Monday, January 7, 2013

A Picture Review of the Past Few Months

Admiring Yellowstone on a VISTA camping trip last March.
I'm not going to lie: cold weather makes me miss Montana. It's gorgeous in SC, but on chilly nights like this where I stayed in with a blanket and hot chocolate, it would be nice to look out the window and see a little white on the rooftops. I never would have admitted that last year (I had a whiny, cold, little Floridian image to protect, after all).

I haven't posted in a while, but to be honest there hasn't been much to say. I'm enjoying SC but this year doesn't have quite the same feel of adventure to it. I have a pretty standard, cookie cutter apartment, but it's nice to have some newer appliances and windows, etc. I've added little touches here and there to spice it up. As a VISTA leader, my most important role is to support the VISTAs at each site and make sure they have everything they need to succeed. I love helping others be more successful, but I miss being directly involved as well. I present to you a brief history of the last few months told primarily in pictures:

 In September, after a little time in SC to get my feet under me, I was given the opportunity to fly to Chicago for the VISTA Leader training. The city was a little overwhelming at first but exciting. I met many new VISTA Leader friends and got to see some great old ones from last year that I had already been missing.
On the roof in Chicago.
Some "Montanans" in the city. 
The Bean
Full Disclosure: I did not take this photo and we didn't know the couple in the corner, but Amanda (the photographer) and I both agreed they made it much more adorable.

Deep Dish Pizza with Sam and Allison, my Montana besties. 

In October, I made a long weekend road trip up to Richmond to visit and old, dear friend of mine who I grew up doing children's theater with. I have never been there before and loved doing a little exploring. The view while driving through North Carolina and Virginia in October was just another perk to the trip.

Exploring Carey Town (SP?) with Karen
Outside the Virginia Civil War Museum

All the pretty October leaves

November provided time to go home for Thanksgiving for the first time in years. Not only did I get to see my family again so soon, which was a treat in itself, but I also got to see my best friend in the whole world whom I hadn't seen in an excessively long amount of time. It was almost a mini-high school reunion month. 

With Sarah

  In December, the colder weather came and I spent a lot more time indoors with my yarns, hooks and needles. It ended in our annual trip to Ohio for Christmas and a quiet time with family in Florida to start the new year.

The Ohio family with all our Christmas hats on. We're just missing Loni and Jeff with their fantastic hats!

Plus, Dad grew a Santa beard. Pics to prove it coming. Promise.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and has been enjoying a wonderful 2013 so far. 2012 was a year of big change for me, even bigger changes than 2011 when I graduated college. By the end of it, I'm in a new city, in a new position, with a new car, and a new apartment, and getting ready to start a new part of the plan. But through it all the love and support of family and friends remains constant and steadfast. If 2012 was any indication, God has big things in store!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Goodbye Montana, RIP Ethel, Hello SC

This is going to be a long post. There is a LOT to be covered.

So go ahead and make to that trip to the bathroom you've been thinking about.

Also, better get that drink you wanted too.

Are you ready? Okay...

So I finished my service year in Montana July 22. I was heartbroken to leave Deer Lodge. I never thought I would become so attached but I can honestly saw that, aside from being a little chilly, everything about Montana grew on me. The small town way of life. The long road trips to get anywhere. And definitely the people. I was surprised with a wonderful going away party. I knew something was up, but I had no idea how many people would be there or to what trouble some would go through to make me feel so loved. But it taught me a few things:

1. So far, I have never left a place because I WANTED to leave. I have always moved on because it was time to go.
2. God will always provide no matter where he sends me. So why doubt the place, the time, or the reason?

With that in mind, I continued to pack through my sadness. Many people helped make the process as easy as possible. I had friends volunteer to carry things down from the apartment, pack the car, clean after everything was out, AND let me stay with them the night before my big drive once my apartment was empty, all the while knowing I would never be able to return the favor from my new home across the country. Can you see why I would be so disappointed to leave?

