Thursday, August 27, 2009

Frankenstein and Early Start Dates

I just finished Frankenstein! A great book, if I may say so myself. However, a very tedious beginning and a somewhat pedantically told tale at times. The intriguing plot makes it all worth it at the end, though.

My start date just got moved up another day. I guess I won't get to see my dad before I leave, after all. I understand that I really need to leave enough time to get there without rushing too much, or driving fifteen hour days without time to eat or rest. I was just really counting on that last day.

It's a really good thing that I'm taking a vehicle. I could never get this all on a bus or train. I counted three big boxes, one small one (filled with shoes, of all things), a suitcase, and two backpacks. I'm sure there'll be more. Who knew I had this much stuff?!? Granted, it is for almost a year, but still.

Happy trails!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

DVD Swap

I just received my first DVD from, a branch off from It was "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," and it arrived in perfect condition. My family and I watched it tonight, and had homemade pizza. All in all, a great night.

It was also a terrific break from the insane torture known as cashiering. Normally, being a cashier isn't so bad. Sure, you're on your feet all day, and you may develop strange blisters on the undersides of each toe, but doesn't $8.30 an hour (pre-tax) make up for that? So you may have to work sick. It isn't that hard of a job, right? Just lifting 24-packs of soda and forty pound bags of dog food. Anyone could do it, smiling all the while and dealing with kids who possess the strange desire to spin the bag carousel straight into their eyes. Easy as pie.

I think we seriously underestimate the skills of our Walmart cashiers. Not only are they keeping our children from getting impaled, but they are also dealing with the stress of bagging upwards of 700 items an hour consistently and correctly without any impatient outbursts. Not an easy feat.


At 10:45 last night, I was informed that I need to be in Washington on Monday. Not "the first week in September" as I was originally told, or "September 1st," which was the last mandate. August 31st. This Monday.

Since I can't even leave until late Friday night at the earliest, and it is a 26 hour drive, this will be very entertaining. It wouldn't be quite so bad if I had another driver going with me, but this is strictly a solo trip. My first ever. Yikes.

I have ridden a variety of buses all the way down through Central America, and taken an Amtrak train halfway across the US alone, but I have never driven that far by myself. Let's just hope a tire doesn't blow out, or the transmission dies. Both distinct possibilities in this car.

I'm just glad that I've spent the last few days transferring audiobooks and music onto CDs, and getting my bags packed. Hopefully the car will be back from the mechanic's soon so I can start loading it up, and seeing what fits.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Sometimes I feel like I'm destined for a crazy existence.

Take, for instance, the attempted kidnapping of two years ago, as I made my way back to the bank where I had parked my car from the Oriental food store just three blocks away. There's nothing like being followed in a car and having your car stormed to get your blood pumping. Especially considering that this happened in broad daylight, and I only just got my door shut and locked in time.

Or recall the unprovoked gunshot incident in Xela, Guatemala as I made my way home from class. I was just a few blocks from my house, in the middle of the day! I didn't know the guy, or even say anything to him! It's just one of those random things, I guess. My bad luck mixed with anti-American sentiment just creates trouble, I guess.

It seems like something crazy is always happening. Do I have the words "Pick me! Great target!" written somewhere on me?

I think I would be bored with an ordinary, uneventful life, but sometimes this just gets to be too much. I took a self-defense course, and learned Judo. I carry mace. I try to be as safe as I can be, never venturing out alone at night, taking all of the right precautions.

I just wish I could see the world as some of my friends do---as a welcoming, non-threatening place. The prospect of random violence is utterly foreign to them. It only happens to other people.

One good thing that came out of all of this---I vowed to always be doing something meaningful. I won't take a job that isn't personally fulfilling, because I know that life can change in an instant. I can only deal with this craziness if I know that I'm doing something meaningful. Bad things will happen, and my way of coping with them is to devote my life to doing what good I can, so that I don't feel regret when they do.

Maybe that's morbid, but for me, that's just life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


In a little less than a week, I will be heading out for my new job in Washington. I am still debating between going by Amtrak or taking a vehicle. My work site is not within walking distance, which is annoying, and it's a half hour commute by bus each way. It would cost nearly $30 in bus fares each month, just to get to and from work. Then again, it would probably cost that much or more in gas and maintenance.

