Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Eggs and Baskets

If you ask me, I’ll probably tell you that I always have a back-up plan.

I’ll say, “of course, if X doesn’t happen, we’ll do Y or even Z!”  I proudly walk around calling myself the Queen of Just In Case. *  I can switch gears so fast you’d think I was a racecar driver. **

You probably wouldn’t expect me to be as floored as I was two years ago when I realized that I wasn’t going to be completing that PhD after all.  I sure as hell wasn’t.  Expecting to be so floored, that is.

I mean, there was a PLAN, damnit.  I was going to get that PhD, then I was going to get a postdoc, or an adjunct position, or a research fellowship - see, BACK-UP PLANS - and eventually work my way up to tenured professor.  Or I was going to work in a museum or as a contract archaeologist.  I HAD BACK-UP PLANS!!!

Except they all hinged on my ability to produce a dissertation that would lead to a PhD and some articles or a book.

Can we say “eggs and baskets” kids?

Rather quickly, my avenues to other ventures dried up.  A woman with a baby isn’t really available to spend months in the desert away from civilization.  An archaeologist with a specialty in Romans and the Middle East is not really suited to the Danish archaeology job-search.  Sure, I can dig anything…. Identify what it is?  In a general sense, sure.  It’s a pot.  It’s a pit.  No, it’s SUPERMAN!  Wait, whut? Date it to a particular period?  Not so much.  Post-holes? Urgh.  Lithics? Double urgh.  Uh, how about monumental structures with stone foundations instead, with a coin or two to give a girl an edge?

And at first I didn’t really realize it.  I was pretty shell-shocked by my failure-to-dissertate.  Then I was pregnant, which is a big distraction, if you don’t mind me saying so.  I did have some rather severe meltdowns last year, when friends were graduating with their PhD’s and I wasn’t even able to go to the ceremony to pick up my MA.  I think a graduation ceremony might have given me some closure, but I’m not sure.  This year I was much better prepared for when friends announced on Facebook “Just call me Doctor [name]!”

My apologies, by the way, to anyone who felt that I wasn’t enthusiastic about their achievement.  I really am so proud of all of you, because I know how hard it was to do, I really do. 

As the dust settled around the ruins of my plans (you’d think I’d be used to it, my life has always been in ruins) (archaeology joke!) (ba-dum-dum!  I’ll be here all week!), it kinda dawned on me that I had NO PLAN.  And I was all, “is this what it’s like for other people?”  Because I’ve wanted to be an archaeologist since I was like, eight, so while other people were having discussions with guidance counselors or looking up various career options, I was trying to decide between Egyptology and Roman Empire.

So there we have it, despite always applying for three or more schools (the dream, the sure thing, and the middle ground) and having a plan for “in case none of these work out,” I had still put all my eggs in one basket and then SAT ON IT.

What was I going to do now?

Well, Denmark has its perks from time to time.  One of them is, it assumes you are some uneducated buffoon when you get here (‘cause duh, you’re FOREIGN which means STUPID in Danish) and therefore gives you three years of free education (with stipend) so you can join the Danes in their 37.5 hour work-week, 6 paid weeks of holiday a year, and the 50% tax rate.

Wait, assuming you're stupid?  That’s a PERK?  Yes.  Denmark: lowering expectations of the immigrant class since 965 CE.

And I am so not kidding about the taxes, y’all.

One of the things they stress in Danish language classes is getting into the work force.  “It’ll help with your Danish,” they say.  “It will help you find friends and be better integrated!”  BULLSHIT.  Let's be honest here, it will help you pay the damn bills and will fill the state coffers.

When I was at school in Aarhus, with the other desirable (white, educated) students, we were encouraged to get our degrees approved by the Danish state (because, you know, that Anthropology degree from the University of California, Berkeley might not be up to Danish standards) and start applying to various multi-national companies as secretaries or something.  Obviously I wasn’t paying attention to this portion of the schooling, I was an archaeologist, damnit, *I* had a PLAN. 

Down here on the island, where many of my fellow immigrants are not educated (or white) we were encouraged to take a social-health degree.  So we could work in old-people care. 

Never mind that none of us wanted to do it, it was pushed again and again and again.  “But there are jobs available in elder-care!” we were told.  Do you know why there are jobs available?  Because no Dane wants to do it.  Working with the elderly and infirm is a thankless, dirty, backbreaking job.  “But you are so nice and friendly!” they told me, I shit you not, when I said I’d rather slit my wrists than work in eldercare.  Several of the women from my school are going to go for it.  They’d rather do just about anything else, but the promise of steady work is a siren song.

