the icebox challenge (or, trying to make use of what we already have)

Americans waste nearly a pound of food a day, and I’m here to prove it.

Nearly every week, I throw out bananas that have gone black, oranges that have gone green, and reusable containers filled with leftovers that, by the looks of them, I’d rather not use again.

Take a look at my fridge right now (trying not to judge my housekeeping skills):fridge

It’s brimming with food.

Sure, I could argue that I don’t have that much space and the bulky broccoli heads and sourdough loaves take up a lot of room, let alone the family pack of chicken thighs. But truth be told, I have too much food. And some of it will be tossed.

As a way to remedy this, I plan to use up what I have before I buy more. That’s right. I’m going to see how far the asparagus (at least the fresh bunch I picked up Saturday and not the one tucked in the back of the veggie drawer), milk, butter, and fruit can go before I spend more to replace them. You see, because of recent circumstances, I may need to stretch the budget.

Today my husband told his employer that he wants to cut his hours and, along with cutting his hours, his pay. He’s stressed out and wants to pursue another occupation. I thought I was OK with this until he did it and it became a reality. This was the one year in his entire thirty-year career that he’s made what he’s worth. And now he’s not.

To make matters worse, my work and pay have been dramatically cut this year, none of it my doing. My freelance work is in the tank. I’ve had nothing for two months’ straight from one client and nothing but a four-hundred-dollar project from the other. I apply all the time to various companies, but it’s a cut-throat world out there, and one job ad posted on the Internet can warrant hundreds if not thousands of applicants, especially in a national search. I work a part-time job, but all I can get are 10.5 hours a week. Try living on that. I could barely make a car payment on that kind of money.

I look for jobs–and apply–all the time in town, too, not just remotely. But it’s so hard to get a fish on the hook. I’ll be lucky to find something in six months (that’s how long it took to get the 10-hour-a-week job I currently have). On top of it, one of my four adult kids is recently unemployed and another is woefully underemployed. It’s ruthless out there.

So there is now a financial incentive to cut back on food shopping. I plan to do my part to keep expenses down. I’ll use up what we have, getting creative when I need to. I also plan to cut cable and take on one of the streaming services instead. I may cancel the newspaper as well, although it gives me great joy. Still, if I cut it, I’d probably be lured back with some good incentives. We have old cars (nothing even in the 2010s vintage), so selling a car isn’t going to help. In fact, we could use a newer car. They all have well over 100,000 miles–one has over 220,000! (Yes, it’s a Toyota.)

I have a gym membership, but it’s free because my son is an employee, so eliminating that won’t help. We eat out a few times a month and it’s usually just to get fish tacos or Thai food (the greatest bargain ever), but that will have to go. Add big birthday dinners to the list. No  more treating the entire family of seven adults to a meal, which can run up to a couple hundred dollars. It’ll be a bargain movie and a slice of pizza from now on. I’m looking into doing more crafting with my time and maybe opening an etsy shop if I can make enough product to sell, but supplies cost money and storage isn’t plentiful in our house, where my two adult sons also live.

The thing is, I have a history of scrimping and saving. This past year I finally was able to loosen my belt and flop back on the couch a bit more, arms and legs spread eagle and a look of contentment on my face. Now it’s pants fully tightened and nose to the grindstone as I try once again to make ends meet. The fridge is my first attempt.

and the hits just keep on coming (finding a new job is tough, period)

job wantedWhen I left my last part-time job in December, I believed the part-time life was behind me. I thought I’d go back to just freelancing, not thinking about what I’d be leaving behind. But it became apparent soon after the revelry from my birthday, anniversary, and the winter holidays came and went why I’d taken a part-time job in the first place: to get out of the house and to supplement my oftentimes meager freelance income.

Now I want my job back.

I have applied to several positions in the past twelve weeks, some freelance and some not. I’ve had two interviews, one just yesterday, of which I already found out I did not get the job, and one of three weeks ago that’s still pending. It’s with a city agency and the wheels of city hall do indeed turn slowly. I’m beginning to believe, though, that I didn’t get that job either. It’s a position I’ve applied to for years and years, nearly every time the city accepts applications, which occurs every six months. I did pretty well in the interview, but I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve always looked younger than my age, but there’s no denying I’m a mom of thirty-year-olds, not a thirty-year-old myself. I now have to be aware of age discrimination. It’s a fact of life.

There were 120 people being interviewed that week for who knows how many open positions (no one was saying), though I’m thinking it’s no more than a dozen. Now I’m second-guessing myself that I probably didn’t check off enough boxes on locations I’d desire to work at or I didn’t pick hours that included all seven days of the week. I used a friend and a superior as a reference and he’s supposed to let me know if he gets contacted, but so far crickets.

