The Real World…

I have been back in my home state since July. I can’t believe it’s been five months already. It’s been tough, but also very good. I’m still navigating through several emotional bits, but God’s grace is sufficient to get me through.

One of the challenges I have is insurance. Since leaving Florida, my work status has changed from full-time with benefits to part-time per diem. Per Diem is just a fancy way of saying that I work when there is work to do or “on call” and of course I have not eligible for benefits (PTO, etc). Now God has proven himself faithful because I have not lacked for anything though I am only part-time. This is a relief because I was definitely struggling the past 2.5 years paying my bills when I left my job at the University of Miami to work in full-time ministry.

I can obtain COBRA insurance, which is basically the same level of insurance that my employer offers; however, at 100% of the coverage rather than the smaller portion (I think it’s usually about 70/30 split between employer and employee). My COBRA plan is well over $400 a month for health coverage. Needless to say, I do not have that coverage because I only work part-time. $400 could very well be my paycheck for a two-week period, so no thanks. For this tax year, since I was covered for over 9 months, I will not be fined when I file my taxes in January 2015.

Right now is open enrollment for healthcare plans in the Marketplace, and it ends Dec 15th (though you can still sign up through January). This fair of various health care plans was created because of The Affordable Care Act (or most people refer to it as the Healthcare Reform or the Healthcare Act), which is supposed to improve access to health care and also extend Medicaid in ways that weren’t happening before. This also is working to combat gauging from the health insurance companies. Additionally this will have an effect on hospitals and health care providers by discouraging them from charging crazy rates for services (have you ever paid for a $1,000 bandage from the ER?).

Though it does have the intention of improving access, it does create some other issues for regular fairly healthy people. This act benefits people who couldn’t get them before because of preexisting conditions or other factors. Now healthcare is available to all – for a price. For people like me without any health issues (praise the LORD) and are getting by for the most part, the marketplace plans start out at about $200 a month. Again – that is a lot for someone who works part-time. If I were not eligible for health coverage, including COBRA, then I could get a tax credit where I may not have to pay for coverage or have a very low monthly premium.

What happens if I don’t sign up for a plan through the marketplace?

If I don’t sign up for health care coverage through COBRA, another employer that offers me benefits, or through any plan that is meets the criteria according to the Affordable Care Act by April 2015, then I will be fined when I file my 2015 tax returns in January 2016. This fine will be 1% of my annual income or $90 per single adult in my household according to my tax filing. With plans starting at $200, it is financially advantageous to just opt out and say “Forget you Uncle Sam, I’m goin’ rogue! THIS IS ‘MURICA!” while waving my American flag, sitting my Coleman Elite Cooler Quad Chair, eating a cheeseburger and drinking a 2-liter Coca-Cola. But the prudent adult in me is trying to consider the possibilities of the cost that may be incurred should something happen to me like a car accident, illness diagnosis, or if I just need to go to the doctor and get medicine for a reasonable price. Let’s just get this straight… I have no money. I am recouping financially from the high cost of living in Florida. Working part-time has made the process very slow because I basically make enough to cover what I need, with a little bit to save and to play. I don’t have anything for emergencies (I know…Suze Orman would smack me in the face with her book Young, Fabulous, and Broke).

So – I sit here, basically priced out of the market, again. When I was in Florida making a decent wage, I had a hard time finding apartments at times because many of them were income restricted. Because I don’t have a lot of kids and live below the poverty line, I was not eligible to live in some really nice places (at least they appeared to be on the outside). Instead, I was stuck paying for a really overly priced box, or not so nice place in a bad part of town – yet according to my income I would be considered middle class. That’s just sad.

Well, there is no reason to be sad about it or to feel sorry for myself. It is a reason to feel slightly indignant because I pay my taxes, I file without lying, and I work hard. It is more beneficial in this country to not do anything and stay pregnant and sell my food stamps than it is to be an honest, hard worker. That’s the most upsetting. We are supposed to help each other and look after those who are poor and unfortunate; however, our country has enabled bad and lazy behavior. There is no incentive to do well unless you are going to do well enough to be in the top 10% of the earners in America. People in that bracket aren’t really worried about how much it costs them to be covered unless they own a business with employees (that is a whole ‘notha level of conversation that I am not getting into in this post), or just are horrible with money.

