More Praise for the Internet

Sorry lovelies, but today my head is just a giant pile of mush. I had a few glasses of red last night and the got assaulted with cuddles all morning by the surprisingly loving Bowser Kitten. It’s already after 11am, and I have done exactly nothing all day. I played a game on my phone, checked my Twitter, messaged my mum to see how dad is doing (she’s supposed to be at work, so I can’t just call), and have been hiding in my room from roommates all morning. Even the super snuggly Bowser Kitten is in a mood, burrowed into the blankets on the bed with only his little head poking out.

I just can’t wrap my head around anything today. I’m going over to-do lists, trying to get things done, but no one else around here gets anything done so I get side-tracked. This morning, I got up to make coffee around 9:30. Instead of my usual “put the coffee on, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, go grab coffee” routine I do most mornings, I had to wash a sink full of dishes, scrub old macaroni and some sort of brown sauce off the counters, and clean off the stove. My 10 minutes routine was more than half an hour thanks to that! And I seem to be doing everything in super slow motion today, too.

I think part of this is because I spent so much time looking at my schedule for work. They decided to open our store later on Sundays for the holidays, and the first night of this is the night of our Christmas Party. The Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend and I are supposed to head out to the party around 6:30 with the work BFF and her fiance, but I am scheduled until 8:15pm. So I have to do a little finagling of the schedule, perhaps a little bribery to switch some things around and get an earlier shift. That’s my only 8-hour shift that week, so I can’t afford to just give it up. Actually, it’s one of the few 8-hour shifts I have in the 21 straight days I’ve been scheduled. Yes, after working a 30-day stretch and getting hell from my manager for working that many days, I take two whole days off just to be thrown into a 21-day stretch. If I hadn’t taken this past weekend off, then I would be working 53 straight days.

There are a few really crappy things that come with this. First off, in our collective agreement it states that we can only be scheduled 6 days a week unless we agree to pick up hours on that 7th day. I could totally go to management and tell them I can’t do all these days in a row, and they’d just give away a shift a week. But they don’t have to make up those hours anywhere on the schedule for me. That means I would be losing 5-8 hours a week just to have a day off. Another crappy thing is that I’m working 7 days a week, and still not being scheduled for 40 hours. In the past, I’ve had weeks where I’ve worked 7 days and not even gotten 30 hours! If I want to pay the bills, then I have to work all of these shifts somehow.

The weird thing is, my managers just gave me hell for doing a 30-day stretch! True, part of the streak was my own doing. When people needed shifts covered, or we knew in advance that we would be short on certain days, I volunteered to pick up hours. But I also did that with the assumption that the days off I was already scheduled for later in the schedule would remain as days off for me. I’d plan for a 14-day stretch, only to have my day off on day 15 rescheduled as a closing shift, give me 20+ days. Even at the very tail end of my streak, I was supposed to get days 27 and 28 off, but the manager tweaked that and gave me shifts instead! On day 30, when I made it known that I had survived yet another 30-day stretch, my manager said I can’t do long stretches anymore and have to take days off. Then he turns around two days later and schedules a 21-day stretch!

All of this scheduling, re-scheduling, and long stretches makes having a life outside of work nearly impossible. It’s already hard to schedule around my job since my shifts change so often. I can be scheduled to close at 4:15, just to get a call at 8am to come in at noon instead. Or I can get a highly coveted morning shift with the expectation to be out of there by 3pm, only to get extended until 6pm. And we just found out recently that the company as started to log everything you do regarding the schedule, possibly to use against you. Every time you request a day off, call in sick, refuse to switch shifts or come in early or pick up an extra shift…….. this all goes in a report they add to your annual review. They even log the reasons why you turn down shifts!  This makes scheduling anything else in my life damn near impossible!

Take, for instance, doctor’s appointments. It’s time for my full physical, something that I simply cannot ignore. We have a history of cancer in my family, and cervical cancer is one of them. I’ve had to have cryosurgery before, to get rid of pre-cancerous cell growth that was caught before it became full-blown cancer. It’s uncomfortable enough for me to make an appointment like this already, but my doctor left his practice and was replaced by a brand new doctor. My down-under exam will be my first time meeting this doctor! I have been trying to find the time to schedule this appointment for almost a month now, and it looks like it will be another few weeks before I know for sure I can have the time to do so without penalizing myself at work. I have a physical to book, moles that need to be checked, I haven’t had my eyes checked in 6 years and need to get new glasses, and I should probably see a dentist someday to check on that wisdom tooth that started coming in a little over a year ago.