All packed up and ready to go.
Off I went into the wild blue yonder back across the United States to start a new chapter of life in South Carolina. Fortunately, I got to stop and visit friends again along the way back which made the drive SO MUCH better. I meet Mom in SC so we could find an apartment and hope to get settled some before heading to Florida for a visit. After a lot of sketchy areas, we found the perfect place in the form of student housing. Then I popped in to my new VISTA position for a bit before heading down for a quick visit with the family. We are fortunate to have wonderful friends in the area that let me unload most of my stuff so I didn't have to take it to Florida with me, even though I could move it into the apartment yet.

It was great to spend some time with everyone in St. Pete. I was able to visit with a few wonderful old friends and lots of quality time with Mom, Dad, and Brenda. Ethel got an oil change, a bath, Dad cleaned the headlights, and most excitingly, a brand new bumper to fix the damage from the tire that had blown my tail light months earlier. I am proud to say I had all my ducks in a row and paid Ethel off completely 6 months ahead of schedule. No more car payments for me!  I'd already gotten to see the office in SC briefly so I was excited to get back up there and get a move on.

Sunday came. I re-packed the car with everything I had kept with me, plus the goodies I found at home,  kissed the family good bye and went on my way with my paid off, newly repaired and serviced vehicle. It wasn't nearly as hard to say goodbye as it's been in the past because I'd only be 500 miles away this time. Besides, I had a brand new adventure waiting for me the next morning! I was about 2 hours away from home, in traffic, traveling in the slow lane at 70 mph, when the car directly next to me abruptly swerved into my lane. I didn't have time to do anything but move out of the way. When that happened, I had to move so far over so quickly and try to get back in to traffic just as rapidly that my tires got caught on the edge of the road and blew. Ethel fishtailed several times before suddenly rolling down the side of the interstate that was slanted up to become an overpass. After 3 rolls, Ethel finally came to a stop on the driver's side in the median between the interstate and the exit ramp. I had closed my eyes when I realized the car was about to roll to try to keep anything from getting in my eyes. When I opened them, I had no idea what I was in for. Many people stopped to help. I was trapped in the car, but only because the car was on it's side, not because I was pinned. Stuff had flown out of the car all over the interstate. But I was okay. I felt soreness. But I knew I could feel everything, and that was a good sign.

This is the side the car landed on. These pictures were taken the next day when we went back to Ocala to the impound yard to collect all of my stuff out of the car. 

Every window in the car broke except for the front passenger window: the one that would have sent glass shattering down right on top of me, but didn't. 

The hood and trunk absorbed most of the impact from the roll, leaving the front half of the cabin basically untouched. My soft cooler somehow found it's way from my passenger seat, to between me and the broken window on the driver's side. I landed on a squishy cooler instead of a mound of broken glass. Tell me that's not more than coincidence.  
As you can see, poor Ethel is "destroyed" as the insurance appraiser put it. But solely by the will of God I was able to walk out. Through the windshield once the firefighters removed what was left.

They took me by ambulance, tied to a board wearing a terribly uncomfortable neck brace just in case there were injuries I was not feeling. No one could believe I was basically fine. They did x-rays, a trauma scan, and all kinds of checks on my vitals. All came out normal. No bone damage. No internal bleeding. No head injuries. Heck, no broken nails. My family came to get me and we headed back the two hours back home. South Carolina would have to wait.

I can't say I was untouched. I felt pretty rough for at least a few days. I looked like someone used me as a punching bag. But almost all the injuries I had were sustained from the seatbelt holding me in as it was intended to.

Are you ready for the funny story in all this? Because there is one. So rewind to the part where the car goes rolling off the side of the interstate and I close my eyes. I slowly open them and survey the surroundings. I take a deep breath. I don't know weather to cry or throw up. Then, somewhere off in the distance, I hear my trusty GPS (named Dee) say "Recalculating." ... .... ....Yes Dee, we were going to have to recalculate. So I laughed. Somehow not only was I kept safe in all this, but the first thing that came out of it was actually laughter. It all has to be part of a greater plan.