Anyway, I am just praying for safety and good health in 2015 because unless I end up just winning the lottery or do well as an entrepreneur, I am not going to have health coverage. For those of you who are employed and can get employer-subsidized health insurance, please count your blessings! I know there was a huge controversy earlier this year when Hobby Lobby decided not to cover certain birth control methods, there was a huge outrage by the public. I was really perplexed by the anger – who cares? They still offered good benefits, and it wasn’t like the employer fired people for using birth control. They simply didn’t cover some brands and methods under their subsidized plans (again…something I will not get in-depth about here). I think the biggest thing that people forget is that employer-subsidized insurance is a privilege. They don’t have to offer it, even with the new health laws (they can pay a fine too under certain circumstances if they choose to opt out).

Canada, are you accepting any new residents?

The Progression of a Handmade Christmas, Part II…

  1. It’s taken me WEEKS to collect all of the supplies – including special ordered items. I am so stoked!
  2. Everything assembled orderly on the counter (check), scrubbed up and clean (check), Apron on (check), Awesome turned all the way up (double check).
  3. Hmm…. This part is a little boring.. staaanndddiiinnggg over the sttooovveeee…. zzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ
  4. Doesn’t look like the picture… I guess maybe because I chose not to use bleached versions and chose organic???
  5. Alright we are in business part two!
  6. Temp check – not quite there … a little anxious, need to turn the oven up a bit
  7. Oh goodness that may boil over… please dear father in heaven that will definitely be a 3rd degree burn if it splashes on me (turns heat down a tad)
  8. Temp check – what’s going on with this…. Rise you fool RRISSSEE!!!
  9. Let me pull up a bar stool – this is going to take a while
  10. Let me check Instagram to see what my InstaHAM friends are up to.
  11. Temp check – we are there, yes!!!! STEP THREE YO!
  12. Oh man, look at that… kind of pretty I think…
  13. Temp check – whoa… whoa…. Whoa…. Time to move you off the eye
  14. Step four, what what!? Add that ingredient!
  15. Smells good.. stirring the pot!
  16. Pour pour pour!!
  17. Ooo the spoon…I want to eat the contents off the spoon, but it has to cool first
  18. Can’t wait! Been dreaming of this for a month!
  19. ::Tasting::
  20. Oh, no…
  21. No…
  22. This is horrible
  23. Death in my mouth.
  24. Heavenly Father, why is “Handmade Christmas” still not working out?
  25. Can I buy this somewhere?!
  26. ::drowning in my own pool of tears::
  27. Let’s watch some Family Feud… And the survey said?

The Progression of a Handmade Christmas…

  1. I got this cool pattern off Etsy…. $13 for two patterns that will yield four gifts – jaaacckkpoottt!
  2. OOOOOOOOOH this sewing machine is on sale, YES!
  3. I’m glad I started early because I have been to the fabric store twice and there are just tooo many choices! EXXCIITTEDDD!! Everyone is going to love this!
  4. Finally got all my supplies… hmmm that was pretty pricy, but soooo worth it to give someone a handmade gift! Woot…..woot…
  5. Time to set up the machine…this is going to be like riding a bike, fo sho…
  6. . come on bobbin…I ain’ got all night
  7. Wait…. The thread goes….
  8. The instruction manual illustrations are so basic….. I need more detail!!!!!
  9. Pin the pattern to the fabric oh so carefully
  10. That’s some awesome pinning right there…Martha Stewart would be proud.
  11. Cutting some fabric, it’s not so hard, especially with this cool fiscker’s acrylic ruler. Edges aren’t too bad…
  12. Irons get really hot when you are trying to iron interfacing… Or maybe it’s just because I haven’t used an iron in a while
  13. Ugh…. How many times will I have to recut stuff? Measure twice cut once. Good advice to follow the second time I suppose.
  14. All pieces cut out! Yes! Interfacing ironed! Yes! I’m totally doing this!
  15. Sew, sew, sew …. Wow this is turning out so pretty….well at least the fabric is nice so far.
  16. Time to turn it to the right sideoh… this is really small… hmm wait. Why isn’t it laying straight?!
  17. NOOOOO!
  18. Ok, maybe I just started with the wrong project – on to something else.
  19. Ugh more cutting.
  20. Cutting
  21. Cutting, grrrrr
  22. All done, YES! Let’s put things together
  23. All these fabric pieces are starting to look the same L
  24. Ok, these instructions seem simple enough.
  25. Sew…sew…. Pop goes the thread
  26. Sew…rethread…sew…rethread…. Why!!!
  27. It’s so hot, what is the heat on in this house? WHY IS IT SO HOT!!!! ???
  28. Regroup…… this is coming together nice….. oh sugar….that was sewed upside down!
  29. Silly tight stitch pattern!
  30. Ok, fixed….keep it moving. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel
  31. NO NO I can have no company in my room, gift making in progress…go away!
  32. Oh no…. nooooo I didn’t just do that. I started it out completely wrong in the first place? Drats!
  33. OK fixed…..let’s bring these two together and…. NOOO MARTHA STEWART!!!!!I can’t even pull it apart.
  34. I’m tired… WHY IS IT STILL SO HOT IN THIS HOUSE?!
  35. Cleaning up… stupid fabric, silly thread, dumb interfacing, crazy scissors…
  36. I think there is still time to order some handmade things from Esty….