What really gets to me, though, is that one of the only ways to really advance in this company is to learn French. Actually, not being bilingual is one of the things that has really been holding me back from getting a government position in my field. There are places around here where I could learn French, but it’s impossible to both afford this and take the time to make it to these classes with the way schedules are done. The work BFF has it in her file that she is only available until 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are 8 different shifts that the manager has given out on the current schedules that she could possibly work on these days. Still, since she’s not available to close, he doesn’t schedule her at all most weeks. Taking even a few hours off of my availability each week to take French classes could mean giving up 10-16 hours of paid work each week! I really can’t afford to do that.

That’s where the third great love of my life comes in (the first two obviously being AAB and currently hiding Bowser Kitten): the internet. Ever check out Duolingo? It’s free online language lessons! I haven’t been able to keep up with mine much lately, but I’ve been chipping away at them bit by bit. As you learn, you have the option to strengthen your skills and go over things you’ve previously learned. They even have a TinyCards page with little flashcards to help you keep up with your skills. Also, they have an app that lets you learn on the go. And it’s not just French you can learn on there. There are 27 different courses for English speakers to help them learn other languages!

Duolingo isn’t the only free online resource for learning, either. Go do a Google search for free online classes. There are a tonne of resources out there! One of my personal favourites (even though I have a hard time finishing courses sometimes) is Coursera. They have a tonne of courses that you can either take for free (just to gain the knowledge and upgrade your skills), or you can pay to take them to get official credits from schools around the world. You can specialize in things from every area of knowledge in their catalog, from marketing to teaching English as a second language.

Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for on there? Well, try out Open2Study, an Australian-based website that follows the same model. What I love about this site is that it features a lot of self-paced courses. The problem I have when taking online courses is that I’ll start one, get all excited about it, and can only go so far at a time. You have to do a little bit each week, which kind of kills my motivation. With my constantly changing schedule, and putting my writing before anything else online right now, I tend to just drop courses after the third week. With self-paced courses, you can do as little or as much as you want at a time. Have a day off? Laying in bed sick all day? Don’t feel like watching reruns of Friends on Netflix yet again after a long day? You can throw on a lecture video, pull up some online notes, and do just as much work as you’re feeling up to at the time.

One thing I’ve been meaning to look into more is learning a bit of web development online. I learned some very basic HTML way back in my MySpace days, but pretty much stopped there. Having some basic development tools is essential for a lot of jobs out there now. Web development is becoming the new “proficient in Microsoft Office” in resumes. There are a tonne of resources out there, which I haven’t really evaluated for you guys at all. Like I said, this is something I’m looking into, not something I’ve actually thrown myself into yet. Still, I’ve been going over the sites listed here in this article. I’ve heard of a few of them before, like Khan and Code Academy. Maybe one of you out there has a little more insight into which online sites would be best for someone looking to learn online, and would like to leave a comment for us.

It’s actually mind-blowing how much there is that you can learn online. Did you know Yale has free classes online? University of Toronto? MIT? I mean, how great would that look on a resume? “While employed with [XXX], I independently upgraded my skills by taking online courses through both MIT and Yale”. I mean, it just sounds cool. Like, I live in the little border town, working my little retail job, working on my homework for MIT. Need an excuse to get out of a social situation? “Sorry, I can’t make it to your Silly Sock Social and Spritzer Mixer. I have to finish a paper for that class I’m taking at Yale.”

And for anyone who doesn’t think that any of this free online learning is “official” enough for them (I’ve heard that complaint from a lot of people, actually), or you specialized education like a Masters Degree or a few university classes to finish your major, there’s something out there for you too. Almost every single university out there now offers some sort of online learning. All through my two degrees, I took at least two online classes a year, usually during the summer months. I was a Teaching Assistant for an online Sociology class for three years. For us Canadians, there is even an entire university dedicated to online learning: Athabasca University. This online school is a collection of majors, courses, degrees, and certificates from universities all over Canada. Most Canadian universities will allow you to substitute online classes from Athabasca for courses you’re unable to take physically at your school for whatever reason. It’s just a matter of filling out some paperwork and using the online classes kind of like transfer credits. You can pick up a few classes here, or do a full degree. I’ve looked into a few certificates recently that would go great with my degrees, and really add something to my resume!

