Thursday, December 29, 2011

Liz Lovely Cowgirl Cookies

So yummy I couldn't even wait to take a picture before I started eating 'em!
As promised long ago, I am finally reviewing Liz Lovely's chocolate chip cookies, also known as Cowgirl Cookies.

I'll let you know straight off that I'm pretty impressed. Just as advertised, they are soft and chewy and very much like cookie dough, right down to the crunchy little sugar crystals that definitely complete this cookie's appeal. The chocolate is tasty, and pretty soft as well. But what makes these cookies better than cookie dough, is they are completely egg free, cutting my risk of salmonella poisoning right in half!

I bought these at my store on one of the last days I was eligible for an employee discount. They were $3.59 for the two-pack, which equates to $1.80 a cookie, or about 2¢ a gram. And with these cookies, a little goes a long way. Normally, when I buy cookies in a 2-pack, I eat them both at once, but something about these cookies makes them quite filling. When I opened the package, I only finished one cookie and was satisfied, saving the other one for later. "Later" ended up being today, when I followed my lunch with the second cookie. Although my lunch was small, I'm totally full! So if one serving of these cookies is half the price of the package, they're a pretty good deal!

The bottom line:
Taste: 4 stars
Texture: 5 stars
Price: 3 stars

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Living in the present

Once upon a time, before I was mercifully removed from the dating scene, I went on a terrible date that ended with me in tears. Well, about half of my dates ended that way, but I knew in advance this particular dismal finish was coming when my every phone conversation with this potential match left me full of contempt for him and his persecution complex. He was always mad at someone who had slighted him--the last one, of course, being me. I should probably forget this traumatic experience with someone unworthy of my further consideration, but I can't, because he was such a jerk! He was one of those "nice guys" who's so bitter about how the world has treated them that they have forgotten how to actually be nice. So periodically, when I want to get mad, I think of him and his idiotic notions about "the past."

He was angry, about contracts and liability clauses and the legal system  and modern businesses, and basically just the whole world in general, and he wished we would all go back to "the good old days," when men were gentlemen and you could seal a deal with a handshake.

Well, I thought that was daft. People have been cheating each other since the beginning of time, and no determined crook was ever stopped by a handshake. So maybe modern contracts and legal documents are a tremendous hassle, but at least they let you know where you stand.

Since my good sir was not so specific as to state which era he looked back on so fondly, I was forced to conclude he meant the worst of all of them. But seriously, what was "good" about any of the "good old days?"

It surely wasn't the public health system. Who would really want to live in a time before the discovery of bacteria, when people regularly died from minor infections? Nowadays we can get treatment for anything from a debilitating condition to a minor annoyance. Back then, they didn't even have aspirin.

I certainly wouldn't want to go back to any social system in the recent or distant past. What's cool about child labor? Segregation? Treating women like baby-making machines? Buying and selling other humans as slaves?

I feel fortunate–blessed, even–to live in the present. Though some pessimists out there are convinced we're all heading to hell in a handbasket, I'm convinced I'm living in the greatest era to have ever existed!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pleasure before business

Despite my first official day at my new job not being until January 2, my new coworkers were still kind enough to invite me to their holiday party, held today at 1:30.

While I am loath to attend parties, I knew this one was vital to my future social success, so I sucked up my fears and RSVP'ed yes. I bolstered my enthusiasm by allowing myself to wear a pretty swell outfit that will no doubt make an appearance in The Unfashionista blog sooner or later.

Surprisingly, the party was pretty enjoyable. I think I'm going to like my new coworkers! Even during the first part of the party, when eating and conversation dominated the activities, I didn't feel a touch of social anxiety. And once the organized games got into full swing, I felt perfectly at home. Ahh, organized games. They take the edge off of any social occasion. I am happy to be joining the ranks of what seems to be a pretty nerdy group (to whom silly games are an acceptable segment of the annual holiday party). Hooray!

It didn't hurt that I actually won one of the organized games! I was initially disheartened to learn that most of the games seemed to require a certain threshold of coordination (aim, dexterity, etc.) which I utterly failed to reach. But I have stubbornness to spare, and in the game where the object was to hold two candy canes on your fingertips with your arm out parallel to the table until it collapsed from exhaustion, I won! Yeah! Five points for Valerie!

I also learned two delightful things about the University that were hitherto unknown to me. (1) All employees of the University receive their own iPad, to use as long as they remain employed by the University. My iPad was presented at the end of the night in the form of a very rigged grand prize drawing. Woohoo! I've been thinking maybe it's time to get myself a tablet, and now I don't have to think about that any longer. (2) Staff of the University get a Christmas vacation! It may only be a week, but I was expecting a maximum of one day. So if I last a full year here, I get a free vacation in the bargain!

It should also be mentioned that at the gift exchange (wherein the gifts were selected by the prize committee, making it something other than an "exchange"), I received a tin of chicory coffee and French donut mix, plus three strands of Mardi Gras beads. I traded the coffee for a roll of "cosmic" duct tape. (It looks like orange tie dye). I love the new multicolor duct tapes, but would never buy them because they are more expensive per foot than the regular duct tape, so I am quite excited to have received a roll for free!

I topped off my afternoon by shelling out 400 dollars at the auto mechanic (cringe. Moving along before I think about that too much) and then swinging by the house of my favorite former coworker, where we traded stories about the last 4 days, and I picked up my bag of ravioli that I had left the last time I was there. It was a good way to spend my afternoon.

My mood at this moment can only be described as "expansive." I think I'll top off this delightful day with an episode of Doctor Who!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In case you were wondering

The most recent episode in the Bedbug War has proved inconclusive.

I finally scheduled an appointment with the bug sniffing dog late in November, but the first available appointment was December 8. So I spent two agonizing weeks waiting for my answers. December 8 came and went without the arrival of the bedbug dog, and I was finally informed at 5:00, after waiting 4 hours, that my inspector was sick and my appointment would have to be rescheduled for December 14. Another week. I believe my subsequent Facebook post sums up my feelings pretty well:

I have been waiting for 2 weeks for thing #3--an appointment that was supposed to be today between 1 and 3. Then when I call at 3:15 to find out why no one has come, I am told the technician is running late and it'll have to be between 4 and 5. Then I get a call at 5 to tell me that the technician is sick and can't come until next Wednesday. So he suddenly got sick between 3 and 5? Bet he just didn't feel like working late and decided to screw me over. If one more person flakes out on an appointment or takes over a week to do what should be done in a day, they will experience my wrath. And by wrath I mean hysterical crying.
Thing #1 was my car, which I dropped off for some recall service last Monday and have yet to receive back. Thing #2 was my doctor appointment, which has been rescheduled for tomorrow.

Today was the big day, and my inspector appeared very promptly shortly after nine, along with his rather excitable yellow dog. Not a bloodhound, for those of you who were wondering. More like a retriever of some sort.

This dog charged around the rooms of the house, sniffing and jumping and generally enjoying himself immensely. Unfortunately, what he did not do is pinpoint the location of any bedbugs. The inspector noticed he seemed to have extra interest in my bed, so he took some time to peel off some of the tape and inspect the cracks.

On one of the strips of tape, he found a dead second-stage nymph. I had a look at it. It was very small and had no identifiable legs or insect-like features of any sort. I was rather appalled, because those things could have been all over my room and I never would have noticed. It looked like a fleck of dust, really.

In the rest of the house, the dog turned up nothing. But the handler seemed to have a little trouble encouraging the dog to do a thorough inspection, as the dog seemed to prefer to charge around and enjoy himself.

In the end, the handler imparted some wisdom. I can no longer remember his exact words (And he told me his memory is bad because he spent some time in Iraq. I thought it would be impolitic to inform him that my memory is always like that, and I've never been near Iraq!) but the gist of it is as follows:

Normally in a situation where you have had bedbugs since August, you would be seeing more signs of them. Even if you've been doing self-treatment as we have, you should see some kind of evidence of the bugs' presence, as self-treatment is not particularly effective. His personal recommendation was to watch and wait, as he wouldn't want us to spend "bookoo amounts of money" (his exact words—I remember that much) on a problem that's not really there. It's probably not worth paying for extermination at this point.

I've been feeling pretty bug-free since putting down the diatomaceous earth around my bed, and I wouldn't mind living like that for the indefinite future, as long as I can put my clothes back in the closet. On the other hand, if a new person wants to move into the house, I will probably have to disclose my potential insect situation, which could make finding renters a bit of a challenge. I'll ask the landlord if he's willing to contribute some cash towards bedbug eradication. He says it's not his problem according to the terms of the lease, but it will be his problem if I move out and he wants someone else to move in. If I'm feeling brave and/or masochistic, I might remove my diatomaceous earth and see if the problem gets worse.


After the inspector left, I looked again at the nymph he had found taped to my bed frame. I looked at it again with my pocket microscope. I am fairly certain that it's just a splinter of wood.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

You wanted levity? Maybe next time you'll think twice before complaining about my "teary" blog

In the past, I have occasionally been known for my mastery of sarcastic wit, but never for my quick wit, which is why it takes me, on average, a whole year to come up with two jokes.