Anyway, back in March, when we were supposed to be looking up the requirements for taking a social-health degree (are you breathing?  GREAT!  YOU’RE IN!), I was looking up all kinds of other things, which may have included LOLcats, and chatting with the German woman, C., next to me.

I had contemplated going to a technical school and getting a degree in engineering, because I’m good at 3D visualization and math, and jobs are well-paid and I could be employed in just about every country…. But…  Well…

I hate offices.  I hate group projects.  I hate pretty much everything that has to do with corporate culture.  I would go crazy in a week and start attacking people with my stapler.  I’ve been there, done that. ***

The Danish Boy was emphatic.  “Don’t be an engineer!” he said.  “You’d hate it.  Do something with animals.  You like animals.”


If I had to do it all again, in which I would still end up with the same husband and child and cat at the end of it, and if I couldn’t be an archaeologist, I probably would be a veterinarian. 

So I looked up the education for veterinarian and was all WHOA! How about veterinary nurse?  Veterinary tech?  Veterinary shit-shoveler?  Because, damn, that’s a lot of years of education you gotta have.  And I had none of it.  A serious lack of life sciences, that’s me.  Also required: university level Danish.  Guess who had a snowballs chance in hell of doing that?  Me. ****

But I could, possibly, get into the veterinary nursing assistant program.  And that was my plan as I sat there, talking to C. and playing with the educations-you-can-take-in-Denmark website (and possibly, one with LOLcats, because you know what makes a boring day in school better?  LOLcats.).  C. asked me what I was going to do with myself and I told her, listlessly pulling the school website up again to show her.  Try as I might, I just could NOT be excited about this change in careers.  I asked her what she did, because she often missed school because of work, so she was obviously doing something right.

“Inseminøren” she replied.  At first I heard “seminary” and thought, “priest?” because, well, how often do you hear “inseminator” as a job?  There was some hilarious confusion before we got that straightened out (she’s not, in fact, a priest for cows) and then I was all questions.  Everyone else was grossed out, but I just thought this was the most interesting thing I’d ever heard of.  C. had a degree in farming from East Germany and had gotten an inseminator certificate when she got a job at a company that inseminates cows.

I had to stop her, “what do you mean a degree in farming?”  Like that’s a thing?  You would think that growing up in California, I would know this.  But I thought farmers became farmers because they grew up on farms, not because they went to school to become farmers.  Although this sort of explained UC Davis.

C. only laughed a little bit at my vast ignorance. “It’s also a thing in Denmark.”  “No way!” I said.  “Yes, way!” She replied.  And so I HAD to look it up. 

It was the most amazing half hour of research I’ve ever had.  Oh my god, you all, YOU CAN TOTALLY GO TO SCHOOL AND BECOME A FARMER!!

Everything about the education and the schools that taught it were 100% more interesting than veterinary nurse assistant.  Driving a tractor?  Oh hell yeah! 

So on my way home, I carefully constructed my argument for the Danish Boy on why I was going to become a farmer.
1) It’s not in an office. *****
2) It involves animals - and if I go into dairy-production: milk and cheese, which are my favorites.
3) Sustainability.  We are not going to run out of a need for farmers any time soon, people gotta eat.  Yeah, the economy is shit for farmers (nothing new there), but seriously, people gotta eat.  If worse comes to worse, we can start our own farm and become self-sustaining.  We'd be ready for any climate or world meltdown AND the zombie apocalypse.  Win-win, really.
4) It’s an education I could use anywhere in the world.  
5) It’s a job I respect, even if I know whole swaths of the population (certain in-laws, for example) do not.

I got home and said, “Honey, I want to become a farmer!” and the DB replied,


and got really excited and started planning our lives, where I would be a farmer and where we’d buy a farm and then he’d also become a farmer and we’d be farmers together on our farm and I had to stop him and say “hey, I came up with some very good arguments on why I should become a farmer and you need to shut-up and listen to them, OKAY??”  Because there is nothing worse than putting together an argument and then not getting to use it.

I did eventually get to try out these points on my family, who were a little stunned, my best-friend who totally took it in stride (seriously, if I told her I was going to be a burlesque dancer, she'd be all, "ooooh, with red tassels?  Red tassels are cool!"), and my in-laws who think that we’re insane for not wanting to live in Copenhagen and work in offices as consultants or sales-people (*GAG*) anyway.

Since then
  • we’ve visited two agricultural schools (who were all, “of course a +30 year old woman wants to go into farming!  Let us show you our facilities!!”),
  • chosen the one that best fits me (and the ferry boat schedule),
  • talked to half a dozen farmers, trying to get an internship (PAID) before deciding
  • to get some school done first (the education is split up into theoretical and practical, you can do some school [i.e. the theoretical] first or some of the practical [i.e. the internship] first, whatever floats your boat).  
I’m signed up to start in September. 