The Weight of Age…

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Most people are making posts (facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc) about the things for which they are most thankful. I think that people are being honest; however, the bandwagon has made it feel almost cliché. Last month a group of us ladies went on a cabin retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the theme was “Eucharisteo,” which means “Thanksgiving.” We talked all weekend about cultivating a personal culture of gratitude. I believed in it at the time and I still do – but today, I am struggling to feel that warm and fuzzy kumbaya campfire rally in my heart.

I’m struggling today because right now I am sitting at Panera Bread waiting for my dad to finish with his Myelogram and CT Scan. Also, my mom is waiting at a totally separate doctor’s appointment for what seems to be a minor injury to her leg while playing tennis. Because I cannot duplicate myself, I am only with one parent at their doctor’s appointment. Since my dad cannot drive after his procedure, I am with him. Last night I drove to his house, which is about 80 miles from where I live. I am staying for the rest of the week, so I will get to see that side of my family.

The reality of aging parents and the resulting responsibility on the children is weighing heavily on me today. My dad has been disabled for quite some time now (over 10 years). His health is not really getting better. Having had multiple back surgeries, his mobility is weakening, and there are some chronic issues that he has to abate with medications. His mind is still sharp, and there is youth there; he is only 60 years old. But, he is trapped in this unforgiving body that has him shackled to spasmic pain and imbalance. It makes me wonder about my own aging process and what that will feel like.

It’s especially on my mind because I wonder if I will be alone. I don’t have children, and I am not sure about having children, and furthermore, there is no guarantee that your children will even care about you when you’re old (one can only hope). I do not have a spouse, and that’s another large question mark. While I am only 32…time is not waiting on me to get myself together. Time ticks on and has no favoritism toward people, places, animals or things. Time is honest.

Now, I am grateful that I am working a job where I have the flexibility to work remotely so that I can support my family through these challenges. I’m thankful that I am even living in the area now in order to help. I am thankful that I am stable so that I can weather the instability around me. I am thankful that God has made a way for all of this, even though I don’t know what’s next or the specific outcome. Though I know all of this in my heart and head, it doesn’t make this situation any less emotional or difficult.

A couple of years ago when my dad had surgery, he gave me a packet of information that indicated his last wishes, including a notarized living will, and instructions for his burial should anything happen. I am being reminded of all of this again right now because at that time he was in recovery from the same surgery he may need again now. I don’t want to have to deal with this right now. I had a mini breakdown as I left the medical center where the procedure is taking place. I was in Florida during all of the other surgeries and procedures. That distance took away much of the sting of what was happening at the time. Even with my mom – knowing that her injury has stolen time and ability from her is very difficult. Tennis is a big deal in her world, and I know that when she can get away and play, that it helps her deal with all of the other demands that include being a grandparent taking care of her child’s child full-time. Being here and present, being able to see pain on a persons face and in their body language, trying to be stoic and take care of your own emotions quietly so that you can help bear the weight of another’s burden – it’s all quite complicated. It also doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this is part of our purpose this side of heaven.

We all know that our parents won’t be around forever, and that they may become ill. The actual experience is just different than the thought. My mom has talked at length about her experience of caring for her mom who had a lot of complications due to diabetes. She explained about going back and forth to dialysis and doctor’s appointments. It’s all pretty scary. At the end, there is a relief from the drudgery and the suffering, but then you are left with the loss of that person. How does one really deal with this? Is my dad going to die? Yes. Yes he is. I don’t know when that will be, and I feel anxious about it as he goes through these health challenges.

So now my prayer is for strength. That God will help me to remember the joy I have because of him, and that this life – challenges included – will not last forever. My prayer is that my mind stays on heaven, and that everything I do from this point on is to be a witness of what I have waiting for me there.

I made the decision to move back to Georgia to be closer to my family. I didn’t know that it would be this easy and hard at the same time.

