water and treated to nature’s beautiful artwork, I wanted to stay right there and soak everything in. But the sun faded into the watery horizon and it was time to catch one last wave in to shore. Arms and body aching in the most pleasant way of working hard at play, we headed back to the car to strip off our wetsuits and bundle up in towels before rounding off the evening with a swim in the pool. I couldn’t have asked for a better initiation into Southern California. My next day: onwards to San Diego!

Huntington Beach from the Pier! Surfers in the water everywhere

P.S. Favorite new surfing lingo of the week:

Mushy wave: waves that look good at first, but then lose all their momentum and just fade out or get mushy when they reach you.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rumor Has It

One of my initial thoughts during my first few weeks here was quite simply:
Where are all the surfers?

This was probably my biggest stereotype coming into California. You see, I pictured more of you as surfers. Don’t get me wrong, you are all lovely people (for the most part). It’s just that I saw most of you as hitting the beach at every possible opportunity with everyone owning your own surfboard. It turns out a lot of people do not surf. Some don’t even go the beach that often. A lot of people seem to have these things call jobs. The other main factor I’m encountering is that for those of us who live east of LA, the beach, so tantalizing close… means we have to go through LA traffic to get there.

All the rumors were true my friends. LA traffic is perhaps the most horrendous thing I’ve ever seen. Except for an 8-day traffic-jam that apparently happened in Beijing during the Olympics (how did people eat?). LA has the lovely distinction of having some of the worst intersections in the world. Luckily, I don’t have to encounter many of them since I drive east to go to work, away from most heavy traffic. On the occasions where I do drive into or through the city however, I get a little taste of everyone’s joy.

Even for a girl who’s grown up outside of DC and Baltimore, let me tell you: LA traffic has changed me. Before you know it, you’re suddenly driving as aggressively as everyone else. Pulling off stunning lane-changes with great daring (because how else will you get over there in time?), and realizing that a yellow light is really just a lighter shade of green. Parking is likewise one of the most frustrating things about this city. We’ve driven around for over half an hour trying to find a parking spot. At this point, one typically gets so frustrated that you find the nearest parking garage and pay the exorbitant amount of money they require just to be about your business.

This then, is frequently the reason why many people to the east of LA don’t get to the beach as much- it’s just not as convenient. It takes anywhere from an hour or more to get there from here, while the west-coasters pretty much have the beach on their front porch. Some do quite literally.

One of the other frequent tunes of California is how beautiful and sunny it is here all the time. Quite frankly, I’ll have to agree. Except for September. On the east coast, September generally signals the change into fall. Crisp, cool days and chilly nights start approaching and we excitedly break out a pair of jeans. I’ve been hearing all summer how September is the hot month out here, but I didn’t really believe it until now. Welcome to 100˚ F weather for several weeks folks! Note that since the rest of the year is lovely, the majority of places – and houses – do not have air conditioning. The solution? Find places to hang out with air conditioning! Suddenly movie theaters, malls and libraries are full of patrons desperate for a cool breeze. I’ve got to hand it to them: Californians are brilliant at coping without air conditioning.

What they’re not so good at? Rain. I’m actually not even sure if it can be called “rain,” generally it’s more like a sprinkle. A droplet or two. As soon as you get on the highway though, you will notice the huge change: suddenly everyone is driving like they are 75 years old. 65mph speed limits become traffic going 30 miles an hour. The somewhat pathetic aspect aside, it’s pretty hilarious.

One last Californian quirk worth mentioning is their beautiful relationship with dear Yelp. Perhaps I am simply behind the times, as evidenced by my shocking lack of a smart phone. However, while I had heard of the existence of this mysterious searching entity known as Yelp, I had never used it, much less heard of people using it. This all quickly changed upon my arrival in Pasadena. “To yelp” suddenly became a verb. Need to find a cool café in an unknown city? Yelp it! While I found it bizarre at first, I’m coming around…this is actually a pretty useful tool.

For those of you, like me, who didn’t know what Yelp was, here’s a brief explanation: Yelp is a search tool that helps you find things from cafés and bars to beaches, stores and more. What makes it unique it that you search by keyword and location, and everyone posts reviews of the various places. It’s really useful for finding good restaurants or awesome beaches while also learning of potential pitfalls to avoid.

I’ve become both an aggressive driver and a user of Yelp. You’re changing me California.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

3,088 miles

Just to give you all a visual, here's the journey we took across the country:

All 3,088 miles.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

When East meets West

I drove 3,088 miles to get here. Depending on how much you trust Google maps that is. I graduated college in Maryland on May 25th, 2013 and promptly left a week later to drive from my home on the east coast all the way out west to Los Angeles, California.

What was my motivation for this rather abrupt, epic road trip across the country? Well, it was a combination of a wonderful summer internship opportunity, my love of California and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for adventure. Plus, it was the perfect excuse for a road trip I’ve always wanted to take: traveling all the way across the USA, seeing places I’d never seen before. Spoiler alert: Colorado and southern Utah are stunning.

Cram two childhood best friends in a car and send them out on a seven-day road trip and you have all the perfect elements of an adventure in the making! While I could go on about how incredible this road trip was, how we danced in the middle of the Utah desert with no sight of another human being for miles or climbed to 8,000 ft, those stories will appear at another time. The spark of this adventure remains the opportunity to intern with World Vision International, an international humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting poverty around the world, with children at the front of all its concerns.

For those that have known me through college, working for World Vision did not come as a surprise- I’ve always loved the work they do and was heavily involved with World Vision ACT:S in college. My particular current title is Global Creative Services intern, which you have to admit sounds pretty cool. Roughly, what that means is that I work in the creative department on design projects. We range from creating new identities and icons for departments to doing the layout and design of all their print and web pieces. We are the strategy and concept behind the design, and sometimes do the actual designing ourselves.

That knowledge of my department has rapidly filled in through these last three months of working out here. This blog has been sparked into existence thanks to the fact that while my three-month summer internship contract is up, I have somehow found myself signed on for another three months as part of the fall internship program! Needless to say, I’m thrilled about this new opportunity to learn and grow more as a young professional after graduation. This extension of the internship will involve some new players, and I’m excited to be doing some work with our Emergency Communications team and our Publishing team!

It seems California isn’t done with me yet. As an east coaster, there are a lot of things to adjust to here on the west coast- like why you all feel the need to place “the” before a road name. The 101. The 210. Oh don’t worry. I’ve picked up your lingo. Our east coast version? We either eliminate “the” altogether or put an “I” for interstate there. I-95. Maybe we even get fancy and throw in a route, as in, “You take Rt. 1 down to 32 West!” I’m catching on here though. A few slips of the tongue are bound to happen, but we’ll get there eventually.

That’s why I’m writing this: to show you the adventures and experiences of a Maryland girl in the Golden State (fun fact that this was made the official state nickname in 1968). But these are also the writings and musings of a 20-something making her way in the world, braving the path of an internship and discovering the future one step at a time. So if you’re willing, I invite you to read and comment. Live vicariously, commiserate and hopefully laugh once in a while.

Setting out across Arizona