Because good things take time, my annual outpouring of hilarity must necessarily be the epitome of greatness—and thus, deserving of much attention and renown.

And so, on this, the momentous occasion of 1 year, a couple of months, and a few days since I last unleashed my brilliant sense of humor on my unsuspecting readers, I hereby present you with two spectacles of comedy the likes of which have never been laughed at before. Probably they won't be laughed at after, either.

Let the drumroll begin.

This first story is about my ganglion cyst, the topic of much blogging here in Val's Galorious Galaxy, and finally the punchline for a joke (is it bad to tell your audience what the punchline is before the joke? Perhaps there is a reason why I'm not on the comedy circuit...other than the fact that two jokes a year do not for a happy audience make).

So if you read this blog, you're probably well aware that I like to complain about my ganglion cyst a lot—and you're only seeing what I bother to put in writing. Basically from the moment it first bulges out of my joint capsule to the moment it finally subsides back into a semblance of flatness, and all the uncomfortable moments in between, I am whining about how painful my cyst is, and how I wish it would leave me alone. Apparently all this griping didn't sit well with one of my readers, who, in the midst of one of my cyst rants in the recent past, killed me dead in a fit of pique (bet you didn't see that coming!). So I was, by this point, quite incapable of dispensing retribution for my untimely demise, but fortunately my lawyer was there, to take care of me in the way that only lawyers can. Said lawyer, sensing the opportunity to avenge my death by means of a protracted lawsuit against my murderer, elected to do no such thing but instead make a tidy profit by publishing a brief memoir about the whole affair. The title of the memoir? Cyst and Decease.

Commence awkward silence.

Well, this is great. You know, I love you guys. If you enjoyed that long-winded joke, you'll probably love The Story of Zookey the Penguin, and Mr. Frank and the Giraffe, both of which can be found on the soon-to-be remodeled Val's Galore website.

For those of you with shorter attention spans, I have one more joke which might hit the spot. Here goes!

How many Hindu deities does it take to plug in a lightbulb?

One, since many hands make light work.


Now that I have unloaded my arsenal for the year, I'll look up these humor nuggets to see if someone beat me to the punch...line. But whether they did or didn't, you should know that these jokes came straight out of my own head. And if that means you want to give my head a wide berth from here on out, I wouldn't be at all surprised.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A New Hope

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
Oh, that's a different new hope. Let me try this again.

Not too long ago, in a Galaxy that was actually, well, this one, I made my sad farewells to two jobs I've known and loved. Despite all my sentimental attachment, though, it was clearly time to move on. Here's why:
  • Driving a scoop through a compacted brick of raisins is not exactly easy on your wrist. Nor is using all your weight to press down the arm of a heat sealer hundreds of times a day. After several months of a ganglion cyst appearing, disappearing, and reappearing on my wrist, I think it's time to give up the joint-stressing work.
  • Spraining my back twice in a year was no picnic either.
  • With my God-given clumsiness always at my side, work was an incessant series of accidents and injuries. You'd think after several months of spilling trail mix everywhere and scratching my arm on the metal shelf grates, I'd be used to it. But every time it happened, it only made me more angry.
  • It took me a year, but my body is finally OK with getting up before sunrise almost every day. Including Sundays. Unfortunately, I have to go to bed at 9 to make it work, and that is putting a serious dent in my social life. Not that I want to be out gallivanting late at night on a Saturday, but if I want to keep my friends, it's something I have to do from time to time.
And at my other job...
  • Only one thing: I spent three years in school studying design. Yet when my employer needed to produce a publication this year, they outsourced it to a design firm—which apparently re-made our logo from scratch rather than asking for a usable image file, and couldn't even be bothered to use Garamond instead of Times New Roman, resulting in a logo that looked like it was designed in Word 95. The organization might have left me out of this process because I'm spending all of my allocated hours doing other tasks, but my allocated hours were only 20 a pay period, and I know I had asked in the past if they could increase my hours, so—well, the short story is I'm offended, and what better reason to quit a job?
OK, there is one:
I'll be making almost twice as much money and working 10 hours less per week!

This seems like the best way to gain the free time I had desired since the beginning of my job search, and this alone is a good reason to change jobs, but other reasons include:
  • Free membership at University Gyms!
  • Pre-tax payroll deductions for public transportation!
  • The chance to dress up for work rather than having to always dress down!
  • My own office!
  • Tuition remission at the University of Maryland (and you know what else that means? Student discounts)!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The End of an Era

I'm starting to have separation anxiety.

For six years – the entire time I have lived in Maryland – I have worked for my store and my nonprofit. I've had my ups and downs with both jobs, and thought about quitting many times, but never have I actually done it.

As the moments until my last day at the store tick down, I'm starting to feel sentimental.

I love my coworkers. I love how we can act all ridiculous around each other and that's OK. I love how all of my bosses heap praise on me for the simplest little accomplishments. I love how I can cry at work and everyone just knows that's normal. I love working for two different organizations with a strong environmental ethic.

I love that when I have an idea, I'm almost always allowed to run with it. I had so many ideas for my nonprofit that I never had time to implement. Working half-time, I always had so much on my plate that I wished there were two of me so I could actually get something finished for once. Now I'll never have a chance to finish any of it. Excuse me while I get a little maudlin.

And a little scared.

Sure, these people hired me. Based on an hour-long chat and a couple of bookmarks. But what if they don't like me once I'm there? Sure, in the past I've garnered myself a reputation for being a stellar employee, but I've become so complacent at my current jobs that I worry I've lost the energy that drove me to be good at them. And of course I'm afraid for my social life. It took me years to get comfortable with my co-workers at the store. How long will I be awkward and reserved with the new ones? And how long will I be getting their names wrong?

I get a little teary-eyed thinking of the comfortable existence I'm about to leave. Here are some of the other things I'll miss:
  • Bringing home free vegetables almost every day
  • Getting exercise and getting paid for it
  • Talking to coworkers without having to ask those awkward get-to-know-you questions
  • Being able to play my bizarre music at top volume and having coworkers who appreciated it (or at least were willing to indulge me)
  • Setting my own schedule part of the time, and having a fairly flexible schedule the other part of it
  • Having ample time to do my shopping on the weekdays when the stores aren't busy
  • Being able to walk to work in under 10 minutes
Let it be said here and now, that while I leave my present jobs, it is not for lack of love—just a lack of enthusiasm for the low pay and draining time commitment. Employer and Employer (which I still hesitate to name lest some intrepid Googler discover something I'd rather they didn't), you will always have a place in my heart!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bedbug aid

A big exciting thing happened to me yesterday: I received a job offer from the University of Maryland. Ever since my second interview on Monday (read The Unfashionista for a shoe-centric account of the events leading up to it), I've been living in a state of anxiety, waiting to find out if I was the one out of three to make the cut.

Today, the call came in. When I heard the voice of the department head whom I had met at my second interview asking "How are you?", my lungs stopped working. Fortunately, they recovered in time to say I was fine and how was he? Pleasantries thus exchanged, he went on to tell me the committee had selected me for the job, to disclose the exact proposed salary, confirm that my freelance work would not prevent me from performing my duties, and ask me if I accepted.

I don't know if it's appropriate to accept a job offer with the same level of ditziness that Miss America accepts her crown, but I did. Pending the obligatory paperwork, I will start on January 2.

I could tell you the many reasons that I'm delighted to have the opportunity to work for the University of Maryland. I could tell you the equally many reasons that I'm kind of regretful. But I think I will save those topics for later and tell you instead about the road that brought me here.

If you have been reading this blog faithfully, you will know that from August 26 to October 1, I spent most of my time in a flurry of job applications. Following that, I began the battle of a lifetime with what may or may not be bedbugs (I finally scheduled an appointment for December 6 with the bug-sniffing dog, to find out for sure). Midway through that ordeal, I received a call about a job application I had all but forgotten, for Web development and training at UMD.

They wanted me to come in for an interview. I did. On the day of the interview, I arrived 15 minutes early to find the parking garage I'd been instructed to use was fully occupied. I drove around in an increasing rage before finally leaving a nearly tearful voice mail with the contact person to inform him that I was still looking for parking. Following this, I had to keep stopping off at bathrooms because my wardrobe was malfunctioning. Eventually I arrived 20 minutes late. I thought that was a terrible start, but the interviewers seemed to understand, and I think my presentation redeemed me a little.

As part of the job was to involve training others to use the web-based content management system, to assess my training skills, they had asked me to prepare a 5-10 minute presentation on a subject of my choice. The first topic that came to mind? Bedbugs.

I ran with it. In a moment of genius, I invented a catchy acronym—Bedbug AID: Avoid, Identify, Destroy—and made that the theme of my presentation. Of course, in giving the presentation, I forgot most of the points I wanted to bring up and all the clever transitions I had prepared, but I did elicit a number of horrified expressions and like to believe I imparted some valuable knowledge to my interviewers.

