Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I lost my full time job a couple months ago.  It's a long story, but the nutshell version is that they closed my office, I didn't want to drive 40 miles round trip to the other office for what they were paying me, and they wouldn't entertain the notion of giving me even a small raise to offset the cost of the commute.  And in fact they'd never at any point entertained the idea of giving me a raise in all the three years I worked for them.  Even if I'd wanted to drive out to the other office, they couldn't guarantee there'd be work for me there and might have only been a part-time thing anyway.  So we discussed the option of keeping me on as an independent contractor, but of course it came as no surprise when they gave me the runaround on that. I'm quite happy to be rid of the whole nasty mess, to be honest.

The biggest, most major problem with all of this, however, is that my income has been DRASTICALLY reduced.  Like, to the tune of creating a large deficit every month between what I bring home from my part-time job at Starbucks and what goes out in expenses every month.  And let's not forget that I'm, you know, getting married in November.  Thus my full-time job as of now has become looking for a full-time job and freelancing where I can in between shifts at the coffee shop.  I've been there for 13 years and get my health insurance and other benefits through them, so I'm not giving that up.  Or at least for another 9-ish years until I retire (another nice benny of working there).


I'm trying not to panic.  The novelty of the initial relief that accompanied being rid of a job that was bringing me down and causing much stress has worn off, and now I'm heading into the stress of being underemployed, particularly now that I've begun dipping into the savings that I had earmarked for other stuff. And yes, I applied for Unemployment, but my part-time job complicated things, and then my former employer actually contested, saying I quit my job (despite the very traceable evidence that I didn't; i.e. the gaping hole of an empty storefront that used to be my workplace).  Then they caught wind of my four-day trip to the Dominican Republic (a gift from my sister that had been planned and booked months ago) and put me through seven layers of hell proving that I hadn't fled the country...and after eight weeks of utter bullshit dealing with the department, I gave up - and in the process have gained a newfound understanding of why people just say "fuck it" and live off the system.  Truly hellacious. 


Now, speaking of hellacious, if you've never looked for a full time job, particularly one in the design field, let me enlighten you.  It's about as easy, fun, rewarding, and fruitful as online dating, if you've ever had the misfortune to try your hand at that.  In other words, it's soul-crushing to the highest possible degree.  And in fact it's only one step above the New York State Department of Labor's application for Unemployment Benefits in its ability to make you feel like you have completely lost. your. fucking. mind.


First, you sign up for job alerts.  You get job opening notifications based on your preferences, your experience, your education, and a number of other parameters you've set in the job search application process, which takes, like, forever.  But you do this and then you sit back and wait for the notices to pop up.  Pretty soon they start trickling in and few look okay but then you get a notice for a job that looks PERFECT for you.  In fact it's SO perfect, you're convinced that they looked at your resume and wrote the job description based on that.  So you apply.  You upload your resume, your cover letter, and your portfolio.  You answer their questions.  You sign off on the self-identification questionnaire.  You electronically sign your application.  And then...you wait.  And then you wait some more.  And most of the time you never hear anything back.   You check back and see that you were one of 283 applicants.  And while I know I have a tendency to hyberbolize pretty much everything that happens to me (see what I did there?) this is not an exaggeration.  There are literally HUNDREDS of graphic designers looking for jobs right now.  The field of graphic design is saturated with job-seekers, and in another two months when the dozen or so institutions of higher learning in this area unleash yet another couple hundred fresh, eager, and young faces into the wild design yonder, the chances of a grizzled old print designer finding a decent job diminish even more.  And now that people have recognized that Buffalo is actually a pretty decent place to live, we're seeing the "brain drain" of past graduating classes slowing its roll.  No longer are graduates so hot to get the heck out of Dodge; they're sticking around and contributing to the upswing of Buffalo's urban appeal.  This is a wonderful thing, but not without its drawbacks, as I've explained.  So I'm competing for a handful of jobs with an applicant pool that is hundreds strong and mostly half my age.  I may have more hands-on experience, but they have the youth.  Don't think it doesn't come into play - legal or not, few firms are keen on bringing in a middle-aged woman who isn't completely up to snuff on the digital stuff like web design and app coding.  Companies used to be willing to hire a print designer for their print collateral and a web designer for their interactive stuff, but they've figured out that they can pay one person half as much to do twice the work.  And have NO problem finding one, because EVERYONE wants to work.  But occasionally you do hear back from the places you've applied and it is always some variation on this: "We have reviewed your application and considered your qualifications. As you can imagine, we received a large number of applications. I am sorry to inform you that you have not been selected for an interview for this position."  It's the equivalent of finding that 100% match on OKCupid and having them email you back with, "Sorry, I think you're ugly, we have nothing in common, and I don't even find you worthy of a date."  It's quite a blow.

