Thursday, September 30, 2010

Office space

Today marks my first complete week of graduate school, and I couldn't be happier. Amazingly there are only 9 more weeks to go in the quarter, and I'm still not sure how everything will get finished in time. To facilitate the creative/work process, though, I now have an awesome new work space where I can tackle all of my assignments.

After sharing our dining room with our office space (read: after our office swallowed our dining room table and chairs) last year in our one-bedroom apartment, we were ready to devote an entire room to our books, computer, files and accessories. So when we moved to Cincinnati, we selected the master bedroom for our office because of is spacious size, multiple outlets, and corner location.

Check out the "before" picture:
Note the bland walls and pet-stained carpet. Oh, and all the boxes. As we repainted and unpacked every other room in the house, this one stayed like this for about 4 months this summer. Finally with the school year upon us, we just had to get it done. Soooo...

Check out the "after" pictures:
Yes, we spent a week and a half and re-painted, de-carpeted, and unpacked (never mind the boxes of office stuff stacked in the guest bedroom right now. It's a work in progress, okay?)! In fact, I was pulling up the last of the staples and tack strip from the floor just one hour before my first class last week. Yesterday, Taylor surprised me with this new computer (from which this post originates) and finally our work space was complete. For now.

So far I have used my new work space to accomplish quite a bit on the e-mail, facebook, and blog front, so perhaps I shall end this post to actually get a little homework finished before class tonight.

Then again, I haven't made it over to YouTube yet today...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 2: Specialized study

Okay, so I have been in graduate school now for 3 school days. And so far I really like it! After 18 years in rural Western Ohio and 5 years in rural Southwest Ohio, it's quite an adjustment being on an urban college campus,* but I'm learning and enjoying the journey.**

*Note: one way streets go only in one direction, making travel a challenging adventure.

**Note: I am making friends!

On my second day of graduate school, I was told that in one week I would have to choose my specialized area of study. This decision will impact the courses I'll take in my second year of the program and where my 16-hr/week field study placement will be, which begins in January 2011 and lasts through graduation in June of 2012. Needless to say, this decision isn't a small one, and I am surprised to be making it so soon.

My choices are:
Mental Health (Direct Practice)
Child and Family (Direct Practice)
Health and Gerontology (Direct Practice)

After hearing from professors and alumni in each field area, I have decided to go into administration. With this track, I will learn more about how agencies and non-profit organizations work. I will be equipped to move up in the ranks of social service organizations and influence change within the organization and in the community. One professor described an alumna from the administration track who used her specialty to advise legislators about social policies at the state level. And because no one jumps to being the vice president of an organization right out of grad school, my foundation courses in my first year will prepare me to work in any setting, including direct practice.

If after a few years in administration I change my mind or decide I want to try out something new, again, my MSW degree will enable me to work in any setting. That's what I love about this program--it allows and encourages range and flexibility throughout my career. Specializing in administration doesn't mean I'll sit behind a desk writing grants for the next 40 years. It just means that I will have specialized knowledge in one area on top of the knowledge I'll have in the other three (mental health, child and family, and health and gerontology).

One week from today I will turn in my proposal for the administrative track, and after considering my past experience and future goals, the School of Social Work will give me two agencies where I will interview for my field placement. Hopefully I will find a match the first time around, but if for some reason I don't like an agency or they don't like me, UC will set up additional interview opportunities for me.

It's going to be a whirlwind of a process, but I am really excited for my placement and the opportunity to gain more experience in the field! I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The big league

A few hours ago, my first class of my graduate career ended. At which point, I wandered around campus for twenty minutes trying to figure out where my parking garage was. Don't worry, I'm not typing this from the campus library--I did eventually find my car. But during that 20-minute stroll I had time to reflect on my first real graduate course experience.

The class is about Human Diversity in Social Work, and, as the title suggests, will cover a range of experiences across humanity. This course is designed to raise cultural awareness so that we may effectively practice with a variety of populations. It's geared toward preparing social workers to interact with every client without judgment or prejudice, no matter our own personal background, beliefs, or values.

I think it will be a good class. The professor talked us through our 3 assignments for the quarter, and they seem manageable: a one-page journal critique, a 5-7 page midterm paper, and a 10-page final paper. Yet, as she described each assignment, I heard several students huffing and puffing about the page requirements. I could tell they were feeling overwhelmed, and I've got to admit, I was surprised by this. I had classes in my undergrad with twice as many papers and assignments as this! I guess I have been preparing for the worst, fully expecting grad school to be my toughest academic challenge to date. And I'm sure it will be. We all just need to take it one day at a time, one project at a time, and hopefully this will be a smooth transition.