Bedbug bookmark, back and front
In my typical compulsively overachieving fashion, I decided before the interview that I needed to give my interviewers something to take home with them. So I made them bookmarks with the Bedbug AID slogan and some helpful pointers. They seemed to be quite impressed. "You designed these? Hmm. We never thought about a design element to this job, but it would be helpful to have someone with some design skills around. Our entire design team was laid off last year." When I heard that, my heart rejoiced a little—with an appropriate degree of reservation. And I was glad I had spent the nearly 3 dollars for a double-sided color print at Fedex Office (It was only 40 cents a side back when I was a design student!).

Following the interview, I had to immediately come back because I could not find one of my gloves. One of the interviewers kept trying to herd me toward the front door, but I wanted to go the other way because that was how I had come and maybe that way I would find my missing glove. In spite of my discombobulation, my late arrival, and my traumatic presentation topic, they still invited me to come back the next week. And that second interview was basically a formality.

I never thought there could be a good side to a bedbug infestation, but, had I not spent the last month researching the creatures fanatically, I don't think I would have gotten the job. As Miss America would put it, "And I'm grateful to...bedbugs...for getting me here. Thanks, bedbugs!"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Curses, foiled again!

Today, suddenly consumed with a burning need to have more information on bedbug extermination, I called two of the PCO's that I had called previously. Really, information was all I wanted, but before I knew it, I had an appointment for another inspection at 2 this afternoon.

The inspector arrived and was awed by our prep work (all the furniture was still pulled away from the walls, and most of our possessions were in garbage bags) but was not awed by my bedbug specimens. "Those aren't bedbugs; those are baby roaches," he told me.

What? Baby roaches? Now, I knew we had cockroaches since my female housemate had so graciously brought them from her old apartment when she moved in. But she and her boyfriend had applied some lethal substance all over the basement a few months ago, and it seemed like the roaches had finally gone for good (except for the giant deformed one I had found on the living room wall shortly after our fogger treatment). So it had not even occurred to me to consider that my 3 stooges were not the bloodsucking monsters I believed them to be.

But immediately, I Googled "cockroach nymphs," and found the following picture:
This awesome photo is courtesy of Flickr user cdresz
Compare those little creepy-crawlies (no, not the blobby grub-looking thing. That's an ootheca, which could be my new favorite word, even though I have no clue what it means) to the creepy-crawlies that I extracted from my freezer:
This spectacular photo is courtesy of me.
And you will understand why I chose the title for this post. Why does my evidence keep turning into an utter lack of evidence? And why were there baby roaches in my bedroom!? OK, it's possible that they weren't in my bedroom. The freezer was downstairs, in the hub of the cockroach infestation, so it's possible the roaches got into the freezer by some means other than via my box of art paper. After all, the fruit flies did it.

But the more pressing question is once again, what's eating me? Two seasoned pest inspectors have failed to find any evidence of bedbugs. Is it possible we really don't have bedbugs at all? I would like that outcome, especially since the estimates keep going up and up. The inspector that visited quoted $1200 to treat the whole house, and the one I called estimated something like $3000!

My new plan of action is thus: Maintain the status quo—that means, keep my light dusting of diatomaceous earth around the bed and carpet edges and hope that it does its desiccation thing and kill off what must be a fairly small population of bedbugs. If, after 2 weeks, any of my housemates is still getting bites, I will spring for the canine inspection. And then let those results determine what to do next.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's ailing my doctor?

I spoke too soon. Immediately after I submitted the last post, I got an email from my doctor saying one of my tests had come back positive, and she was going to consult a gastroenterologist about it. I re-read my results and whoa, what do you know? She was right. Thank heavens I have selective vision, or I would have freaked out all over again.

However, I had a lot more confidence in my health since the other 4 tests were negative, so with very little trepidation, I looked up more information on the antibody tests. I learned that the one test that had come back positive (gliadin IgG) comes back positive for a lot of people (1 in 10), including many who don't have celiac disease. A few days later, I got another email for my doctor saying essentially the same thing: It's a "nonspecific" test and "doesn't say much."

So, rather unsurprisingly, it seems that this positive result is just my body again revealing its knack for going into immune overdrive (boy, how I wish it would reserve this zeal for real viruses). However, one question remains: would I feel better if I were not overloading my intestines with wheat products on a regular basis? It may be worth trying a nearly gluten-free diet for a little while. I think I can handle that, and if it would cut down on the incessant abdominal pain, it might even be worth it.

But that was all a digression from the real purpose of this post--a little humor to brighten this cavalcade of lost job opportunities, parasites, and fear. Whilst responding to my doctor's message within the Kaiser Permanente web-based email interface, I happened to notice the title of the page—a typo, no doubt, but a very apt one: "ail your doctor." Indeed, I'm quite certain that me and my constant paranoia are doing just that!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Tale of Hypochondria

Early in October, I went on a much-needed vacation that got a passing mention in this blog. What I didn't mention was that while I was there, I started experiencing this incessant abdominal pain. Well, without going into too great a detail about my bathroom habits, I will say that I was diagnosed with IBS almost 10 years ago, and abdominal pain is nothing new to me. However, incessant abdominal pain is a horse of a different color!
Usually, when something goes wrong with my health, I assume the worst. Last spring, I started feeling a persistent tingling in my feet and was convinced that I had diabetes. I visited the doctor and requested a diabetes test, which came out negative. The doctor also tested me for vitamin B deficiencies (also negative) and concluded that my problem probably stemmed from standing in place too long at work. Once I had duly embarrassed myself with this false alarm, the tingling disappeared within a few days, mission accomplished.

When my tummy started hurting nonstop, I naturally self-diagnosed a bowel obstruction. However, as those bowel habits that I'm trying hard not to go into much detail about hadn't changed much, an obstruction seemed unlikely. As I researched the issue further, a few words kept popping out at me: celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a tricky little disorder; while many patients suffer bloating, diarrhea, constant pain, and all sorts of nutritional deficiencies (sometimes characterized by tingling in the feet!), others have no symptoms. If you have any one of the symptoms, you might have the disease. And I had TWO.

Well, I worked myself into another frenzy of anxiety. The thought of having to start a gluten free diet depressed the heck out of me. I visited celiac disease websites compulsively for a few days, and called the doctor for another appointment, which I could not get until the middle of the next week.

In the meantime, I started feeling these twinges that would appear and disappear spontaneously under my solar plexus and under the left and right sides of my ribs. As I noticed them and paid them more attention, they migrated up into my chest, and then up into my throat. It felt like the time I got a pill stuck in my esophagus. I worried a little half-heartedly about heart disease, but really it sounded suspiciously like acid reflux (except I thought heartburn was supposed to burn, not feel like a cramp!), Guess what! Tons of the people on the celiac disease forums also suffer from acid reflux! Coincidence? I thought not.

Well, my doctor (who persistently refuses to diagnose these dread diseases I keep coming down with) diagnosed acid reflux and prescribed me an antacid. However, at my request, she also ordered 3 celiac blood tests.

They came back negative. I started feeling better almost immediately.

And then, a few days ago, I remembered a certain party that I chickened out of attending this summer. I had driven myself almost all the way there, getting more and more nervous as I got closer. By the time I reached the street where the party was held, I had reached a pinnacle of anxiety. When I cruised past the door to the house where the party was held and didn't see any sign of a party, I knew I couldn't go through with it. So I kept on cruising back towards home, feeling that very same constricted feeling under my sternum. I remember explaining to my boyfriend later why I couldn't possibly attend: "I was so nervous, I got heartburn! And I never get heartburn!"

So now I see the reason for all this recent gastric upset. Stress! First I was all in a tizzy looking for jobs, and then that tizzy swung right around into full-blown bedbug paranoia, and then when I started feeling the physical symptoms, I made them even worse by worrying about them!

Unfortunately, the stress is not over. Today, while looking for a tank top in my bags of clothes in the basement, I saw a brown spot on one of the white bags. I looked closer. It was a bedbug! A deadbug bedbug, but how had it gotten there!? Best case, it blew out of the freezer when I was trying to retrieve it (I vaguely remember losing one of my specimens due to some injudicious breathing). Worst case, it had made its home in the basement, or in my bags of clean clothes!

Tomorrow we do our second treatment with the pesticides. I will remove the thick protective layer of diatomaceous earth around my bed and replace it with a thin, killing layer. I hate to do this, because I've been bite-free for almost two weeks and I want to stay that way, but if you want to lure bedbugs to their deaths, you have to use yourself as bait. I will wait two weeks, maybe three, and if we are still getting bitten, I will call in an exterminator. My worst fear is that even that last-ditch effort will not succeed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Au Gratin Party Potatoes

I have reached a point where there is no more cleaning or research I can do regarding the bedbugs (Since laying down the diatomaceous earth on my mattress, I haven't received a new bite in 4 days—I can almost imagine they're gone), so I am forced to go back to an almost normal mode of living. Almost normal inasmuch as I still choose my daily outfit by whatever I can find near the top of my storage bags, and am continually stymied by simple tasks such as cutting my toenails (can't find the toenail clippers) and washing my hands (the towels are all in bags in the basement). But there is one thing I still have all the supplies for: food preparation!

