WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

My First Tarot Reading February 6, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 1:36 am
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“Employees only” the door said. She opened it and ushered me down a set of narrow, rickety wooden steps into the basement of the bar her and her husband own. “It’s kinda chilly down here. Sorry about that,” she offered, as she sipped soda through a coffee stirrer. I was led into her office and she motioned for me to sit. She settled into another chair opposite me. White Christmas lights hung from the ceiling and flickering light danced along the walls from the candles between us.

“Have you ever had your cards read before?” she asked. I shook my head no.

“Do you have any questions?” Again, I shook my head no.

“Nothing at all?” she asked, incredulous.

“I don’t really believe in all this,” I admitted. I paused before adding, “I don’t really disbelieve, either. I wouldn’t say I’m a skeptic, exactly. I mean…I want to believe. But I want you to tell me something that will make me believe.”

She had me shuffle her deck of tarot cards and then spread them out, face down, between us. She told me to pick out six cards and keep them face down in front of me. I did as instructed. And it began.

The first thing she did after flipping over my cards, one by one, was scribble a letter on her notepad. And then she told me things about myself. “You tend to be the sensible one in your relationships.” How could she know that? Is it because of the purse I carry? It WAS a sensible purchase… “It’s up to you to sort of rein things in when they’re getting out of hand. You have that wild side in you, too, but realize there’s a time and a place.” Is it written in the way I dress? Damn this Dress Barn top. “You see things that others often don’t. Your intuition is stronger than most people’s.” I’ve always (arrogantly) thought that but lots of people probably think that about themselves. “You’re a super emotional person but you don’t let people see your vulnerable side often. You internalize things that bother you rather than show it.” True. But again, that probably applies to 50% of the world.

She then began talking about “a male in my life who is going through some shit” (her words, not mine). She told me what’s happened so far (which was correct) and warned me that “it’s not over yet.” She told me how I feel about the situation (which was spot on) and advised me how to handle what’s to come. “Does this make sense to you?” She asked. I nodded and motioned to the letter on her notepad as I admitted, “Yes. I think that letter you wrote over there is him.” Lucky guess. Has to be.

She told me that a father or grandfather figure was coming through for me. “Dad has passed, yes?” Nope. “Then it’s a grandfather figure. He’s showing me you as a little girl. He just thought you were the cutest thing.” I meant more to him that I realized, she said. She asked me if his birthday or anniversary was in the month of May. I shook my head and said, “Not that I know of. He was born in November and died in January.” Still, she insisted, “I feel a strong May connection with you.” I told her that my daughter was born in May. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Your grandfather had a hand in that somehow.” This is all a sweet sentiment, but how can I ever know that what she’s saying is true? I can’t very well go ask PopPop, now can I? I was smiling inwardly about my grandfather when she added, “And this is connected to mom, right?” Nope. PopPop was dad’s dad. [Several days later, I realized that she could very well have been talking about my mom's dad. I met him exactly once in my life. My mom, who hadn't had contact with him in years, heard that he was hospitalized and dying. She knew I'd always wanted to meet him and, knowing that it could be my last chance, she took me. I stood awkwardly at the foot of his bed. I was about 12 years old at the most. And I could only think of two things: "So this is who I get my blue eyes from" and "Holy crap, this dude looks like Santa Claus!" He died a short time after that visit. He was alone, after a life riddled with addictions that meant more to him than his family. And that visit probably did mean more to him than my 12-year-old self knew.]

She piled the cards up into one pile and paused. “Mom is in here,” she said, tapping the pile. “But she’s not saying anything to me.” She spread the deck of unused cards in front of me and told me to pick four more. She’d piqued my interest.

For the next five or so minutes, she began to lose me. “Your husband is waiting for a decision that’s going to end in his favor….a promotion or a new job. It’s going to mean more money for the family. Probably around summer time.” August is when Chris’ annual review (and raise) happens at work. But that’s not what I’d call a promotion… “And there’s an opportunity on the horizon for you. It’s not related to work or money. It’s a great change, though. You’ll be leaving something behind and it’s really pretty cool.” Wouldn’t we all like to believe that great things are about to happen to us?

We continued this song-and-dance some more. I chose some cards. She pulled some cards from the unused deck and piled others up after discussing them. She told me about two relationships: an old romantic relationship and a longtime friend relationship. And there was infidelity involved. Considering that I’m happily married to my high school sweetheart and have ZERO reason to believe that he’s been unfaithful, I can’t begin to guess what she could mean by this….I guess this whole tarot thing is a hoax after all.

And that’s when she said something about jewelry of my mom’s. I don’t remember exactly what she said but I remember unfolding my hands and pointing to her wedding band, which I wear on the middle finger of my right hand. Whatever she said had to have hit home because it was then that I began to cry.

“Your mom was sick before she died.” I agreed. I’m fairly young to have a mother who died of natural causes. So she had a 50/50 chance of getting this right….it would’ve either been a sickness or an accident. “She had a hard time in the end. She was depressed because she felt like a burden and because she wasn’t ready for her journey to end. But she accepts it now. She realizes that her journey had to end.” She probably DID feel like that in the end. But then again, I’m sure everyone who dies of cancer at 48 has a hard time coming to terms with it. “She had a sibling who died very young, yes?” I nodded, thinking about her brother Christopher who died of SIDS“She wants you to know that she’s with her brother.”

And then she began to get eerily specific about things that have concerned me since my mom passed…

She squinted a bit and said, “Cooking…something about cooking.” I laughed and said, “I mean, she cooked but she was terrible at it.” She nodded and said, “This may sound strange but I’m just going to say it. She’s showing me a McDonald’s meal and saying ‘I may have been the fast food queen but at least I fed them.’” I laughed again. That was my mom. [Since we started trying to conceive, I've acknowledged that my mother never placed much importance on nutrition when I was growing up. I have even said that I'm downright resentful over the fact that mom didn't teach us about eating healthy and vowed that I'd do better for my daughter. I can absolutely hear my mother saying this and truly feel that this was her retort to my recent statements.]

