Thrifting Haul

The office that I work in has a beautiful view of Lake Mendota.  We are right on the edge of the lake and get to see it all—the sailboats, the crew team practice, the sunsets.  I love it and I’m thankful every day that I’ve got a nice view.  The attorneys’ offices have floor to ceiling windows and the interior walls are glass, as well.  Someone had the kind idea to face the assistant desks outward, so us lowly staff get to look out at the view, too.  Here’s the winter view:

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With all that glass, and being on the lake, the office tends to be on the cold side.  It’s not easy to type when you can’t feel your fingers.  When I’m at home, I have three or four “grandma” sweaters that are hideous and warm.  Not exactly something to wear to work.  So, this morning I had a cup of coffee and headed to my favorite store ever—-Goodwill.

The east side Madison Goodwill is huge.  I almost always find something.  I’ve scooped up Nine West tall leather boots for $7 (my to-date number one score).  Any brand you covet, I’ve found there:  Banana Republic, GAP, The Loft, The Limited, Express.  

So, with some patience, here is my haul for the weekend:

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A pink and blue flannel perfect for casual Friday or camping.  I’m excited to wear this next fall with skinny jeans and tall boots.

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A long, knit cream open sweater.  I’ve been looking for longer pieces that cover my butt since I have cardigans in almost every color.

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A white cardigan.  This white is so crisp!  Gap, size Medium for $4.29.  Looks like excellent condition, too.  This was a missing piece in my wardrobe.

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A gray blazer.  My number one requirement for a blazer is that it isn’t too bulky (think oddly placed pockets) and this one caught my eye.

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Long gray open cardigan.  Pretty classic addition.  I have a shorter gray cardigan with buttons.  I might just keep this at work incase I get cold.  I can see this going with almost every outfit.

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Grand total:  $19.  Well, it was closer to $26, but I had a return credit.  Once you go thrift, you never go back…to full price.  

 

 

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Blogroll

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When I get home from work, I usually spend a few hours staring at my iPad.  An eight-hour day of staring at my work computer doesn’t limit my desire to do some serious internets consumption when I get home.  I’ve HEARD of the place called outside, but with weather like this, who can blame me for wanting to stay indoors…or crawl into bed for some iPad time at 7:00 at night?  Yep, it’s a wild life.

Here are my top blogs and websites:

 Fitness

 I started reading fitness blogs in 2009 when I turned 25 and vowed to get healthier.  They were very inspiring and kept me on track and gave me useful information and were way cheaper than fitness magazines.  These are some of the current blogs I keep up with:

Runs For Cookies

Katie lost 125 pounds the only way (the hard way) and has kept it off for years.  She blogs about running and maintenance.

Run Eat Repeat

Monica is one of my favorites.  She’s funny and posts daily (sometimes twice daily) so there’s always new content.  She has tons of pictures and gifs.  (Anyone else still reeling from the fact that the creator of gifs recently told us it’s pronounced with a hard-J, as in Jiffy peanut butter?  Ugh.)

Fit and Free Emily

Emily deals with binge eating disorder and writes very open and honest posts about it.

FASHION

Who doesn’t need a little inspiration in this department?  I look to these blogs to get inspired and see what real women are wearing.

Outfit Posts

This lady puts together new outfits every single day.  She dresses in a classic style, very work friendly.

Refashionista

This crazy chick buys the most hideous thrift store clothing and transforms them into something wearable.  It is pretty amazing to see the final product.  Also, she pulls lots of strange faces in her pictures, which is entertaining in itself.

Thrift and Shout

Gotta love some good thrift store finds!  Lindsey’s got great style and you can also buy what she finds on eBay.

Cha-Ching

Money!  As we start to navigate the world of 401(k)s, 401(a)s, 403(b)s, and Roth IRAs, I am looking around for any information I can get my hands on.  In addition to listening to podcasts by Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, I check in with these blogs.

Our Freaking Budget

Johnny and Joanna are real people struggling to hammer out their finances.  Plus, they are a cute couple and have a good-looking baby.

You Need A Budget

YNAB is informative and has some common sense advice.  They also run a corresponding podcast.

Budgets are Sexy

New daily content and a pretty good variety.  I’m still not convinced budgets are sexy, but money is!

Those are the highlights.  I’d love to hear what blogs you read.  I read many others and am always looking to hear about new ones.