Today, I decided to make my lunch another Adventure in Cooking! and prepare some au gratin potatoes from scratch. Here's how you do it.
1. Find a recipe for au gratin potatoes on the internet, such as this one. You know you've picked a good recipe for dinner for one, when you see the word "party" in the recipe title. This will enable you to practice your recipe-dividing skills. Allrecipes.com is kind enough to do the dividing for you, so if you scale your recipe down to use about 2 1-lb. potatoes, you will be presented with nice, easy-to-measure amounts such as 1 Tbsp. + 1¾t tsp (margarine) or 3/8 of a can (evaporated milk), and you won't have to do any math!

2. Scrub and slice your potatoes (2 of them). The recipe may tell you to peel, cube, and cook them, but you are too Galorious for that, so decide not to peel them (the peel is where all the fiber is!). Also decide to slice them (that's the way real au gratin potatoes are done), and not to bother with the pre-cooking (they're thinly sliced; they'll cook just fine during baking, and besides, you're hungry now!).

3. The recipe tells you to mix your ingredients in a mixing bowl. To save on supplies as well as washing time, decide to forgo this as well, and mix all the ingredients in your 9x13 baking pan, which you have not greased, despite the instructions. Spread the potato slices on the bottom of the pan.

4. This would be a good time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5.  Now for the hard part: 3/8 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk. Honestly, who keeps evaporated milk around the house? You'll have to use powdered milk. Since the powdered milk comes in 1-qt packets, there are no instructions as to how much powder makes 3/8 of  12 ounces. You'll have to guess. 3/8 is almost 1/2, so just assume you'll need one half of 12 ounces, or 6 oz. Six oz. is 2/3 cup. Fill your 1-cup measure up about 2/3 full with milk powder. Then fill it to the same level with water. Add a little more milk powder because it doesn't look thick enough to be "evaporated." Mix with a fork and dump over the potatoes.

6. The recipe calls for 1/4 pound of processed cheese. Since you find processed cheese totally unpalatable, use colby-jack instead. Cube the cheese nicely and distribute it over the potato slices.

7. 1 tablespoon and 1-3/4 teaspoons butter or margarine, cubed. That's what the recipe calls for, but who has time for such finicky measurements? That's just about 1.5 tablespoons, so cut that approximate amount off your stick of margarine and cut it into little pieces over your potatoes. The pieces will stick together, so you'll have to cut them up more later on.

8. The recipe also calls for:
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Paprika
1/2 teaspoon = approximately a few pinches, so go ahead and sprinkle on the salt. Since you don't have pepper, you'll skip that, but you actually do have some paprika left over from when you made deviled eggs for Easter.Sprinkle that on, too. Realize the recipe said to put on the paprika after cooking, but figure it won't make that much difference.

9. Mix your ingredients in the pan. I find that a fork and a knife make delightful little screeching noises when you use them for this purpose. A spoon may also work. Pick up all the cubes of cheese that have fallen off the potatoes and put them back on top of the potatoes. Use your knife to cut the cubes of margarine into smaller cubes of margarine.

9. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes or until bubbly. Since the oven has only reached about 200 degrees at this point, just set the timer for 53 minutes and go ride your exercise bike. Take a shower, excavate your nail file from the car, and remove the potatoes from the oven with one minute and a few odd seconds left on the timer. Serve hot. 


I suppose if you're an au gratin potatoes connoisseur, these would not go over very well. The cheese pretty much stayed where it was put originally, leading to patches of bald potatoes and other patches of overly cheesy potatoes. The next time I try this recipe, I'll melt the cheese with the milk first for a more even consistency. Still, the potatoes cooked, just as I expected them to, and they were tasty and the cheese was cheesy, and I had a good lunch.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Or just blow all my theories out of the water.

Yesterday, I surrounded the entire base of my bed with a thick layer of diatomaceous earth. This is what Josh did to his bed months ago and it seemed to protect him from any new bites. However, in reading about bedbug prevention, I have learned that more is not better, in the case of diatomaceous earth, as a thick coating acts as a bedbug repellant, whereas a light dusting doesn't deter the bugs but kills them after they walk through it (in the yuckiest way, by perforating their exoskeleton and allowing them to slowly die of dehydration).

This morning I woke up with a new bite on my torso, just behind my right armpit. So much for only getting bitten on the butt. I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. On the one hand, it means that my diatomaceous earth barrier was not effective, or else my sealing and sterilization of the bed frame and contents was not effective. On the other hand, it means the bedbugs are still getting to me and likely walking through the deadly diatomaceous earth to do it.

To be sure, I dusted more DE around the edges of my mattress. Bedbugger.com recommends against this, as inhaling diatomaceous earth isn't really good for you, but I'll sacrifice some lung tissue if it means being rid of these parasites. I guess for now, I'll be satisfied with this result.

The question remains, though, whether to bring in an exterminator or not. I have an appointment with the sniffing dog on Wednesday. If the bedbugs are gone or dead, the dog should be able to detect this, thus saving me a thousand dollars. On the other hand, if the bedbugs are not gone, then I will have spent 200 dollars on top of the extermination costs for no real reason. Perhaps I should just cancel my appointment, wait a few weeks, and then see. But can I stand a few more weeks of living out of garbage bags?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blow those bedbugs out of sight

Alas, two new bites last night. Some people say you can get delayed reactions to bedbug bites, but I'm not biting (er, buying) it. I guess some head-wall-interaction is in my future.

I'm also beginning to think that I may just have to fork over the couple of thousand dollars needed for the big guns.

Called another exterminator today (we're calling them PCO's [for Pest Control Operator] over at bedbugger.com, which has been my best friend in recent weeks). This one has a bug-sniffing dog that can pinpoint the exact location of the infestation. Unfortunately, it costs 200 dollars just to have the dog visit (whoa, sounds like this crazy auction I saw on eBay recently), and a thousand-some dollars to have the whole house heat treated (but the heat treatment comes with a six-month warranty, so I'd be pretty confident that it would work).

All my research in the past few weeks has missed a few important points that I just learned (too little, too late) this evening (instead of doing my work, again!).
  • Setting off foggers will make your problem worse because it can cause the bugs to retreat into new hiding places. I'm not too worried about this result, because we set them off in every room, so it's not like they could have retreated very far. And I'm pretty sure they'll come right back to me and my delicious blood before long, anyway.
  • A metal bed frame is not a solution, because it is so good at thwarting bedbugs, that it will cause them to migrate elsewhere in search of food. Again, I'm not so sure I subscribe to this. If the bugs can't bite me, then it doesn't matter where they migrate. They will die eventually (I just have to wait 18 months to be sure).
Today I followed my housemate's lead and put diatomaceous earth all around the bottom of the bed. There's tape on every crack in the bed, making it look rather like a pair of pajamas. Should be conducive to sleeping.

In other news, the bedbugs seem to think I have a great butt (thank you, thank you) because that is all they've been biting for the past few days. I'm beginning to think that maybe the duct tape around my bed really has been deterring them, and they've been forced to bite me from the comfort of my computer chair (where my butt spends most of its time when not in bed). Interesting thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wish I may and wish I might...

The past two days, I did nothing but battle bedbugs. I got home Friday afternoon and continued the neverending task of bagging all my possessions and getting ready for some chemical warfare.

On a related note, after seeing the giant pile of garbage bags in the basement, my boyfriend forced me to watch an episode of Hoarders, which is a documentary TV show about people with hoarding disorders. While I may not have a hoarding disorder (I do not accumulate rotting pumpkins and 4-year expired yogurt in my house), I do realize that I have a lot more possessions that I formerly thought I would like to have. Living simply seems to have gone out the window in favor of living as complicated as I can, as long as I have space to store it all (such is the hazard of renting an entire house--you feel entitled to spread out all over it). Something has to change. Do you think I can survive without always having a craft supply for every possible occasion? Do you think I can start getting rid of some of the clothes I only wear once a year because I don't like them? Do you think, next time, I can resist when someone is Freecycling the entire Doctor Who series on VHS plus a few miscellaneous other Sci-fi videos?

But I digress.

Saturday we did it. It was so tiring, I don't even want to think about it any more! Yet, in spite of that, in spite of being two days behind on my work, I am compelled to blog about it. Perhaps I have a blogging disorder.

We cleaned every bit of furniture with Pine-Sol. We put (almost) every loose item in our bedrooms in plastic bags. I laundered my mattress cover. We sprayed in all the corners. We set off foggers, which were kind of unimpressive, considering they were supposed to be our coup de grace, in every room in the house. The only thing left to do is for me to put masking tape over all the cracks in my bedframe (and let me tell you, there are a lot) and put the duct tape back around the skinny parts. I am overcome with fear. Last night, I was so afraid that there might still be living bedbugs lurking about, that I begged my boyfriend to let me stay over, even though it meant driving a half hour to work at 6 the next morning.

