Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: Year in Review

January: Brought in the new year in Chicago at Fellowship and a Pajama Jam at DV's (1 Day). Had the cold from hell for about 2 weeks, followed by the sinus infection from hell for another week, but I survived. Have a staycation followed by Super Bowl weekend in NYC (2 days). 

February: I think I stayed in Pittsburgh the entire month of February. Did I win or lose this month? I don't know.

March: Went to Chicago (2 days) for Kellie's baby shower.

April: Went to Ohio for work (1 day). D.C. for Work (1 day). Ohio again for work (1 day). Threw a birthday party in Pittsburgh. Whoda thunk it?!?!?!

May: Went to Chicago/Champaign (3 days) and gave the alumni convocation speech at the University of Illinois Department of Communication graduation. WOW! Went to Oklahoma City for Dorian's Baby Shower. (3 days)

June: Went to Chicago (5 days) for work, stayed for play.

July: Went to Barcelona and Ibiza via New York (8 days) for Ashlie's 30th. There are no photos. :-) Went to Chicago for a baby shower to party (2 days). Went to Chicago for my grandma's 75th Surprise Birthday Party. Went to the 8th Annual #EthnicQ (2 days) 

August: Went to Ohio for work (1 day.) Went to Chicago for the Broadview Baptist Church Young Adult Choir Reunion (4 days) Stayed in Pittsburgh for Labor Day (my first time being here an entire holiday weekend. It was really fun!)

September: I worked and volunteered so much this month. I didn't travel anywhere. It was exhausting and unnecessary. This month was a major turning point in learning to say no. 2015 will be full of no.

October: Ohio for work (1 day). Allentown, PA for work (1 day), Upstate New York (1 day) for work, Chicago (3 days) for work. 

November: Vegas for work (3 days), stayed to play (2 days). Chicago for work (1 day). Ohio for work (1 day) Chicago for Thanksgiving (4 days) 

December: Ohio for work (1 day) Ohio for work (2 days) Chicago for Christmas (9 days) Memphis for NYE (1 day)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Making a Lasting Impact

Here are things I have to remind myself when I get sad about leaving the girls that I no longer will be with. And I'll start with a little story.

When I told the girls that I was leaving, they started to open up to me in ways that they hadn't before. And girls who hadn't really said two words to me before I left told me they would miss me or let me know how they felt about my presence. One particularly memorable 18 year old with two children said:

"Ms. Tiasha, did you ever notice you make our birthdays special? Our parents ain't shit."

When I first started at Gwen's Girls, I thought I was going to have deep conversations about sex, and college and grades and respect and love and God, but the girls weren't going. I quickly figured that I needed a gimmick to get through to them. I brought my favorite game, Taboo, and BOOM! They opened up like car doors.

So then it occurred to me. Every respectable adult in their lives is trying to talk to them about the very thing I thought I would try to talk to them about. But VERY FEW adults are talking to them about having, good, clean fun. Just letting them be kids.

My game bag grew out of control: Jenga, Old Maid, Playing Cards, Checkers, Connect Four, Phase 10 and whatever else they asked me to bring. You need them games! I got them games!

Having fun in life is important to me, so I was able to share a little bit of myself just by being playful with the girls.

The second thing I did was create memorable experiences. I took four girls to their first, Pirates, Steelers, Penguins and University of Pitt basketball games, respectively. I gave them all pictures from the games, so they wouldn't forget. The gratitude they had for those experiences was truly overwhelming. Again, just sharing things that I like to do with them exposed them to new things and made an impact.

The third thing I did was celebrate their birthdays. I'm probably going to cry typing this because I cry every time I talk about this. I bought each one of the girls a cake and gift for her birthday. That cake and the gift I brought in EVERY INSTANCE, was the ONLY thing they received for their birthday. It makes me SO ANGRY because if I wasn't there, there is no adult in their life that took the time to make their birthday special. It's just like any other day.