“There were decisions that had to be made in the end, one of which was somewhat rushed. And she wants you to know that she is happy with them. You made the right decisions.” [We had a family meeting a couple of weeks before the end. She was in ICU at the time and apparently the doctors didn't think she was capable of making her own medical decisions. I remember telling her that I'd be right back, that I had to step across the hall to attend a meeting. And I remember that her face fell. My ordinarily headstrong, independent mother realized that the meeting was about her. "Oh. I don't go to the meeting?" I knew that she knew it was about her. And in that meeting, we---my sister, my father, and me---informed the doctors that it's always been my mother's wish to not be sustained by life support. It was at that meeting that we agreed that when the time came, she would not be resuscitated. On the afternoon that she died, she'd been fighting off pneumonia and having a hard time breathing. I nervously called for the doctor when I noticed her face flashing blue between unsteady, spaced apart breaths. I remember several people rushing in with equipment and one nurse yelling over the chaos, "She's a DNR!" The personnel who were about to intubate her stopped. And within about a half hour, she was gone. I hoped that we'd made the right choice by sticking to what she'd always said were her wishes.]

“Spirits can’t show themselves, just so you know. But she says she sits on your bed and watches you sleeping sometimes. And she sends you signs all the time.” [I remember telling Chris when she first died that I hoped she came to me. And I specifically told him that I don't want to see her because I didn't want to be afraid. I just wanted to know she's there. If she sends me signs, I'm not paying enough attention. But I do seem to dream about her whenever I really need her.]

“You and your sister have placed blame on dad. And she doesn’t want that. She keeps saying ‘he’s just a guy’ and ‘I took such good care of him he’ll never forget me.’ The relationship between the three of you is nothing more than a power struggle and it’s just not worth it. Accept it for what it is and don’t blame him.” [My mom wouldn't have said "guy"..."boy" or "man" maybe, but not "guy." But the sentiment is her to a tee.]

“Did your mom enjoy a cocktail from time to time?” she asked. I shook my head because she didn’t. Ever. “She’s showing me a drink…almost like she wants you to take a drink for her. She wants you to remember her but to laugh and be happy. Your mom is awesome! She is so funny! She can come visit me anytime!” [The whole "laugh and be happy" sentiment is spot on. Following her wake, we had a celebration of her life in lieu of a funeral. There were no flowers. Just balloons. And music. And a memory book in which guests were asked to write a short note about a good time they remember about her.]

“She made it a point to get something for you…something she wanted you to have to pass down…? It’s for your daughter. She wants your daughter to have it. And she wants you to know that she’s so proud of you girls because you’re both moms. She’s stressing that ‘you’re not just mothers…you’re MOMS.’” [True. I was engaged to Chris at the time she was in the hospital. And she insisted that I needed to have a hope chest as my wedding gift. She purchased it while in the hospital and told me she'd fill it will all sorts of things when she got home. She never had the chance to fill it but the hope chest currently holds my wedding dress and Chris' grandmother's china.]

“There is something of your mom’s that was intended for you but you never got it. She wants you to know that your dad may have thrown it out and she doesn’t want you to be mad at him for it.” [My sister and I found a handwritten journal of my mother's at some point just before or just after she died. It was tucked in the drawer of her nightstand. I remember my sister reading snippets of it to me, including one that said something to the effect that she hoped that someday I (specifically) would read it. When we went through her belongings after she passed, it was gone. My father admitted to my sister once long ago that he had it. But neither she nor I have seen it since.]

“She wants me to say thank you for the pizza. She says it meant a lot to her and she remembers it as a happy memory. Does that make sense to you?” I nodded. [One day when my mom was sick, she was having a "good day." It was before she lost the muscle strength in her legs that would eventually render her unable to walk. And it happened to be a day between chemo treatments when she had an appetite. All she wanted was pizza from a particular pizza shop in our hometown. Not only did I deliver the pizza to her hospital room, but I also brought her dog (Bobby McGee, who happens to currently be curled up at my feet). The four of us---me, her, my dad, and Bobby McGee---took a stroll outside the hospital and found a gazebo. We sat there while she at her pizza and pet Bob. It was one of only a handful of truly happy memories I have of her final months.]

I daubed my eyes with a tissue—probably my third or fourth one I pulled from the box on the table during our session—and whispered, “I’m a believer.”

 

Zumba 101 December 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 10:47 pm

My love affair with Zumba began about two years ago with a drunken pinkie promise  in the booth of a Denny’s Restaurant at around 2:30am. (Isn’t that where all good things begin, really?) “Okay, I’ll give it a try,” I vowed.

And I hated my first class.

I agreed to “give it another try” before making up my mind, though. And after a few such tries, I was hooked.

Hi, I’m Sierra and I’m an addict. It’s been three hours since my last class.

All people belong in one of three groups: those who have no idea what Zumba is, those who haven’t tried Zumba yet, and those who love Zumba. There’s no other option. I assure you.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NO IDEA WHAT ZUMBA IS…

It’s the most fun you’ll ever have while working out. And the number of calories you can burn in an hour is astounding. So, please. Crawl out from the rock under which you’ve been living for the past 10+ years and YouTube it. Wiki it. Google it.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVEN’T TRIED ZUMBA YET…

You have your reasons, I know. But I’m here to dispell them.