But tonight, I have to stay here. If I get another bite, I think the only thing left to do is destroy my bed frame and buy a new one, remove the wall-to-wall rug, and sleep in plastic bags. And probably also beat my head against the wall until I have brain damage. I hope it doesn't come to that!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

This time it's for real

Yesterday and today, I eviscerated my bedroom. Everything must go. I put more loads of junk in the oven than I can even count; I laundered the last of my clothing. Towards the end of the day, running out of things I can safely bake, I decided to make some room in the freezer and take my first load of freezer-treated possessions out to the car where I'm keeping all the other treated possessions that are too pointy to store in garbage bags.

When I opened the freezer door, 10 days since I had placed my most recent load inside, the first thing I noticed was the multitude of dead insects arrayed near the door. Most of them were clearly fruit flies, all wings and legs, but some of them had the distinctive teardrop shape of bedbugs.

Bedbug. Teardrop shape and dark posterior.
No, this isn't one of the ones I found.
I really don't feel like getting close to them.
My stomach dropped. I grabbed my tweezers and with shaking hands, I managed to collect the three bedbug-shaped corpses (after crunching off most of their legs and crushing one of them entirely). They had long antennae and that characteristic darker posterior that screams "bedbugs." I about screamed myself.

Well, they are safely in a plastic bag now. Without their legs, I doubt that even if they revive, they'll be escaping anywhere, but I am totally freaked out anew!

These three bedbugs are the first hard evidence I've seen of them living in my house. After all my flashlit inspections, all my cleaning, all my scrubbing and vacuuming and high-temp washing and baking, I still hadn't seen one bug, nymph, egg, or even fecal stain. Yet these dudes prove that there are probably others. And if the others haven't been creeping out of their hiding places to die when I cooked them, then maybe they're still alive!

My car is probably now swarming with living bedbugs! I'm doomed.

The only stuff that I had in the freezer were the art supplies that I'd stored under my bed and the cardboard box of CD's I'd stored in my closet. So did they come from the closet or under the bed? Curse me for not trying harder to isolate the sources! If they were under the bed, I might still be OK, because almost everything that was formerly stored under the bed was in cardboard boxes that I subsequently threw away.

But then there were all the sewing supplies in the giant sewing box I'm so proud of. And the wrapping paper collection in the briefcase! Gaah!

Now, even if the house treatment is successful, I'll still have to re-treat everything I take out of the car! And then treat the car! Thank goodness I don't drive very often. Maybe I can just wait until summer and let the greenhouse effect do its work.

(I left the freezer stuff in the freezer for good measure. I'll take it out after I'm sure my 3 stooges don't wake up).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bedbugs, week 3

After a pleasant 3 days in Florida, during which I discovered only one new itchy bump, I returned to my own bed with some trepidations. Over the course of the following day, itchy bumps appeared all over me--mostly in places I'd rather not mention. This, combined with my return to a climate where winter is just around the corner, combined with being unable to find any of my stuff since it's all packed up in plastic bags or piled in the back of my car, made me quite cranky.

So after work, I decided to escalate the battle a bit. I'd been waiting to aggressively treat my bed until we could treat the whole house, but I decided to give it a go anyway, because there are only so many itchy bumps I can stand before I lose my mind completely. So I stuck a sprayer nozzle in my electric teakettle and blasted every crevice in my bed (above the level of the duct tape) with boiling water.

Then I squirted hot glue in in all the places where bugs might conceivably be crawling under the tape. I wish I knew for sure whether the tape is actually enough to deter the bedbugs. It's certainly not catching any of them, but from forum discussions, I gather that that's to be expected. But if they're walking right over it with a grin on their faces, well, I'm wasting a lot of my time. It's the industrial-strength duct tape. If it's not good enough, I guess my only recourse is to cry.

My other housemate (the one that's never here) finally found time to bag up most of her possessions. She did it while I was gone, and I have to say that when I saw her handiwork, I was way impressed. She did more in 2 days than I've done over the course of several weeks.

On the other hand, she's never here! She doesn't have to pick and choose and try to decide what stuff she's going to need and what stuff she can safely pack away, because she doesn't need any of it! So now that she's done her part, we are almost prepared for our major offensive.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What's eating me?

On Wednesday, an exterminator came to do an inspection (thank goodness the inspections are free; the other exterminator who gave me a quote quoted 925$ for the whole house! If I'm repeating myself, it's because I'm in shock, and I'm only a few steps away from "buh buh buh")

When he came, he looked all over my bed and couldn't find anything, then he looked at my housemate's bed and found fecal stains around the edge of the mattress! Success! Validation at last! Then he looked closer and realized that the stains were actually the dark varnish Housemate had used to finish his bed frame. Failure. He did find bloodstains on Housemate's pillow, but no evidence of live bugs.

I got out my undeniable evidence: the live bugs I'd captured under my bed the previous week. They're in there, I assured him. They're just really tiny. But they weren't. The one that I'd so carefully sprayed to the piece of paper was no longer there. The live one that had been crawling around on the plastic lid was nowhere to be found. They must have died of asphyxiation and shriveled away. One of the ones attached to the ant was still there, but looking a little worse for the wear, and the exterminator wouldn't look at it in my pocket microscope, instead summarily dismissing it: "That? That's not a bedbug."

It was a bedbug! I knew it. It was just a little too young and a little too old (that is, a little too small and a little too decomposed) for a positive ID. But I knew it was a bedbug. I had the bites to prove it.

That afternoon, after he had left, I decided to check my clothes in the storage totes in the closet. I'd asked him whether they were safe, and he said they'd be fine and I should just concentrate on getting a bedbug cover for my mattress (which sounded like a lame idea to me, since my mattress didn't have any bugs on it, and the bedbug covers are around 50 dollars each), and I didn't trust  him anyway since he'd rejected my sample.

First I started poking around inside the My Fair Lady DVD that was sitting on top of them. And when I shone a flashlight into the depths of its cardboard cover, I found (egads!) Two tiny translucent insects crawling around inside it. Despite my immediate horror, I set out to get better documentation of my infestation. So I got those little guys on tape. Meaning I stuck a piece of Scotch tape inside the DVD case and snagged the bugs. The box went into a plastic bag, and then, with great trepidation, I opened up the storage tote, and then started looking around on the lid. Closely. There were more of the vile creatures! These are the "host" of bedbugs I mentioned yesterday.

Since I didn't think it would be easy to identify insects that are all squashed between two layers of semitransparent tape, I decided to try to get photographic evidence as well (I recalled one website was offering money for good photos of bedbugs). It was time to put my new camera's super-macro mode to the test.

This was not easy. Try sticking your camera lens within centimeter of a miniscule insect that keeps walking around on a recessed surface whilst lighting it with a flashlight. After a few attempts, I was exhausted, and set about the daunting task of discovering just what else had been infested. The discovery of my bedbuggy boots transpired, and I was overcome with woe.

My housemate's comment about my space-bending storage abilities cheered me up a bit, but mainly I was too depressed to do anything else that night but quarantine everything in plastic bags and crawl into my no-longer-safe-haven of a bed. I didn't get any new bites that night, and I thought maybe this time I had 'em licked. But no, two new bites this morning.

After my requisite 5 hours of work today, I decided to find out whether my photographic experiment had been successful. And lo, it had! I found on my SD card more than one in-focus, well-lit shot of the insects I had subsequently consigned to their adhesive graves.

There it is! Between the A and the 7!

Well, something compelled me to double-check my findings, so I searched Google for "bedbug nymph." And the first result I found was "Booklice vs. Bedbug nymphs." I clicked.

"Several bedbuggers," said the article I found, "have mistaken [booklice] for bed bug nymphs. Notice the shape of the body is elongated, with three clear segments. There’s a pronounced head." Yes, that is definitely the shape of the creatures I found. Bedbugs, on the other hand, are supposed to have a flat, wide body.

1. Bedbug                         2. My bug                                        3. Booklouse
Well, it seems pretty clear that the samples I've found are not bedbugs, but booklice (also known as psocids, if you want to sound more scientific). Booklice, as their name implies, live in books. They do not eat blood or any other human byproducts. They eat mold and mildew.

So what this says about my house is that we may have some mold growing somewhere that I need to take care of. But what it does not say is why I got two new bites since yesterday!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Night night, sleep tight

It's my bedtime, and I'm avoiding going there for obvious reasons. Instead, I am going to tell you more of my bedbug saga. Don't expect the brilliant telling you received in last post; my 17 hours of wakefulness have not been kind to my writing ability.

Following my great revelation of 2 weeks ago, I went into cleaning overdrive. I vacuumed every corner of my room, washed every sheet and blanket on my bed, stuffed all of my stuffed animals unceremoniously into a plastic bag, and began researching.

My bedbug infestation, as with most things in my life, does not follow the typical pattern.