Knowing this also takes me to this very unhealthy place of feeling like it's my responsibility to make their birthdays special. That's not true. I don't have any kids. I'm not obligated or required to do any of this stuff. But what one of MY mentors helped me realized is that by bringing my traditions to them (cake and gifts and celebrating what's clearly the most important day of the year), I modeled excellent behavior. And even though I won't be around on their next birthday, they can make a decision to celebrate themselves with their allowance or they can make a decision when they have a family of their own to make birthdays special. I did exactly what I was supposed to do, which was give of myself fully while I was mentoring.

And finally, what I'm most proud of, is my ability to model unconditional love. Teenagers are usually rewarded for doing something: getting good grades, making the team, winning a game in sports, getting scholarships by having good grades, getting accepted to college, etc. When the odds are against you (poor, teen mom, not good in school, not athletic, etc.), the rewards aren't exactly piling in.

I know as a teenager (and even as an adult, but I'm working on it), I would try to prove my worth by being excellent. And I feel if I make a mistake or don't hit the bar that someone's love or money or care or concern will leave me because I didn't do enough to deserve it. In college, I thought my crush, and later boyfriend wouldn't talk to me if my hair wasn't combed right (I was right. He was a jerk. I digress.)

The point is, I went to the group home, week in and week out, not because these girls are model citizens. A good half of them are clearly juvenile delinquents, even in my presence. I didn't play games with them because they had high IQs or becaus they came from a "good" home or family. I simply loved them because they existed.

That is the kind of love I hope they will seek in relationships from family, friends and lovers and for the time I was with them that's the kind of love I doled out.

So all of that to convince myself say, making an impact is not about how long you do something, but how you show up while doing it. I hope that in my nine months at the Group Home with all the girls coming in and out that something I said or did or modeled will have a lasting impact on their life and I am comfortable putting an end date on it to focus on other things.

As soon as I get my one-on-one mentee, I'll report back with how things are going with her. Fingers crossed that we can work together in 2015. 


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Saying Goodbye

Last Wednesday, December 10th, was my last day at Gwen's Girls. Leaving the group home was one of the healthiest emotional decisions I've ever made and at the same time it was like ripping my heart out.

Let me explain.

Remember this post, when I was crying in the car about the two girls I'm closest with leaving. Well, I'm made inroads to formally mentor them one-on-one and while that process is slower than I like, it's moving and I'm not willing to do both.

So why am I skipping the group home experience:

1. I don't have time. You've seen my schedule. I post to this blog like once a week... if that, when it used to be five to seven times a week. Being anywhere once a week religiously, is not feasible and it's just stressful as hell.

2. It's not like it used to be. I don't get through to the girls that are still in the house the same way I get through to a lot of the girls who have left. I think them seeing me so regularly, has nullified my effectiveness.

3. Things need a start and end date. When I did mentorship training, they talked about mentorship (unlike parenting) needing to have an end. I think about it like being a 5th grade teacher. At the end of the year, you don't hold onto the kids you like the most, you let them go and they go to 6th grade.

4. Practicality. I'm turning in my car to the dealership tomorrow. I will officially be on the bus and I can't make it anywhere after work at 6 p.m. on the bus. It's just not feasible. 

5. I'm STILL going to be a mentor. I have been talking about wanting to be a mentor for years on this blog and this year I finally did it. I am so proud of myself and so touched by how the girls allowed me to be a part of their lives. I'm sure that I've made a lasting impact on them, which is what I set out to do.

More on making a lasting impact tomorrow.


Monday, December 15, 2014

#ByeFelicia

That's what I'm trying to say to Sallie Mae, which is now called Navient and ACS in 2015. I've never defaulted on a payment and even though, they aren't exactly breathing down my neck to pay them faster, something about the idea of paying off my debt is SO liberating and I want to do it and I want to do it NOW!

So in 2015, I'm turning in my leased vehicle. I'm saving money on a car note, insurance, gas, a yearly sticker for the city of Pittsburgh, a yearly sticker for the state of Pennsylvania, parking fees at work, parking fees at my apartment, COSTS FOR REPAIRS FOR ALL THE IDIOTS WHO HIT MY CAR, etc.  

I'll probably spend a bit of money on Zip Car or a once-a-month car rental or throwing friends a bit of gas money for coming to pick me up from the airport (or I can just hop on the bus that lets off two blocks from my house. It costs $2.50).

