the sad and ugly truth about freelancing

coasterI have hit a dry spell in my career, as happens in the publishing industry, especially for freelancers. Not having a regular income after giving up a part-time, twelve-dollar-an-hour unrelated job a couple months ago to focus more on my editing career means regular paychecks, no matter how small, have gone away. Now I am once again in the up-and-down roller-coaster world of freelancing. And, frankly, it can be nauseating.

 

Last year my January was blazing. I had had four assignments from a publishing company I’ve worked with (you never work for anyone when freelancing, just with) for the past several years. It is work I really enjoy, not too serious of a subject matter and the editors who send out assignments are always pleasant.

This year, however, I received zero assignments from the same company. Having a slow start to the freelance transcript proofreading job I also do and no longer having income from my part-time outside-the-home job, I made a few hundred dollars this January as opposed to a couple thousand last year at this time. So what gives?

Such is the job of a freelancer. In other words, don’t quit your day job–something I am now regretting having done.

fish

Finding work in this field is very difficult. It’s by hook or by crook really. If you’re fortunate to find a major–or even small or local–publishing company’s request for freelancers, you are guaranteed to be competing with literally thousands of others who’ve also seen the ad. You may have to take a test and, if you pass, you’re put in the pool. That just means you’re swimming with an entire school of fish in your same predicament.

There are times when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and you’re contacted by one editor for a project. If you do an excellent job, which I always do, I might add, he or she may refer you to another editor who just so happens to have a rush job at the same time or soon after. The ball can roll a few more yards, if lucky, and you find yourself handling a few assignments in a row. Sweet!

At times like that, such as January 2018, I can be busy for a few weeks straight. But once the publishing season is over (and there are only two a year that last a few weeks each), you’re once again out of sight and out of mind and have to start all over to try to get noticed six months later. If you’re not constantly contacted, wham!, the editors have hooked up with another excellent freelancer and he or she is now top of mind. Make the slightest error in a job that requires perfection and you may never be contacted again.

 

the benefits–and drawbacks–of freelancing

Yes, there are benefits to being self-employed. The freedom to work around other events in one’s life is probably the most prominent. The work-life balance is definitely there if, that is, you want more “life” than “work.” Let me say that it’s helpful to have a spouse who has a full-time job with benefits because in freelancing there are none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I have to put money into an IRA account every year, which often amounts to a good chunk of my total earnings, or I will have no retirement savings at all.

There’s also the isolation of working at a desk in a home office, which can be your kitchen table, the section of your sofa closest to a wall socket, or a corner of your bedroom. (And people complain about cubicles? Hah!)

There are no coworkers to chat up about last night’s ball game or your picks for the Oscars either. Friends aren’t going to meet you for coffee unless they’re unemployed. And the interruptions you experience from roommates, family members, or the gardener running the leaf blower from exactly 10:34 a.m. until 10:58 a.m. straight every Tuesday on the other side of your fence all impede your concentration. Then there are the friends who text asking for one teeny-weeny little favor or your spouse wondering out loud when walking in the door at 6 p.m. why it is that the breakfast dishes are still in the sink or the laundry left unfolded from last night. I mean, we self-employed are home all day after all.

 

then comes the oversupply of work

Just when you’re used to dealing with the outside noises, the loneliness, and the work desert of freelancing, you can become flash-flooded with assignments. This is called a work glut, when you have several different entities requesting your time and talent at once. It’s then that you’d better be good at working well into the night and juggling those jobs because you can’t really tell Publisher A that you have a simultaneous assignment from Company B as well as Managing Editor C. When they hire freelancers, employers want them to be at the ready to take on the work overflow as needed. If you’re not available 24/7 12 months of the year, you’ll be passed over and another fish will be swimming for the bait before you can even kick off the wall.

Such is the life of a freelancer. You sink. You swim. Or you get out of the water. I’m starting to long for dry land.