For one, I insist on calling them bedbugs, even though traditional terminology would prefer "bed bugs" (with a space).

Hey, now, they're the scourge of humanity. Doesn't that at least make them worthy of a compound word?

But aside from my usual nomenclatural stubbornness, what sets my bedbugs apart?
  • They aren't in my bed. Oh, I've checked high and low. Every day I do a flashlit inspection of my mattress, hoping and fearing that a bedbug might rear its ugly head. Yet, I can find no sign that they are in my bed, or indeed, have ever been there. Other than the marks that they leave on me while I'm sleeping.
  • They seem to shun soft surfaces. Although I do tend to find them around cracks and crevices, which they are said to enjoy, my bedbugs seem to congregate around the very materials they are supposed to avoid. I found a whole host of them on the plastic storage tubs I keep in my closet (by "host" I mean approximately 5) when bedbugs are supposed to dislike plastic. And as I've already said, they left my mattress high and dry.
  • They do not bite in a "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" pattern. I have noticed I find their bites in pairs, but never in threes. Apparently my bedbugs are trying to lose weight.
I have concocted a plan to rid myself of bedbugs. Unfortunately, this requires doing a lot of laundry.  There are now 6 rather large garbage bags in the basement full of my clothes and other fabric items (ahh, now I know why sewing is a bad hobby) and I haven't even gotten to my winter clothes collection yet! When my housemate saw all the junk I had dredged out of my closet (just my closet, mind you, and just the bottom level...not the shelf on top, or the storage area under my bed, or my second closet, or any of my shelves and tables), he said, "How you fit all that stuff in your room, I'll never know." Yes, there is a time when it sucks to have the remarkable ability to store a whole house's worth of stuff in a single room, and that is when you have to clean it to remove bedbugs.

I have put duct tape (sticky side out) around the narrowest parts of my bed frame (being a sturdy bed, it doesn't have legs as such) and pulled the bed away from the wall. Then I removed the ladder from the bed, too, and am slowly mastering the art of jumping into a bed that's 5 feet up in the air. In the three days that I have been taking these precautions, I haven't gotten a bite. I don't think. Unless this itchy spot here is one. It's too bad I'm itchy by nature. I'm probably causing spots to spring up simply by the power of anxiety!

I vacuum all exposed areas of the rug every couple of days, and am about halfway done cleaning out my closet. I found bedbugs crawling around the zippers of all my most fabulous boots. Other clothing items, you can throw in the washer or dryer and be done with them, but boots are another matter. I had to put them in the oven on 170 for 20-40 minute periods. I'm storing all my heat-treated items in the car. Good thing we're having an unusually warm spell coming up. It will hopefully bake out any survivors.

I also learned you can freeze bedbugs to death. So I have put many of my paper products in my housemate's freezer downstairs and will leave them there 2 weeks. She's never here, anyway.

My other housemate bought some diatomaceous earth, which he sprinkled liberally (OK, he "dumped") all around his bed. He claims he's not getting any more bites...but he claimed that once before. When this is all over, I shall avail myself of the diatomaceous earth and put a protective circle around my sleeping area, and another one around the perimeter of the room.

But first, the major offensive: pesticides. I will show no mercy. I'm having trouble getting my housemates on board with this campaign of destruction (mostly because I don't believe they're as horrified by this whole mess as I am, but also because they're a little less Type A than me about pretty much everything, including basic housekeeping), but if we don't take every precaution we can, we risk having them come back and having to pay around a thousand dollars for professional extermination.

So here's the plan: Clean, clean, clean. Strip the house down to essentials. Should I throw away the couch? I don't think it's infested, but it's ugly anyway, and I got it for free, and it would be one less thing to worry about.

Then set off a bedbug fogger in every room. Then once the dust has cleared, go back in and spray every corner the fog might have missed. Saturate those suitcases. And my rug. Every inch of it. Then break out the diatomaceous earth. I won't let my bedspread near the wall for months. I have been thinking about moving out, and if I'm not confident the bugs are gone by the time my lease is up, I'll be out of here!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bedbugs Bite

The great plague of the 21st century has hit Val's Galorious Galaxy, and let me tell you: it is not Galorious.

On the plus side, in one week, I have become my own foremost expert on bedbugs and have never been more intimately familiar with the microscopic subculture of the biome that is my bedroom. But on the minus side, why couldn't I have become this Destroyer of Bedbugs a few months ago, before they invaded my little biome?

Early in August, my housemate casually warned me, "I think I might have bedbugs." Oh, I was a little grossed out, and I vacuumed a little more thoroughly the next time I cleaned, but after he washed all his bedding and told me he wasn't getting bitten any more, I thought no more of it. Biggest mistake of my life.

About two weeks ago, he casually mentioned that he, in fact, was still getting bit.

"Do your bites look anything like this?" I asked him, revealing a red spot the size of an apple and another one the size of an apricot, which had bloomed on my arm, followed by a smattering of smaller itchy dots up and down the arm and on select other parts of my body over the past week or so, and which I had assumed was poison ivy until my boyfriend informed me that it looked like scabies, and I had suddenly remembered that the whole reaction had started as two itchy bumps. Well, no, my housemate's bites hadn't broken out like mine had, but I always have had a knack for going into immune overdrive, and so I decided that I actually had bedbugs. Later I revised my theory to accommodate all possibilities by concluding that I had had 2 bedbug bites on my arm, which I scratched with fingers covered in poison ivy residue (I had pulled some up 1 day prior, wearing gloves of course, but poison ivy is insidious stuff).

But anyway, the point of this story is bedbugs. I cleaned a little more thoroughly after I began to suspect fauna, rather than flora, as the source of my rash, but bedbugs are just as insidious as poison ivy, and the bites didn't stop.

Early last week, I made an "indicator" out of corrugated cardboard glued to a white sheet of paper (which theoretically would provide a nice retreat for bedbugs with all its nooks and crannies, and which would show the presence of said bedbugs by all the fecal matter they would deposit on the nice white paper before scurrying into their cardboard home for the day), and stuck it under my mattress.

Well, three days passed, and when I went to check it, it was gone! Gone like my pair of Spenco insoles! Gone like my maroon arm warmers! What kind of unscrupulous creature was stealing all my stuff? I mean, usable things that both happened to be stored in the same place are one thing, but a piece of carboard glued to a piece of paper? It couldn't have been stolen! I got under the bed to look for it. I looked and looked, but it was not there. I moved all the boxes off the table under the bed (loft bed, remember). Not there. I pulled out both sets of plastic storage drawers, and then all the boxes piled on top of each other beside them. No indicator.

But while down on my hands and knees, trying to maneuver my flashlight into the crack between my bed and the wall, behind which lies the crack between my bookcase and the wall, I saw motion off to my right. Looking down, I saw its source. A tiny, almost indiscernible creature, scuttling along on a plastic lid that had fallen behind the bed. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before! It must be a bedbug! I found a plastic bag and shoved it in, lid and all.

My memory of what transpired next is a little hazy, because it seriously freaked me out! But following that I somehow found another live bedbug, which I affixed to a piece of paper using artwork fixative spray (living with cockroaches has taught me to have no mercy for certain kinds of pests) and two more dead ones, tethered to an equally dead ant by bits of spiderweb or hair.

I do recall that I finally got to make use of both the magnifying devices that have been sitting untouched in my desk drawer since time immemorial. My Fresnel lens (thank you, Sister Irene!) proved that the big bug was indeed an ant and not a bedbug, and my pocket telescope/microscope (thank you, uh, I don't even remember) revealed the dark center of the translucent insect that proved it had been feeding. Ewww.

I vacuumed like I had never vacuumed before, and when I pulled out the bookcase from the wall, I found my indicator underneath it, unmarred by insect fecal matter. Interesting that my bedbug indicator, by disappearing, accomplished what it would have failed to do by staying where it belonged.

That night, I had a great deal of trouble sleeping. The next night, I might have slept better but for waking up at the crack of dawn with two new holes in my butt. If there is a plus side to this, it is that the bedbugs enabled me to find my missing maroon arm warmers in another cleaning spree this afternoon. The insoles remain missing in action.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Contracting is for malaria

I'm noticing a pattern. I begin to hate my life and start searching for jobs. I become desperate! I will do anything for a new job! I put my resume up everywhere, apply left and right, and then when the offers start to come in, I get cold feet.

Many job offers never pass the DIRQ (Do I really qualify?) test. Flattering as it may be that you want to hire me as a Web developer, I am not a Web developer. I don't know Java from Bali. I don't know Python from Cobra. If you ask me about Oracle, I'll be just as cryptic as one. Oh, and no, I don't want to sell insurance. No matter how much my experience as a designer qualifies me for it.

So after deleting all the unwanted job offers from my inbox, I get on to replying to the recruiters who remain. Some of them are very up-front about the details of the position. Others are as informative as, "My client is in need of a Web designer. Please tell me a good time to call you, so we can discuss."

And so we discuss. Which is a big waste of everyone's time.

"This is for a position in Reston, Virginia."