I am finishing up random last pieces of business---burning downloadable audiobooks to CDs, returning the last of my library books, and taking all of the recycling down to the drop off center. I'm clearing all of my food out of the freezer and pantry (I have a ton of tofu and falafel mix), and wrapping up presents for the birthdays that I'll miss. I'm getting refills of medications that I'll need until I can get set up with a doctor in Washington. I'm also putting all of my student loans in order.

It seems like my list doesn't really shrink---there's always one more thing that I forgot to do. Moving is a little harder than I remember it being. It should be interesting!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time to Break Out My "Wedding Ring"

I felt like I was back in Guatemala again. "Are you married? Yes?" A short pause, then "Are you happily married?" As if it made a difference!

This might not have been quite so outrageous if the man asking this had not been wearing a cowboy hat. And sixty-five years old. And sporting a fake ID touting him as a product manager.

The customers just keep getting stranger and stranger.

I wonder who life has in store for me tomorrow?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WIC is Way More Complicated Than You'd Think

WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) vouchers have become the bane of my existence.

Typically, I will process one WIC voucher each day at Walmart. During training, we were strictly instructed that so much as a missing date on the voucher will make it null and void. The state won't pay, and we'll get into trouble. Too many mistakes like this one will cost us our jobs as cashiers, and the Walmart store its WIC acceptance.

Today I had a customer who was definitely struggling with the system. WIC is incredibly particular about brands and sizes of products. She had a voucher for fourteen jars of baby food. She had fourteen jars, but only two of them met WIC's strict guidelines. Eight had DHA added, one was a mix of a fruit and a vegetable, and five had rice and sugar added.

I reviewed the WIC guidelines for baby food with her from the little illustrated pamphlet she had been given, and she returned to try again.

This time she brought back eleven different jars of forbidden baby food, ladened with rice cereal and additives. I asked a manager to come over and review the rules with her once again, because she was insistent that these should be allowed. After a short talk, she set off again, waving off my offers of lending her sample jars to compare to the ones on the shelf.

We repeated this process twice more. I desperately wanted to leave my register, if only to help her find mutually acceptable baby foods and allow her to carry on with her life. However, I couldn't do this in the middle of the transaction, and I couldn't suspend it. Finally, I convinced her to let me scan a few of the acceptable baby food jars multiple times, finish the transaction, and shut down the register to grab the desired products.

Five tries and half an hour from the debacle's beginning, we finally finished, weary and glad to have that behind us. WIC is way more complicated than you'd think.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Room (or House) of Her Own

For nearly a week I will have the house to myself. I have a copy of "The Stepford Wives" to watch before I post it on, a stack of library books, and a fridge full of vegan food. I even have two days off from work!

This will be heavenly. I'll have the complete freedom to watch what I want, eat when I'd like, and come and go as I please. It's a tiny thing, but so important.

I haven't had this level of independence and freedom since I got back from Guatemala. I know that it's just one of the tradeoffs of living back at home again, but it can be a little tough after awhile. I just never expected to be living with my parents while I worked at Walmart to pay off student loan interest. It sounds like an undergrad horror story---graduating in debt and without job prospects.

It's not that I don't love my parents. I do. They are incredible! My dad taught my sisters and I how to use power tools and change the brakes on the car, and then turned around and taught us how to cook and sew. He's a true Renaissance Man. My mom is a teacher up on a Native American Reservation, and is always helping out people in need, whether they be complete strangers or good friends. I remember her picking up hitchhikers a few times---once a family with two little boys whose car broke down on the side of a deserted highway, and once a twenty year old woman whose boyfriend pushed her out of the car at an intersection. If she knows of a family that's having a tough time financially, she'll find a discreet way to help them out.

Though I really love my family, it's been a difficult adjustment. I lived independently for so long, 1,500 miles and two countries away, that I grew used to having a little more space and freedom. Somehow, it's been a little difficult to accustom myself to answering where I'll be at any given time and when I'll get home at night. I love that they're concerned, but I need a little space, and their confidence that I won't do anything too crazy.

This is going to be a great week.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Decades Reading Challenge

I'm about half done with the Decades Reading Challenge. So far I've finished "Fall of the House of Usher" from the 1830s, "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado" from the 1840s, and "Uncle Tom's Cabin" from the 1850s. I also read "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" from the 1890s and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" from the 1900s. "Life in the Iron Mill" was my 1860s book.