And you guys?  I AM SO EXCITED!!!

Here be shit ton of footnotes.  Because you can take the girl out of academia, but you can't take the academia out of the girl.

* Although not out loud, because I’ve already noticed that people stare at you when you talk out loud to yourself and I’ve been trying to cut back on looking like a crazy person.  Really I should just get myself one of those Bluetooth ear-pieces and wear it all the time and when people start looking at me funny I could point angrily to my ear and say loudly “I’m sorry, could you repeat that, I was distracted from this very important phone call by eavesdroppers.”

** Except when I’m driving.  But not because I’m a bad driver, I just forget that there are other gears and that I should be in them.  This is why people invented the automatic, for people like me.  I’ve heard people say that manual transmission gives you more control over the car, but I call bullshit.  If I had control over the car, it wouldn’t be telling me “you need to change me into another gear now” it would be all “oh, you want to go that fast, pardon me while I change that gear for you then.”  Manual transmission is where the car has control of YOU.

*** Only not the bit about attacking people with a stapler.  Probably because my job involved working with animals (for teaching, not research purposes), so when the going got tough (or the people got stupid), I could go cuddle a bunny.  Or if I was feeling particularly vicious, I could feed a rat to a snake. ^

^ Feeding the snakes was part of my job.  I wasn’t just going around feeding rats to snakes all willy-nilly.   Because that would be irresponsible.

**** And I was right, too.  I did not do so hot at the written portion of my exam.  (Hot?  I barely passed!) But that’s a WHOLE OTHER POST, lemme tell ya.

***** Damn, that’s a lot of asterisks.  Anyway, if you’re thinking, “but what about your allergies?”  Can I just point out that I’m also allergic to the mold that grows inside heating and cooling ducts, so every time someone turns on the central air in an office building, I die?  I’m allergic to something EVERYWHERE, so I might as well be hopped up on meds doing something I like rather than being hopped up on meds doing something I hate.


  1. Anonymous1:09 PM

    YAY! That's an amazing plan!

  2. Does this mean you will be buying a farm in the future? Animals? Or just plants? :)

    PS. Did you contact the universities regarding your degree? Your years of studying in the U.S. are bound to count for something, and three years of studying Northern European pots and a Danish degree could maybe land you an archeology job here?

    And yup...vet school requirements are HIGH. I wanted to be a vet, but I didn't even apply because of the grade point average needed, which at that time under the old system was aroun 10-11 or something like that.

    1. If you speak to the Danish Boy, we'll totally be buying a farm with plants. Since I'm still killing herbs left, right and center (but I've got TOMATOES growing!!!), I'm for just getting some chickens to start with. I hate relying on the neighbor's chickens for eggs. Fluffy bastards seem to have stopped laying. So if you talk to me about my future farm, it will be more emphasis on the animals. The DB has to go get his own farming license and then HE can grow all the wheat his little heart desires.

      P.S. I can't get into the universities because I flubbed the written part of the Danish exam. I personally think they were a little harsh on the grading, but even if they'd been 200% nicer, I STILL wouldn't have had the grades. If I'd aced my Danish exam it would have let me get into the university-prep Danish class (aka Modul 6) and then after six months I could have taken ANOTHER Danish exam to see if I was good enough in Danish to attend university.

      Then, having gotten into a Danish archaeology program, I'd be competing with the hoards of Danish archaeologists that the universities have churned out over the years. With the cutbacks, there are very few archaeology jobs out there. Denmark has also learned that it's cheaper to hire labor from abroad, they don't have to pay Danish union wages that way. So on the big digs, like in Copenhagen, a number of my British archaeology friends have gotten jobs while my Danish friends go on the dole. Small digs are easily covered by student labor (good plan on having all students do a field school - free labor) and a single trained archaeologist.

      So in the end, even if I had the Danish, three years of studying pots would not get me a job. However, 8 weeks of studying cows and I can start making 2x the student stipend. After that, the longer I work and the more education/steps I complete, the higher my wage will go. If I rock, the entire time I spend in a classroom will be only 16 weeks. The rest of the education is working for a proper wage with all the benefits that entails.

    2. *nods*

      That makes sense. I do think it's odd that they are so strict about Danish skills for acceptance into university. I don't know how it is with archeology, but when I was a uni, 90% of the material was in English, some of the lessons were in English and if we had foreign students in class, everything would just automatically switch to English.