So I'm frequently asked, "why not just be your own boss and start your own business?"  Okay, that's a great idea.  But I'll tell you why not.  As I said earlier, I do freelance work.  As much as I can, in fact.  I am always looking for work.  On occasion I find it. Sometimes I get paid properly to do it, but often I don't.  If everyone who said they wanted me to design something for them actually stuck around once I quoted them what it would cost, then maybe I could make a decent living.  I'm not complaining, necessarily - I know all too well that budgets are budgets and you have to stay within them.  So I can't completely blame someone for thinking, "why should I pay this girl $100 to design my business cards/flyers/invitations/direct mailpiece when I can just go to [insert favorite online print place here] and have them design and print for $50? Or save even more and have my nephew who knows Photoshop do it?"  I'm not saying I *like* the idea, but I understand it.  


Running one's own freelance outfit involves a lot of administrative hassles.  You look for work.  You bid on work.  Once you're awarded the work, you do the work.  You bill for the work.  You spend a lot of time chasing people down for money.  Sometimes you never see it.  So you change your policy: all jobs must be paid upfront.  Suddenly people aren't interested.  But what of the time you've spent corresponding and quoting and whatnot?  Sunk.  Gone.  Eaten.  Wasted.  


And then there is the whole "working from home" thing.  It's not all it's cracked up to be.  And in the interest of full disclosure, as I have mentioned in the past, I have ADD which can make being self-employed a bit of a challenge if I don't lay down some serious structure for myself. I mean, I've had this for most of my life and it's managed pretty well most of the time, but I spend a lot of time fighting disruptions nevertheless, like a couple of cats who think my desk is a playground and that the scanner is a great place to nap when they're tuckered out.  The kitchen full of yummy snacks is just a few doors down.  The backyard and all the fun critters who inhabit it are just outside my window, which is one of two reminding me that there is a warm, delicious season springing up on the other side of the walls, not to mention that I really ought to get out and whack that overgrowth down before it sprouts leaves.  The distractions are high, the discipline low.   I have a couple days a week designated as "office days."  On those days I do not work at Starbucks and try not to set any other appointments or obligations, though I might take off for a lunchtime yoga class to break up the day.  Regardless, I set an alarm and am up by 7:30 am.  I make myself a cup of coffee and a light breakfast, and I sit at my dining room table and enjoy it in the quiet solitude - unless HTG (my fiance) is there, in which case he joins me and we chat.  After that, I get dressed - to the shoes - and move into my office.  I make a list of all the stuff I need to do.
 


Let's see... I need to resize a couple ads for this magazine I've been doing work for... I need to pick up where I left off on that blogger's logo illustration... I have to apply for that job at Big Company ABC... I need to call Client Whatshisname about arranging payment for his cards... I have to update my portfolio... but wait!  I should clean the bathroom!  But no!  It's not a Bathroom Cleaning Day, it's Office Day!  Okay, so what else...oh, yeah, I need to squeeze a Lynda class in there so I feel more honest when I say I'm learning HTML and stuff. Now I'm hungry.  My coffee cup is empty.  I need to go make another cup.  I should buy an insulated carafe so I can make bigger batches to stay warm longer.  Did I remember to buy bacon?  Shit, I need to go grocery shopping.  I should make a list.  What should I make for dinner tonight?  I need to text HTG and find out if he wants me to cook tonight or if we're going out. I should create some kind of meal schedule so I know what to buy.  I waste too much food.  God, the kitchen is a mess.  I need to unload the dishwasher.  Shit, I have a gig this week and REALLY need to practice those trouble spots. Dry cleaning needs to be dropped off. Oh, wait, I did that already. Hey, sister, you forgot to take your meds this morning, didn't you?  Ugh.  I *knew* I was forgetting something!  


The problem is not that I don't love what I do.  I ADORE what I do.  I uprooted my whole life to go back to school and earn two degrees in pursuit of a career doing it. But there isn't ENOUGH of it to do as a freelancer to keep me fully engaged.  My most productive days are the ones when I have a big stack of stuff in my inbox and I can sit here and churn out logo after ad after business card after flyer after poster and feel motion and measure progress.  If I'm not actively working on something, I'm easily distracted by the dirty dishes, the piles of laundry, the cats, and my overgrown trumpet vines in the backyard.  As much as I attempt to detach it, my home office is still located in my home.  And while the commute is fantastic, the location has its drawbacks.  Being able to set my own schedule *seems* like a cool idea, especially when I find myself with inspiration and "a-ha" moments at odd hours, but it also lends itself to procrastination and wasting time.