After a brief recovery period back at home, and a frustrating search for a new car, Brenda actually found the perfect thing. Meet Betty:

Betty and I exactly 2 weeks after the accident.
I loved Ethel. And I will always be grateful to her for helping keep me safe. And finding a replacement was an awful challenge. But so far Betty and I are extremely happy together!

So in the span of about a week, I moved into a new apartment, in a new town, with a new (to me) car, starting a new job. Talk about a NEW adventure!  It's a lot of change all at once but at least I know through it all the love and support of friends and family will never change, and neither will God.

Betty and I are in South Carolina now, getting settled and getting to know people. There will be a lot more to report in coming weeks I'm sure. Plus I have to come up with a new blog name now! I think we all know what this means...


Monday, June 11, 2012

The Next Step

I suppose it's time to make the news internet official: after I finish my service year in Montana in July, I will be moving to South Carolina to serve as a VISTA leader with United Way. I couldn't be more excited! Deer Lodge has been wonderful and the experience has been fantastic, so I can't wait to take everything I've learned and put it into practice and try to help other VISTAs reach their full potentials. I'm sure it will take a little time to readjust back into the Southern way of life but I think I can swing it (total sarcasm, by the way).  

Devils Tower 

This past weekend, a group of VISTAs from all over Montana drove down to Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and met up with a group of VISTAs from Colorado. The monument was breathtaking and more than a little intimidating. I don't have any pictures at the moment to share because I had to rely on the photography of others, but here is a little information about it, if anyone is interested. Besides learning a lot about the monument, rock climbing, and other related topics, we also got to learn a lot from each other about serving as a VISTA in a different state. There were huge differences between the 2 states, even just in Orientation. Pretty crazy. Makes me even more excited for the chance to serve again somewhere else and see more differences. 

I will be attempting to go home in between service terms, but travel reimbursement policies have changed recently so I can't say anything for sure yet. Ethel has been through a lot this year. Besides the internal computer issue on my way here, she has also had to get 5 new tires. Yes. I said 5 and I meant it. One to replace the tire that lost it's tread and broke my tail light, and then a whole new set when the rest of the tires started to lose a lot of their grip on icy roads. It was cheaper to buy 4 than just 3 for some reason... I also got a new oil pan put in. Ethel's still waiting on the new tail light. Right now she has a red tape band aid solution at the moment. A rock skipped along the hood and caused a little cosmetic issue, but fortunately didn't crack the windshield. Basically, she's had to toughen up quite a bit. But she's gearing up for the trip back across the country! She's excited. She told me so.  

This is a picture from right after the tread attack, as I like to refer to it. Since then, I "fixed" the tail light, replaced the tire (twice) and tried to polish out some of the scuffs. It's a hard knock life. 

Now to start taking inventory of my little apartment and getting everything packed up... As of today, I have 41 days left to enjoy as much of Montana as I possibly can. Judging how quickly this year went by, 41 days in barely time to blink.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Surviving on a VISTA budget

I recently brought up the experience of life on food stamps and thought about the other ways the meager VISTA stipend has encouraged me to change my habits. In case any other aspiring VISTA happen upon this, I'll share what I've gained this year to save a couple of bucks and gain a lot of experience.

1. Make your own cleaners.
There are a bajillion different recipes online. That's a literal number. I counted. Like here. Or here. Or here! If you notice there are many reoccurring ingredients, so basically, you can make a BUNCH of different cleaners, with only a few different things. Some of those ingredients are food stamp items (vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, etc), so that saves you a little cash too. As an added bonus, they are less harmful to the environment and any little ones or animals that may be in the vicinity. If you're really an overachiever, you can even try a DIY Swiffer.

Yes. I did make this. It's fabulous. But I put mine on a paint stirrer instead because I didn't want to have to buy a handle. 