Five Jobs in Five Years

I’ve held five different jobs in five years.  Which is bad.  You aren’t supposed to change up professional jobs every year and you aren’t supposed to stay at a job less than a year.

Well, I’ve done it and I’ve lived to tell about it, and, in my situation, it turned out to be a very positive thing.  Here is what happened, why it happened, and what I learned.

Jobbie No. 1 (2 years):  I began working at a small law firm in Minnesota in 2008.  I was a desperate grad school student looking for a job. I pulled out the yellow pages and sent a cover letter and my resume to EVERY LAW FIRM in the city.  Only one bit, but it was the right one for me.  I started as the front desk receptionist and worked part-time.  It was a great place to get my bearings in the legal field and learn what a subpoena, affidavit of service and pleadings were.  I worked there for two years, moving up from the receptionist role to a legal assistant/paralegal.  I gained a ton of experience and was thrown into a hands-on learning environment.  In May of 2010 I graduated from my grad school program and wanted to move back to Wisconsin, but I needed a job first…

Jobbie No. 2 (3 months):  I made several trips from Mankato to Madison in April-May of 2010.  I knew I needed to find a job before I quit my current one and my lease was running out.   Luckily, I found one at another small law firm in downtown Madison.  I would be the sole support staff to five attorneys, meaning I would be receptionist and paralegal.  Promises were made that they would hire another support person and I would be the paralegal.  They did hire a support person, but I still maintained all receptionist duties and was frustrated at the slow progress and lack of communication.  I became very unhappy and felt like I took a step back and became resentful.  After three months, I decided to start looking for another job, just on a whim, just to see…

Jobbie No. 3 (2 years):   This was the big league, a huge law firm that handled every type of law with 50+ attorneys and 50+ staff.  The next firm I interviewed at was very understanding about why I wanted to leave Jobbie No. 2.  Of course, they said, I was being underutilized and no wonder I was unhappy.  They gave me a 25% pay raise and a 401k and we were off.  The time I spent there was pretty tumultuous.  I shifted job assignments with regularity for a myriad of reasons, and grew increasingly stressed with each new assignment.  I felt like a cog in a machine and it was hard for me to work in a big office where half the people didn’t know who I was, and certainly didn’t care.  Most assistants had worked there for a very long time and it was difficult to gain any footing.  I stuck it out for two years, and then started to look.  At exactly the same time, I received job offers from a small firm and from the US Attorney’s Office.  After weighing my options, I decided to go….

Jobbie No. 4 (7 months):  Back to the small firm.  I loved it.  The staff became like family and there were a lot of people my age who wanted to hang out socially.  I enjoyed the work and my co-workers and it finally seemed like I got it right.  I put my resume in the bottom of my desk and didn’t want to look at it or think about it for a very long time.  After I was there for seven months, I got a phone call out of the blue…

Jobbie No. 5(current): And it was one of my previous boss’s, from Jobbie No. 3.  He had left the old firm and was at a different firm and he wanted to know if I wanted to come on board and fill an opening they had.  This was a difficult choice.  I was happy where I was and didn’t want to gamble that away.  I interviewed for the job and was still on the fence, but decided to go for it after some long talks.  This, I knew, would have to be my last job for a while.  I would need to stay put because no one is going to hire me for a while.  I’m very happy to report it has worked out and was the right choice.

From leaving Jobbie No. 2, I realize now that I should have spoken up sooner and let them know I was unhappy.  I’m not sure what they would have done if they knew I was unhappy at the slow progress turning me from receptionist to paralegal, but now I will never know.  It was an opportunity wasted.  This is probably my biggest regret from all the job switching.  It is also difficult to explain a job I held for only three months.

Another lesson:  get lots of interview experience.  I went on SO MANY GODDAMN interviews.  I interviewed EVERYWHERE.  Each rejection hurt, and I probably had ten rejections for every job offer, but the experience helped me become a better interviewee and more confident.  At the very least, I stopped sweating so much and getting the ol’ shaky voice during interviews.

Throughout all of this, I learned to not be afraid to be new and start over.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but I’ve consistently been the ‘new girl’ and I’ve lived through it.  By making that sacrifice, I’ve more than doubled my income in five years.

Above all, I’d say have a good reason to ditch your job.  And don’t ditch it without another one lined up, but you already knew that because you’re smart.

Is Grad School Worth It?