When I have a job working for someone else, there is structure.  There is discipline.  There is the drive to perform.  There is accountability to someone other than myself.  Excuses don't fly. There are people to interact with. There is a separation of office and home.  There are no cats.  The landscaping is someone else's issue.  This is not to say I desire to be micro-managed or monitored and I'm not itching to punch a clock.  I do fine if I have to be accountable to someone other than myself, whether it's in a team setting or working independently and reporting to a colleague, but when it's just me, myself, and I and I'm not only in charge of doing the work but actually finding it in the first place, well...that's part of the problem.
 I just want to throw myself headlong into a project, bandy about my ideas, interact with other creative people, and make stuff.  The administrative headaches are someone else's responsibility.  The searching and bidding and pricing and the contracts and the accounting and all that stuff... I don't want to have to worry about it.  But that's not going to happen soon, it would seem.


So here I sit, another rejection letter in hand, trying to figure out my next move.  I spent most of the day applying for three new jobs that came over the wire, drawing a family caricature, and writing this.  It's 6:00.  HTG's on his way over with dinner and I haven't practiced music yet.  I think maybe I'll call it a day, time clock or not.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Designer, Design Thyself's Wedding

While taking a cursory browse through a bridal shop with a friend two days after my engagement,  we were talking about my wedding colors and whatnot and she said, "this is what happens when a designer gets married - your wedding is going to be amazing and gorgeous!"

Well.  While I certainly appreciated the vote of confidence, I'm discovering that designing for one's own wedding is a bit more problematic than one might expect.  First of all, there's this pesky thing about "theme."  People keep asking me, "What's your theme?"

Theme?  My wedding needs a theme?  I thought themes were for kids' birthday parties.  My bad.

See, I thought you just picked out a couple of colors, you know, based on what you like and what season it is and then built a palette around that.  Then you give a swatch to your bridesmaids and your florist and then maybe order linens and favor bags to match.  Or something. But apparently you need a theme.  I know more than one person who's had a Disney-themed wedding.  As everyone tries to "out-theme" each other, there are zombie-themed weddings, fairy tale-themed weddings,  Steampunk-themed weddings, themes based on cartoon characters, TV shows, and so on.

Now, look.  I'm not saying these aren't super neat and all, but why is everyone so hung up on theme?  So if I don't have a specific theme, people are going to say, "this wedding sucks!  All I see are a bunch of fall leaves and pumpkins and a Matron of Honor in a purple dress.  So what's the theme?"

Well, the "theme" of our wedding is this: Deedee and Wade met through a drive-through window at Starbucks.  She called him Hot Tea Guy.  He likes tea.  Fall is their favorite season.  They enjoy donuts.  Maybe a little too much. They like the outdoors.  They like to eat and drink and laugh. They like "Twin Peaks."  And so there will be elements of all of these things in our November wedding, all loosely coordinated in a pretty palette of aubergine, sage, brown, orange, and red with pumpkins, tea, food, drink, laughter, and perhaps a few Twin Peaks references (the donuts could be construed as part of this), in a theme that basically says "This is Us" (not to be confused with the TV show of the same name, wonderful as said show may be).

Now I'm at the point where I'm trying to design my own invitations and other printed materials, and while I have designed plenty of invitations and save-the-date cards and wedding programs and place cards and the like in my day, doing them for yourself is a whole other ball of wax.  I have gone through this with other self-designed things like my business cards and such for my freelance business.  Why is it SO difficult to design my own stuff?  Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me?

I think some of it has to do with having a trillion different ideas flying around in my head and being unable to pin just one down.   When I'm designing for a client, it's easy to say, "here are three concepts that I believe represent the essence of your business" or "this color scheme will appeal to the demographic you're trying to attract," or "here's an invitation that includes pink and white roses and uses a pretty font, just as you'd requested," etc.  But for myself, I have so many ideas of what could work, what I think I want - and much of this includes old ideas that I've catalogued in my brain for the fall wedding I imagined having before the ring was even on my finger.  It's a little overwhelming. I like vintage-y stuff.  I like retro-y stuff.  I like Asian inspired designs.  I like mid-century designs.  I like Art Deco designs.  I like fall.  I like pumpkins. I like purple.  I like birds.  It's far easier to eliminate things I don't like, because the list is so much shorter.

I guess it may also have something to do with the fear of losing one's designer cred.  Like, if I don't come up with an absolutely PERFECT design that totally nails it,  I've failed as a designer.  Or if I just relent and let someone else design it for me or pick out a pre-fab design from a catalogue, then I might as well just turn in my Mac and my AIGA badge.  Maybe it's expectations.  I expect myself to come up with something great because I know I'm a capable designer.  And I expect others to expect me to do this as well.

So here I sit, with nothing to do but wait for the axe to fall at my day job (this is my last week here - I'm being laid off at the end of this week) and overthink all of this stuff.  But if I don't start moving on this, I'm going to end up sending out a Facebook event instead of paper invitations a week before the wedding.