I get the blues, mostly because I’m longing for a feeling of belonging again, which I had when I was recently working and something that you lose once your kids age out of the house and you no longer fill your days with soccer games and swim meets and cross-country races. There are always other parents to chat up at those events.

There are times I feel guilty for getting so down, though. My son has been looking for a permanent full-time job since graduating college three years ago, and a week ago one of my daughters got word she either needs to relocate with her company or find a job here. She’s looking for work here first. If nothing comes her way in the short span of two months (!) the company gave her to decide, she’ll pack up her belongings and head more than 3/4 of the way across the country.

I don’t have it so bad. I do have some work, though my freelance career has begun to tank royally, and I am married to the main earner in the family. Plus, there’s plenty to do around the house in repairs to make, walls to paint, and more, so I don’t want to feel sorry for myself when the kids are in much more dire straits than I am. Still, it doesn’t diminish how I feel.

My son will be moving back home at the end of the month. (Will my daughter soon follow?) The lease is up on the place he shares with three other guys and the rent is going up. He can’t swing it on his part-time job.

The media have been putting out plenty of stories about how the economy is picking up and there’s a galore of jobs. I just did a Google search and nearly 200,000 new jobs surfaced in March alone. 200,000 jobs? Really? That means one for each able-bodied worker in the country. Sorry, that’s a fabrication. It has to be. I’ve been searching the jobs boards for nearly six months now. I see the same jobs pop up or never leave the boards. So, I doubt these “200,000” are new jobs, but more rehashed old jobs or jobs that employers stick out there to check out the current field of candidates, without the intent of actually hiring anyone.

Yep, it’s hard to believe there are hundreds of thousands of jobs available each month when three out of six of members of my family can’t find a singe one.

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.

 

with a slow workweek, i’m trying to enjoy the beauty of life

 

beach

Having felt as though I wasted my entire day yesterday, yearning for work and clicking on the Refresh button a gazillion times to will something into my inbox, then wasting five hours –yes, five hours!–taking a test I correctly assumed wouldn’t lead to a job, I drove myself to the water today.

So here I sit, facing the glorious Pacific. I watch a couple, possibly honeymooners, approaching the water. Deeper out are surfers, some young, some old, enjoying the moderate-sized waves.

I’ve rolled up my sleeves (having fought off a farmer’s tan all summer, I don’t want to promote one now), and I’m busy doing what? Taking in my surroundings, I guess I’d say, enjoying the bounty of what God’s given us (for it can’t be just science and happenstance that made the deep-blue sea, the soft sand to walk on, and the sun to warm our bodies and souls).

I’m easing into the comfort of the scenery, but I’m still on edge. I don’t do “outside the box” really well. And being at the water on a beautiful day–the many that we have here on the West Coast–instead of being at my desk is, for me, literally outside the box when considering my house is shaped like a cardboard saltine container. I realize I have a lot to learn about living in the moment. With four kids, whose futures I’ve spent more than half my life shaping, I have become a planner and not an enjoyer of the present. I’m better at trying to figure out what lies ahead, who needs to get where, when the next pediatric appointments and tap lessons are, and how to get from one field to the other without leaving a kid waiting for a ride, than appreciating what is in front of me.

The fact that work is slow to nonexistent at the moment, with the promise of a very busy October and November ahead of me, should be a relief and a motivator to linger in the present, but to me, it’s not. I will try very hard, just the same, to make it so and take in what’s here and now and not what may be–or what should be. Yes, I’d love to have work that comes in steadily. I’m a person who likes having a plan. But it’s currently not possible.

I’m not starving. I’m not unclothed or homeless. We have enough to get us by and savings to fill in the gaps. I’m a pro at budgeting when times get tough too. And we will work as long as possible if the money isn’t replenishing quickly enough. I have to remember all this when the stress of not working and, therefore, not earning hits me.

So right now I will put my pen and paper away, continue along the path beneath my feet, and say a little prayer for the truly unemployed (and the underemployed) who don’t have this view of the ocean (and a soundtrack of crashing waves) before them. I may not have a perfect amount of work for my liking and the money coming in will have to stretch a little further than usual, but what I do have before me right here, right now is pretty perfect just the same.

 

how being underemployed can result in a whole lot of wasted time

underemployed_med

 

I am underemployed. If I could just be paid for the time I waste looking for work, I’d have a healthy five-figure salary.

I work freelance, and for the duration of the time I’ve had little ones–and not so little ones–at home, it’s been a great thing. I could be here for the children and also be able to bring in a few extra bucks. Fast-forward twenty-five years, though, and what was once a wonderful thing is now holding me back and keeping me from moving in the right direction.

There are so many jobs I know I could do if just given the opportunity, but picking up crumbs of jobs that require copious amounts of time to do them is all I can find right now. And I’ve been looking.

