Holiday Blues


Our last trip to Asheville.

What do you do when you aren’t going home for the holidays?

I’m sure a lot of you have dealt with this before. Flights are far too expensive around Christmas time. I only have two days of vacation left because I took a trip to Paris back in April. Jacob and I can’t get our days off to line up. And so we are staying in Greenville for Christmas.

It’s weird. I’ve spent some holidays away from family, like New Years or Christmas one year, but I always saw them at one point or another, and this year, I won’t. I am part-relieved and part-disappointed. The relief comes from the stress of booking a ticket and trying to see everyone I know and love in only a few days. The disappointment is, of course, because I love my family and will miss them over the holidays.

It’s just going to be Jacob (a man who doesn’t much care for traditions) and I. I have some time off, but (obviously) not enough for a real out-of-town vacation. And so I ask you—if you weren’t with family for the holidays, what would you do?

I have a few plans. One is a day trip to Asheville, a neat city only an hour away (a trip that will include used bookstores, chocolate, and beer). Another is making some cool Asian dish on Christmas (because why the fuck not). I might even try my hand at a fancy, four-course meal, which will undoubtedly include duck and cocktails. There will be present exchanging, most likely (although that also stresses me out. Gift buying when it is expected and you don’t know who it’s expected from—I mean, why is that a thing?! Can’t I just get people stuff for birthdays, which are usually pretty spread out throughout the year?).

How do you deal with holiday blues? Other than eating all the food and drinking all the eggnog, because let me tell you, that will definitely also be a Thing.

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. In her spare time she haunts used bookstores, gets serious about tea, and loves a good stout (Russian Imperial, please). Follow her on twitter and instagram if you wanna be buddies, and maybe check out her writing blog.

On wanting to be/actually being a grown up

Here’s an announcement I would like to make to the world: I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult.

I can hear the applause from all of you and, really, it’s heartwarming.

But why is it so easy to say, and so hard to actually do? As much as I’d like to think I’m a grown up, there are many things in life that make me feel like it is otherwise.


Apartment (with a pantry! And a washer and dryer!), check. Car, check. Big girl job, check. Macaroni and cheese every single night for dinner if I want (and, let’s be honest, I always want), check. Lots and lots of bills, check.

Maybe the bills aren’t exactly awesome, but they are a constant reminder of how on my own I am. No longer do I have the convenience of sweet-talking my way into my folks paying for my gas, or for my electricity to be free when living at home. I have to pay for what I use, and it’s liberating in a weird sort of way. I have bills because I’m an adult, and being an on-my-own-in-this-big-bad-world adult is kind of awesome. Plus, it reminds me that the reason I’m able to afford these bills is that I am #blessed to have a pretty awesome job at a pretty awesome place.


I can announce to everyone that I’m 24, and therefore am old enough to be “on my own.”

Getting people to believe me is a different story.

Case in point, my lovely parents. Lately, I feel like I’ve been having an uphill battle to prove myself, despite all of the Medals of Adultdom I have achieved post-grad (and even during school). There are points where I want to scream that they can’t tell me what to do. There are points where I could pull my hair out at my frustration of what feels like this ever-present leash.

There are times I wish I could say “I’m still your child, but I’m not a child anymore,” and have it actually mean something.

They are my parents. I respect and love them wholeheartedly, but I am struggling with stepping out from underneath their shadow and doing things that I want to do, apart from things that are parent-approved. If I want to spend all of my savings on a trip to Europe, then I feel like I am old enough to make that (potentially stupid) decision and go. If I want to chop off my hair or get a tattoo, then I should be able to without having to feel guilty because my mom will look at me with those sad, why-have-you-hurt-me-so puppy dog eyes.

I guess what I’m struggling with is: how old do I have to be before my parents, and the whole world, realizes that I’m not a kid anymore? How old do I have to be before my parents take a step back and really and truly mean it when they say “We have X, Y, and Z concerns, but you’re old enough and we trust you”? At what age does it suddenly become okay to make potentially life-altering decisions—a trip to Europe! buying a car! getting married!—without them having a (literal) panic attack?