One more thing. The professor gave us a glimpse into her 40-year career as a social worker, and her stories were fascinating. It was encouraging to know that a degree in social work will prepare me to work in a variety of placements during the course of my career. Perhaps most inspiring, though, was when she described the profession in general. She said that sociology is about theories, and social work is about taking action on those theories. It's about educating the public, influencing policy change, and making life better for everyone.

Yep, I'm definitely in the right field.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Back to school

In May of 2009, I graduated from Miami University with a B.S. degree in Speech Pathology, and an acceptance letter from University of Cincinnati's MSW program. At the time, I decided to defer enrollment for one year so that I could do the AmeriCorps*VISTA program. It was a great year, but in June of 2010, my VISTA term came to a close. Which means? It's time to head back to school.

Tomorrow is the first day of classes at University of Cincinnati, but my first class isn't until Thursday evening. Even so, this week marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life. For me, getting my graduate degree means equipping myself with the tools I need to work in a field I love. I know I have the heart for this work, but now I need the knowledge, and I'm excited to get started.

My Master of Social Work degree won't be easy, and it certainly doesn't come cheap. One quarter at UC costs $4,412 alone! That amounts to about half of my salary last year. Fortunately, a large chunk of my Segal AmeriCorps Education Award combined with a small university scholarship paid the bill this time, but I'll be facing this same expense in another four months, and another four months after that, and so on for the next two years. Thanks to my parents, I was fortunate enough to escape my undergrad with no student loan debt, but I'm not sure I'll be so lucky this time around.

Did I mention that $4,412 was only for tuition? Today I dropped in at UC to pick up a few other things I'll need this quarter:

That's one student ID, six textbooks, and one parking pass for the quarter. Would you like to guess how much this cost? $200? $300? Not even close.

$650. And that's the expense for just this quarter. Next quarter will have its own set of books and another parking pass to buy. And so will the next and the next and the next. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, everything is taken care of, and I'm ready to go. As costly as education can be, I know that it is an investment in my future and in the future of my family.

Cheers to the future!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ask for it

Last night my parents had an amazing experience--and all because of a little question.

My mom and dad got to fly over Urbana in the Grimes Flying Lab plane, which was used to test and demonstrate airplane lights made by Grimes Manufacturing Company (now known as Honeywell) in Urbana. After sitting in an abandoned field for 14 years or so, a team of volunteers has spent the better part of a decade restoring this historic plane at Grimes Field Urbana Municipal Airport.
My mom and dad grew up in Urbana and remember watching this plane fly over the city in their younger years. So when the plane began restoration, you better believe I heard all about its history/function/purpose/updates/etc. My dad has always had a healthy obsession with planes--we had an annual father-daughter trip to the United States Air Force Museum every winter for as long as I can remember--so he loved that this amazing little plane was being restored right in his hometown. During special events, the airport would open the hangar containing the Flying Lab and let people take a closer look at the progress on the plane. And in recent years, the Flying Lab has been known to do a Labor Day fly-over at Indian Lake, just north of Urbana. With all of this history, it's no surprise that my dad has always been a fan, and has longingly dreamed of riding in that plane.

Well, yesterday was that day. But how?

My mom works in a family practice in Urbana, which means she knows pretty much every resident of the small city who visits the doctor. Every time a volunteer from the airport would come in, my mom would bat her eyelashes and say, "Oh, you work on the Flying Lab? My husband loves that plane, and he would love to ride in it. Would that ever be possible?"

And the volunteer would say, "Well sure, but you would need to talk to Mr. So-and-So."

So my mom would follow up, and that person couldn't authorize a flight or was no longer a volunteer or some other dead end would get in her way.

But my mom didn't get discouraged. She asked every single volunteer who came through the doctors' office, and finally connected with the right person (who, as it turns out, lives across the street from my parents--who knew?) He put my dad's name on a list and said he would call my mom when his number came up. We were excited, but we weren't getting our hopes up. My dad keeps a rigorous work schedule, and we weren't even sure how long the list was! We kept the whole thing a secret from my dad, just in case it didn't work out.