 

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will we be living with our kids forever? the possibilities of multigenerational living

The morning paper has a story of a San Diego, California, couple who sold their three-story home in a very nice part of town to move into their rental apartment building along with their grown kids and their children. As a mom of four in that same very-high-rent, high-cost-of-living area of the country, where two-bedroom apartments currently rent for over $2,000 a month on average and where buying an average-priced home means needing a $120,000 down payment (!) and an annual income of nearly $105,000, I am intrigued by this idea.

multigenerational picture

Unlike the couple featured in the story, however, I don’t have a handy apartment building to set everyone up in. I do, however, have a house and a small yard, and I’m starting to consider the possibilities. A tiny house, for one, stationed in a corner of the backyard could become home to a single adult or a couple. Even a large camper might do.

We also have one bedroom on the first floor whose wall was removed by a former owner that could be put back into use as a bedroom. It’s directly next to a full bath. A little engineering of walls could make this a cozy section of the house for one or two people.

Add to that a two-car garage that possibly, with a little insulation and installation of plumbing fixtures and more electric, could become a comfy 500-square-foot dwelling with its own entrance. People do stuff like this to open up airbnbs all the time. Why not make your home a complex for the family, especially if the possibility of your kids every buying diminishes by the year? It sickens me to think that cumulatively, my three kids who are out on their own fork over nearly $3,000 in rent every month. That’s money they could be pocketing and possibly saving up for a home of their own one day. Of course, if this idea of mine ever came to fruition, I’d charge the kids for rent, but it wouldn’t amount to an annual outlay of $36,000, that’s for damn sure.

The matriarch and patriarch of the Haven family featured in the article are in their seventies and eighties, so while they currently enjoy their separate apartment in the building, they know that one day, if needed, they won’t have far to look for help from family. That, to me, is a big bonus too. Sure, I want my kids to have their independence and the feeling of accomplishment of living on their own, but I’m a little selfish too in wanting them close by.

 

 

i’m becoming a glutton for gluten-free

gluten free

 

Since discovering I tested positive for an autoimmune disease in December, I have gone the way of the gluten-free diet.

The rheumatologist I visited thinks this is a fad diet, but research is on my side in that gluten can trigger autoimmune reactions whereby healthy cells are confused for non-healthy cells and their nuclei are attacked by our own immune systems. It’s been proven in the case of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that manifests in the small intestines. It has also been proven in certain forms of dermatitis, such as dermatitis herpetiformis (DH),  that, according to Providence Hospital in Oregon and Washington, “is a form of celiac disease that triggers the immune system to attack the skin, rather than the small intestine. . . . If people with DH continue to eat gluten, they also may run an increased risk of developing intestinal cancer.”

If this is true with celiac and its forms, why wouldn’t it be true with lupus, which can cause a rash, balding, and even organ failure; scleroderma and connective tissue diseases, which affect the skin, including  the linings of organs, as well as joints; and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) that attacks the lining of the intestines, for example?

To me it makes sense. It makes sense to my neurologist too, who is an innovator in vertigo and has landed on many best-doctors lists.

What to Eat?

So here I am, now buying gluten-free pasta, breads, soy sauce, pancake mix, and even Girl Scout cookies. I’m staying away from sugar as much as possible too, so sweets are just occasional treats. If I have a chip, it’s made of corn, like tortilla chips, or I reach for my favorite snack, popcorn, instead. My cholesterol was a bit up, too, recently, so off the table goes the greasy stuff, like potato chips and fries, as well as red meat and other culprits. Any diet takes discipline, but you don’t have to hit me over the head to get me to change if it means living a less-painful, longer, happier life.

What have I noticed since the new diet started? My waistline has gone down, my migraines have decreased a lot (I’ve had one in four weeks!), and my grocery bill has gone up some. Plus, I’m finding foods in areas of the grocery store I’ve never ventured in before.

Food is fuel, period. We forget that at times. It needs to give us energy and keep our bodies functioning properly. Yes, I love food as much as the next guy. I’m a decent cook and I make a lot of different dishes, from cashew chicken to spaghetti and meatballs to yellow curry and basmati rice. Some I’ve had to eliminate, but most I simply have had to modify, like using gluten-free pasta (Barilla makes a great one that’s readily available in major grocery chains; and there’s another brand, Ancient Harvest, that uses corn and quinoa, which doesn’t hold up as well or look like wheat spaghetti when cooked, but has a delicious sweet and nutty flavor).