I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult. I realize I have a lot of growing left to do. I realize I’m probably going to make a lot of stupid mistakes in life, and some of that will ease as I grow older. I also realize that, at 24, I’m not doing half bad for myself, and many of the decisions I’ve made so far have actually been pretty good ones.

Alexandra tells me that: maybe the point is that my parents may never actually accept me being a grown up, sadly but truly. Instead, I have to accept that that’s in fact okay. I will do what I am going to do and that’s a part of what being a grown up is.

Lauren is a social media professional/web content manager/overall awesome editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

On Finding Time

I have too many hobbies. I know this. I’ve been told, many times, that I need to stop spreading myself so thin and freaking focus.

It’s a problem—a real problem. There are too many things that interest me. Let’s talk about a few: I write novels, poetry, and short stories, and I want to someday make this my living. I love to cook delicious food and bake new recipes. I love and am very passionate about tea and how it relates to culture and society. I adore the French language. I really want to garden. I READ. I want to do more yoga. I’m super interested in herbs and natural remedies. I love craft beer.

Now, let’s talk about the things I have to do: work a 40 hour work week, make time for Jacob (and friends), freelance (2 – 5 hours a week doesn’t sound like much, but it is), and write book reviews (for

This does not include the much needed time to relax, scroll through Tumblr, and maybe watch a few (or 10) episodes of Buffy.

I have a lot of interests that I really wish I had the time to delve into more deeply.

So, how on earth do I find time to do what I do?


It’s pretty simple, really. Prioritize. I obviously have to work, so I work. But in the mornings, if I have time (and I do about 3x a week), I write a 10 minute writing prompt. I make editing and writing and reading a priority. I freelance. I cook. I get to see/talk to friends a few times a week.

I don’t do much else. So many people say, “I don’t know how you do it! You do so much!” I mean, sure, I do a lot. But I spread it out.

That’s the thing—I want to focus a lot of my time all of particular things, but I just don’t have the energy or time. By spreading myself out (and making sure not to spread myself too thin), I am able to find time to enjoy all of my favorite things.

Still not sure how I find time? Let me break it down. My main hobbies include writing/reading, cooking/baking, tea, yoga. Here’s how I fit them into my life (as an example).

Monday: writing/reading & cooking
Because it’s the first day back at work, Monday is usually no-freelance day. I come home, cook myself dinner, scroll through Tumblr, and then I write. I write and I edit. I catch up on bills. I usually stay at my computer. Sometimes I watch 2 – 4 episodes of Buffy before crawling into bed.

Tuesday: cooking & yoga & tea
I do yoga IMMEDIATELY when I get home (or else I lose motivation). After yoga, I cook, and then once I’ve eaten I make myself a cup of tea. I usually get a lot of freelance work done.

Wednesday: craft beer & writing/reading
I pick up my CSA (community supported agriculture) at The Community Tap, a local beer store. Sometimes, my old roomie is working and I will try a new beer, sit down with my journal, and do some writing or read.

Thursday: yoga & friends & reading
Yoga right when I get back from work, unless I am meeting a friend—in that case, probably no yoga. But definitely some reading before bed (or Netflix…). Freelance work, of course.

Friday: writing & writing & writing
Because of writing group, Friday is usually ALL about the writing. Plus it’s the weekend, so I go to writing group, work hard, come home and watch Netflix. Or else go out with some friends. Depends on my mood, of course.

Saturday: what am I lacking?
Saturday is usually a “what did I not do this week that I really want to do?” Let’s be real, sometimes the answer to that is DRINK. Sometimes it’s read, sometimes I really want to meet up with some friends. Sometimes Jacob and I go out for bike rides, sometimes we try a new restaurant (or an old fav). Saturday is my DO WHAT YOU WISH day.


Sunday: food & reading
Ahhh, grocery shopping day. We like to hit up Whole Foods to feed my inner foodie. I love it. We buy little fancy cheeses, gourmet hummus, delicious macadamia nuts. Lemme tell you—this is when I really get my fix. That and preparing much of the food throughout the week. In the evening, there’s a lot of prepping food for the week to come.