Miraculously, my mom got the call last night and quickly had to come up with a story to get him to the airport. She decided to call my dad and say that she had had some "business" to attend to at the airport, but when she went to leave, her car wouldn't start. My dad was a little suspicious of the whole story, but still stopped at home to get his battery charger and jumper cables before dutifully driving out to the airport to retrieve my mom. When he arrived, my dad was ready to get to work on the car, but my mom was standing watching the planes. The Flying Lab was out and ready to go, so she casually said, "We can go take a look inside that plane, if you want." To which my dad replied, "Oh I've already seen the inside." (Of course.) And then my mom said something like, "Wouldn't it be great to take a ride in that plane someday?"

By this point my dad had figured out that he wasn't there to jump my mom's car, but he was still in disbelief that he would actually get to fly in the Flying Lab. They made their way across the tarmac, and before he knew it, they were BOTH getting in the plane--that's right, my mom got to ride along too! They flew for about half an hour above Champaign County and took lots of pictures--I snagged these from their Facebook pages:

It was undoubtedly the best surprise my mom has ever given my dad, and it's all because she asked a simple question. Even after hearing "no" a couple of times, she didn't give up. She knew there was no harm in asking, and she wasn't afraid to try a bunch of different angles until she found one that worked. As awesome as the flight itself was, I am most impressed with my mom's courage and perseverance. This whole story reminds me of the subject of one of my favorite books--Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. This book discusses the importance of negotiation, which begins by asking for what you want. Negotiation isn't easy for anyone, but I have found that women especially struggle with it, because they don't want to appear too demanding or needy or selfish. As a result, many women don't get what the fully deserve; they don't get their raise, they miss out on experiences, etc., all because they don't ask.

I know my mom has never read this book, but in this case, she seems to be quite the expert on its content. Way to go, momma! Thanks to you, you guys had the ride of a lifetime, and you should be proud of that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Give thanks

I know we've got a little more than two months before Thanksgiving, but Taylor and I started a new year-long tradition in our house that I thought I should share. It's called a gratitude journal. And just as it sounds, it's a book where we can write down the things we're grateful for.

It's nothing fancy. Just a few days ago, I picked up a little 280-page, black leather-bound journal with a bright blue 'W' on the front from a craft store for about $2.50. The pages are unlined, so we can write or draw or scribble or scrapbook or whatever we see fit to record our gratitude. Usually the entries are pretty simple, just a few sentences about what warms our hearts at that moment.

For example, on Friday, 9/10 at 4:04 p.m., Taylor had just left for a 10-hour shift in the ER. And I wrote:
"At this moment I am grateful for my hard-working husband who puts in long hours at the ER so that we can have a comfortable life and I can follow my academic dreams and dabble in part-time work."

On Tuesday, 9/14 at 10:50 p.m., I had just finished about 4 loads of laundry. I took a minute to jot down the following:
"At this moment I am grateful for our washer and drier in the basement. I am grateful that we can use our quarters for anything else in the world other than washing and drying our clothes now. And I'm grateful we have a home where we can keep these wonderful little machines."

It doesn't have to be anything particularly insightful or poetic--just an honest reflection of the moment. And over the past few days I've already noticed a difference in my attitude. I'd been feeling pretty down since finding out that I would never receive my final paycheck from the property management place and that my work study income was in jeopardy for the school year. So by consciously remembering the things that bring joy to my life, I can keep things in perspective and not get so consumed by the things that don't go my way. I've also found that by writing down these experiences, I am more apt to reflect daily on my experiences. Not a day has gone by that I haven't been able to find at least one thing for which I am grateful, but without my gratitude journal, I likely would have overlooked it.

I would encourage everyone to start a gratitude journal. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or formal--a few scraps of paper or an old legal pad would work just as well as an expensive journal. For just a few minutes every day, you can focus on the good in your life. And after a while, when you see all of those good things filling the pages of your book, the world will seem a little brighter.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Running for office

A couple of years ago I attended a women's leadership conference called NEW Leadership Ohio through the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. The week-long program is designed "to encourage and empower college women to take on public and political leadership roles." It was during that week that I first entertained the idea of running for political office one day. We'll see what the future holds--I need to learn a whole lot more before I could ever consider running for any office.

One thing I should probably practice is my speech-making. Perhaps I could take a lesson or two from Phil Davison, GOP Candidate for Treasurer of Stark County, Ohio.

A lesson of what not to do, anyway. He didn't win the nomination.