Take note: There are lots of good-tasting foods one can eat that don’t involve wheat products or wheat-like products at all, although you wouldn’t know this if you subsisted on the regular fast-food diet. Wheat is cheap, and that’s why McDonald’s and Burger King can sell a hamburger for about a buck. But there are alternatives. Rice flour is very close to wheat flour in consistency. I use it now to coat fried chicken, which I make with olive and avocado oils with maybe a bit of corn oil to make it stretch.

I am fortunate to have a couple grocers nearby that stock plenty of options when I am craving a slice of bread. Just this morning for breakfast I had Udi’s cinnamon raisin bread that tasted very close to the real thing, if, that is, wheat is considered “real” and everything else is not, which we’ve been led to believe all these years.

Yes, a lot of these products cost more, Cream of Rice, for example, instead of Cream of Wheat, but if your health isn’t worth it, what is?

do i have an autoimmune disease? my first visit with a rheumatologist

After a blood test for autoimmune antibodies (ANA) ordered by my gynecologist turned up positive, I went about hunting down a rheumatologist. I settled on one nearby and saw her this past week.

question mark

She started by telling me that 15 percent of positive ANA tests are false. And she questioned a bit suspiciously why I even had the test. From what I’ve read, many people present to their doctors with aches and pains and doctors won’t typically call for an ANA test. Maybe because it can be alarming to get the result? I told her my doctor has known me for thirty years and thought it unusual for me to complain of pain. I didn’t mention that this OB/GYN has witnessed me give birth with absolutely no pain meds.

She did an exam, noting my stiffness and slightly swollen knees. She ordered up eighteen blood and urine tests to narrow down this thing. She ran through my family history. I had a grandmother whose ankles and knees were crippled for as long as I’d known her, a mother who developed a thyroid condition late in life as well as breast cancer and who had high blood pressure, and a father who died of a heart attack and had angina and high blood pressure. My bp has always been good, as has my heart rate and oxygen levels. My cholesterol, however, has been slightly higher than it should be.

Not sure how I feel about this doctor. I started a gluten-free diet a month ago and mentioned it to her, but she shrugged it off, calling it a fad. I don’t agree. From what I’ve read, autoimmune diseases are linked to irritation. If gluten causes irritation, why not cut out gluten? I told her my neurologist, someone she had just commented was a good doctor, suggested a gluten-free diet. So, there!

I started going to a gym just yesterday, and I actually like it. There’s a gentle yoga class at a nearby branch I’m going to observe today, if that’s possible, to see if it’s something I want to or can do. I’ll also hop on a treadmill and a cycling machine for about an hour’s worth of a workout. I’m determined to hit this thing head on and not wait it out, hoping for the best, putting my faith in conventional-doctors’ hands, praying that it’s nothing, doing little if anything concrete to put it in check.

I’m eager to find out what the next set of blood tests reveal. I’m hoping for all negatives, but I’m too realistic to put much trust in that hope.

possible autoimmune disease diagnosis on the way

autoimmune_ibhri-article

 

For a while now I have been having aches and pains here and there, always in unusual places and not after being aware of having strained something, for instance. After leaving my physical part-time job, where I lifted, hauled, stretched, walked, and moved objects four or five days a week, I still was experiencing these aches.

I brought up the topic with my gynecologist of thirty years, who immediately had me go in for blood work, including a thyroid check and one to measure autoimmune antibodies (ANA). The ANA test came back positive, with a speckled pattern in my blood.

To have an autoimmune disease means one has antibodies that are confusing healthy cells with cells that are a threat to the system, attacking their nuclei. The body targets healthy tissues in joints and organs, causing fatigue, aches and pains, and illness.

How do you get something like this? The jury is still out, but it can stem from an infection or simply be hereditary. I read just yesterday that a lack of vitamin D can cause autoimmune diseases. My blood work also showed I have a lack of vitamin D.