2. Use
People are getting rid of stuff and they want to give it away. Some of it's junk, but when you get that rare gem you know it was worth sifting through the dirt.

3. Trade with friends
Let's say your a crafty individual. You can sew, patch, or whatever. You have a friend who is handy with cars, but walks around with missing buttons and hole-y clothes because they don't know what else to do. You replace the buttons and repair the rips in an appropriate number of items, they change the oil in you car. It cost you a little time, but saves you both a nice chunk of change.

4. Thrift.
This sounds obvious, but it's important to remember. Especially when you only have  to live somewhere for a year but you have to furnish an apartment, or stock a kitchen, or whatever. I went to the dollar store and thought I was so smart for buying a bunch of kitchen stuff for a dollar a piece... until I got the the thrift store and noticed way nicer stuff on sale for 10 cents a piece. Lesson learned.
You can brave the sea of stuff. 
5. Utilize the dollar store.
I know this clashes a bit with my previous statement, but there are somethings you just don't want to buy used so the dollar store is a good alternative. I am particularly fond of the office supply section.

6. Make it fresh.
It's tempting to go to the frozen food section and load up on a bunch of hot pockets and frozen pizzas. But a person can only take so much before they start feeling like a walking tv dinner. I've learned throughout the year that, like cleaners, it's way easier to keep some basic pantry ingredients around an make your basic food items. You'll be more inclined to experiment, plus your stomach will thank you for saving it from the preservative monsters.
You can do it! I believe in you! 
7. Borrow
Usually a VISTA is only going to be in one place for a year and then they pack up and head back wherever it is they came from, or off into the wild unknown. You don't need to acquire a bunch of stuff to get by and you definitely don't need to pay for it. Ask your coworkers if they have any extra stuff you can borrow, like an old vacuum cleaner they don't use very often any more, or an extra piece of furniture they've been storing in an unused room. My supervisor posted that her VISTA needed a bed for a year. Within a few hours, an awesome super comfy and sturdy bed was delivered to my little apartment. Not everyone may be that lucky, but obviously it doesn't hurt to ask. Along those same lines, share with other VISTAs. If they are an avid baker but you only need one cookie sheet this one time for this one treat... you see where I'm goin' with this.

8. Walk, bike, or use public transportation
Public transportation can be a little tough in Montana, since there really isn't any unless you're in some of the bigger towns, but most of the smaller towns have everything easily within walking distance. Heck, use it as an excuse to dust off those rad purple roller blades that were all the rage back in the day (What's that? I'm the only one waiting for roller blading to make a come back? I see...) Whatever your preferred method, avoid using your car as much as possible. You'll save on gas, plus with your new fresh eating habits you might just become a lean, mean, VISTA machine.
You know you thought these were the coolest thing ever. Because they are. 

I'm sure you're thinking to yourself These are mostly common sense suggestions. But you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget about these types of things when suddenly you are forced to be more careful about your budget and spending habits. It's easy to get in to a financial panic of some sorts and deny yourself what you need because you don't think you can afford them. It's not an easy budget to keep. But it's definitely manageable, and will help you keep budgets and utilize frugal habits long after your year of service.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On Food Stamps

I wrote this a while ago and didn't realize I saved it instead of published it... Oops!

As VISTAs, we're recommended to apply for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly refered to as food stamps) before we enter our service year. That's just part of the experience of a VISTA's poverty level salary. At first, I wasn't going to do it because I didn't really think I would need it, but my ever wise Mother mentioned that maybe it was less about the funds of SNAP and more about the process of applying for them, receiving them, and using them for groceries. I knew she was right, so I went ahead and applied.

Man am I glad I did! The amount given to me every month makes it possible for me to continue paying the bills that I still have from college. And mind you, these are not frill bills either. We're talking basic cell phone, car, power, rent... the only bill I have that I could probably live without is internet, but I don't have cable/tv of any kind so I figured that would be my substitute (and I also worked with the company to get a really good deal this year). Those are just bills. That doesn't cover other expenses, like gas. As I'm sure you can imagine, the roughly $800 a month VISTA stipend goes pretty quick.