I’d be terrible at Zumba because I can’t dance. Wrong. If you can follow along when Aunt Millie breaks out with the good ol’ Electric Slide any family function with a DJ, then you can Zumba. That’s all Zumba is, really…just a series of line dances you haven’t learned yet. Here’s what you can expect from a Zumba class: An instructor will turn off the overhead lights (and likely turn on some sort of strobes or colored lights), the students will cheer, and then he or she will lead the class through about 55 minutes of easy-to-follow, repetitive dance moves followed by about 5 minutes of stretching. Just do your best to follow along and if you can’t understand how to do a move, just do something else instead. The goal is to keep moving. And with the lights off, no one is really going to notice what you’re doing anyway.

I can’t go to Zumba! I’m a dude! Tell that to my husband Chris, who’s been coming to class with me multiple times per week since the beginning. True, attendance is predominantly (okay, almost exclusively) female. But I’ve had a handful of male classmates…and even a few male instructors. No one is going to look at you cross-eyed, I promise.

I’m not in good enough physical shape to take a Zumba class. You don’t have to be in shape at all. In fact, if you’re not in shape, that’s a pretty good reason to start going, isn’t it? All good instructors will be glad to show you how to modify movements as needed. Bad knees? Step side-to-side instead of jumping. Can’t figure out what the heck everyone is doing when the instructor yells “Merengue!”? March in place. Having a hard time popping your hip as quickly as the person next to you? Try going at half-speed. No one is going to bat an eye at what you are or aren’t doing during class as long as you’re moving.

I wouldn’t know what to wear. Though the Zumba website offers a full wardrobe of Zumba gear (including under garments and shoes), there’s no uniform. Sure, you’ll see some students in the official garb. But most of us just wear a comfy t-shirt and some yoga pants. Or sweats. Or basketball shorts. Really the only criteria is that it’s comfortable and breathable. Dress like you’re about to go for a jog. When it comes to shoes, go for something lightweight with little or no tread. Stay away from running shoes (or any other shoe geared toward forward motion) and dance shoes (or any other shoe with no or split soles). 

I’m afraid to go by myself…who will I talk to? Before class begins, you can say hello to the other people in class. We’re friendly. But beware. If you tell us it’s your first class, we’ll probably shoot off on a tangent about how great Zumba is. During class, no one has the breath to talk to anyone else anyway. And after class you’ll be so sweaty you won’t want to hang around to mingle.

How will I know what to do or where to stand? We’re friendly, yes, but we can also be territorial. Ultimately, we’re there to work out so our goal is to be certain we’ll have full range of motion throughout class. Others crowding into “our” space or otherwise inhibiting our movement is a buzzkill. Some tips for your first class:

  • Don’t encroach upon the front row. That’s where the regulars (and/or friends of the instructor) stand. And you definitely don’t want to be there if you don’t have some semblance of an idea as to what you’re doing because as the instructor moves around the room, the rest of the class will invariably rely on those in the front row to know what move is next.
  • Don’t hide in the back of the room. You’ll never be able to see the instructor from the back row. If you can’t see the instructor, you chances of learning the steps are diminished.
  • Don’t stand smack in the center of the room. Newbies typically prefer to fly under the radar. But here’s a hint: Everyone watches the instructor. The instructor typically stands at the front of the class near the center. So try to choose a spot near the edges of the room (even if it’s near the front). Everyone will be looking towards the center so no one will notice what you’re doing.
  • Don’t try to keep yourself lined up too perfectly with anyone else. Stand slightly to the left or right of the people in front of you (and behind you). Stand slightly in front of (or behind) the people to your left and right. This will give everyone the illusion of having more room to move.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LOVE ZUMBA…

You’ve tried it. You love it. You can’t wait to go back to your next class. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

Not all instructors are created equal. I’m not Zumba certified but I’ve heard from those who are that “certification is a joke.” To become certified to teach classes, you pay a fee and show up for a one-day training seminar. Attendance is taken at the start of the day. And certification is given out at the end of the day. But there’s no tracking who actually stays for the middle part of the day when all the “training” actually takes place. That said, some instructors take what they do seriously. Those are the instructors who spend time selecting music, choreographing, and arranging their routines to maximize your calorie burn. If the class isn’t full, chances are the instructor isn’t very good (or is unfortunate enough to have a terrible timeslot for class). If you’re not sweating by, say, the third song, chances are the instructor isn’t very good. If you’re bored, chances are the instructor just ins’t for you. There are so many different “flavors” of Zumba classes so if one isn’t working for you, try another instructor.

The music is an important aspect of class. But it’s not the ONLY important aspect. I have seen some classmates (literally!) pop in earplugs at the start of class to shut out some of the noise. I’ve also seen some classmates bow their heads, raise their hands, and pretty much fade into their own two-steppin’ world the minute their “jam” comes on. Ideally, you should be somewhere in between these two extremes. If you don’t like the music, you should try another instructor; every instructor has their own style and chooses their playlist based on what they like. I’ve been to classes where the music is entirely instrumental, classes where the playlist could’ve been pulled from the American Top 40′s countdown, and classes where unusual-to-Zumba genres (ie country, techno, classic rock) have been sprinkled throughout. Find a class that suits your taste. But once you do, remember that your job doesn’t end with simply enjoying the soundtrack. Now you’ve got to MOVE.