That actually doesn't sound like such a bad idea right now.  Haha.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

You Do You, We Do Us

When I announced my engagement a few months back, the first things I heard after "congratulations" were bits and pieces of advice about wedding planning and a few warnings eschewing the "Wedding Industrial Complex."  And I agree - the W.I.C. is indeed, a ridiculous, over-priced, over-rated, predatory institution that plays on the myth that "every little girl dreams of her wedding day;" a guilt-tripping monster that beats you into submission until you're shaking and sweating and saying, "yes, yes, embossed napkins and a $5,000 designer dress are what I have to have!  Yes, my guests must have steak tartare and top-shelf liquor! And we HAVE to have a Photo Booth or my reputation is ruined!!" This is the girl who brings an entourage of 18 with her to the bridal salon and breaks down in tears because none of the 18 other people like the dress SHE picked out.  Fuck that.

Now, I get that these well-meaning folks who insist it's okay to not want a traditional wedding are doing so because they want me to feel okay with my choices and not feel pressured to conform.  It makes perfect sense, seeing as I am a creative and independent (and typically pretty thrifty) individual who hasn't ever really placed myself squarely in the middle of formal tradition.  I've never been one to follow trends or do something simply because it's what society at large tells me is acceptable.  I think people have come to expect me to do something totally different and possibly a little weird.  And I guess that's flattering.

BUT.  What if what I want IS something kind of traditional?  What if I want something classy but not over-the-top, semi-formal but not stuffy, traditional-ish with a few hints of personal flair and slightly unconventional details but nothing completely off the wall?  Is that bad?

I'm not interested in burlap or chalkboards, mason jars or mustache-themed props, food trucks or nacho bars.  We aren't getting married at a vineyard, an old sawmill, a pumpkin farm, or a converted grain silo. If that's your thing, then that's what you do.  And that's been the pervasive sentiment through all of this: "You do you!"

And I am doing me.  But more importantly, my fiance and I are doing US.  And THIS is what WE want.  While our well-meaning friends say, "You can just have a picnic!  You don't have to spend money on a fancy dinner!  Have pizza and hot dogs!" I am working on a budget to serve strip steak and salmon because THAT IS WHAT WE WANT.  We booked the venue that we did because it's a lovely space in a place that has special meaning to us.  We could have gone with any number of good venues that were within our established budget, but the sentiment is what sold us on this one.

I AM going to wear a pretty ivory dress.  It won't be super fancy or blind anyone with bling, because (a) I'm not a fancy blingy person and (b) my groom will be in a simple two-piece suit and we need to balance (note: this is not based on any societal parameters; it is MY taste). My dress won't have a train, and it may not even go past my ankles.  I might wear purple shoes. I'm likely not wearing a veil.  And it won't cost $5,000. It might not even cost $500.  Hell, I'd wear a $50 consignment shop dress if I found one I liked that looked good.  This is ME.  Doing ME.

We are following one "hot trend" in our decision to do away with wedding cake and serve Paula's donuts instead (for those of you not in Buffalo, believe me when I tell you that the best wedding cake in the world can't hold a candle to Paula's donuts).  Our musical selections might be a little different from what one is accustomed to hearing at a wedding.  I have a pretty specific "Do Not Play" list for my DJ (who is pretty cool and is looking really forward to working with our eclectic playlist).  But beyond that, things promise to be pretty traditional.

It is worth noting that neither my fiance nor I have ever been married before.  This is our first - and ONLY - wedding.  And while being of "advanced age" puts us within different budgetary parameters with different financial priorities, there are certain things WE want out of this wedding.  And among those things are a number of traditional practices and formalities.  I won't apologize for that.  I won't feel guilty about thinking "inside the box" on certain things, because perhaps the reason I'm choosing to be there is because that's where I feel comfortable and happy.  Comfortable and happy are two things I most certainly WANT to feel about my wedding day.  And in this day of everyone trying to outdo the last hot "different" thing, perhaps traditional is the new different.  Our day, our way.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Down with the Gown: Clearly Off-Balance

First in a new series (which I will attempt to update with some degree of regularity) about wedding dress shopping.

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So, as you know by now, I'm getting married next year.  Planning is going along at a fairly decent clip; we've got our venue, our photographer, our DJ, our florist, and our officiant all lined up.  Right now we've put a moratorium on wedding planning until after the holidays, but I have been "window shopping" for a wedding dress for a little while. I'm still not physically shopping for one, since I've got a specific goal to reach before I'll do that.   In the meantime I'm just looking at what's out there, what I can realistically afford, and discovering a few things I never knew about wedding dresses in the process.

Like, not only are there some SERIOUSLY weird/ugly/perplexing wedding dresses for sale, but I'm also learning that posing in a wedding gown (even ones that aren't so weird or ugly or perplexing) forces one to contort one's body while standing in oddly decorated rooms.