I don’t know, I’m in one of those moods where I feel like my entire life is falling apart, and I need to do something to get out of here. Like I said, my schedule doesn’t allow me to take the time off to upgrade my education, so I’ve been looking into all of this online learning a lot lately. These classes are perfect for anyone who needs to do a bit of learning but doesn’t have the time to dedicate the same time each week to physically going to a class.

I do have some words of warning, though. Like I said, I took quite a few online classes at my university and was the Teaching Assistant for one course. I know how easy it is to blow off work for these classes. When I had to physically go into class and participate in lectures, go to labs, hand in work, then that pressure to keep up was the motivating factor in me getting anything done sometimes. With my online classes, I could put off doing any reading at all until just before an assignment or paper was due. I once took a course and didn’t even take the plastic wrapping off the textbook until more than halfway through the semester! Unless there is some sort of schedule to the class that makes you hand things in, or take tests and quizzes, and all of this is at regular intervals, then it is ridiculously easy to dig yourself an academic hole that is stupid crazy hard to climb out of.

So, is there anything out there that you need to learn? Always wanted to learn a little bit about Ancient Rome? High school Spanish teacher always tell you that you’d never be able to learn more than a few words of Spanish, and you want to prove him wrong? There is something out there for everyone online. You just need to know where to look for it.*

*Google. Google is where you look for it. Type it into the damn search and look for it.

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NaNoWriMo: Happy November!

Well, Halloween is over. I wore tiny hats, devil horns, and various animal ears every day for the last few weeks at work. The past week or so, my makeup got gradually more and more “festive”. I got to be a witch, a bloodied patchwork doll, the devil, multiple cats, and Chucky from the Child’s Play movies (costume is taken from The Bride of Chucky and beyond when he had the stitches on his face). The always adorable and fierce Bowser Kitten wore his little cape and cowered in the corner whenever trick-or-treaters came around. I got all of my fun out before the first of November, so I can thoroughly enjoy the stress that comes with this day.

You see, a lot has to happen in the next few weeks. We’re still showing the bedroom downstairs and looking for a new roommate. Two of the roommates I have right now are silent nightmares. Between the fruit flies, the smells, and the lack of internet money coming my way (account is in my name), that’s enough to drive a sane girl crazy, and I’m not even that sane to begin with!

Add to that a bit of seasonal stress. My mother has been bugging us for Christmas lists for a little while, and today is the day that the bugging goes Full Throttle. I have to start looking for Christmas gifts for everyone else and need to order stuff online soon if it’s going to get here for Christmas. Things at work start to get busier, and it wears on everyone. I mean, it’s great that I maxed out my hours this week (we’re only allowed 40 hours in the payroll system each week), but I’m doing that over 7 days. I’m looking at another 30-day stretch at work, in the beginning of our busiest season. New rules with scheduling might even mean that we don’t get the 5X 8-hour shifts a week we usually get closer to Christmas, and might get spread out to 7 days a week then too. So, I’m looking at ZERO days off this holiday season, and have to start planning accordingly.

The little things start piling up this time of year, especially with the lack of time off. I burst through the inner thighs of my work pants yesterday, and my steel-toe workboots very badly need to be replaced. My schedule is constantly changing at the drop of a hat, so I don’t have time to hit any stores not in the plaza I work in. That means no mall, no clothing stores, no boot shop, and no international grocers for my mushroom meat. I have some deep cleaning around the house to get done. My plates, mugs, and cutlery are constantly going missing and suddenly reappearing filthy and crusted in old food in the sink. Our bedroom is a mess, there’s baking to be done, I have student loan repayment paperwork to work on, work training piling up, holiday crafting to start, and a precious kitten who has just discovered squirrels exist outside our bedroom window.

And then you add in NaNoWriMo.

Apparently, November is National Novel Writing Month. The goal: write every single day in the month of November on the writing project of your choosing, and reach at least 50,000 words. It doesn’t have to be a full-out novel, it can be anything you wish. And this year, my blog is the anything I wish.

You see, I keep meaning to update this blog. I have ideas, I write things down and throw them in a little file folder to go back to later, but then later never seems to come. I keep putting other things before my writing. I’ll think I have a great idea for a post. But then I’ll see a sock on the floor, or realize I haven’t’ re-watched every episode of Daria in months, or I’ll find a make-up tutorial or a 10-hour Vine compilation or a video of Cher blinking for 10 minutes and get distracted. I put everything ahead of my writing, and treat it like a hobby I only get to indulge in every once and a while.