But then there's SNAP. Ooohhhhh SNAP. How lovely you are. You allow me to buy fruit and veggies and whole grains instead of ramen noodles and preservative-filled artificial imitation food products. I now see why programs like this are so important, and how they can really make a potential difference for struggling families. Of course there are restrictions (no hot prepared food, no alcohol, and no paper goods) but overall, the benefits from SNAP are easy to feel.

I had some extra SNAP funds around Christmas time so I made cookie plates for all of my coworkers and neighbors. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to afford to do anything special for them.

Paying with SNAP has become MUCH less noticeable than traditional food stamps. Where before there was a book of literal stamps that needed to be torn out to pay for groceries, that could be lost or misplaced, or whathaveyou, now it is a small discrete card that is automatically refilled when the new month begins. No one but you and the cashier has to now you are paying with SNAP. Pretty sweet right?

Accept for it's really easy to spot when someone is treating you differently because you are paying with SNAP. I usually go grocery shopping after work. I'm well-dressed since I work in an office, and Ethel is along as my trusty stead. To the naked eye, I am not what people normally think of when imagining someone on public assistance. Also I smile a lot, which is always confusing to people no matter what the situation. I get up to the counter with my cart full of whatever. I chat up the cashier (I'm one of those people) and when it's time for me to pay I swipe my card. Except the cashier has to enter a code, so I have to make sure I flash them my card before I swipe it. More than one time, I have witnessed a person completely change from pre to post card reveal. Sometimes they become quiet or get a little less reciprocally chatty. Sometimes they straight up give me the face. Maybe not all grocery stores require a code, but ours does. Or the other one in town is much smaller and the cashier actually has to swipe the card for me. One time, a cashier was flirting with me hardcore until he saw my plastic badge of government assistance. **Note to self, try to scare creepers away with SNAP card**

The point is, I don't think any of these cashiers had that reaction on purpose but it seemed almost involuntary. I'm not sensitive about it, because I know this is part of my year of experience and that after I finish serving as a VISTA, I won't need them. But I'm sure to those barely squeaking by, any little sideways glance could make them really self-conscious. It might even be enough to prevent people from using them who really need them.

And I'm one of the lucky ones who have wonderful people working in the public assistance office. They are always super friendly, and extremely helpful. Even before I worked in the same building as them, they went out of their way to make sure I was set up before I arrived in Montana. Some VISTAs have had nothing but trouble with their public assistance workers, making the experience all the more embarrassing and potentially humiliating.

I make a lot of jokes about my groceries being "courtesy of the taxpayers" but the truth is, I have no idea how I would've been able to stay afloat without using SNAP. We have a stigma as a culture believing that the use of public assistance means a weakness. I believe a misuse or manipulation of the system is weakness, but using resources available to you to get ahead is smart. If you need them, or think you might qualify, don't feel the need to choose between pride and groceries.

Do you have any experiences with SNAP or food stamps? Did it bother you to have to be on them? Did you ever refuse to allow yourself to utilize this program because you thought it was for a different type of person? I'm curious to know...

"Grow old with me, the best is yet to be!"

I've never been one to fixate on looks. I take care of myself and definitely abide my standard hygenic grooming practices, but I'm by no means what some would consider "fussy." Today I got my hair cut for the first time since October (okay, maybe I'm a little lax on some standard grooming practices) and a comment another woman made there really made me stop and think. She said "It would be so nice to come in for just a hair cut when I finally felt like it. I have to come in regularly to be colored young again." I laughed, as did the few other people in the salon, but as I sat in the swirly chair, draped in plastic cape, with my chin to my chest, I began to think about it more.