I am currently reading Frankenstein for my 1810s book. I'm listening to it on my ride to and from work, which makes the long drive just a little more bearable. I love audio books from the library!

I still need to read Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey. This book from the 1820s is an ebook, and can be read online for free at Project Gutenberg. I also need to read The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne for my 1870s book, and Treasure Island or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde for my book from the 1880s.

I still have a bit more reading to do, but nothing insurmountable. What are you reading now?

Reading Tutor in Washington

I just got offered a job in Washington as a reading tutor with Americorps. I interviewed on Friday while I waited for the results of a second interview with Alaska, and was called less than two hours later with a job offer.


My mom did a happy dance when she heard, and promptly called up my whole extended family. She broke out the wine, and made me vegan muffins. Her joy was unabashed and complete.

I, on the other hand, was in shock. This is a great offer, and the program and school directors sound terrific. It was just such a huge surprise to get an answer that fast.

I know I would absolutely love my position in Washington. I would be tutoring elementary school children in reading in a beautiful location. There is a huge public library, and the city isn't too big or too small. It sounds like a perfect job.

I'm just feeling a little stressed right now. China sent over a contract and seven other forms for me to peruse, and decide whether I would like to sign with them. I've been holding off on an answer until I know all my options.

I'm waiting to discover the results of my second interview with a domestic violence shelter in Alaska. Though the work would be incredibly difficult, it would also be rewarding. I'm really anxious to find out whether I have the position or not.

I just don't know what to do. Adding to the stress is the knowledge that any way I go, I'll be there by the end of the month. Do I stock up on sweaters, umbrellas, or Chinese language tapes? Do I look into train, bus, or plane travel? Where do I research? How can I find housing if I don't have a location nailed down yet?

These next few weeks will be interesting!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How to Earn the Eternal Respect and Appreciation of Your Cashier

I just got off of six nine-hour days at Walmart, and am I ever happy to be done. All of that standing is just torture after a while, even with gel insoles and soft mats behind the register. Since I scan between four and five hundred items an hour, I have to do a lot of bending and lifting. Making things even harder is my height, which makes bagging items in very low baggage carousel difficult.

Just a few hints if you shop at Walmart, to earn the everlasting respect and admiration of your cashier:
  1. Don't take your heavy items out of your cart. We know you're just trying to be helpful (and guys, possibly impress us), but we can scan the items in your cart. Lifting one bag of forty pound dog food may not be that big of a deal for you, but try lifting that same bag day after day, hour after hour. It's just not necessary.
  2. Ditto for the 24 packs of water and pop. These really wear on you after a while. My muscles are sore enough after the end of the shift. No need to make them any sorer.
  3. Don't fill out your checks. The machine can fill them out for you, and 95% of the time, you get them back anyway.
  4. We will make exceptions if the line is short, or the individual is sweet. Just don't do it on the Fourth of July, or when there are three impatient customers behind you.
  5. We remember the good customers! The sweet ones, who always ask about our day and kindly put up with any crazy bureaucracy mandates will eagerly receive our absolute best service. We'll bug customer service to get your favorite items in stock, and happily help you load your cart.
  6. Never, ever yell at a cashier. We're working really long days with aching backs and the pressure to pay all of our bills. We are trying to do everything we can to make your experience a good one, but there are some factors that we just can't control (such as if your card is denied, or you forgot your ID for cigarettes and alcohol.) Yelling doesn't help, and it might just make your next trip through line a little less enjoyable. We remember the good customers, and the bad ones. Please be a good one!
  7. Don't give the cashier your phone number! It makes it incredibly awkward to be pursued while at work, and how can you refuse the number of a paying customer and not make them unhappy?
  8. Similarly, do not leer at your cashier or refuse to leave the area once you've checked out. It's slightly stalkerish, and we don't want to have to get security to escort you out. Cashiers don't just have the option to walk away. We have other customers in line, and a till to man. Show some respect.
  9. Never make suggestive comments to a cashier. They are inappropriate. See tip eight.
  10. Please understand that as annoying as it is, we have to get certain information to process your checks. We may be prompted to enter your ID number off of your license, and your phone number. Don't just make a phone number up (this has happened). We need this information to process your checks, and if we don't get the right information, the cashier is in trouble, and can lose her job. You may be in trouble too. Just politely offer the information. We are sorry about the hassle, but it is just something we can't control.
  11. We do price match with area grocery stores. If it's in the store circular, just tell us and we'll match the price. We want to make your life easier, and reducing the number of stores you have to shop at can do that.
  12. Most of all, enjoy your shopping experience! If you can't find a product, tell the cashier! We'll forward the request. We want you to walk away satisfied. Tell us what we can do to make that happen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Amy's Rag Bag (Cloth Pads)