Stop right there. I'm not driving an hour and a half to work every morning!

"This job is a three-month contract."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What happens when I get dumped after those three months?

"But it has the potential to turn into a permanent hire."

Or it doesn't.

Sometimes I make it through an entire interview. One of those hair-raising interviews where you think you're just going to talk about how great you are, and you end up having to answer a pop quiz about semantic markup, the box model, and how to stop propagation in jQuery. I actually, surprisingly, made a good enough impression in that interview that the client was interested in hiring (er, contracting with) me.

And so the next day I got a call from the recruiter. "I told them you were available immediately, so if they choose you for the position, would you be able to start tomorrow?"

Um, no! You saw my resume. You saw I'm already working 2 jobs. I even discussed my current employment situation with you yesterday! I need to provide a minimum of 2 weeks' notice.

"Oh," says the recruiter, sounding surprised. "Well, they may be interested in hiring you anyway. I will let you know by the end of today."

He didn't.

And that was OK. I had totally changed my mind. I didn't want that 3-month contract for that job that would require me to work in a team! We all know I'm not a team player. Put me in a room with more than one other person in it for more than one hour, and my head might explode! Or at least I'll have an anxiety attack.

My problem is not that I'm too picky. It's just that I have too much to lose! I heart my nonprofit. I would give my soul to my nonprofit if only they could afford to pay me for it. But such is not the nature of nonprofits. So, much like an old spinster, I'm still looking for "the one:"

a) It is part-time enough that I can do it and work for my nonprofit at the same time.
OR
b) It is so awesome that it makes me actually want to abandon my beloved nonprofit, rather than making me heartsick at the thought.

Am I a sentimental old fool? Well, yes. But I just realized I have a perfectly practical reason not to leave the nonprofit for just any old job. And I made this discovery just in the nick of time. The next day, I found I had a voicemail from the recruiter, telling me the employer had actually accepted my terms. It figures. Only the jobs you don't want keep chasing you down like the hounds of hell.

So I called him back (on a Saturday, because I am also still a coward) and told him I couldn't accept. And I told him why: My nonprofit job just happens to pay 100% of my health insurance. So quitting it to take a temporary job with no benefits would be a pretty bad business decision--even if the temporary job pays a little better.

We'll see what unfolds next in this saga. Perhaps the employer will offer a permanent position and a higher pay rate. And then, I'll have to come up with some other reason why I don't want the job. Funny how I feel like I have to use all my wiles just to avoid getting hired!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

You and Me, Baby

Ever since our collective second-grade teachers told us, "Don't say 'you and me' here; say 'you and I,'" well, there have been problems. Some of us got the message and use the subjective case ("I")  and the objective case ("me") where appropriate. Some of us overcompensated and now always choose "you and I," even when it is the object of a verb, causing us grammarians to cringe but appreciate the good intentions behind the error. Some of us didn't pay no attention, flunked out of high school, and continue to cause us grammarians acute agony by always using "you and me" regardless of whether it's the subject or object.

I could turn this post into a usage lesson, but I think it would be much more interesting to combine two of my favorite subjects and discuss how the "You and I" grammar phenomenon manifests itself in popular music!

It all began back in high school, when I was on my oldies kick and heard on a regular basis the Doors, singing their 1968 hit, "Touch me," complete with a "You and I" used as an object! After years of mental suffering every time I heard these miscased [neologism by Valerie!] lyrics, I started amassing a collection of their containing songs to post on my blog. Here's the song that started it all off:
I'm gonna love you [we won't talk about the use of "gonna" right at this moment"]
'Til the heavens stop the rain [we also won't talk about how it's usually not raining]
I'm gonna love you!
'Til the stars fall from the sky...
For you and I! (Doot doot dooo doo, doot doot doo doo...)
You might argue that poetic license allows one to stretch the rules a bit in order to get a good rhyme, but seriously, you're telling me nothing rhymes with stars, or sky, or me, that would allow the lyricist to rearrange the sentences a bit?

Apparently it's not just love songs that fall prey to the erroneous "You and I." Maroon 5's "Makes Me Wonder" and Groove Coverage's "7 Years and 50 Days" both suffer from it while telling their tales of tragic breakups. Oh yeah, and make-up songs, too. "Life is a highway" starts one verse by saying, "There was a distance between you and I," but implies it's not there any more.

These errors can be excused as a confusion resulting from the pronoun being separated from the preposition by "you," which never changes, but not so in "I Wonder as I Wander," which brazenly boasts the phrase, "like you and like I," and surely takes poetic license to all new heights in the process.

Sometimes all I know of a song is the part of it that butchers my language. When I heard Linkin Park's "The Catalyst," I found it wholly ignorable in every way, but my ears perked right up when I heard the lyric, "Far from the world of you and I." I then tuned out again, but noted it down as another case of terrible grammar.

So far all the songs I've listed have erred on the slightly forgivable side of overcompensation, but Lady Gaga, renegade that she is, of course takes the low road, singing, "You and me could write a bad romance."

There are a few songs that use "You and I" without using it wrong. Unfortunately, they are far between, and I don't notice them at all unless there's something else weird about them.

Take 21 Guns, by Green Day. At the end of a verse, this song blasts out with "Throw up your arms into the sky! You and I!" Great. This use of "You and I" gives me nothing to complain about—except that it's a sentence fragment! With no relevance to the rest of the song whatsoever. Read the lyrics. Tell me if you can figure out why a "You and I" was stuck in there, other than to rhyme with "sky."

And one more for the road. "You and I travel to the beat of a different drum," sings Linda Ronstadt, and I think, "Wow, someone finally got it right!" Until I listen to the rest of the song and realize that she got the rest of the sentence wrong! For years, I thought she was trying to say, "You and I are weirdos, but at least we're weirdos together!" But no, it turns out that she's trying to say that you and I are two very different people and we should go our separate ways. Hey Linda, why don't you try "You and I travel to the beats of different drums," if you want to indicate we're not traveling to the beat of the same drum. It won't even mess up your rhyme too much!

Sheesh. At least she's right when she claims, "I see no sense," and definitely right when she says, "Goodbye!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sad Valerie Delivers the News

I had a life changing experience last week. As you well know, I've been unhappy with my lot in life. I've been devoting a good portion of my already-precious time to revising my resume and applying to jobs.

On Tuesday the 13th, I actually received a reply. Not just any reply (such as the email which read something like, "We found you qualified for the position but not among the most highly qualified candidates"). No, this reply said, "Your resume looks great." Following this amazing email, I had a phone interview in which I learned that I was the top candidate for the job, which I daresay was the job of my dreams: 10+ hours per week, mostly from home with a weekly meeting in Georgetown (a neighborhood of DC a little under an hour from my house), doing website management. On Sunday, however, I learned there was another candidate with "much experience in publishing" and who "is local" so could come into the office more days a week. On Tuesday, I received my formal rejection.

Devastation followed. Every time I thought about it, I burst into tears. You never know how much you hate your circumstances until you think you've found a way out of them. I was so close to being free from my draining schedule! So close to escaping from the manual labor that's bringing my future of arthritis and varicose veins closer every day. So close to having the time to actually build my freelance business rather than being crushed by it!

And now, well, it's back to reality. Guess the experience wasn't all that life-changing. I'll be doing what I always do, just a little more sadly. Guess I'll console myself by buying a new pair of gel insoles.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Putting the "can" back in "incandescent"

I bet you've been worrying nonstop since I told you that Congress had effectively banned incandescent bulbs starting in 2012. I know I have.

I even went so far as to stockpile incandescent bulbs for later use. That is, I bought a 4-pack back in July, knowing that 4 light bulbs will probably last me 4+ years...as long as I don't keep knocking my bedside lamp onto the floor as I've already done twice this year.

Well, it turns out all my fears were unfounded, since at least one company is now manufacturing a dimmer-friendly bulb that complies with the new regulations!

Phew. Huge sigh of relief.

Next on the agenda: find a job that doesn't require me to get out of bed before sunrise.

Huge sigh of premonitory defeat.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Eyes Don't Lie...They Just Tell Jokes

Sometimes, when I look at some text, I only see what I want to see. I'm sure Freud would find these ocular mondegreens a fascinating research opportunity, but I'll just use them for some good old Val's Galorious literary entertainment.

It all began when I moved to Maryland and first witnessed the state's special environmental preservation license plates.
I was transfixed by the pretty colors and the adorable bird. I was even more excited when I read the tagline: "Treasure the Cheesecake." Mmm.... Cheesecake. I could totally get down with that. Oh, it's the "Chesapeake?" Well, I guess that's worth treasuring, too. Enough that, despite their slightly less enticing beneficiary, I may still pay extra for these plates the next time I need new ones.

Ashley Bell. Who's she? I don't know, but at one point in my life, I read something about her in the news. I'm sure she'd be a lot cooler if she were actually Taco Bell, as I thought when I first glanced at her name.