We hear all the time that society is obsessed with youth and beauty. I'll make a confession, when I was just a tiny wee lass and I would hear people refer to society, I thought they were talking about a person. Adults talked about people I didn't know all the time, so the fact that I had never seen Society and didn't know he/she looked like didn't stop my child brain from personifying it. I heard that "Society has changed," "Society is too eager to please," "society is so obsessed with unimportant things..." See how I might have gotten confused? What made it even more confusing is that when referencing poor, misguided Society people never seemed to speak as if they were included in--how was I supposed to know the term included almost everyone!? I don't remember exactly how old I was when I figured it out but to this day when I think of society (uncapitalized now, see how I did that?), I think of a singular entity that is unrepresentative of the whole. I assumed that agism, or any undue honoring of youth was one of those things that jerkface Society was trying to make us believe was important.

But the pursuit of everlasting young is everywhere. And frankly, that terrifies me. I'm 23 years old. By almost no ones standards am I old, and yet commercials are already telling me it's time to start watching for sign of aging. The fact that this year has gone by so incredibly quickly makes my head spin. Heck, I can't even pickle myself because that would make me wrinkly! What kind of image are we setting up for ourselves and our future children when even in youth, we can't enjoy it because we are too afraid of losing it?

I will never be perfect. I will never have perfect skin, or hair, or teeth, or eyebrows, or the perfect body. Instead of trying to dig my heals in the sand against an unstoppable force, I'd rather have a good story behind my journey of aging. I hope to be like so many women I admire in my life and wear my imperfections as signs of glory, as recognition and thankfulness at being shaped by God's hands. If this year of VISTA service has taught me anything, it's that priorities are important and some things should never make the list.

So no, Society, I will not order your wrinkle creams, and your cellulite preventative lotion, or your "youth dye." I'll take dignity, to go.
Happy 23rd Birthday to me! Yes, I am sitting on the floor to eat my cake modeling my birthday tiara with my disheveled hair, like all adults do on their birthdays. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What Teaching Kids Taught Me

I remember the day, back in high school, when I was told something startling: people don't change as they get older. They may become wiser from life experience, they may make better choices, they may become more conscientious of others... but deep down we are the same in high school as we are are going to be for the rest of our lives. My next logical conclusion was that who we are as children is as true to ourselves as we will ever be. We haven't had time to learn to fear the other. We haven't yet been bullied into following the crowd. We haven't yet become embarrassed of who we are, just maybe things that happen or things we do. I miss that. Working with children along my journey to adulthood helped me relearn many things I once knew to be true as a child. I made a list of all the things I can think of right now that were learned working with children and apply to daily life even after the fact. I suppose it's really a list of how working with children can make anyone a better person.

1. Some days everyone will sit, pay attention, and behave appropriately. Some days they won't.

2. Never be afraid to get your hands dirty. Soap is always there, opportunity for adventure is not.

3. Make sure you are able to sit on the floor in whatever you're wearing.

4. Don't over-analyze. Accept the fact that some things are just magic.

5. Would it be worth a timeout?

6.  Even a good lie is hard to get away with, and much harder to remember the second time.

7. The "helper" is always the best job to have.

8. Find ways to protect the things you care about, even if no one else sees the value. Keep them in a safe place, but don't leave them in your pocket to be washed.

9. It never hurt anyone to believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus.

10. Trust people. Beware of "stranger danger," but believe that everyone is good at heart.

11. Playing pretend is the best way to learn.


12. Keep your friends close. Involve them in all your best schemes.

13. Happiness is beauty.

14. Laugh when provoked, even at inappropriate times. Odds are someone else needs to hear it.

15. Nothing is too insignificant to be prayed about.

16. Embrace uniqueness. Haters gonna hate. 

17. When someone compliments you, accept it without question. You are, after all, awesome.

18. There will be times when you will get hurt, through the fault of your own or others. That's a risk you have to take.

19. It is very important to give good hugs.

20. Refuse to believe limitations.

There you have it. Not exhaustive by any means, and may be amended at a later date. I've got a little more growing up to do first.

Any suggestions?