I typically eat well: plenty of poultry, nuts, fruit, vegetables, fish, and grains. But I occasionally slip in the bad stuff: chips, candy, ice cream,  burgers and fries. Having gotten the positive ANA, though, I’ve already cut out everything on my bad list and incorporated more of the positive. I’ve also cut out something I’ve loved for years and subsisted on daily: sourdough toast. Gluten may be bad for the immune system; bread has gluten; therefore, bread is bad. I am trying to go as low on the gluten scale as I can.

My breakfasts now consist of oatmeal, cream of rice, and whole grain flapjacks. My blood work also showed elevated cholesterol levels, so I’m trying to stay away from eggs and typical triggers for that as well.

I see a rheumatologist next week and hope to get some more answers to narrow down what I have. In the meantime, I’ll try to do what I think are the right things to do, like exercises but not overdoing it and eating the least irritating foods I can. Sad to say, though, that even with the diet change and walking daily, as I’ve always done, I still have stiffness in my ankles, a hip pain, heel pain, and more. But I’ve a feeling I’ll feel better just knowing what it is I have.

 

letting go of a job (or, sometimes you have to see what’s out there to appreciate what you have)

quitting jobI quit my part-time job, the one I took nineteen months ago in a public library. It was a good thing while it lasted, but the negatives nipped at me over time, creating a hole too big to repair. So now I’m back editing full-time from home.  And I couldn’t be happier.

A library is a great place to work if you’re a heavy reader. It’s also great if you’re introverted, as 90 percent of the other workers there are as well. It fit me to a T. I enjoyed helping patrons and shelving, which the majority of the job involved, but bending, kneeling, getting up from kneeling, reaching, and stretching became progressively more difficult for me. And the heavy-lifting part of the job, which comprised about 10 percent of the work, was not good on my body at all. It entailed setting up two-piece tables, moving even heavier tables, taking metal and molded-plastic chairs off racks taller than I am, and then putting them back when the event was over.

The carpal tunnel syndrome I’d had for twenty years went from occasional numbness and tingling to full-on pain that wakes me up at night and lasts for forty minutes straight (think shooting electrical charges from your wrists to your fingers). I began seeing my neurologist for injections to numb the pain. I put up with the discomfort and the doctor visits so I could stay on the job. I didn’t want to have to quit because of this.

Then I lost a couple coworkers who were my age to promotions, and the new hires were less than adequate, one being a teenager, one being a recent college grad with almost zero work experience, and both of whom, from the beginning, thought nothing of taking days and days off without finding someone to cover for them. Anytime we would mention to our supervisor, who hired the new young women, something the new hires did that went against training or common sense and needed to be corrected,  we were given excuses for the behavior and, worse, we were told it was OK.

This attitude can only breed discontent in longtime employees, and after one of my friends left for a full-time work-at-home job, I questioned why I stayed, especially given the fact that our supervisor didn’t see anything wrong with certain workers (that is, the ones she hired) taking excessive time off, needing extra instruction on how to do the most simple tasks,  or not completing required tasks. When we were left to work shifts by ourselves because one of the new hires “needed” a day off, we were told to just do it. But recently when one of the new hires was left to work a shift by herself, the supervisor immediately sent out an email asking if anyone could assist. How is that not the most obvious double-standard ever?

It was also obvious that this supervisor, who is pretty new herself, would stick up for the people she hired over the ones who had been there a while. She, in fact, told one of my friends that she isn’t going to respect seniority as a reason for anything anymore. How much more do we need to be beaten over the head to realize we don’t matter to her?

I was proud of the position for a long time even if it was entry level. The library is in a well-to-do, beautiful area where people expect efficiency and order. They ask for help in finding books or movies and expect the aides to know where to direct them. Someone seventeen years old is not going to have the same depth of knowledge of literature and movies as a fifty-six-year-old, nor could she even legally see half the movies on the shelves!