Well, NaNoWriMo doesn’t let me do that. The whole point is to find the time to put writing first. 50,000 words in one month is only 1,667 words a day if you write every single day. I can ramble that much a day no problem. This isn’t going to necessarily be my best writing, and there will more than likely be quite a bit of shit-posting going on, and I’m fine with that. The whole point for me is to get back into writing every day, to get those topics off the Post-Its and onto the screen. It’s about getting back into curling up at night with my notebooks and writing down ideas I had during the days, organizing my paper scraps into a folder and actually doing something with them. It’s about getting the ever-fuzzy and precious Bowser Kitten and the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend ready for the stress that comes with me getting back into writing.

Ah yes, the stress. It’s not like it’s going to be a breeze to get through this. True, I can babble on like crazy if I need to hit my word count. I’m a natural born babbler, who can talk anyone’s ear off if given the chance. It’s one of my superpowers, actually. A creepy guy hitting on you? Here, let me annoy him away with my incessant whining. Extra stinky customer following you around the store? I’ll explain the difference between wine grapes to him in as many words possible until he just wanders off. It’s a gift, really. Problem is, I can’t harness this power for good most of the time. Yes, I can ramble out loud. It’s putting it all down on paper or computer screen, in well-thought-out and meaningful words that stumps me.  It can take me multiple tries to sit down and get a paragraph out if the words just don’t want to flow out of my skull.

And finding the time to sit down like that is hard when your schedule is more of a possible guideline. My manager, who is pretty damn awesome in every other way, isn’t the greatest with schedules. Come to think of it, all of the managers we’ve had at this job have had scheduling as their major weakness. Maybe, just maybe, they should be covering that at their “management meetings” instead of how to win friends and influence people yet again. The schedule goes up 4 weeks in advance. It will change a minimum of 7 times before it becomes the schedule for next week.  Once a shift is 7 days away, the manager has to get your approval before changing it on the schedule. Between sick calls, hockey practices, kids’ recitals, a coworker with a major health issue, and the days getting shorter and busier, our schedule board is a mess of Post-Its and pen marks by the time the week starts. My 4 hour Sunday shifts usually wind up becoming 7-8 hours. My “day off” is suddenly a regular work day. This past Monday is a great example of the craziness that is our schedules:

I was scheduled to work 4:15pm until 9:15pm. That’s my usually Monday night closing shift I get scheduled for every week. At 8am, my assistant manager called me. He has a bad back, sneezed too hard and pulled a muscle in his back. Could I come in 9:45am to 2:45pm instead to cover for him and help unload the delivery truck for the day? Hop out of bed, run for the shower, inhale some coffee, and slap some red lipstick on my eyes (it was Devil’s Night, so I was wearing devil horns and red makeup to work like I do every year). Stop to grab an energy drink on the way to work, and make it there 10 minutes early to throw on a uniform shirt and smooth out my apron. Perpetually Absent Co-Worker is sitting in the office, talking to the manager. Two minutes before the store opens at 10am, the two take off to the coffee shop for a “talk”. Fifteen minutes later, they’re back and the Perpetually Absent Co-Worker announces he’s leaving for a few weeks to attend to his illness. That 2:45pm leave time became 6:15pm, giving me an 8-hour shift. My full week of closing shifts became mostly morning shifts peppered with a few closings. My just under 30 hour work week became 40 hours with all the schedule changes that were made since the schedule was first put up.

Having an ever-changing schedule like this makes it hard to do things. I’ve been meaning to make an eye doctor appointment for months, but never know when I’m going to get called into work. I can pledge that I’ll get up early every morning and write for an hour before I get ready for work. But “early” is different for a morning shift than it is for an afternoon shift. If I’m scheduled to close the store, there’s no way I’m waking up at 5:30am to write for an hour, which is what I’d have to do for a 9am shift. But if I plan on working a closing shift, but get called at 8am for a day shift again, there goes the whole “writing for an hour before work” idea.

