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

Monday, August 8, 2011

A week in a day

Last week, I descended upon the Midwest to partake of my high school reunion and sundry vacationing activities. Here is the story of what transpired.

Friday, July 29
I got up at 5 in the morning to get a head start on work. My boyfriend picked me up at 1, and we commenced the drive westward. Being a native Californian, throughout the trip he continued to refer to my homeland the heartland as the "East Coast," much to the amusement of my Midwestern friends and family. Late that evening, we arrived at the home of my mother's husband, in which he had kindly allowed us to stay while we were in town. There we spent a rollicking night of sleeping.

Saturday, July 30
This was the day of my reunion, but I had several Ohio errands that had to come first. 1) visit my dad and stepmom and brother for breakfast, 2) go thrift store shopping (got brand new shoes for 8$), 3) show the boyfriend my third and final childhood home, introduce him to the dog, the cats, and the chickens, and find my jewelry collection, 3) take the boyfriend to Toledo's favorite restaurant, Tony Packo's (which he didn't like), 4) kill some time, 5) go to high school reunion.
     I was scared I would have to socialize (and indeed I did, but mainly I just got ignored like I did in high school), but I survived the presence of my 10 other classmates and had a good time with my high school best friend (hi, Amy!), and got some lemon bars for dessert, which made it all worth it.

Sunday, July 31
Drove with the boyfriend to the shores of Crystal Lake, Northern Michigan, where I met up with my mumsy, my stepdad, and stepsister. I had a really yummy egg salad sandwich. Some swimming occurred, and I actually participated, which is rare. There were games and dinner and good ol' family stuff. Here are some pictures of the days that followed.

Monday, August 1
At this point, all the days start blurring together because that's what happens when you're in paradise, right? I think we loafed around in the lodgings until early afternoon and then went antique shopping forever. Except that it wasn't forever, because at 4:00, we got ice cream. I think there was some more swimming after that, but my memory sure is hazy. No, there was no alcohol involved.

Tuesday, August 2
This day was particularly rainy. Yoga in the morning was canceled. In fact, any outdoors activities were nixed. Now that I think about it, this was the day we went shopping. So what did we do on Monday? Ah, yes, the lighthouse. On Monday, we went to the lighthouse and some gardens. But we got ice cream every afternoon, so that part stays the same. Tuesday night, we returned to the lodge to find a bat sitting in front of the bathroom. After a startling moment in which he flew over our heads, we managed to capture him in a wastebasket and put him outside. He did not want to exit the wastebasket, so we left it there overnight. My mother says you can't feel bat bites, and I probably got bitten without knowing it and now am dying of rabies. So if you don't see any entries here after a few days, you'll know why.

Wednesday, August 3
This was the big day, when we climbed the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes in the morning and topped off our day with a long bike ride. And of course, more ice cream. The resort held a barbecue, but since I was already stuffed with my pre-dinner dessert and was also a vegetarian, that was not a particularly exciting moment. That night, my boyfriend and I stayed at a different motel where there were cats. And a hammock.

Thursday, August 4
Tubing down the river was the plan for this day. It was accomplished, but in much more time than expected.  Reader Geoff must be informed that mating dragonflies landed on my hand during the tubing trip. I also broke my sandals, which had served me faithfully for the last 8 years or so. Early on, in fact, as soon as I was too far away from the car to go back, I remembered I had forgotten to put sunscreen on the backs of my legs, so I resolved to keep them hidden safely underneath me. But midway through the trip, I saw the fronts of my legs were burning, so I decided to turn over to prevent any further damage. Consequently, I ended up with a full-body sunburn that made me want to die that first day, make some serious resolutions about bringing sunblock everywhere the second day, use up half a bottle of aloe gel and another half bottle of Advil by the third day, and get seriously tired of the whole mess by the fourth day. The peeling started on the fifth day.

Friday, August 5
This morning, I sang "Happy Birthday to Me!" in my head. OK, actually I sang "ow ow ow" and had a great deal of trouble getting out of bed. Nonetheless, we drove back to Ohio under the influence of ibuprofen, swung by Detroit, hung out with my dad, went to the mall in a fruitless search for the perfect replacement pair of flip-flops, and had... Mr. Freeze! The best ice cream in the history of the universe!! Happy Birthday to Me!