15 Weeks Postpartum…

This is my birth story… Where do I start? Labor was pretty tough. In total, it lasted about 25 hours. It started a little slow around 9:30am on July 9th.  I was excited and scared. It was a bit of work, but I was able to get some rest around 6:30pm. I slept until around 12am on July 10th, and then the real work began. Hard and steady from 12:30am until about 10:30am. I was tired, but surprisingly energized at the same time throughout the entire morning. There was singing, shouting, some crying… ok let me be honest, I was bawling at times. Then, there was a relief. I have never been so excited in my life for this newness that I was experiencing. I was so grateful for everything to be over, but scared because I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. I fell right back asleep until about 12pm and my mom came home from whatever she was doing. She missed the arrival, but she was present for the best part!

Ok… before you go all crazy wondering why I don’t have some picture of a wrinkled baby posted on my blog, I need to disclose that I am speaking metaphorically.  The birth to which I am referring is the birth of this new season of life. On July 9th, I started packing my car in the morning before I  went to work. I returned my cable modem, went to work, had lunch, said some goodbyes, teared up a little, then I went home when I started packing my car more. I went to bed at 6:30pm that day because I was going to be driving through the night. I woke up around 12am on July 10th and finished packing the car. By 1:30am, I was fueled and ready to hit the road.

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I already had an extensive playlist ready. I sang my little heart out. I cried a lot because I couldn’t believe after nine years that I would be on this journey back to Georgia. I danced. I yelled at some trucks. I ate, fueled the car twice, stopped at rest stops, and finally after a long journey on the road I arrived back home at 10:30am. My mom was out doing things retired people do, and she came back home just as I was waking up from my nap. She came home to an explosion of Dana.

All of this (which all fit into my 4 door sedan):

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Turned into this disaster in my house:

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I wasn’t sure of what I was going to happen, or what would be next. I wasn’t sure how I was going to like working remotely. I wasn’t sure where I would find new employment because my full-time remote status was temporary.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to really be able to make gains relationally with family and friends. I wasn’t sure I was going to find a church that I would love. I wasn’t sure if I was going to even like being back in Georgia.

Fifteen weeks later, I am going strong. I have found a wonderful church. I am making some great gains in various areas of my life. There are ups and downs. There was definitely some “postpartum depression” when I thought about the things, opportunities and people that I left behind. I had some growing pains, discomfort, frustrations, disappointments – you name it. I also had some fun, lots of rest, excitement and peace. I’m not trying to put out there that this move was just some easy remedy to my Florida misery. It was a necessary catalyst to really making a difference in my life, which had to start from the foundation – my family. It’s still hard at times, but I feel that I am growing a lot, and learning how to be a part of this crazy group of people. I have come to learn more about my resilience, as well as some untapped passions that I’d actually ignored. There are some other visions I want to explore that I have verbalized to some of my friends and family, but surprisingly those are not what’s come to the forefront. So… there’s more to come about this journey in the near future. Stay tune!

But for now…

I am thankful.

I am blessed.

I am challenged.

I am joyful.

I am hopeful.

Merry Birthday, K-Mart? You are fooling NO ONE!

So I am aware that 2014 is only 3.5 months away from being over (Yep…). With that said, my biggest pet peeve is seeing Christmas commercials before Thanksgiving. I know that we live in a society where you see displays for major holiday shopping a couple of months ahead, but it doesn’t mean I accept it. I believe that this steals the joy of each individual holiday. This flagrant consumeristic wielding of wares and goods deduces family togetherness, celebrations of affection, adventures, and just pure fun to merely taunts to spend money that doesn’t exist.

Now, I have seen Christmas stuff after Halloween, but K-Mart has struck a new low with their latest commercial that just hit the airwaves in the past week. Maybe because it’s probably not the most desirable stores, and they are trying to get ahead of the game with promoting layaway. “Hey come pick out loads of cheap overpriced junk, finance it for a few months, then pick it up and give it to people who won’t remember what you got them in another four months.” Take a look…

Clever…but no. I’m not buying it, literally. I have put two things on layaway in my lifetime. One was the Littermaid, a $100 automatic litterbox for my cat back when I was a junior in high school. The second was a $150 class ring for my senior year of high school. That was a lot of money for a high school student! Since then, I have not found it necessary to participate layaway. Growing up, my family put back-to-school clothes on layaway, which was exciting. Now, I am not knocking layaway. I think it can be a very practical thing for big ticket items that you really want to pay off rather than putting on a credit card. I am sure my parents maybe even used it for Christmas at some point. BUT as I stand now, a reformed spendaholic, I am reevaluating my consumerism on all levels – especially for Christmas. This promotion just makes it easier for material gluttony.