You have to add to that the anxiety and depression I battle. Finances and schedule changes are two things that trigger them. If I’m not getting enough hours, cue a panic attack! In the back of my mind, I’m constantly worrying about bills and groceries and being able to feed both me and the Bowser Kitten this week. It’s damn near impossible for me to concentrate on writing with all of this flying through my head. But then on the flip side is working too many days. I have no problem doing a 40-hour work week. When I had midnights or mornings of 8-hour shifts, I loved it. Working a 5-day 40-hour work week is great for me. It’s when that work week is 7 days, and the hours aren’t quite at 40 hours. I do 20+ day stretches, picking up the odd extra hour here and there to get closer to that 40-hour mark. Even doing 7 days a week, my biweekly paycheck is barely over 60 hours. I had a day off in the middle of October. With the Perpetually Absent Coworker being on leave, it looks like I probably won’t get a day off again until the middle of November, when I booked the weekend off for my mother’s annual birthday celebration at the Christmas Homes Tour. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a day off earlier that week like I was scheduled. But even at that, I don’t have a day off scheduled again until mid-November. I’m guaranteed to have a 26-day stretch, which could be turned into a 30-day stretch if my mid-week days off are taken away. All of that time, without a day off to get things done or just zone out from everything, gnaws away at my mental health. Without a day to recharge fully, I’m like a 6-year-old smartphone: I can recharge all freaking night, but that charge is only going to last a few hours at best before I’m just drained.  And when I’m drained, I wind up sitting at my computer and watching Vine compilations or old episodes of Friends instead of writing.

So, this is not going to be an easy month. But bring on the stress! Bring on the 20-day work weeks, and the construction paper Christmas crafts, the creepy roommate who smells like old bologna and who hoards old socks. Bring on the tears, the papercuts, and the massive amounts of shit-posts. I just have to keep reminding myself that while getting up and writing every single day is going to be rough, it’s going to be rougher on you Sunshine since you’re the ones who have to read all this mindless brain goop I’m posting.

Happy NaNoWriMo!

It’s Impossible to Schedule!!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I absolutely love about my job. I have a bunch of regular customers who are awesome-sauce. My co-workers (for the most part) are like family now. It’s close enough that I can walk there.

I just wish I had a real schedule!

Does anyone else out there have this problem?

Take today, for instance. Last week, I was scheduled for the 4:15-9:15 closing shift for tonight. Over the weekend, that shift was changed to 12-5. Last night, our assistant manager noticed that we only have two people working in the morning for an almost one dozen skid delivery, and my shift was changed to 9-2. Mind you, this change happened around 8:45 (when we close at 9pm). Then, while I was making my dinner after work last night around 9:45, the assistant manager texts me and changes my shift AGAIN to 9-5:30pm.

Even when I get my schedule, I can’t make any real plans. I had to remind my boss a dozen times that I couldn’t work last Wednesday morning (got a closing shift instead) because I finally got a doctor’s appointment and couldn’t cancel again. I’ve had to cancel plans so many times the last few months, because the schedule changes so often and I have no real control over it.

And this is the time of year when I pick up most of my hours. In the winter, it’s so dead that I’m lucky to get 4 hours a week sometimes. Right now, I’m doing 25-30 hours a week (which still isn’t ideal, but it’s something while I look for a permanent job). So if the schedule changes and I already have plans, I can’t just give up a shift to keep my plans. I can’t afford that at all right now.

And I’m on closing shifts almost exclusively. Today, I picked up a morning shift (which I love!!!!). Next week is all closings. The following week I get one 3-8 and the rest are closings: same with the week after that. I wouldn’t really care, except I’m up around 5am every day when the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend has to get up for work. There are days when I’ve already put in a 12 hour day of writing, cleaning, running errands, moving furniture, job hunting, and then more cleaning before I even leave for work. And then, by the time I get home, I have maybe 45 minutes (if I can bum a ride home from a co-worker; otherwise, it’s more like 15 minutes) to make and eat dinner, have a glass of wine to relax, wash my face, brush my teeth, feed and pet the cat, clean up the kitchen at the end of the day, check my emails, make lunches for the next day, and get to bed so I can be up again bright and early the next morning. Weeks that I work just closing shifts, I’m lucky to get 4-5 hours sleep some nights, and then can’t fall back asleep in the morning to save my life.

So Sunshine, is your work schedule driving you crazy? Crazy enough that you can’t even blog properly because you never know when you’ll be home, so you wind up with a notebook full of ideas but no time to type them (I hear that’s common).

Drop me a line, leave a comment, tell me your scheduling nightmares. Let’s all share the miserym so it’s a little easier to get through!