So when I put the feelings of being devalued together with my health issues coupled with the increase in our health-care expenses to correct them, the poor pay, the long commute, the wear and tear on my older car and my older body, it just didn’t add up to a great result. The nail in the coffin was the day my supervisor called me in to ask if I’d said something to the seventeen-year-old that hurt her feelings.  I did not say it, but that is how the mind of a teenager works. People that age are just not equipped to deal with a gamut of expressions, emotions . . . well, life in general. So that very day, I made my move and told my supervisor that I was leaving. I was devastated to be accused of something I didn’t do, and it was right there and then that I knew I no longer belonged in that job. Things would not get better with this woman at the helm.

I made some amazing friends there, but it’s a public library. I can go back and see those people during open hours. I just won’t also have to put up with the negatives that developed over time. It’s so true that sometimes you have to experience what’s out there to realize how good you have it.

 

painting kitchen cabinets: help, my tannins are bleeding!

I finally did it. I put a toe in the water of painting my cabinets but now feel completely drenched. And now I have tannin bleed on top of it all? Are you kidding me?yellowing-paint-on-new-poplar-doors-2

This is not a project to take lightly. All those fabulous white-painted, farmhouse kitchen posts on multiple blogs out there make it look so easy, but I’ve realized the bloggers are leaving a few details out. I have known for a long time that this is an anxiety-provoking do-it-yourself task. That’s why I painted just the backside of the cabinets, those facing the family room, two years ago with linen paint and never returned after that. It is one of the most difficult, time-consuming, and completely-obvious-that-you’ve-done-a-crappy-job tasks concerning household painting ever.

I got the desire to tackle this project years ago, pre-everybody’s doing it, pre-Fixer Upper, where something like 90 percent of Joanna Gaines’s finished products contain white-painted cabinets, including those in her own home. I’ve hated my oak, blah cabinets since we moved in twenty years ago. Over the years (usually, just before company showed up), I’d take out a can of stain and go over the blotchy areas of the wood. Before too long, I had multiple stains on the cabinets in a myriad of tones, and even though it helped a little, with wear and tear the finishes got dirty and grimy, which isn’t hard to do in as tiny a kitchen as mine. And because I never properly removed the old stain before applying a new one, it had all built up, grime and all.

I have been a fan of the homey, country (now called “farmhouse”), shabby chic look for some time. I like that it’s relaxed and easy-going. It’s not fussy nor froufrou nor prone to need an update when the latest trend comes through the door. It’s basically me. So, of course, when I came to the conclusion that my life would be so much happier with antique white cabinets, I had to try it.

My cabinets are made of oak. They’re from the early 1970s. They are not in great shape, but they’re for real, which is more than can be said of most if not all the cabinets inside your local IKEA or Home Depot. Yes, I could afford to go to one of those big box guys and order a lovely, matching set–and that’s still an option depending on how badly my cabinets turn out–but I wanted to give it the college try and paint my own. And isn’t now the time, what with all these awesome before-and-after shots on blog after blog?

I am a researcher. It’s part of what I do, so I researched the heck out of techniques (rollers or brushes, or both?), paints (milk paint, chalk paint, latex?), primers (oil or water based?), sanding options (yes or no?), top coats (flat or satin?), and colors (linen or antique white?). First, I tried linen. And it was just OK on these cabinets, so to live outside the box for once and not take the middle-of-the-road option (linen is a very beigey, middling option, by the way), I finally decided on antique white.

Two weeks ago, I applied it over my old linen-painted backside of the cabinets. Then I continued with the end boxes. Today, I struck out on a single door and a single drawer. And that’s when I discovered something a lot of bloggers don’t mention/cover up: tannin bleed!

Tannins are extracts that can leach out of certain woods, including oak, cedar, and redwood, and can alter paint, yellowing it. Not a single blogger I followed who used the same paint as I am (General Finishes milk paint) mentioned this. I’m not just blaming the wood, though. I’m sure all those years of built-up stain hasn’t helped. So, I’ve taken to sanding each piece, and priming each one with two coats of Zinsser 1-2-3 for good measure. So far, so good.

I’m nervous enough about this project, so to have a poor result right away nearly devastated me. I’m glad I have found a solution. I hope it continues to work. I will update you with the results as I go along.