So, there you have it. I am not miraculous. I am not amazing at getting a million things done. I prioritize. It all comes down to being organized and to knowing what I need and want to get done. Sometimes I take it moment by moment—what do I really want to do right now(could be Netflix, could be writing, could be those dishes I want to get done)? Sometimes I look at my whole week—will I have time to freelance tomorrow? If not, I better get it done today. Will I be able to write tomorrow? No? Work on some stuff today.

As I get older, I get better at knowing myself and accepting myself. I am better at predicting my moods (I rarely freelance on Monday because it is MONDAY). I accept that I do not need to force myself into doing anything—I do what I crave when I have free time. I read when I am dying to finish a book. I sleep when I want a nap. I make myself a cup of tea when I am feeling sad.

The more I know myself, the more I can do and the happier I am. Funny how that works, huh?

So—do tell. How do you find time for your hobbies? What are your hobbies? Any gems to share?


Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

Why I went to community college first

Baby Vanessa (& baby Jacob) in 2009

Baby Vanessa (& baby Jacob) in 2009

I got into MSU as a senior in high school, but I didn’t want to go there. I had a plan. Thanks to my high school grades, I got a $2,000 scholarship to Oakland Community College. It would nearly cover my entire first year. I would go to OCC for two years and then transfer to MSU as a junior, successfully graduating in four years and paying less for the piece of paper. But I felt some push to go to a four-year university.

“You’ll miss out on the dorms and the experience!”

“You’ll regret it.”

“It’s important to get out on your own.”

Whatever. I ignored those sons-of-bitches and went to community college. It was a great solution for me, and I still met great people and made great friends. I had some incredible professors. I learned just as much as I did at MSU. It was the absolute perfect experience for me and I do not regret a thing (in fact, I often miss OCC more than I miss MSU, no matter how much I dig my PW buddies). It was a great bridge from high school to college. I didn’t feel pushed out of my house and stranded in a big college all on my own. It let me slowly build up my independence, so by the time I was moving out of my mom’s house I felt ready.

But let’s go over some pros and cons of attending a community college before transferring to a four-year.


  • Save money
  • Live at home (this was a pro for me. I got to stay close to some of my close friends and live with my mother, whom I have a great relationship with. I also got to stay in the lives of my brothers longer, which I am grateful for)
  • Missing out on the dorms (I like cooking my own food, thank you very much)
  • Community college has some GREAT courses. I learned much more in my general classes at OCC than I did at MSU and at a fraction of the price
  • Smaller classes and a greater variety of students—I became friends with several people a lot older than me who were back for an education or taking classes for fun
  • Smaller campus—easier to navigate and easier to get a job on (I worked as an English Literacy Tutor for a year and a half, plus as a French Study Instructor)
  • If you take a bad class, at least you aren’t paying thousands of dollars for it


  • Live at home (this might be a con for you even though it was a pro for me)
  • By starting at a four-year college as a junior, it’s harder to make friends as most people have already formed their friend groups (regardless, I made great friends—it just took two semesters)
  • You miss the experience of the dorms (pro for me, might be a con if you reeeeally wanna do that)
  • Less FinAid once you do get to a four-year university (however, that didn’t matter for me because OCC saved me so much money)
  • If you don’t know where you’re going to transfer to, many of the classes you take at a community college might not transfer—and that means wasted time and money. Knowing if your classes transfer and having a plan is super important

So, what do you think? Did you do community college first or a full four years in one place? Do you wish you’d done it differently?

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

Working a Work Conference (Part 1)

I’m terrified — and it’s not for the reasons you may think.

I am going to my first you’re-going-as-an-employee-not-an-intern conference tomorrow, where I will be speaking in front of nearly 200 people about what it is to be a social media professional. Strangely, it’s not the presentation that’s freaking me out, but everything else about the conference.

I have worked at my current position for just under three months, and am still relatively unknown across the international company. There’s someone doing the social media and writing these newsletters, but no one really knows who. That’s the whole point of me going to this big girl conference: to meet people.