Watch the clip to see why.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Plan B... or C...or D?

Things aren't going so well in job-land. Don't worry, everything's still going well at the domestic violence shelter. Unfortunately, though, my work study position for this fall that has fallen through. I interviewed for the position earlier this summer in June, and officially accepted the position a few weeks later. But because it was a work study job, it wouldn't be starting until at least September 20th, when UC classes start. We agreed to get back in touch closer to that date, and left it at that.

A few days ago I sent the director an email about my fall work schedule. He responded by saying that there must have been a miscommunication and they had already given away all of their work study positions for the school year. As disappointed as I am, I have little recourse in this situation, and my only real option is to move on and try to get another work study job. I applied for about 8 other positions last night in a frantic effort to find another placement before school starts, so here's hoping thousands of my peers are not in the same boat!

And in other news, remember the receptionist job that I had for about two and a half weeks in August before I quit? Well I've been waiting for them to mail me my last paycheck for about two weeks now (I had even enclosed an addressed, stamped envelope in my resignation packet to make this a little easier). After about a week of a checkless mailbox, I sent the owner an email to find out if the check was ready for me to just pick up. When my email went a week unanswered, I called to see if I could pick up my check. But after getting a busy signal even after business hours, I knew something was up. I went on their website to look for other options to contact them, but when I typed in their web address, the site was "under construction" and "offline." I mentioned this to a friend of mine who was online at the time, and she searched for the company on the BBB's website. I had actually researched the company through the BBB a few weeks earlier, and their profile was "under review." This time, though, the BBB reported that the company had apparently gone out of business on August 25th--just 3 days after I submitted my letter of resignation.

No wonder I wasn't getting any response! I immediately emailed our attorney, who advised that while I could sue the company, I would have very little chance of collecting, even if I won the suit. There are so many other vendors, property owners, and businesses with an interest in this case, that my part-time paycheck would probably be pretty low on the list. Bummer.

I'm pretty upset over this--I feel betrayed, duped, and hundreds of dollars poorer, that's for sure! I filed a complaint with the BBB, who referred me to the Department of Wage and Labor. I don't imagine it will change things much, but I feel better to get it out there.

All things considered, I'm just glad that I trusted my instinct and didn't stick around to see the business' collapse. I'm sticking to non-profits from now on, and I hope nothing like this happens again!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor day weekend

Happy Labor Day! I hope it is labor-free, and if it isn't, that you are getting compensated fairly for your work on this holiday weekend.

This weekend has been a whirlwind, and quite non-traditional in the way of labor. For the next six weeks I will be filling in on a weekend third shift for a staff member at the House of Peace. Saturday night/Sunday morning was my first shift on my own, and let me tell you, it's quite a big adjustment working third shift one day a week. It's difficult to get on a consistent schedule! In the days leading up to my shift, I tried staying awake later and later, but it's not quite the same as staying up all night. When school starts this will really get interesting, especially if other co-workers ask me to fill in for them on other days/nights. Fortunately all of my graduate classes will be in the early to mid evenings, so maybe I'll just end up turning into a bit of a night owl anyway.

Nonetheless, I survived the night and crashed immediately upon returning home Sunday morning. I was up by 2:30 that afternoon, and after some delicious scrambled eggs courtesy of my faithful husband (hey, it's breakfast somewhere!), I ventured off to my best friend's apartment in preparation for Riverfest Fireworks in Cincinnati. By 4:30 or so we had successfully staked our spot at a beautiful overlook in Eden Park. Check out all of the boats!

Then it was magazines, crocheting, and chatting for the next 5 hours or so! We got to know the people around us, and we even scored free snowcones for saving a spot for a family of 3. The fireworks were spectacular, and it was a lot of fun to take part in this Cincinnati tradition. We've only been here for about 3 months or so, and I enjoyed feeling part of the city and getting to know some of my fellow Cincinnatians. By the end of the night I was exhausted, but it was well worth it for the sense of community I felt. And of course hanging out with my best friend is always worth a little sleeplessness. :)

Speaking of sleeplessness, Taylor worked all night last night, and he's finally up today. Time for breakfast!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just what the doctor ordered

Yesterday I posted about a new government pilot program launching in Massachusetts intended to encourage healthy eating among food stamp recipients. If you actually followed the link to that article, you might have also noticed a reference to a new idea circulating among health centers in that state in which doctors are writing prescriptions for fresh produce. In an effort to curb the effects of obesity among America's poorest, some clinics are now dispensing $1 farmers' market coupons to their patients.