Everyone—probably even you—has a nickname. When Chris and I first started going to Zumba, we didn’t know anyone else in our class. Two years later, we still don’t know most of them by name. But we’ve got nicknames for almost all the regulars. There’s Cow, a (despite what you may have thought) very physically fit woman who chews loudly on gum throughout every class EVER. And Hip (who over-exaggerates all hip motions). Soccer and Soccer Mom (a young, athletic girl who wears soccer shorts and sweat bands and her mother) always come together. Skunk used to have dark hair with a light streak down it…but will forever be Skunk regardless of her current hair color. Earplug hates loud music. I used to think this was “our” ritual—naming our classmates. Until one day when I heard Wingspan (the tallest, lankiest woman I’ve ever seen) whisper something to her friend about Google. I was not party to their conversation but as soon as she said Google, the three of us instinctively looked to the front of the room at the girl who immediately begins walking through the routine the moment she hears the next song start playing. She. Knows. EVERYTHING. And that’s the moment I realized that it’s not just something Chris and I do. About a year into attending Zumba, having lost a fair amount of weight, Soccer Mom approached me and said, “You look great. My daughter and I call you guys the Disappearing People.” It was then that I realized *gasp* we might even have our own nicknames from our classmates. (Side note: I’d HATE to know what Soccer Mom calls me now…post-baby and not-so-disappearing these days…)

You’re working out. Not starring in a J-Lo music video. Unless it’s a wedding band, jewelry really doesn’t belong in a Zumba class. So, please, remove your four inch hoop earrings before the warm-up. You are not obligated to coif your hair or layer on make-up for that 8am class on Saturday. You’re going to sweat. It’s okay to look a bit disheveled. There’s this one girl—I like to call her Porn Star—who comes to class every now and then. She arrives in a t-shirt, pony tail, and the teeniest short shorts known to man. And by the third (or so) song, without fail, she presses one hand up against the mirror and pulls her ponytail out with the other. She literally shakes her hair out. Then takes off her shirt and finishes class in her sports bra and teensy shorts. And every time she does this (which is every time she’s in class, mind you), I’m not the only one stifling a laugh and rolling my eyes. No one cares what you look like. Trust me.

If you’re not having a good time, you’re doing it wrong. It’s okay to smile. It’s okay to ham it up. Get lost in the music. Get lost in your movements. Know what you’re doing? Then do it bigger. The more fun you have, the more you’ll want to move. And the more you move, the more calories you’ll burn.

 

Poop Happens September 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 2:08 pm
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One thing I have learned since becoming a parent is that poop is important. And talking about it is perfectly acceptable. You, my dear readers, will learn that from this post, if you haven’t already.

Before I was a parent, I didn’t realize you need to know when a kid poops. Not only when but how often and—gasp—what it looks like. (“Greenish and kinda seedy” is a common utterance in our house.) And this past weekend, I learned that poop is never more important than when it’s not happening. As was the case this weekend.

Friday night is a bath night for Rylin. Chris usually puts on a bathing suit and jumps in with her; it’s easier than trying to get her to sit still in the bath seat we have. So when she didn’t do her usual afternoon poop on Friday, Chris and I decided that we’d bathe her “after she poops tomorrow morning.” That turned into “before bed tonight after she poops” which turned into “Sunday morning after she poops.” Several times over the weekend, she got that real concentrated look on her face which was coupled with a little grunting and general fussiness. But when we changed her…no poop.

So we did what any parents in our shoes would have done. We busted out the big guns. We fed her Kirkland brand formula. Now, Kirkland makes some wonderful products. Don’t get me wrong here. But their baby formula seems to go right through Rylin. Which was a nuisance when we first discovered it but is a lifesaver when she’s having a hard time going.

GrinWhen Sunday night rolled around and there still hadn’t been poop, we admitted defeat. “She HAS TO have a bath tonight,” I decreed. Chris agreed.  While he drew the bath and suited up, I laid Rylin on the changing station on her “pack and play” which, for the record, is about five steps from the bathroom door. I took off her outfit and diaper. She smiled at me. It was a wide, tight-lipped grin which when flashed my way at 6:30am means “Hey, mom! I’m glad to see you!” But apparently when she does it at 7pm it means, “Brace yourself. I’m about to pee on you.” I let her finish, dried her legs with a baby wipe, and passed her off to daddy in the bathtub while I changed the wet pad that lines the changing table. Phew, I though. At least she peed BEFORE I picked her up to bring her to the bathtub. Because THAT’S happened…she’s happy as a clam in the bathtub and I’m standing there with a pee-drenched shirt. Not fun.

Rylin loves water. Be it the pool, a bath, or a shower, she kicks excitedly and tries to grab at the water. So bath time is usually all smiles and laughter. But last night was different. Chris bounced her up and down in the water and let her splash a little. Then all of a sudden, she started screeching like a tween who was just told that Justin Bieber has retired. Bright red face, pouty lip, hands balled up in fists. Inconsolable. Chris did what any concerned parent would do. He lifted her up out of the water and pulled her to his chest for a hug. And that’s when I saw it.

Poop.

“Keep her up out of the water!” I instructed Chris and I ran to grab some baby wipes. And that’s how I came to be bending over the bath tub, catching poop in a baby wipe. The whole time she was going, she kept trying to turn around to see what on earth was happening back there, fussing and straining all the way. And finally she was done. I dropped the “gift” into the toilet, flushed, and told Chris I’d be right back with another baby wipe to clean her before he puts her back into the bath water.

Photo credit: Bree Kohler-Priester

No sooner had I walked out of the bathroom to get more baby wipes, I heard Chris say, “Oh, boy. The Kirkland formula has kicked in.” I came back to the bathroom to find what I was hoping we had managed to avoid. Poop. In the bath water. Rylin smiled at it as it floated away, towards the drain. Not that tight-lipped grin. A big, gaping smile that says, “Look what I did!”

And all we could do was try not to laugh and remind each other, “She’s lucky she’s cute.”

 

 

Daily Prompt: I am a Rock September 5, 2013

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 12:16 am
Tags: , , , ,

The Daily Post’s daily prompt today was “I am a Rock.” We were encouraged to write about asking for help. If you’d like to read more about this prompt, check out their blog post: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/daily-prompt-self/

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I Need Help

I’m not one to ask for help. I’m more the type that would rather bury herself in a pile of paperwork at work, heap one too many to-do list items at home, and end up a frazzled, weepy mess by Friday than dare ask anyone to lend a hand. Which is why it’s a bit out of character for me to request help now. But I need it. I need help making sense of those who ask for and/or accept help a bit too freely. And by “ask for and/or accept help a bit too freely” I mean “take advantage.”