Last year loved ones received a handmade gift, and I actually received more compliments and gratitude from that than when I have purchased items. I think I will go in that direction this year as well. While I don’t give gifts to get the kudos from the receivers, I do like to know that the gifts were useful. There’s nothing more disappointing than spending a lot of money on items the person doesn’t really care about or want.

What do you think about this?

The Beast of Beauty…

So…I am so not into beauty regiments that include overly being pampered or a lot of make-up (I’ll take some lip gloss please…maybe some eye shadow).  I don’t know, I maybe I’m a bit lazy, but I really do enjoy how I look without any added flavors or dyes (I do enjoy fragrance a lot…maybe too much). I don’t like having to “keep up” the look. I mean I think it confuses men when you are all dolled up. Then they get hooked, they marry you, and then they wake up to the unmade up woman they married and think they got the Leah-Rachel switch from Uncle Laban (read Genesis chapter 29).

This is the normal day-to-day Dana:

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I went natural in 2009 and haven’t looked back at chemical relaxers since. I do cut off my hair once every two years because I love it short, but lately I have been getting it blown out and am thinking about training it to be straight again, but carefully with just heat instead of chemicals. This is a much more temporary arrangement because it will always have some kind of wave or curl after it gets hit by water/humidity, but the straight styling can be a lot more appealing at times.

Now here are some enhancements all within the past couple of weeks (eyebrow shaping and hair blowout with flat iron polish):

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Hmm… I am liking this look. I have wanted to spruce up my presence as of late because well, I am interested in dating again. I know that men are very visual so you have to throw them a little something. Plus, I am in a brand new season of life and I am up to try something new. Since I definitely value my goodies and prefer conservatism, I decided to amp up my game a bit without showing more skin. I have been keeping my nails and hair done lately (What?! Blowouts and flat irons-r-us). On my last trip to the nail salon, I allowed one of the estheticians to apply lash extensions. YEA I KNOW! It took about an hour and voila…the result was this:

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Ooooo… so pretty! It’s amazing what happens to your eyes when they are enhanced. I have almond shaped eyes and the extensions accented the shape very well. This looks hot even with my hair still in pin curls, y’all!

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Ooooolalah… I can get used to this. Look, the extensions even make my scrunchy face so cute! 

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But wait, this requires a lot of work to upkeep!

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Now, I only paid $25 for this service. My friend’s niece is a Licensed Esthetician, and has her own business doing this in Atlanta. I looked up the services…let me just say my future hubby will really have to value those lash extensions, because let’s be honest ladies, it’s really for them. Yes, I love looking very exotic, but I really like the regular me too.  Don’t get me wrong, we are responsible to make sure that we look neat, polished, presentable, and attractive – we must take pride in ourselves and it does require some extra time. I think the point I am weighing is, just how much ‘extra’ is enough and what is too much for me?

I will give a shout out to Nancy Shim at Sweet and Lashful. No, I have not used her services, but I would love to one day. If you go to her Instagram page, you can see some examples and her clients look FAAABBULLLOUUUUSS!!! She does eyebrow services too. Look her up Atlanta ladies (and gentlemen because some of you have some caterpillars resting on your face that need to be tamed)! 

Anyway because of my workouts, those bad boys came right off within 24 hours. So… about $1 an hour for the pleasure of looking like a goddess for a day. I can dig it… a little. The hair, nails, lashes…everything on top of regular maintenance is getting pricey!

So my prayer is that my future hubby really appreciates and adores the natural me, and also enjoys the perks of these little extras from time to time because they are really extra. I can do my nails on my own. Granted, I can’t do certain styles, but I can keep them neat and polished. I can do my own hair, but I limit certain heat styles since I don’t want to damage it (I leave it to the professionals). I can apply [some] make up. I’m hitting the gym to get things really right if you know what I mean, which is also part of that – hey I appreciate you appreciating me deal. BUT I don’t want him to fall in love with a persona – I want him to want the real me, so I am trying not to get caught up and go crazy where I am literally unrecognizable unless I have had $500 worth of beauty services. I have definitely seen women who wear a lot of make-up, and when they leave the house un-done it looks like they have caught the plague! I’m not about that life…

Beauty can be such a BEAST!

What do you think about all of this? Ladies AND Gentlemen, feel free to weigh in with comments below.