Right after I turned 18, I wrote down my life plan while snacking on some cheese on a July afternoon.  Some gems from that document include that I would get married at 23 (I’ll only be six years late to that party), have a nice three story house with “plenty of room” and publish a book at 24.  Let’s not forget that I’m supposed to have a 5 year-old, 3 year-old, 1 year-old and be pregnant with my last child (finally!  A girl!) at this very moment.  Instead, I have an 8 year-old cat and 5 year-old dog and rent due on the first.

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Of course, that was not exactly what would happen.  This was more or less my ideal future, as imagined by a very naïve but hopeful girl during the summer before she went off to college.  I always have a future-self floating around in my mind.  She is about 30 lbs. thinner and way smarter and has boatloads of cash and is super organized.  She would never spend an entire day on the couch watching Season 2 of American Horror Story with her fiancé, as my present self just did.

The glaring omission that I made in my life plan was in the education realm.  I assumed a four-year degree would get me where I wanted to go, but where was that, exactly?  When I was a college sophomore, I heard about the paralegal* field and was mildly interested.  What was a paralegal?  The job description matched up with a lot of what interested me.  As support staff to attorneys, I could write and research and interact with clients.  It was a fairly flexible job with relatively good pay.  Best of all, I could work my 9 to 5 and pack it up at the end of the day and slog away at my writing.  It seemed like a good fit.  However, my college didn’t offer any paralegal specific courses.  I found a one-year certificate program through the state tech schools and once I wrapped up my undergrad, I did the program in Green Bay.  But I still wanted to pursue writing.  I got into grad school for creative writing and moved to Minnesota for the next three years to study writing.

The Pros of Grad School

Real World Avoidance  For me, one of the pros was delaying the real world.  I wasn’t confident or mature enough to really establish myself career-wise.  I wasn’t all that passionate about being a paralegal, so grad school gave me some extra time to sort that out and make peace with it.

Some Free Time!    I had classes to attend and homework, but I had a lot of free time, especially at the start of my grad school experience.  One would assume I was reading and writing with that time, but Rock of Love was also on during those years.

Experiences  I made new friends.  I broke out of my comfort zone and did a crazy amount of presentations and demonstrations and readings.  I taught English 101 and also Creative Writing.  I moved further away from my friends and family and created a little life all by myself.  I also started working at a law firm and got my feet wet in the legal field.

The Cons of Grad School

Monies  Even with a pretty sweet scholarship deal, I effectively tripled the debt I had in student loans from undergrad.  What would have taken me three years to pay off had now blossomed into ten years.  Avoiding the real world did me no favors here.  If you can work full-time, get scholarships, or cash flow grad school, I applaud you.

Real Life Passing You By  While I was delaying the real world, my friends were getting married and starting careers and having kids.  It became harder to relate to them.  On an emotional level, it was hard to see people moving on to the next steps in life while I was “still in school.”  This may or may not have caused me to indulge in a public crying episode on a bus from Milwaukee to St. Paul.  I wasn’t eligible for a 401k until I was 26 because of my delayed entry into the workforce.  I still feel three to four years behind in almost every area of my life—buying a house, marriage, work.

Burnout  Toward the last year of my program, I was working 20-25 hours a week at the law firm, teaching a section of English 101, helping teach a creative writing class, and taking my own classes.  It was pretty stressful.  Because there were so many things I wanted to do and experience, it was hard to say no knowing the opportunity might not come again.

I’m now 3.5 years post grad school and have had enough time to decompress the experience.   Sometimes it’s hard to justify the fact that I went to grad school for creative writing and I now work as a legal assistant.  The money I spent was and is a lot.  It took three years of my life.  I am not employed as a “creative writer.”  However, that’s not to say my degree isn’t useful.  In all of my post grad school job interviews, it has come up and is a definite positive.  My salary is bigger because I completed grad school.  The attorneys I work for like the fact that I can write and will take a stab at drafting documents.  It has come in handy in my field, even though there isn’t an obvious link between creative writing and being a paralegal.

My fiance, Kris, had a different grad school experience.  He went on to get his masters in Library Science or, as it is otherwise known, “library school.”  Or, as I still prefer, “liberry school.”  His take on grad school:

For my two cents, I would say that I wouldn’t be in a job that I am enjoying without grad school.  I was able to challenge myself by taking more technology-oriented classes (coding, quantifying data, creating SQL queries) that have paid off endlessly.  For me, grad school was the next logical step for my career.  I had worked in a library for about three years, and knew that is what I wanted to do.   
 