I mean, look! Wearing a wedding gown is a dizzying experience that throws one's equilibrium off, and in many cases requires one to touch one's forehead, as evidenced by the following:

Someone's been nipping from the bubbly.  My guess is she's hiding it in those sleeves.

Whoops!  She evidently didn't notice that rug there. The look suggests she's REALLY hoping no one saw her do that and is just trying to look like she's casually leaning against the china cabinet - as one does on their wedding day -  but it looks like she tore out the back out of her gown in the process.

Oh, dear...she needs a cool washcloth and a chaise lounge, stat!  Good thing she changed into her nightgown first.
Perhaps if she fans the skirt  (which appears to be some sort of skirt-cape over the actual skirt) hard enough, she can pump herself upright and put her arm down.  Also? I'm just really glad they took the glass out of that mirror, in case she falls backward in her fervor.

And these babes here just have some serious "Mannequin Challenge" chops:


This is either some really bad photoshopping or some serious double-jointed action.  It hurts just to look at this.

And finally, this week's WTF Winner:


Is that a wooden talon?  Or an antenna?  Seriously, what IS that?  Whatever it is, she better make sure it's not going to succumb to whatever force is blowing her dress up, lest it fall and land on her. Splinters are painful.

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Have you seen a really odd wedding dress photo?  Do tell!!  Send it to me and I might feature it in a future post!!

Next time: Why you should always pee before you try on your gown.












Thursday, December 1, 2016

Just keep moving...

An empty street stretches out before me.  Off to the side, a door hanging by a single hinge bangs against its frame in the breeze.  A tumbleweed bounces across my path and skitters off to parts unknown across the barren landscape.  A few stray mice dart in and out of the holes in the rotted building foundations, while a hawk on a nearby burned-out car watches and waits for the opportunity to swoop down upon her dinner.  The wind whistles through the bones of a few decaying trees, and nary a soul is found wandering this God-forsaken place.  Off in the distance, a train whistle blows long and lonely, crying out to the lifeless expanse around it.

Oh, wait.  That's just my blog.  Sorry.  

Yeah, I know, it's been awhile and my updates are few and far between, rendering this blog a virtual ghost town.

And that's kind of a big problem lately.  See, I love to write.  And even if I have a grand total of three people who actually follow it, posting to the blog seems to keep me grounded and focused on something.  It's like another tool in the box that helps keep me on track and gives me some accountability for my actions and decisions.  It helps me get out the millions of thoughts that are constantly swimming in my head (yay ADD) and gives me a platform upon which to display them in some semblance of order.   From my weight loss journey to wedding planning to the current state of the world, I have a lot on my mind - and while I have several people I *could* corner with nonstop chatter about these things, I'm not always (a) in the mood or (b) sure it's proper etiquette to force someone into captive audience mode. Hence, the blog.

My excuse for lack of updating, of course, is that I'm busy.  Everyone is busy; it's not an affliction confined to just me, I get that.  But even by my standards, my life lately has been crazier than normal.  If you know me in any capacity you know that I'm always on the go, always doing something, always trying to figure out how to be two (or three or four) places at once, always wishing I could clone myself.  My life is guided by a color-coded planner (a paper one, no less - I'm old school like that), a fistful of highlighters (for the aforementioned color-coding), the occasional need to decline invitations as much as it sucks to do so, and is kept afloat by gallons of coffee and a mantra to "just keep moving."

Except sometimes I do stop moving. I had to quit ice skating lessons because while I could conceivably fit a one-hour lesson into my schedule once a week, I could find no open ice time for practice that worked for me between the lessons, so I felt like the lessons were essentially a waste of money.  I wasn't progressing at all due to lack of practice, so when it came time to figure out what to cut, unfortunately the skating had to go.  I had started back to yoga in the spring (ironically to help with the balance and flexibility required for skating), so I turned my focus to my yoga practice instead.  I practice at least twice a week, but I would go more if I could - and over the summer before I went back to Starbucks I was going three times a week and life was just swell.  I joined a new gym and even hired a personal trainer for the first few sessions, but my cardio and lifting workouts don't happen with any regularity anymore because of my schedule.  Some days I'm faced with making the call on whether my body wants exercise or if it wants rest.  It's actually a pretty horrible choice to make.   Both are equally important.  I'm not lazy, but I can tell you that a workout or a yoga set when your body is completely taxed to its limit and you've worked 40 out of the last 72 hours on 4-5 hours of sleep per night is neither enjoyable nor beneficial.  So sometimes when my alarm goes off at 5:45 am and I've only just gone to bed sometime after midnight after a 14-hour day, I just can't do it.  I skip my 6:30 yoga class or the scheduled gym workout and tell myself "it's okay, you need the rest."  But then I wake up two hours later feeling guilty.  So I can't seem to win on any level with that one.