I grew up in a world where hard work led to accomplishments led to reward. Succeeding in school was non-negotiable. Anyone who wasn’t a student worked and everyone who worked made a decent living. In all fairness, I also grew up in a world where the average house didn’t have internet so it’s hard to know what life was like outside of my bubble of family and friends. But it sure seemed like life was a lot different.

Today, people have an air of entitlement and finding loopholes and/or cheating the system is the norm. Maybe it’s due to the economic downturn. Maybe the moral compass of our society is out of whack. Maybe both. Our government dishes out all kinds of help which—don’t get me wrong—is an important safety net to help families who have hit hard times. But it’s hard to keep that positive outlook about that help when I have seen (both in my professional and personal life) that very help fostering laziness and reliance on the system.

Unemployment vs Working

When the economy tanked, so did the job market. Lots of people lost money, their jobs, their ability to support themselves. And the government started writing paychecks. People accepted that help because they needed it. The recession has been a black cloud hovering over our country for several years. So long, in fact, that the maximum length of time that a citizen can collect unemployment was extended. A couple of times, I believe. But there are no checks and balances. I’ve seen people happily collect unemployment without so much as submitting a single resume or filling out a single application. I’ve seen people purposely botch interviews—or blow them off completely—and turn down job offers so as to stay on unemployment. I’ve seen people purposely under-perform at work to get fired so they can collect unemployment. I’ve seen people quit their jobs and be granted unemployment. Meanwhile, I’ve also seen single moms work multiple jobs to support their kids on their own. And I’ve seen gainfully employed people earning less than those collecting unemployment. And I’ve seen “help wanted” signs at dozens of places around town. So I need help understanding why some people no longer value hard work and how exactly the current unemployment policies are meant to help.

Health Insurance

It ain’t cheap. But being uninsured can be even more expensive if you need to see a doctor. So my husband Chris and I are certain that we maintain coverage for us and our newest addition. Thankfully, Chris’ employer not only offers a policy but also pays a portion of the premium. The balance of the cost is deducted from his pay. In addition to paying part of the premium, we are responsible for what the policy says insurance doesn’t cover. We, like everyone else I know who has health insurance, must pay copays and deductibles and coinsurance. And, of course, we must follow certain guidelines to be sure that our claims are paid. From what I can tell, insurance companies have done their very best to make the whole process as confusing as possible. But what about those people who receive their health coverage from the state? I’ve seen some use state insurance to help support their prescription medication addictions. I’ve seen some pop into the ER for minor ailments that would be more (cost-) effectively treated by a primary care physician. I’ve also seen gainfully employed people who are unable to afford health coverage. And I’ve seen people with health coverage incur crippling debt from medical services that aren’t covered in full—or at all—by their policy. So I need help understanding why we aren’t all afforded the same coverage currently only made available to those who can’t afford to buy their own policy.

Daycare

I maintain that if I had done my due diligence and researched the cost of daycare prior to deciding to start a family, Rylin wouldn’t be here. When I was pregnant, Chris and I began discussing our expectations for childcare, as one of us not working just wasn’t an option financially. I pictured her in a daycare center—one with brightly colored cubbies, certified teachers, and a pre-school curriculum. And then we began pricing said daycare centers. Some of them had a monthly rate higher than our mortgage payment. Not an exaggeration. So we began looking into a more economical option: home daycare. We lucked out. We found a home daycare provider who we like, who only somewhat breaks the bank, and we never question that Rylin receives quality care. Still, as long as I’m speaking honestly, if money were no object I’d have her in a center. But did you know that there is a government-funded program that subsidizes childcare costs at the daycare of your choice? I absolutely understand the necessity of the program (and wish that Chris and I qualified!). And you wouldn’t think there’s a reason to cheat this program, right? Well, I’ve seen parents apply—and qualify!—for assistance despite the fact that one parent is unemployed and fully capable of caring for the child. I’ve also seen parents limit their family size because they can’t afford childcare for another child. So I need help understanding why the burden of childcare costs—and regardless of your income, it is an adjustment!—is only alleviated for some but not all. And more importantly, I need help understanding why any parent capable of providing “daycare” to their own child would opt to send him or her off to a daycare provider instead!

It sickens me to see that so many people have complete disregard for their responsibility and a lack of appreciation for the help they are afforded and/or respect for the government that gives it to them. Those that cheat the system will eventually ruin it for the people who actually need the help and use the help as intended. The fact that some people seem to take pleasure in lying, cheating, and getting everything handed to them boggles my mind and leaves me feeling jaded. And I need help restoring my faith in humandkind.

 

Planting a Tree August 28, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 11:40 pm
Tags: , ,

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

–Chinese Proverb

In December 2004, I stuffed my dorm room into my 1991 Dodge Dynasty, crossed the Throgs Neck Bridge one last time, and headed home to Connecticut having finished my degree at Long Island University, CW Post. Part of me stops to wonder, has it really been that long? But then I remember that that Dynasty was junked 3 cars ago—god, I loved that car—, my alma mater is now known as LIU Post, and I’m a mom. So, yes, it has been that long.

Anyway, home I came. I settled back in to my mom and dad’s house and took a lazy stab at a job hunt. I say “lazy” because I really spent no time at all before my sister suggested I help out at her office. “You know, temporarily.” She worked for a collection agency and their data entry clerk had quit right around the time that the agency acquired another…so not only was new business piling up but there was also an entire database of existing accounts to transfer from the old agency to the new.