The New York Times recently reported on this program, pointing out that the concept itself isn't necessarily new. In the 1980s, Massachusetts was the first state to dispense farmers' market coupons to low-income pregnant women to help prevent malnourishment during the most formative years of children's development. There are now similar farmers' market programs for women and children in 36 other states.

While this program seems like a great idea, it isn't going to solve the obesity epidemic singe-handedly. The article points out that while the "veggie vouchers" are likely to produce results in the short term, that they do not have the potential for long-term sustainability. The fear is that people will go back to their old habits when the voucher program ends or in the winter when the farmers' markets are closed. To decrease this risk, the same health centers dispensing the coupons are taking a holistic approach by encouraging families to cut back on unhealthy snacks and increase their physical activity.

Personally, I think every little bit helps. Every year childhood obesity costs $14.1 billion in health expenses like emergency room visits and prescriptions. And left untreated, those children grow up to be obese adults--which cost an additional $147 billion to treat annually. A few dollars at the farmers' market is a drop in the bucket compared to these exorbitant costs. Health clinics in Massachusetts are realizing that we can either pay now or we can pay later. In time we will have a complete picture on how effective this program is, but for now, kudos to the clinics who are taking action against a national epidemic one step at a time.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

30% off

Check out this article about a food stamp pilot program launching in Massachusetts. As the title of this post suggests, food stamp recipients will receive a 30-cent discount on every dollar they spend on fresh produce. The goal of this program is to determine if people will eat healthier food if it is more affordable. My guess is: yes. When Taylor and I received food assistance, we found it frustrating that our food stamp dollars were stretched thin just because we filled our cart with fresh produce instead of Ramen noodles and boxes of mac 'n cheese. The difference in cost between sodium-filled, shelf-stable items and nutrient-rich, freshly grown produce is obvious, and tends to be a disincentive to healthy eating. No wonder there is such a correlation between poverty and obesity in this country.

Of course, people who don't qualify for food assistance would be grateful for such a subsidy, as well. When you think about how much the government subsidizes corn in this country (contributing to the production of shelf-stable food made from corn, corn syrup, etc.), it's no wonder people will reach for the bag of chips instead of the box of strawberries. It's cheaper; you get more for your money because the government enables it to be so. If the government threw their weight behind fresh produce like they have behind corn, imagine the difference that could make in grocery store prices and food choices across America. It would mean parents wouldn't have to choose between a gallon of sugary fruit juice and a bag of fresh apples for their kids. And two 20-somethings in Southwest Ohio wouldn't have to feel guilty about their selection of asparagus and spinach over the cup o' noodles two aisles away.

Hopefully this program does what it is intended to do by increasing access to fresh produce, thus promoting healthy eating among America's most at-risk populations. I hope to see something similar heading towards Ohio soon!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The effects of abuse

I've been a women's advocate at YWCA of Greater Cincinnati's House of Peace for two weeks now, and I can already say that this is the toughest job I have ever had. On some level this would be expected. Domestic violence and abuse are heavy issues to deal with; but remember this isn't the first time I've worked with difficult social issues. No, the toughest part for me is managing conflict within the shelter. With only 16 beds in the shelter, we are frequently at full capacity with women and their children needing protection. And when you have so many different people from different backgrounds living on top of each other, there is bound to be conflict. Believe it or not, residents don't always agree on cleanliness, parenting, meals, hygiene--you name it, there is bound to be a disagreement on it!

It's only natural that people disagree with each other while staying in shelter, but it's the way in which residents handle such conflict that I find most draining. Some women don't hesitate to raise their voices and get in each others' faces to get their point across. At first, this behavior really bewildered me. It's no secret that every resident in shelter has experienced some kind of traumatic, abusive history to get here, and I had wrongly assumed that this shared experience would create a calm environment with lots of quiet, soothing conversations among the residents. Instead, some women lash out at each other (and staff) during conflict because they know no other way to communicate. After years of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse from their partners, some women resort to screaming and yelling because they don't know other more effective methods of communication. All they have known is violence, and it definitely shows.

Of course, not all survivors of domestic violence react to conflict in an explosive manner. Each woman is different, with different experiences. However, when conflict does arise, it's our job at the shelter to defuse the situation and model healthier ways to manage emotions and conflict. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done, and I'm learning every day.