I just organized a barter with Amy's Rag Bag. I sent in my old, worn-out pajama pants, and received four pieces of a pad for each pair. I was able to specify the style of the pad, and the colors and themes. I'm now the proud owner of two Halloween pads, and several dark blue and green pads. These pads are just gorgeous.

These are possibly the most reasonably priced pads that I've seen on offer. Since she is willing to trade and barter (books, cookies, cloth, and more), they are affordable to just about anyone. There are tons of different colored fabrics available, and pads can be made out of organic cotton, flannel, terrycloth, or cotton. They can have a non-leak core piece, too.

You buy the pads piece by piece, to best fit your cycle. On light days, you may only need the topper, without a core. Heavier days, you may use an extra long protective piece, an absorbant middle layer, and a topper.

Amy is willing to make recommendations based on a short questionaire you can fill out, to find your best pad combinations. Everyone's period is a little different, so the products you use should be specialized to your specific needs. Her responses are very thorough, and prompt.

I wear my pads as a backup layer for my Diva Cup, and they work wonderfully. They are so beautiful and soft, and so unlike all of the commercial pads which can chafe and irritate. Best of all, they are washable, and don't contribute to landfill waste.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reading Challenges

Today was the library's book sale, and I picked up a ton of books for Paperback Swap.

I'm currently listening to Frankenstein as a book on tape for the Classics Reading Challenge. It is perfect for my commute to work (about half an hour each way). It's a very gripping book.

I just finished Artemis Fowl: the Time Paradox for the Juvenile Literature Reading Challenge. I have now completed all of the Artemis Fowl books. I also read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This is a very popular book up here with the elementary school aged kids. It's not a half bad book.

I read Ray Bradbury's Somewhere a Band is Playing for last month's Classics book. This was a strange, strange book---a little like Hotel California in it's theme (you can enter, but you can never leave). I have to admit, I liked Farenheit 941 a whole lot more.

I did Marley and Me as a fun read. The ending is so sad! The rest of the novel just had me laughing and laughing. I'm glad my lab isn't that crazy. Hyper and attention hungry, yes; crazily destructive, no.

What are you reading now?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Alaska Interview

I just finished my follow-up interview with a domestic violence shelter in Juneau, Alaska. It only lasted about fifteen minutes. I can't decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

They should let me know by the end of the week whether I have the position or not. They have one other applicant to interview. Since China is waiting for an answer, I hope to learn more soon.

I would be working with children, which should be fun. I'm sure it will be stressful, especially given the children's history of abuse. However, I enjoy challenging work, and I love knowing that I'm making a difference. That's one of the reasons I'm debating about China. Teaching really rich people just isn't very rewarding, particularly in a high poverty area.

This should be an interesting week, career-wise.

Monday, August 3, 2009

China Awaits!

I just got an e-mail from English First in China that my application has been processed, and I am to contact the local staff at the academy to arrange for my visa and flight. Wow. I didn't expect that it would go through so fast. The question is, should I go?

I've been applying to tons of Americorps programs in the States, and two look like sure shots. One is in Juneau, Alaska, wish would be awesome. Should I stay here and pay down my student loans, or go to China?

I really want to travel. I enjoy the thrill of terror of being in an absolutely foreign environment, and I love getting a first hand view of how different societies operate. I deeply enjoy learning the other side of the story about US interactions and local sentiment about Americans. It's really intriguing to me.

At the same time, this is just all happening so fast. I just want to slow it down a little, until I can look at all my options.

Besides, if I go to China, I want to make a difference, not just teach the outrageously rich. There are other opportunities through my old college that I can join next year. I can help teach in a university. However, this opportunity is now, and working with kids.

I just can't decide.