It only took me a few months to get things caught up. But they were in no rush to get rid of me because without me, they’d be back to having no data entry clerk. And without them I’d be back to actually having to job hunt. So I stayed. And they gave me new tasks. I spent the next couple of years not only doing data entry but also acting as “legal liaison.” When a bill didn’t get paid and the debtor had verifiable assets (a job or a home), it was my job to transition the account to legal status; I obtained authorization from the creditor to sue the debtor, forwarded the account to a collection attorney, and then proceeded to be the link between attorney and client throughout the litigation and post-judgment process. I taught myself everything I needed to learn for that position and loved it. I learned a bit about small claims court and judicial process. And I learned the art of skip tracing.

And they soon realized that I’m pretty adaptable. And organized. And quick to teach myself whatever I need to know to get a job done. So they moved me to their sister company—a repossession agency. My job: “manage the operation.” And I was quick to realize that the “operation” was, for lack of a better word, a clusterfuck. I came in at a time when the company was transitioning from paper orders to an online system and pretexting was an acceptable means to obtain information. Notes weren’t kept about what the drivers were seeing and doing in the field or what office staff was doing on the inside. Fee schedules and paperwork were ad hoc at best. Invoices were sent out with the wrong fees then never paid by clients and no one ever followed up to request payment. And, in general, everyone seemed to be making their own rules.

I organized. I streamlined. And, once again, had to teach myself everything I needed to learn to do my job effectively. There was no training. I just did it. Interviewing and hiring, training and retraining, using our software to its fullest potential, creating policies and procedures, keeping accounts payable under control, monitoring and enforcing client contracts, contracting with insurance providers and other vendors. I have mediated conversations with angry debtors who woke up to find their cars missing. I have helped move repossessed vehicles to auction. I have negotiated contract terms with new clients. I have fine-tuned my skip tracing skills, which is honestly THE favorite part of my job. I have done ride-alongs with my drivers and even personally repossessed a few cars. But most importantly, I have been an integral part of taking the agency from what it was to what it is. And what it is is an agency that repossesses collateral safely and ethically, all the while remaining within compliance with all laws, regulations, and contract terms. And I’m proud of that.

Yet I feel like I’ve hit a wall. The repossession industry is changing. More and more regulations continue to pop up, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Clients—especially the big banks—expect their repossession agents to work harder and do more but often aren’t willing to pay more. In some cases, clients in 2013 are paying the same as or less than they were in 2008…yet the price of fuel, insurance, EVERYTHING has increased in that time. I feel overworked (not enough vacation time), underpaid (I can’t remember the last time I received a raise), and unappreciated (by my superiors, my staff, and—with rare exception—my clients). And all the while, my degree is literally collecting dust. Is this what I busted my butt for (graduated suma cum laude, thank you very much) in school?

I’ve had the notion for a couple of years that there’s nowhere to go in my position. Unless I aspire to own said repossession agency when my boss retires—which, let me be clear…I don’t!—then what am I striving for? Nothing. When I first got the “I came, I saw, I conquered” feeling, I began another half-baked job search. Checked Monster.com here. Emailed a resume there. Even interviewed at a few places. I’m employed, so there’s no sense of urgency in that “OMG-where-is-my-next-paycheck-coming-from?” sort of way. But my goal for the not-too-distant future is to figure out what I want to be when I grow up and then go do it. Step one: I updated my LinkedIn profile. (If you’d like to connect: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/sierra-sorrell/33/94a/78.)

I should’ve made this decision about two or three years ago. But today is as good a day as any to plant that tree, right?

 

Audiology and why I’m a terrible person July 17, 2013

Somewhere during my third trimester, probably over a bowl of ice cream and certainly while rubbing my belly, I mused to Chris, “Our job as her parents is to help her become the person she’s meant to be.” We had been playing the what-if game that all expectant parents play. (Don’t they?)

What if she hates us? How could she when we’re going to teach her and listen to her and love her unconditionally?

What if she’s gay? I just hope she finds someone to love and grow old with.

What if she decides she want to be a vegetarian like her momma? I’ll be happy as long as she’s nourished and growing.

And I had decided that I would never be disappointed in who Rylin becomes because my only expectation is that she becomes herself. Those parents whose lives shatter when their children choose the “wrong” career or marry the “wrong” partner are surely only devastated because their children have failed to live up to what mom and dad have already carved out for them in their minds. If we just roll with it and watch Rylin unfold into the young woman she is, how could we ever have regrets? I was so confident in my ability to clear my mind of all expectations for her future and remain open to all the possibility that was curled up and kicking inside me.

It wasn’t until her two week check-up that I began to question my willpower to not start to fill in the blanks for what lay ahead for her. “When do we retest her hearing?” I asked her pediatrician. She received a “refer” on the hospital’s infant hearing screening prior to us being discharged. Refer, as far as I can tell, is a nice way of saying “fail” without making new parents feel like their kid is anything less than perfect. Anyway, the staff pediatrician at the hospital assured us that it happens to lots of kids and that “the vast majority of them test normal at the recheck.” We tucked that information away and assured ourselves that Rylin would be like “the vast majority.” So there was nothing to worry about.

“We can recheck right now, as long as she stays quiet like this,” her doctor replied. She pulled out a machine that was about the size of a walkman (yes, I’m dating myself) and put a tiny earpiece into Rylin’s left ear as she dozed in my arms. A few seconds later, she withdrew the earpiece, made an adjustment, and replaced it in her left ear again. And then, she said what I was afraid to hear. “She’s still not passing. I just checked twice.” We were told that additional testing would be required and that a specialist from the children’s hospital would contact us to schedule an appointment.

In the days leading up to the appointment with her audiologist, I convinced myself that nothing was wrong. She probably just had fluid in her ear from delivery still. She startles to loud noises, so clearly she’s fine. Right? 

The audiologist began with a test that, she explained, tests whether or not there is any blockage in the ear canal. There wasn’t. No debris, no fluid…just a clear path to the ear drum. I breathed a sigh of relief, certain that that meant the fluid that was in her ear before—the fluid that prevented her from passing the initial screenings—had drained. She’d pass this test with flying colors.