I applied for a full-time job last week that I felt I was perfect for. I still see the job up on the company website, therefore, the company didn’t see me as a perfect fit. (I think the salary-requirements line tripped me up, not having any idea what real people make out there.) In addition to applying for jobs, I keep working toward getting a certificate to make me more marketable for a government-agency job, but those jobs, after having applied, can take months and months to get called back on. There is no rhyme or reason as to how people are selected for interviews, although the county’s website says that people are phoned alphabetically. Great. I’m in the middle of the alphabet (which makes me want to hyphenate my maiden and last names. I used to be a “B.”)

So today I sat down at my computer and, not having received any work again, looked at the work-at-home job sites. I found one job that looked interesting. It’s with a company that requires candidates to input metadata (whatever that is). I took the test, being that I’m good at tests and am uber proficient in editing and researching, which was part of the test. After two and a half hours of working on this three-hour exam, which partially included identifying pop culture figures and events, I was switching between open tabs in my browser when–oh, lord–I accidentally clicked on the horrible, no-good, very bad X, closing out the tab and losing all the work I had input.

I tried to recover the page, but it had flown into cyberspace for good. So I restarted the test. Having done a lot of the research already, I had half the battle won this second time around. It was a matter of remembering and, if I couldn’t do that, looking back into what I had originally researched. In the meantime, I was supposed to be watching and listening in on a webinar being presented for that certificate I’m going after. I was able to do both, albeit half-heartedly. Still, I managed and was pretty proud to have multitasked those efforts and while picking up a phone call from my husband, to boot.

After the webinar ended, having made good time on the test the second time around, I focused my mind on it and was nearly finished within two hours. I just couldn’t figure out the identities of two of the people who were featured. I tried to research some more but had no luck. So I reread and reworked some of the longer questions that needed my attention.

When I thought I had finished the entire test, I submitted it. Trouble is, I’d forgotten to fill in one of the answers–the name of some pink-bikini clad woman standing on a beach while holding a microphone as some performers were singing on a stage in the background. (Can anyone place that?) Everything else was perfect, trust me. But I knew I was doomed. I knew this was going to be one of those tests graded by a machine, whose first role was to make sure there were no blank answers. And what do you know, within minutes of punching the damned Submit button, I received a ding saying I didn’t get the job. All because of one idiotic semi-celebrity whom I couldn’t ID. No human at this company even bothered to read my answers.

What ticks me off the most is that five hours were wasted. Five hours. I didn’t even walk the dog within that time, which is something I do every morning. I hadn’t even showered. I looked at the clock and it was after 1 p.m. when I got dinged. I realized that I hadn’t gotten up from my chair since 8 in the morning. Five hours wasted because I don’t have a full-time job–or even a regular part-time job–to call my own. If I made twenty bucks an hour, that would have been one hundred dollars I could have earned.

It’s not just the money–or potential loss of it–that is so bothersome, it’s what I could have done with my time. This has been a really slow two weeks for me. Make that three or four weeks, actually. Last week I got some painting done in the house, but this week I was hoping to get some paid work. Only it never came. So after sitting at my desk and feeling like I wasted precious days in the beginning of the week, I promised myself yesterday that I’d get out of the house today. The weather has been stifling hot and my office is the hottest room in the house, and I promised I wouldn’t make myself sit and pine away, clicking through website after website to look for work one more day this week. I told myself I’d get out and get some fresh air.

But when you are at the mercy of others for work, a job can come at the least-expected time. It can pop up when you’re walking the dog or getting some fresh air or sitting in an air-conditioned coffeeshop sipping a pumpkin latte. So I’m sorry to say that I probably have a lot more disappointingly slow, unproductive days in my future as long as I can’t find a regular job. I won’t stop looking for freelance work too, but I sure as heck won’t take another five-hour test to get it. I worked backwards today. And that’s never the right direction.

underemployed waitress.jpg
“I have a B.A. in journalism and 30-plus years of experience.”

is full-time employment in the cards? when working from home may just not cut it

working-woman-1900s

I applied for a full-time, outside-the-home position yesterday, the first full-time job I’ve appied to in about thirty-two years. I’ve been a work-at-home mom all that time, which was a great alternative when the kids were little. It brought in extra income–although at times what I earned was so piddly that it barely paid for the newspaper subscription for the year–but it kept my foot in the water of the working world and my brain from frying from kiddie overload. With four kids spread out over a lot of years, it was so easy to put them first and myself last. And I did that. Had I not had something to call my own–a little bit of employment–I’d have been much worse off.

But my youngest is now a senior in high school. He probably will not play sports this year (a great reason for a parent to have a flexible schedule is being able to drive the kid and attend away games), and he has a license and drives our old car, so I’m not even needed to transport him to and from school anymore. He’s looking for a part-time job to help pay for a phone and his insurance and to have a little spending money without having to hit up the parental unit. A job will take him away from home even more often.