I think that Library School is a little different than traditional grad school in that you are going to these classes knowing what kind of career you will be getting with them.  While the library degree can get you jobs outside of librarianship, the library program is still sort of seen as straddling the line between ‘grad school’ and ‘professional school’.   I agree that grad school was worth it, at least for me. The reason it was worthwhile was that I knew what I wanted out of the experience and tried much harder than I did in undergrad. 
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Is it worth it?  For me, yeah, it was.  That was three years of experiences and people that I otherwise never would have had in my life.  I got some solid legal field experience that would help me with my post-graduate career.  I sang karaoke.  I saw the Jolly Green Giant on  Highway 169.  I made some lifelong friends and braved Minnesotan winters.  I overcame my fear of public speaking (at least, as much of that as can be overcome).  I taught.  I was taught.  I got to spend some time growing up and pulling myself together so that when I finally entered the “real” world at 25, I was sort of, kind of, maybe, a little more ready.

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*I use paralegal and legal assistant interchangeably.  In my experience, the terms are interchangeable.  Paralegal sounds fancier, though.

The Only Resolution I’ve Kept

Happy New Year!  2014 is here.  Crazy.  I still think the 90s were a decade ago.

So…I am a chronic resolution maker.  I love the idea of a fresh start.  My resolutions are pretty typical:  be healthier, floss more!, read more, save money.  Every single year I’ve set resolutions with the best of intentions. However.  I’ve never kept ANY resolutions.  Around February (or, if I’m being honest, the second week of January) my resolutions fall to the wayside and life gets in the way.

There has been one resolution I’ve kept.  Last year, I heard about Ann Curry’s 26 Random Acts of Kindness in relation to the Sandy Hook shootings.  It seemed simple enough.  26 acts over the course of a year?  Why not?  I could try to do something in the wake of a heartbreaking national tragedy.

I started with my typical gusto and completed some random acts that I always thought about doing but never got around to, like joining Be the Match, a bone marrow registry.  You can register for free, and it is extremely easy.  Plus, you get to swab your cheek for cells, which made me feel like a scientist.  I may have even worn my glasses for it.

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Be The Match

I also did a bunch of fun things, like leaving lottery tickets or Starbucks gift cards in public places (the library computer stations, a gas station pump, a library book).

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It was an adrenaline rush to do something random and fun that hopefully brightened the day of a stranger.  It felt good and was bigger than myself.  It wasn’t all about me.  As an inherently selfish person it was a great change of pace.

As I continued on my years journey, I admit I fell off doing random acts during the summer.  I revisited the challenge in October and realized I had 20 random acts to complete still.  While it was tempting to write it off as another failed resolution, I thought about how bad I would feel when the one year anniversary of Sandy Hook came around.  How would I feel seeing the faces of those 6 year-olds and realizing I had, in some way, failed them?

I regrouped and made a list of acts to complete.  I donated blood for the first time (so easy!  Free cookies!), taped some money to my office vending machine so someone could have a free afternoon snack and soda, finally got around to donating some extra canned goods we weren’t going to use, and I sponsored a Dane County Humane Society cat.  Murphy is still available, FYI, and looks like a cute kitty.

Sponsor an Animal

My fiance, Kris, got into the action, too.  Together we gave away some game tickets we won to some lucky, random kids in an arcade.  Kris signed up for a program that automatically deducts a minimal amount from your paycheck to a charity of your choice.

By the time the one year anniversary of Sandy Hook came around on December 14, I had completed 26 Random Acts of Kindness.  Some were small (I held the door for a large, slow moving family at a store when I normally would have slid past them without helping), some were free (giving blood), and all of them felt good.

This years resolution?  Sure, I have the typical ones.  I’d like to save money and be healthier and read more and write more.  But the resolution that I am determine to keep is committing 30 Random Acts of Kindness this year.  Kris is 30 and I will be turning 30 and we both agreed to undertake 30 acts this year in celebration of our age.  I look forward to this being a yearly resolution.  Trust me, it is easy to keep.  And I suck at keeping resolutions.

Best of luck coming up with your resolutions!  I hope you consider doing some Random Acts of Kindness in the coming year.  Let’s face it, we can all use a little warm and fuzzy in our lives.

You can read more about Ann Curry’s Random Acts of Kindness here:  Ann Curry’s 26 Random Acts of Kindness