Next, she pulled out the same walkman-looking machine that Rylin’s pediatrician used in her office. This, come to find out, is called an OAE (oto-accoustic emissions) test. Greek to me. Anyway, she checked both ears. “We like to test both, even though in her case we aren’t concerned about her right ear. We like to gather information from both ears.” The news wasn’t quite what we were expecting. She wasn’t passing on her left ear. But her right ear was behaving in a similar way. Does this mean neither ear works correctly? 

The audiologist explained the final test to us as she affixed tiny round stickers to Rylin’s forehead and behind her ears. In the BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test she would attach electrodes to the stickers and those electrodes would measure Rylin’s brain’s response to various tones played through a tiny earpiece inserted into her ear. One at a time; again, both ears would be checked.

We sat as quiet and still as possible, hoping that Rylin would remain sleeping long enough to complete the test. I watched the computer screen in front of the audiologist and wondered what all the lines meant. They’re moving a lot. That’s a good thing, right? About an hour into the test, the earpiece was moved from her left ear to her right. And we continued to sit quietly. Until about 15 minutes later, the audiologist explained that Rylin was starting to stir too much to continue the test. “I was able to rule out profound, severe, and moderate hearing loss.” I felt relief until she continued. “But I haven’t been able to rule out mild hearing loss.” And, again, her right ear (which passed the initial screening) is behaving much like her left. She showed us the computer screen she had been working from and pointed out what the lines meant. “This line here is the sound I played. And this line here is her response to that sound. With normal hearing, you’d expect to see a distance between these lines.” Rylin’s report didn’t look normal. Additional testing would be needed. When we come for our second appointment, the audiologist said, we would retest both ears. And determine whether or not Rylin might be a candidate for hearing aids. Hearing aids? Rylin doesn’t need hearing aids. 

When we opened the exam room door and entered the hallway leading back to the waiting room, I caught a glimpse of my future. A young boy was on his way in. He looked to be about five years old. A bit unsteady on his feet, clutching a toy truck in his arms, thick glasses perched on his nose. The woman walking next to him—likely a speech pathologist—chatted with him and I couldn’t help but notice that his pronunciation was off.

Suddenly, the what-if game took a different turn. What if she really can’t hear? What if her hearing loss affects her speech development? What if she needs hearing aids. I found myself googling to learn more about infant hearing loss. Could infant hearing improve? Could the BAER test results be wrong? Do children with mild hearing loss perform as well in school as children with normal hearing?

I expressed my concerns to Chris. “If both ears are behaving the same, that means her left ear is only barely failing, right?” And what I thought was, “Or her right ear is barely passing.” I admitted that I was worried that she may need hearing aids. I was worried about how others would receive her, how her peers would treat her. Will she still get to be a normal little girl? I watched her closely for signs that she was hearing. She startles when the dogs bark. Her eyes flinch when I replace the cap on her bottle after a feeding. She can’t possibly be not hearing, right?

A week passed between that day and our next appointment. Same office. Same test. Different audiologist. After about two hours of sitting quietly, watching my sleeping newborn with electrodes all over her head, the audiologist turned to me with news. “She is testing in the normal range. She is responding to all the tones I’ve played and I’ve been able to duplicate those responses, which rules out the possibility of it being a fluke.” Both ears. No more retesting. No hearing aids. Completely normal.

I let a tear slip out and broke into a huge smile. I have never felt so much relief.

And then I felt guilt. I realized that despite the fact that I vowed to not plan my daughter’s future for her, I somewhat had. In my mind, she’d learn to talk early and excel in school. We’d whisper secrets to each other before I tucked her in at night. She would tell me long, winding stories about her days and her friends. I hadn’t planned out anything that didn’t seem like a given during my pregnancy. But I had planned enough to be shattered by the reality that a hearing loss could change the things I wanted for Rylin’s future.

I felt like a terrible person for allowing myself to spend the last week thinking that a mild hearing loss was the worst possible thing that could have ever happened to Rylin. I thought back to that little boy at the audiologist’s office and felt ashamed that I saw his imperfections before I saw the fact that he was a happy, well cared for little boy. I felt disgusted that my biggest concern was possibly needing to have my newborn fit for hearing aids when other parents are dealing with much bigger issues than mine. I thought of my cousin and her wife. My cousin was due to deliver her baby girl exactly one month after I was due to deliver my baby girl. But instead, she delivered a sleeping baby ten days after Rylin arrived. How could I have been selfish enough to worry about a possible mild hearing loss when she’s dealing with child loss? Isn’t adapting to a future slightly different than I expected for my child better than kissing my baby goodbye on delivery day? 

I’ve talked to my cousin about my guilt over the fact that she and I got to experience pregnancy at the same time…and now I’m left with a healthy baby and she’s not. I feel a pang of regret when I share photos of Rylin to Facebook because I wish she could be sharing photos of Delaney growing, too. She told me not to feel guilty. “Life isn’t fair at times,” she said. “But the fact you guys have a beautiful healthy baby and we don’t isn’t considered one of those times.”

This post is for Sasha. And Racheal. And most of all Delaney. When life throws us a curve-ball in raising Rylin, I hope I can see past the set-back and remember how blessed Chris and I truly are.

On a related note, my cousin’s grieving has brought her to blogging as a way to get her emotions out. You can read her work here: http://sakoh1113.blogspot.com/?m=1

 

The Learning Curve June 5, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 3:19 am
Tags: , , ,

After a 29-hour labor (by induction, post-due-date) including an hour and twenty minutes of pushing, Chris and I welcomed our daughter at 10:30am on Tuesday, May 7. And tonight, while I listen to the metronome-like sound her swing makes and silently pray that she falls asleep soon, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned from my first few weeks of parenthood.