In the meantime, my freelance career is in a lull. I will be madly, deeply busy in October and November, working both day and night, and I have been promised some assignments into December and January even, typically a slow period in publishing, but at present I’m bumbling around, finding stuff to do at home, like laundry and cleaning, and refreshing the home page of one of the web portals where I obtain some of my work. I can do that all day at times and find nothing or maybe one assignment that can take less than an hour. So my precious hours spent “working” from home are not getting me anywhere.

And that is why I applied to a firm that is looking for someone who does exactly what I do. Those jobs are rare to find and because it’s an altruistic nonprofit, I applied. Time will tell whether I hear back for an interview, but I was encouraged to find something so specifically tailored to my career choice.

I have applications in with a couple local government agencies as well, but with them, being placed on the eligible list is in no way a guarantee of being called for an interview. I’ll continue courses for those positions and I’ll get busy with work in the coming months and not even think about looking for something outside the home, but then the doldrums will hit again . . . and again . . . and again.

Am I ready for full-time employment outside the home? With a little adjusting, I think so. It certainly would beat hitting the refresh button and finding nothing for forty hours a week.

 

 

post-graduation dreams: to never leave home?

Used to be when kids went off to college they never returned home again because waiting for them on the other side of the commencement dais was a good-paying job,  one that would sustain them until they got married (soon after graduating), had a family, and raised their own kids until they too went off to college, got married, etc., etc.boomerang-kids

But with 55 percent of college students now living at home as opposed to 43 percent in 2010, a lot of those kids don’t leave home to attend school in the first place and then they stay on at home even after getting their diploma. Jobs for college grads are not nearly as plentiful these days, and getting on in the world is too expensive. These kids are no dummies. Why live on a shoestring when you can live in the lap of luxury for little to nothing?

And so it is in our house. My third born, a son, graduated in May but has yet to move out. He’s still working the same hourly job he had throughout college, and even though I send him job postings from the websites I see online (is that the  whirring of helicopter blades I hear?), he’s still not applying in earnest for work in his major. Why? I think he’s got it too good. And I’m partially to blame.

Kids have it harder today in a lot of ways. For one, competition for jobs is fierce. The kid with the decent grade point average who worked throughout school to make some money is going up against the kid who excelled in college, took internships, and went into debt to get a leg up on the competition. Those kids are the ones getting hired after graduating while Mediocre Manny is struggling to keep his head above water in the vast resume pools forming in employers’ inboxes.

Also, kids have it harder today because they have had it easier their whole lives. How so? Their parents, we, did much more for these kids than our parents ever did for us. Their whole lives they heard such things as, “You want to play a sport? Sure, I’ll put my career on hold and drive you to games and pay for all the accoutrements that go with that sport even though I haven’t had a pair of new shoes in six years. Hungry? Here’s a burger and a Coke coming to you through this magical drive-through window. Or better yet, sit down and I’ll whip up your favorite dinner, leaving out the greens that you don’t like. Have nothing to wear? No problem, I’ll throw a load of wash in for you right now and not only that, I’ll fold it and put it in your room. Or if those clothes won’t do because they’re not the latest trend, I’ll run to the Macy’s and get something that will. Oh, Macy’s is not cool enough? Just name the store. You want your license? Well, sure. You don’t have as much as a part-time job flipping burgers to pay for gas, but I’ll not only pay for that gas, I’ll throw in the car and the insurance too.” And so it went. No wonder kids can’t get on on their own.

Now our kids are coming out of college and not knowing where to start to get their lives going because Mom isn’t doing all the stuff she used to do to make it all happen. Call ours the enabling generation. According to a recent Forbes report, close to 60 percent of parents provide financial support of some kind to their adult children. That’s six out of ten of us. What’s wrong with us and, more importantly, what do we do now that Jay and Robin won’t leave the nest?

Parents’ motives are noble: they just want to help out their kids. The same motives people have to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their babies and young children are in play when they allow adult children to live at home. It’s a loving gesture, not maliciousness,  but it can go too far and the new graduate can turn into the adult kid who keeps hanging on and never grows up. I mean, who wouldn’t want a life that’s easy as opposed to one that’s not?

But experts say people need to set boundaries and make those boundaries clear as day, especially if the adult child isn’t contributing enough and the parents prolong retirement or put aside their own needs and wants because they are helping out the kids (and helping out can include paying all the utilities, providing an automobile, buying all the groceries, cooking them, and cleaning up afterward).

I plan to set out a manifesto of sorts and make it not so easy for my son to rely on his parents for help. Hopefully, that will motivate him to move on in life the way his two sisters did. Sure it’s been just a month and a half since college graduation, but I want to set the tone now before I’m driving him around to geriatric appointments and senior day care.