People ask me all the time how I do it.  That's relatively easy to answer.  The above-mentioned planner and highlighters and coffee and mantra, and the unfortunate turning down of some invitations...that's pretty much it.  But there are times I stop and wonder WHY I do this to myself.  I mean, really.  Why DO I work insane hours and sing in a chorus (which I love) and play in a band (which I also love but has only been an extremely part-time thing which makes me really sad because I would love to be more involved) and practice yoga and stay on track with my diet and still try to maintain some semblance of a social life? 

Well, part of it has to do with necessity, at least with the work situation.  It's a long story, but I'll try to explain.  I don't get benefits from my full-time job but rather they are provided through my part-time job.  In order to retain said benefits I need to be paid 520 hours per each semi-annual audit period (time worked and/or vacation time). This works out to an average of 20 hours per week.   Some weeks I might work 24 hours, some weeks I might work 16 hours.  Sometimes I pick up extra hours on a holiday when I'm off from my day job, some weeks I work 8 and cash in a little vacation time, whatever. It all usually comes out in the wash.  However, since I was on sabbatical for the first 9 weeks of this current period, I was granted a straight 20 hours for each of those weeks. Then upon my return I only worked 10 or 12 hours the first few weeks, so my average got skewed and I've had to work consistently 25-hour average weeks to keep up my hours.  And with the audit ending on Christmas plus the holiday concert season coming up and all the time off I'll need for that, I couldn't risk it.  So I've just been consistently working 65+ hour work weeks between the two jobs pretty much since late September.  This usually involves me working a full 8:30 to 5:00 day at the office and then working at Starbucks from 6:00 or 7:00 until 11:30 at night. On occasion I will pick up an early morning opener at Starbucks and work 4:30 to 7:30 am, then go into the office.  And then there have been a few times I've done the opening shift, then the office, then back to Starbucks for a closing shift.  Whatever it takes to get these hours in, I'm doing it. Because I HAVE to.   

As for the extracurricular stuff, I do it because I WANT to.  But I think at the root it comes from a combination of having a gazillion interests and curiosities and having grown up with parents who were always encouraging me to become involved in one thing or another.  I'm not sure if they did it because they thought it would help me build character and make friends (which it did) and maybe win me a scholarship down the line (which it didn't) or if they simply just wanted me out of the house and felt better if I was doing something wholesome like piano lessons and Girl Scout meetings. And as I got a little older, that "getting out of the house" thing became more important than ever, and stuff like art clubs and music ensembles and volunteering and working became super handy excuses to get the hell away from my parents and be around people who weren't up my ass about cleaning my room and doing my homework.  It helped foster my independence, helped broaden my horizons, helped introduce me to new people and ideas and knowledge and skills.  And it all worked out great.  I've met some amazing people, learned some great stuff, acquired experiences that some people only dream about.

But it's backfiring, because I'm fucking exhausted.  Every night is something, whether it's working or rehearsing, and it stays like that until Christmas, for the most part.  I'm not hosting any parties this season, I'll be doing most of my Christmas shopping online, and I'm not even sure I'll have time to decorate for the holidays.  I can't decorate until I clean, and I can't clean until I have some time.  So the mountain of laundry keeps getting bigger, the bathroom is nasty, the kitchen is gross, and the living room and dining room look like someone picked up my house, shook it really hard, and then set it back down slightly off its foundation.   My fiance has figured out not to trigger my rage by mentioning the disarray, and also learned recently that it's best not to try and help me clean by throwing stuff away when I'm not home (we have not yet moved in together). I adore him for his attempt and his patience, though.

Speaking of my fiance, I have put a moratorium on active wedding planning until after the holidays in an attempt to reduce the crazy-making.  We've got the "Big Three" down -- the venue, the photographer, and the DJ have all been secured, contracted, and paid deposits.  The wedding isn't for another 11 months, so I'm pretty sure taking this month off from ripping my hair out over guest lists and designing my invitations is perfectly acceptable.

And since this is still at its core a blog about my weight loss journey,  I should mention that I've been doing the ketogenic diet with a small measure of success.  I've lost a few pounds and my clothes are starting to fit better.  I feel okay (other than the aforementioned exhaustion plus a few hard-learned lessons about sugar alcohols) but it could be so much better if I could work out more.  I'm not shopping for a wedding dress until I've lost more weight, though, so if I keep up with what I'm doing, maybe by the time the holidays are over I'll be at a size where I feel comfortable trying on dresses.  It definitely serves as a good incentive.  It'll come together.  I hope.  

It might take a little longer than I'd like, but for now I'll just keep moving...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hell Froze Over

Um, so...

I'm engaged.

I'm getting MARRIED.

LOL, yes, that's correct!  My boyfriend (or fiancĂ© now, if you will, though I'm still getting used to using that oddball word) proposed to me on August 19th.  It was a sweet, private event - no fanfare, no orchestrated production.  It was just us, in my backyard after an otherwise uneventful dinner of grilled steak and salad.