It's football season again, and that means it's time for team names to appear in print all over the place. In Ohio, I see it's a pretty exciting time for "Browns Fans." But for the blissfully ignorant such as me, it's time to imagine all the hype is about brownies.

Judging from all my slips of the eyes so far, it's pretty clear that the one track my mind runs on is "food." But this next word association just might take away my appetite. The other day, my dad and stepmom attended some kind of Television broadcast. I'm not sure of all the details — this newfangled Television thing is too much for me to grasp — but while they were there, they saw the following sight:
What I saw was a little different, reading the slogan on the guy's shirt as "Toilet." Shows what I think of my hometown.

And lastly, an article to prove that federal prosecutors are really witches who turn people into amphibians. "Not guilty, but stuck with big gills" was the headline I read. Actually, the term was "big bills," and being prosecuted by the federal government can apparently do a lot worse than turn you into a frog. Don't read the article unless you want to get mad.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Roads Not Taken

If I haven't been blogging a lot in any given time period, it's usually for one of two reasons: I'm depressed, or I'm going through an existential crisis. This dry spell, as you can probably infer from my last post, it's the latter. It's not only my career woes that have got me all befuddled, but also a crippling indecisiveness about housing. So, double mental whammy means double unproductivity! Sorry.

In order to give you something to read,  I'm going to write about something that is a little lighter than my current ruminations, but nonetheless in the same vein--thus entertaining you and saving me from having to dig myself out of my cozy swamp of stagnation.

The topic is: all the jobs that I never made into a career.

A Veterinarian
Despite spending most of my childhood believing quite firmly that I would be a veterinarian when I grew up, a few experiences near the beginning of my college career convinced me that veterinary medicine was high in funny smells, tedium, and sadness, and low in...well, pretty much anything that I enjoyed other than cute animals! And spending my high school years in a house overflowing with cute, fleabitten, hygienically challenged animals had kind of cured me of any desire to spend any more time with them.

A Teacher
When I was young, with my experience of the world basically limited to school and home, I chose a future career that I could understand--teaching. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, this was my answer before I really knew what I wanted. I think. It's hard to remember that far back! Ironically, this neglected career choice once again rose to the top of my list when Veterinarian dropped off of it. Even more ironically, after spending 3 and a half years of college working towards a degree in education, I changed my mind again and wanted nothing to do with it! Talk about existential crises!

A Guinea Pig Breeder
For a brief spell, shortly after my guinea pig April was successfully impregnated by my friend's guinea pig Alvin and birthed three adorable baby rodents, I harbored fantasies of engineering artful guinea-pig matings for a living. I would produce all varieties, in all sorts of colors! I would provide you the guinea pig of your dreams! This fantasy lasted long enough to be the subject of an illustration I made in fifth grade, and then I returned to more realistic plans.

An Artist
Always in planning my future, realism reigned supreme. Although I was extraordinarily fond of drawing and writing (and reasonably skilled at both), I never once wished to be a professional artist or novelist. Although even today, I longingly think of how cool it would be to be an actress, I have to admit that I'm too homely to succeed in that field even if I did have the training (of course I have the talent--it's just latent!).

An Illustrator
An illustrator is the "realistic" version of an artist, and therefore worthy of my consideration. Shortly after my teaching plans went down in flames, I seriously looked into going back to school for a career in scientific illustration. Unfortunately, educational programs in this field were few and far between, and the prerequisites for most of them required at least some college classes in art--of which I had none. I settled instead for going back to school for graphic design. Of all the career choices that passed me by, this is probably the only one I regret not pursuing. But the thought that I probably would have failed consoles me some.

A Linguist
After I took my first Spanish class, I became enamored of the language, and languages in general! I thought about majoring in Spanish in college. I thought about pursuing some language-related career, such as a linguist, or a translator. But I didn't think about it very hard.

Other
Over the years, I've toyed with the idea of other possible jobs—a technical writer in Wisconsin, an assistant to a lighthouse manufacturer in Ohio, a secretary, a college professor, a tutor, a restaurateur (of the ice-cream stand variety), a franchisee, a full-time eBay reseller, a get-rich-buying-just-the-right-stocks kind of investor, a crafter (maker of wreaths and other decorative sundries)—but out of all the options available, I still think I picked the right one.

I may only get to do my chosen work part-time, but that's better than no time. Despite what I said in my last post, I still wouldn't choose a full-time job at a grocery store if it presented itself. I am a writer, a designer, and a website manager! I am a Communications Specialist! And I am proud!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Douse me with a hurricane, cause I'm burning out.

I work 30 hours a week at a grocery store, 16-20 hours a week from home for a nonprofit, and anything from 0-10 hours a week doing freelance design. That adds up to at least 46, usually closer to 50, and occasionally 60 hours a week of work.

Sometimes I feel like a whiner, but sometimes I feel like I'm completely within my rights to be overwhelmed by my career path. Sure, some executives and lawyers and doctors put in these kinds of hours without complaint. But they're making scores of thousands of dollars every year, have sick time, personal time, and vacation time, and countless other perks that my jobs lack. My last tax return revealed my Adjusted Gross Income to be around 25,000$ (next to nothing here in the DC area), and every day that I don't do work (I try to give myself one full day off every two weeks), I am losing my opportunity to get paid.

I used to think I was fortunate that one of my part-time jobs was work-from-home. I used to be excited that I was a free lance, able to accept and decline contracts at will. Now, I look at anyone who has a full-time job — even one that requires commuting — with envy. My salaried coworkers at the grocery store start out at a paltry 30,000 a year, and are required to work a minimum of 45 hours a week, although they rarely escape with less than 50. And even though their souls are owned by a rapidly growing corporation, I am starting to envy them. Sure, they spend 12 hours a day working for The Man on a regular basis, but when they are finally done, they are free! Free like a bird released from a trap! Free to pursue hobbies or to lounge around watching TV as their personalities dictate. They don't have to clock out with sore feet and strained wrists and trudge home knowing that the rest of their evening will be occupied filling out a different timesheet. And their days off are not weighed down with guilt about the work that is piling up in their absence.

I think my work ethic has descended to an all-time low. When I was fresh out of college, my dream job was any kind of work that I enjoyed, especially if it was for a good cause! I knew I wouldn't mind if it took up all my time, because I would be making a difference! In fact, I wanted my job to be my life. Now, my dream job is one that is comfortable, close to home, and high paying enough that I don't have to have a second one.

I really do appreciate the jobs I have. Every one of them has its perks. The store is a 10-minute walk from my house and the work I do there is good exercise. I usually come home with some sort of free food. The nonprofit does make me proud to be working for a good cause—even in my jaded condition. I set  my own schedule. The work is full of variety, frequently providing me with opportunities to exercise my creativity, and even though I am only part time, it pays 100% of my health insurance. The freelancing is full of excitement. Every new client presents new challenge. Every design that I create is fresh, and every finished project is grounds for a fulfilling sense of accomplishment. Yet I am reaching the point where I would give all of these up for some stability and an easier life.

Each one of these jobs is a good thing, but all three of them together are too much of it. What would I give to have free time again? Would I take the risk of quitting one (or even 2) job(s) to devote more time to another? Would I abandon my beloved recycling nonprofit for the comfort of a full-time job? Would I give up designing the websites I love (knowing that I'm charging too little for them anyway) and all the satisfaction they bring me?

What is the price of a happy medium? And for that matter, what is the meaning of life?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Giant's XXL Chocolate Chip Cookie

If you are privileged enough to live within shopping distance of a Giant Food store, this post may be of some use to you. If you happen to live in Ohio, which most of my readers do, then you will probably get little out of it but the satisfaction of reading my gripping prose.

Giant, oddly enough, did not choose to call their bakery's giant cookies "giant cookies" (which would have given great pleasure to the part of me that loves multiple-entendres), instead selecting the descriptor "XXL."

Though I have shopped at Giant for many years, it is only recently (i.e., since I started blogging about them) that these massive baked goods caught my eye. A few days ago, I purchased one.

Unfortunately, it did not survive the trip home in one piece. In fact, it did not even survive the trip from the display case into the bag in one piece, but I tried to overlook its fragmented nature and review it objectively (even though part of the appeal of a giant cookie is that it is a single, giant, cookie!).

The XXL cookie certainly exceeded expectations regarding its size (I forgot to measure it before I ate it, but see below for a comparison with my face).
Unfortunately, in quality, it was just mediocre. Have you ever made Nestle Tollhouse cookies from their refrigerated dough? The dough itself is disturbingly delicious (especially considering the warning they place on their packages: "Do not consume raw cookie dough") but once baked, fairly unappetizing. This XXL cookie was just like that.

It tasted like a chocolate chip cookie should taste, but was fairly bland. The texture was insubstantial and crumbly.

The only thing going for it was the price. I paid 1$.29 for this big hunk of cookie, making it the cheapest giant cookie yet reviewed. But you get what you pay for. This cookie is probably best used to impress a toddler, and should not be served to people with fully developed taste buds.

The Bottom Line:
Price: 5 stars
Taste: 2 stars
Texture: 3 stars