It isn’t really a secret that I’m a shy person. I am a proud introvert. So the idea of going to a conference where I don’t know anyone for a few days is just nauseating.

Like, how do you in a totally non-creepy way approach someone and be like “Um. Hi. I don’t know anyone here. Who are you?”

I’d feel 80,000x more comfortable if I knew one person who could introduce me to people. I’d feel 80,000x more comfortable if I was on a somewhat first-name basis with any one of them. While I’ve emailed many people at my new job, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet many face to face. How am I supposed to find the ones I sort of know mingling in with the crowd?

Some research says I should look for how people are standing. Find open groups of people and enter in. Which sounds great, but THEN WHAT? Dilemma: How do you just enter into a conversation of people uninvited?

Probably my main course of action will be to remember that there will be others there in the same boat, attending the conference for the first time. Then again, a lot of people who work here are ones who have been here for years. It’s intimidating to be the new kid in the crowd and it’ll be difficult not to be the most awkward one in the room.

Don’t be a wallflower. Don’t be a wallflower. Don’t be a wallflower. This website gives good advice: “others might assume you’re not worth getting to know if you’re not putting forth effort [by being a wallflower].”

There will be cocktail hour, thank goodness, which I hope will help some.

Maybe they’ll approach me, or I’ll find some stroke of underlying confidence that’ll carry me through.

Or maybe (probably) it won’t be as bad as my over-anxious brain is making me think. After all, I made it through my first days of high school, college and several jobs without knowing anyone and I made it out alive, right?

But, for the sake of relieving some of these worries, do you have any advice? What is the best way to break the ice in these types of settings?

Lauren is a social media professional/web content manager/overall awesome editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

What I wish PW had taught me

Professional Writing taught me a lot. I am forever in gratitude to an incredible program, wonderful professors and fellow students, and internships that (mostly) prepared me for the workforce.

Regardless of how awesome PW is, there are a few things that I wish they had taught me. Some of them are related to the program, some would make good Writers’ Bloc workshops, and others simply I wish I had known beforehand.

Better technical writing
This might just relate to me—but the technical writing class I took was crap. I brushed it off and didn’t think it would affect me. But then I was given a writing project at work (back in January, you can read all about how I failed here). If I had had a better, more competent technical writing professor, I truly think that I would have done better with this project (though I still would have struggled). Technical writing is more important than I ever realized and students need to recognize the impact it might have on their future careers.

Analytics workshop/class
I am not the only one who has come across analytics in the workplace and been faced with a pretty big learning curve. We never spent time learning about analytics (the various tools, best practices, etc) in school, and now it’s something that just comes with the territory of my position. I’ve had to learn a lot about Google Analytics in a very short time (Facebook Insights and others included), and a workshop or at least practice compiling a social media analytics report would have been great as a student.

How age, privilege, and class affects us in the workplace
I truly did not realize how much my age would affect me in the workplace. I am young (24). When I started I was really young (22). I couldn’t understand why no one liked my ideas unless they came from someone else or why people seemed to brush me off as a silly little girl until my boyfriend said, with a shrug, “Well, you’re young.”

A heads up would have been nice. Some advice on how to deal with age discrimination and even class discrimination in the workplace would have been helpful. It’s something that I’ve struggled with navigating, especially as a—I hate this word—Millennial. I have grown up calling professors by their first name and chatting with bosses as if they were friends, but not all businesses work like that. I didn’t know that I need to tread lightly. I suppose that relates back to office etiquette, however—a potential workshop idea.


How to negotiate bonuses and raises
I learned how to negotiate salaries (sort of, and I have never actually done it IRL), but I definitely never learned about bonuses and raises. One of the most helpful things that PW did to prepare me for interviewing for jobs was to have a mock interview session. Something like that would be equally helpful for learning how to negotiate bonuses, raises, and all of that stuff. Something else to note here is that PW is largely made up of women. Negotiating can be especially hard for us ladies (which is bullshit, but it’s still true), so learning how to navigate that would have been really helpful. I still don’t have a grasp on negotiation and I probably won’t for a long time.