Saturday, August 6
We drove back to Maryland, making a side trip to Cleveland to meet with one of my college friends. My boyfriend was not impressed with either Detroit or Cleveland, even though he got a free T-shirt in the former and very cheap cherries and strawberries in the latter. Then we continued driving. This took a while, because we did not time our bathroom/aloe/fuel stops very efficiently. But here I am, and here I'll stay.

And, um, sorry if you can't see the photos, because Facebook's privacy settings are still impossible.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Last blast from the past

I was on vacation the past week; consequently, I'm sure you are all suffering from Valerie- and Galorious-Galaxy- Withdrawal. Of course, while I did a lot of fun things on my vacation and will soon have a few (not many this time) pictures to show you and perhaps even blog about, right now, I am lacking in topics and yet consumed with the desire to provide you with your literary fix.

Good thing I've still got some of my stockpile of blog posts from my old Words and Images class. This is the last of them, so enjoy it. No, relish every word!

October 22, 2007
Be your own Grammar Guru
or, Making the Rules up as You Go

So, we're not reading about writing right now, but I've still got a few rants about Sin and Syntax. [Editor's note: The grammar book we were reading in class at the time.] I might as well let them out...

In our class, we've now read quite a collection of selections on trimming the fat—eliminating the pointless meanderings of writings produced in the "official style."

Sin and Syntax presents several pointers on accomplishing this feat: jettison weak adjectives in favor of descriptive verbs and nouns; avoid clichés like the plague; and for God's sake (emphasis mine), rid your prose of prepositional phrases wherever you can...the mushiest abstractions and the greatest circumlocutions tend to be expressed as prepositional phrases...

Right. We got it. No prepositional phrases. But what happens when prepositional phrases are essential to developing a "voice?" We're in the "Sentences" section now, and - surprise! - it contains several more pointers on helping your sentences succeed: Relish every word, Take risks, Seek beauty, and Find the right pitch.

Following all these suggestions means occasionally employing a "forbidden phrase." Somewhere in this class, I read something about making your sentences "sing." Nothing can sing if you always strip it to the bare minimum—then it croaks.


I must admit I was disheartened when I read the admonition, Don't go 'visit with chums,' just 'visit them.' To visit with has very different connotations from a mere to visit. To visit implies that all the action is on the part of the visitor. I could visit my comatose sibling (fortunately I have none); or I could visit a historic cathedral; or I could visit my arch-nemesis and be chased away by security guards carrying tasers (fortunately I have no arch-nemesis, either). But if there is to be any interaction involved - if my no-longer-arch-nemesis were to welcome me into his domicile [Editor's note: "Domicile" italicized for rhetorical effect. See this post.] and have tea with me - I would have to visit with him. Huge difference. The single verb is not a substitute for this prepositional phrase. Likewise, another example from Sin and Syntax, "I'll see Fabio" may be just as exciting as "I'll meet up with Fabio," but it is not equivalent in meaning. I can see Fabio from afar. I can meet Fabio and maybe get his autograph. But until Fabio and I have a good-friends relationship, we will not be doing any "meeting up."

Shall I continue? I found other examples that raised my hackles (Reducing Put in an appearance to appeared is like replacing graced them with my presence with was there— and, eww, the dreaded is-are-was-were rears its ugly head), but I think you get the idea. Not everything can be sacrificed for conciseness.

Now that I've spent something like 3 hours on these last three posts about English, I think it's time to retire. But I do advise you read the title of this post one more time. I'm not a prose princess, and neither is Constance Hale the Queen of Communication. Every syntactical suggestion ever uttered has likely been countered by someone with credentials. Grammar is not like gravity; no one is forced to obey its rules. If I've learned one thing from Sin and Syntax, it's that rules are not so much rules as guidelines. In many ways, good grammar is a matter of getting rid of guilt. So I suggest to everyone who writes, simply try to write right. And if that's not alliteration overkill, then I don't know what is.