Photo credit: Heather Katsoulis http://hlkphoto.com/

Photo credit: Heather Katsoulis
http://hlkphoto.com/

1. Blogging at 3am (or any other time the baby is sleeping) is perfectly acceptable. – Or maybe it’s stupid. I should probably be sleeping. I should definitely be sleeping.

2. Sleep as I knew it is a thing of the past. – Friends, family, and medical providers all warned me in the days leading up to delivery day that I should “sleep while I still can.” Not that the broken bouts of shut-eye between trips to the bathroom (thanks to the mini-me dancing on my bladder) felt all that restful. But now I know the truth. That WAS restful. I can no longer squint through bleary eyes to check the alarm clock and then reason with myself that I can make it another hour until the alarm goes off before I really have to go pee. Now, the minute my daughter makes the first coos of her wind-up to fussiness, it’s time to pop out of bed to tend to her needs. And forty five minutes later (if I’m lucky and if she cooperates), I can crash back between the sheets.

3. Fatherhood is sexy. – The way to my heart is to do chores around the house. Bonus points if those chores involve heavy lifting (as defined by lifting anything I can’t…or don’t want to) and/or power tools. Save the flowers and lavish dates. Just throw in a load of laundry from time to time, kill the spider in the bathroom, lug the 50-pound bag of dog food from my car, and repair the fence and I’ll be putty in your hands. It has nothing to do with clean laundry or dead spiders or chores at all. It has everything to do with my partner meeting me halfway and being responsible. Which is why there’s something incredibly sexy to me about Chris changing diapers, prepping bottles, and making silly faces and babbling in baby voices to our girl.

4. There’s no use planning. – As soon as we found out our little shrimp would be a girl, I waddled my way through our local baby store with Chris to carefully select everything we would surely need to properly raise our daughter. We read reviews and worked our hardest at forecasting what our daughter would need and want in her room and elsewhere in the house. And what we ended up with was a bassinet that she won’t sleep in, a sling carrier she screams about, blankets she won’t keep herself swaddled in, a bouncer chair she’s afraid of, and a bather she slides out of. What can you do but adapt? We let her sleep in a travel bassinet instead–one that was handed down to us from some friends…which we almost didn’t accept because we didn’t think we’d need it. Pffft. We shelled out quintuple the price for an Ergo Baby carrier, agreed to not swaddle her, don’t use the vibration feature of the bouncer chair (less scary that way), and, thankfully, Daddy dons a bathing suit and jumps in the tub to hold our girl while I bathe her. So glad we planned for all this.

5. You have to try pretty hard to screw up this whole parenthood thing. – A baby has four basic needs: to eat, to sleep, to have a clean diaper, and to be loved. Fulfilling those needs really isn’t that difficult. I know. It’s only been a few weeks. More experienced parents will likely beg to differ. I’ve mostly just added this one to the list so that I can look back in a few years and mock myself and my naivety.

6. Taking care of (and being kind to) yourself is almost as important as taking care of your child. – During my first few days home after being discharged from the labor and delivery ward, I would find my stomach grumbling only to realize that it was 4pm and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. Which did nothing to help my mood. Not to mention the dizziness my anemia was causing. Chris took that opportunity to remind me that I’m important, too. And I can’t care for her if I’m not caring for myself. It took some coordinating and planning in the first couple of weeks but I’m easier on myself now. I find “me” time–to unwind and be myself. I find “us” time–to maintain a bond with my husband. I find time to nap. I eat three meals a day (usually), get at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to shower, and remember to get dressed every day instead of sitting on the couch in pajamas. The icing on the cake will be when I can finally return to the gym…I miss zumba sooooo much and look forward to shedding the 30 pounds I need to drop to be back at my pre-pregnancy weight.

7. Setting goals is important. – I set at least one per day. Easy stuff. Goals that can be attained while tending to the whims of a newborn. Some of my goals over this past month have included…paint my toenails, take a walk, have dinner ready when hubby gets home from work, schedule the pediatrician appointment, clean the bathroom. I don’t get too mad at myself if the laundry doesn’t get folded or dog fur rolls like tumbleweeds across the floor because I couldn’t get to vacuuming. There’s always tomorrow.

8. Work isn’t so bad after all. – Before delivery day, I was counting the days until maternity leave from work would begin. Now, four weeks in to my leave, I find myself hunting for a reason to leave the house each day–even for just a few minutes. One day, I packed the baby into her stroller and walked to the mailbox down the street to mail birth announcements. It took about ten minutes but doing so made me feel like I had a purpose. And that made my day completely, even if my only “purpose” was to turn off the trashy daytime talk shows for a bit. I have begrudgingly realized that going to work is a wonderful excuse to leave the house and am (somewhat) looking forward to returning.

9. Life is too short. – The feeling of “when can I get back to work and return to normal society?!” is coupled with a feeling of “OMG there’s only two more weeks of maternity leave…where did the time go?!” I’m not sure where the time went but I’ve got a month-old baby now. (Or is a 4-week-old not really a month-old child? Maybe she’ll be a month on June 7…?) Anyway, my point is, it’s a blaring reminder that time is fleeting. And I’m doing my best to embrace every minute and be thankful for all the highs and lows.

10. Motherhood is amazing. – I know this because she snuggles her face into my neck when I burp her mid-feeding. And because she grips my finger tightly when I’m getting her dressed. And because she stops crying the minute she hears my voice or feels my arms around her. I talk to her about important stuff all the time. I tell her that she has to take my dating advice when she’s older because “I know stuff…after all, I picked your dad.” I tell her that nothing bad can ever happen as long as I’m with her. I tell her I love her more than anything. I confide in her that I’m still trying to figure out how to be a mom and promise her that I’ll get it down pat before she’s old enough to notice that I have no clue what I’m doing.

 

 
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