Being asked to do things that aren’t in your job description
How does one handle being asked to do things that aren’t in their job description? Do we just do it without complaint? Do we bring it up? Do we refuse? How do we tread lightly in this situation?

Social media workshop
Social media is ever changing, so a class might be difficult or even a little much. Regardless, some help in the social media area would have been appreciated. Workshops on best practices and strategy, and especially analytics, proving the value of a solid strategy (or ROI). Social media etiquette is also a good one.

Email etiquette
PLEASE—do not be that person who replies all to everyone in every email. I know this but not everyone does—something to consider when it comes to workshops? It would also be a good place to include discerning when to be formal/casual and more little nitpicky things about email. Do I say, “Hey Ali,” when I’m opening an email, or do I say, “Hi there,” or do I say, “Good afternoon”?

How to deal with colleagues who aren’t so nice
Group work fails in this capacity because at the end of the day the group is over and you can leave those suckers. Coworkers are forever (or until you quit/leave). And, let’s face it, there will always be crazies. You will always have to deal with people who do not like you, or who you do not like, or who try to make your life a little harder at your job. But—let’s say a coworker is harassing you and basically being an all out bitch—how do you handle it? Talk to her directly? Go to HR? Talk to your boss?

And I don’t mean the employee handbook way. I mean the stop-harassment, deal-with-the-problem way. I mean in the real-life way. Because life is not by the employee handbook.


Office politics
This is not really something that PW can teach us—but workshops can. Professors can. Internship advisers can. Bosses can. I never really got an introduction to office politics until I was out in the workplace and I was making mistakes left and right—of course, every office is different. But it’s something to consider.

No one was really harsh with me about my writing in school. Okay, so harsh might be a little much, but no one was really nitpicky with my writing. Now I am a big girl in the real world and people are not always nice about the failings in my writing. Expectations are high in the workplace and no one likes to be surprised with that shit—I definitely didn’t feel prepared for how much more difficult things can be in the workplace compared to how I was treated/graded in college.

To sum up this blog post, let me just say—a lot of what I felt blindsided by in the workplace is stuff that you just have to learn on your own. Professional Writing did a fantastic job training me for a full-time job and teaching me how to be a top notch employee.

MSUPW: What would you add the above list?

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

It’s Almost a New Year

A lot has happened this year, not just in my life, but in the lives of all of us at VALCANA. Leaving old jobs, finding new jobs, moving, big life changes, and essentially a whole lot of growing up.

A new year never used to be a big deal to me. I never made resolutions. I didn’t care about big New Years parties (let’s be honest, that’s only because we often had family Christmas in Canada around New Years).

Entering into 2013 was different. I was out of school. The New Year wasn’t just a gateway to another semester and to more school—it was the start of a new year of work and a new job, of trips, of beautiful friendships to be made (and lost). I entered into the age of 23. I actually made resolutions for the first time ever (well, writing goals, to be exact). I did some scary, exciting, and just plain fun things. A New Year is such a great time to look back at life, and to think about all of the wonderful places that you want to go and will go.

Highlights of 2013

I baked a cheesecake for the first time.

lavender earl gray cheesecake

Lavender cheesecake!!!

People came and visited me in Greenville.


From left to right: Mom, Oma, Dad ❤

Went on my very first vacation with Jacob to Savannah, GA.

savannah georgia

We’re awesome.

Finished (almost) an 8 year old project with my best friend, Heather and WROTE A WEBCOMIC.

autumn faces of time

Our main character, Autumn.

I know wonderful people who make my life happy.


My lovely fwends (sorry to those I didn’t include in this collage, I love you just as much)

And, finally, I learned so very much about myself and others. I hope that is always a highlight of every year of my life.

Aw look it's half of my face

Aw look it’s half of my face

Things I can’t wait for in 2014

Being in Paris, France, with my best friend Katie during the month of April.

Photoshop is fun

Photoshop is fun

Vacations with Jacob—more to come on this.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 1.16.24 PM

Cutie in Asheville

Simply getting to be around these wonderful people that I know, and spend time with them, and through knowing them more know myself more.

What are some of the highlights of your year? What do you look forward to most in 2014?

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.