It didn't come completely as a shock; I'd known for some time there was a proposal coming down the pike, but I had no clue when, where, or how he was going to do it.  While we had been preparing dinner I noticed he was a little out of sorts, but I blew if off, mainly because I knew if I thought he was acting funny because he was getting ready to propose and then didn't, it would sour my mood and I didn't want that to happen.  So I put it out of my mind, chalking his demeanor up to some other stuff on his mind.  Anyhow, during the course of dinner prep, he grabbed a plastic shopping bag and said, "I'm going to take this out to the yard to use for trash."  He'd never done that before, but I just shrugged and said, "okay, whatever."

After we finished eating he said, "Well, Dee, the reason I brought this bag out here was so that I could do this..." at which point he grabbed the bag, came around to my side of the table, placed the bag on the ground, and then got down on his knee. (so as not to get grass stains on his tan pants, which I thought was just about the most adorable thing EVER).  I said, "HOLY SHIT!" and started to cry.  He reached into his pocket and produced a box. "Are you serious?!" I asked, and he nodded his head.  He'd started to cry a little, too.  Then I said,  "Are you kidding me?!" He shook his head and placed the box on the table.  At this point we were both wiping tears from our eyes, and then I said, "Wait! You didn't ask me the question!"  And he said "Oh!!  Dee....will you marry me?"  And I shouted, "YES!" Then we laughed and kissed, and after I calmed down a minute I called my mother and gave her the good news.

My ring is gorgeous, too.  Three cheers for HTG for picking out EXACTLY what I wanted - a round solitaire in a plain, wide band.  It's timeless, classic, elegant., just beautiful in its simplicity..and so damn SPARKLY.  I seriously can NOT stop looking at it.  It's just so pretty.

By the way...that shopping bag?  It's blue.  So I saved it and I'm going to cut a piece off to stick inside my bouquet for the "something blue" part of my ensemble on our wedding day.

So anyway, shit just got real.  Like, really real.  Like, I have to squeeze my sausage-self into a wedding gown, and the whole dress shopping process will need to begin relatively soon.  I've watched enough "Say Yes to the Dress" to know that I can't wait 'til the last minute.  (I have also watched enough to know that there are a bunch of spoiled-ass brats out there, that apparently it's not just acceptable but expected to bring an entourage of friends and family who will make you question everything you ever thought you wanted in a wedding gown, and that my dress budget wouldn't even deem me worth of washing Kleinfeld's windows, let alone buy a dress in a place like it - but that's another blog post for another time).

My point is that I have to get on dress shopping in the next few months if I am to find what I want - because chances are, I'm going to have to try on a whole lot of dresses before that happens, and the wedding is a little more than a year away.  And while it is a common practice to buy a smaller dress and then attempt to diet into it,  I think it's much more practical (and a better motivator) to drop weight first and THEN shop for a dress.  I would like to be at or damn near my target wedding weight before I shop.  And damn it, if this isn't the thing that finally kicks my ass back into gear,  I don't know what is!

Wish me luck!


Friday, June 17, 2016

I'm Back. In So Many Ways.

Okay, so it's only been, um...14 months since my last update.  I've decided it's high time to start talking about this again because, well, things have gotten a little dicey in Deedee's Sleeveland, and I need some accountability, even if it's just in the form of putting it out in the blogosphere.

In 14 months I've been doing a lot of stuff.  What kind of stuff, you ask?  Well.  I'll tell you!  Since I've been on sabbatical from my part-time job (Starbucks is pretty awesome like that), I've managed to fill in the blanks.  My favorite blank to fill in has been that 4:30 am to 8:00 am blank on the weekends when I can sleep like normal people.  Also that 10:00 to 11:30 blank in the evening when I can go to bed early.  But trust me, I've been doing more than just getting a few extra hours of shut-eye.  Here's what I've been doing:

I've been doing a lot of ice skating.  I started taking lessons on a whim about a year and a half ago, and once I learned how to remain upright on a pair of skates I started getting into the sport aspect of it.  Eventually I'd like to compete, even on a low level, because it's something to work toward.  It'll be a long time before that happens, but in the meantime I take weekly lessons and fit in a practice here and there when I can find convenient ice time. If I could find the time to do it more, I would.  I've got some ideas on how to make that happen, but that's a little down the road.

I've been doing a lot of yoga.  HTG* so generously offered to pay for a monthly pass to my favorite yoga studio, on the stipulation that I actually use it.  So I go at least twice a week to make it worth his expenditure.  Yoga also helps with skating in terms of balance and flexibility, and has replaced my regular gym workouts (which I may or may not pick up again at some point - more on that later).