      As you know, I considered studying archeology, but then I saw the statistics that only a small of the Danish archeologist worked in digs, the rest worked at the museums, were unemployed or worked in relatively unrelated fields. Sounds like that has changed much. :(

      Hey! If you start breeding organic lamb, I would totally buy from you. ;)

    3. Heather9:02 PM

      I tried to go for an English degree so I could become a teacher (always a plan B in the back of mine for like, forever). The classes were conducted in English, everything studied was in English HOWEVER . . . I had to prove I was fluent in danish before I could study my native language.

      That one still hurts my head when trying to find the logic

      Congrats on the farming!

  3. I'm always so damn thrilled when people have that Hell yeah! moment and find something they will love to do. Congrats!! You will be a kick ass farmer and we will expect a book out of this.

    1. How 'bout some blog posts about poop? Oh, wait, now I have a title for my book! The Poop, The Whole Poop, and Nothing But the Poop!

  4. I keep telling Sverre we need to buy a farm, and I could work with the animals, and then he brings it all crashing down. Because animals need feed, doctoring, feed, mucking, feed, more doctoring, water, feed, happiness and ... feed. But I hope you guys will make it a go, if anyone can, you can!

    1. And how does Sverre think that farmers do it?

      Anyway, since May wants some organic lamb, how about you come down and work on my organic lamb farm? At the moment it's only a mythical organic lamb farm, but SOMEDAY!

    2. Hey now, I did my thesis on beef production. I know what's going on here! I could totally help with lamb season; squeeze their cute faces, kiss them, and then lead them into the barn for production. I'm yer girl.

      Sverre lived with me on a farm with a stable, and he saw all the care that goes into animals. He considers that enough experience to opt out of livestock. Though plants...then he might be in.

  5. As I was reading this blog, it kept reminding me of Corinne *ahem* who studied agriculture too, didn't you Corinne?? Or at least something that has to do with it. I think it would suit you fine. I'd rather slit my wrist too than taking SOSU degree and end up in nursing home - something that most of my fellow compatriots are doing at the moment in dejlig Denmark.

    And as for animal thing, I have been dreaming of opening bird kennels (if I had the space and money and time, of course, well maybe when I won lottery and retired at 40). Maybe you could start it as business too? Taking care of other people's cats, with payment of course, now that you have Alot anyway ;)

    good luck!

    1. See what happens to Californians who move to Scandinavia and have to start over again? We take up farming. Although Corinne is looking at a maritime job which is funny because that's what we have a lot of down here on the island. Sailors and ship builders. The island is known more for it's maritime past than it's farming past.

      When I was young and thought one could do a gazillion careers at the same time, I thought about opening a cattery. And breed cats and board cats and other cat related things. And then me and my favorite cats would go to Egypt and excavate. Okay, it was a little insane. But if I moved back to a major metropolitan area, it might be worth doing. However, cats are so low maintenance that for most people it's just paying the neighbor kid to come by and check up and fill the food and water bowls and spend some time petting the cat. It's what we did when we went to California and Alot and his new best friend did very well. It's easier than transporting a cat to another location where they freak out. Because cats aren't really interested in spending lots of time with humans. Just enough for them to feel loved and entertained.

      But birds, I know, are much higher maintenance. Boredom and loneliness in a bird leads to self-destructive behavior. (Cats will destroy your plants and furniture, dogs will destroy your shoes and anything else they can get their teeth into, only birds take it out on themselves.) I think a bird kennel is a fantastic idea!

    2. I did Development and Environment with a thesis in beef production (go figure, right?). We Californians like to get our hands dirty, it's nurture over nature, I guess. If I get the maritime job (totally opposite of anything I have ever done, btw), maybe I can swan around like a total magnate and then speak knowledgably about feed lotting, fattening, and slaughter practice. Totally throw colleagues for a loop. Jack of all trades, master of none, that's me.

      If I had my dream, I would have a bajillion horses. But the equine industry requires boat loads (see, tie in!) I will never have. You need to be like, some oil magnate's child to get into bit time breeding, because you will likely lose more money than you ever make.

  6. Okay, I really do take everything in stride. You've thrown enough weird stuff my that I'm always ready for something strange, but if you'd decided to settle for the whole elder care thing, I would have staged an extensive intervention. Because, that is a shitty (pun intended) job. From personal experience, DO NOT GO INTO THE ELDER CARE!

    I couldn't help remembering that day at Point Reyes when we were driving past the dairies and we decided to be dairy farmers together. So build your dairy farm so I can come and visit and pet the pretty cows.


Keep it clean, don't be mean....