I've been doing a lot of singing.  It's been a pretty hefty year chorus-wise.  We didn't really get to take the summer off last year because we were invited to sing "Carmina Burana" at Chautauqua, which was a complete thrill.  The second time we did it, HTG and I went down there for the whole weekend and made a little mini-vacation out of it, complete with countryside wandering and farm-stand browsing.  We're thrill-seekers like that.

I've been doing a lot of thinking.  About life, love, my future, my career, the absolutely tragic state of the world...you know, the normal stuff.

And unfortunately...

I've been doing a lot of bad eating.  NOTHING has changed since my last update - you know, the one where I'd poured my heart out about how unhappy I was with my weight re-gain, how I vowed to change it THEN AND THERE?  Yeah.  I didn't do any of that.  And I gained another couple of pounds.  I stopped working out as much.   And then I actually stopped working out altogether.  There was a period of about three or four months when the only exercise I got was my once-weekly skating lesson and an occasional walk.  I didn't even get out to ski but twice, thanks to one of the tamest winters on record.

I love to cook.  I love to bake. HTG loves to eat.  And HTG loves me.  So the natural progression has been for me to gravitate toward eating what I've cooked and baked for him.  I'm not making excuses - I know that I'm doing the wrong thing.  It's really so much easier to eat what he's having (and so obviously enjoying while singing the praises of my culinary prowess), versus watching him eat a giant plate of pasta with homemade sauce and a big honking slice of blueberry pie while I sip a protein shake.  But I need to figure out a workaround, I know this.

I've stretched my sleeve a bit - I can definitely hold more food than I could before.  But I did a re-set recently and realized that all is not lost - I'm still only able to hold a little more than a cup of solid food.  Any more than that, or food mixed with any liquid, and my stomach lets me know in the most unpleasant way that it disagrees with my decision.  I've thrown up in my office garbage can more times than I can count, to be honest.  Seriously gross.

But it's not only the volume of food that I can't seem to get a handle on (big surprise there, as someone with a history of compulsive overeating), but it's the quality (another big surprise, as someone who does not have a history of compulsively overeating broccoli).  Unlike bypass patients, sleeve patients can tolerate sugar - not at first, but it's easy enough to build up a tolerance, something I've managed to do with relative ease.  The aftermath isn't always pleasant, but not unpleasant enough to completely deter me from eating that piece of cake, that bowl of ice cream, or that luscious caramel chocolate bar.  I eat bad stuff, I feel like garbage, and I find myself right where I was pre-sleeve; on the couch in a cloud of indigestion and self-loathing.  With pants that don't fit.  And then a week before I go to the doctor I step up my game and lose a few pounds in an effort to fake him out.  But who am I really faking out?  Who's the one who truly suffers?  Not him. It's all me. This sucks.

There have been markers along the way, signs pointing to the error of my ways.  Little blips on the radar that make me pay more attention and realize I've got to get a handle on this.  Remember my fat wrists?  They're back.  That's usually the first indication that I'm above a healthy weight.  Those have been going on now for at least the last year.  My ankles are swelling again - an indication that I'm consuming far too much sugar and salt and not nearly enough water.  None of my pants from last year fit me.  Even the ones that fit me as I wrote last April's entry are now in the "Will fit if I lose 10 pounds" bin. I now have at least five 18-gallon bins full of clothes that don't fit.  I talked about all of this 14 months ago, but did I do anything to fix it?  Nope.  And that, I think, is the most disheartening part of it all.

I realized back in December when my doctor (my regular PCP who I see every month) gave me a literal finger-wagging that I was in trouble.  I lost three pounds over the holidays, but it was the same three pounds I put back on the next month.  I have been hovering at this weight, this 35-ish pounds too much weight, for too long.  Yoga and skating are helping keep the hover from a launch to the next notch on the scale, but the number needs to not hover; it needs to descend.  Soon.  Now.  Because if it doesn't, and I end up feeling like all of this was a wasted effort...nope.  Can't deal.

A friend of mine is getting ready to be sleeved in a couple of days and it has served as an inspiration.  She cited me as an inspiration long ago, and I feel like I've failed her.  Here she is about to go under the knife in hopes of bettering her health, and here I am, three years out, complaining that I'm 35 pounds overweight and can't fit into my pants.  So now it's her turn to inspire me.

I've also decided that it's time to start blogging about stuff other than the sleeve stuff because all of it affects me and is all part of the bigger picture.  I used to have several blogs that were designated for different purposes, but ain't nobody got time for that.  I mean, seriously, I can barely maintain one blog, let alone three.  So look for more subjects beyond food and weight coming soon.

With that, I'm going to go fix myself a protein shake for lunch and stare longingly at the bin full of cute shorts and sundresses that don't fit right now.

---


*for those who don't know, HTG is my boyfriend. His initials are actually WNK, but that's no matter.  To the Internets at Large, he is and always will be HTG.  Long story.  If you don't know it, I'll tell you some day. :-)