To accelerate my payments, I'll be adding all the money I save to my disposable income and dropping it like it's hot on my student loan payments EVERY. MONTH. next year.

This year I did that, but got a bit off budget/schedule in the summer. Lots of trips and shopping sprees and good living.

Here's what I think the difference will be. Every time I'm standing on a bus stop angry that I'm not in my warm car, I'm going to remember WHY I'm doing this. And hopefully, every time I'm in a mall or shopping online, I will remember freezing my tail off at the bus stop and remember my motto for 2015:

I don't need clothes. I need closure. It's been 10, almost 11 years since I graduated and they have gotten all the interest they're going to get out of me.

Bout to hit 'em with that NSYNC BYE! BYE! BYE!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

About Gaining Weight...

I think some of what I'm about to say may be insensitive to people who really struggle with obesity. If that's your and you're sensitive, please stop reading and just come back tomorrow.

I've been gaining weight. Living in this small town with its big portion sizes and pepperoni rolls and subpar public transportation. My love of red meat, sugar and french fries has not helped either.

For the first time in a while, I'm gaining weight and NOT really trying to lose it. I care no further. I look good! My clothes are hanging onto my body for dear life, but that's what they made malls for. So every day there's something funny [to me] that happens as it relates to gaining weight I'm usually by myself and I just laugh and laugh. Today, I'll share with you.

10. My pants rip. Bend over, squat down, drop my mail because I'm carrying groceries, my laptop and my big sack purse and SPLIT, another hole in the thigh of my jeans. Womp.

9. Speaking of jeans, I swear jump around every time I get dressed for work. I'm sitting there thinking, didn't there used to be stretch in these?

8. I get asthma. Not real asthma, but I swear my bras are trying to kill me. I've never worn so many pajamas before the sun went down in my life.

7. I take my bras off in public. Bras are stupid anyway. I was at the airport like *snap, crackle, pop*. Then I exhaled. Aaaahhh!

6. I run into stuff. Add being clumsy ALREADY to taking up more space, no picture frame is safe. (and yes, I know I went from a 6 to an 8 and not a 22 to a 24, but it's still more space and it feels different and I don't care if you call me skinny, I know I'm 8x bigger than women like Kerry Washington who wear a 0... or is that really true since 0 times anything is 0)

5. I bought stock in tank tops so I can keep wearing all my button down shirts.

4. I finish entire Chipotle burritos. I remember a time, when I was more disciplined. I would cut it in half and eat the rest later. No. 

3. I get winded walking up a flight of stairs. I still exercise, but I'm at the end of every flight of stairs expecting a butler to be there to greet me with a Coke. I know it's not just me.

2. I turned into a complete hippie because being naked is better than wearing too tight clothes. I'm militant in my head until my logic doesn't make sense anymore: "Clothes are a social construct created by God... wait."

1. My closet looks like a mix between a department store and a graveyard. Come find your size. I have ALL the sizes. So much potential. My maxi skirt collection keeps getting bigger too. Lowkey summer is the best time to gain weight. In the winter, these cozy sweaters are like cable knit jail cells.  

And no, I'm not pregnant.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Do You Exercise AND Travel?

Two short stories.

On Exercise
When I'm on top of my game, I exercise on Sunday mornings before church. When I exercise on Sunday mornings before church, I get sleepy RIGHT around the time my pastor starts preaching. You've heard how close I am to my pastor, so he's liable to call my name in service if I'm sleep and/or talk about me at dinner, which is not ok.

So I pack trail mix. It's perfect. It's crunchy, chewy, healthy and the perfect amount of blood sugar to keep me going after working out, after breakfast, but before post-church dinner.

The End.

On Travel 
I travel a lot. I have a lot of zip-top 3-quart bags and I rarely pack them before I leave the house. They're just all over my purse. On my last trip... maybe second to last trip, but who's counting, I had so much lotion and hand sanitizer. Fortunately for me, I had ample zip-top plastic bags. I plopped my liquids, gels and aerosols into one of said bags and let it creep into the bowels of my purse. I did not get stopped by security. I passed go. I collected $200.

The End.

But not really...

This Sunday, I reach in my bag to get some trail mix. I'm like almonds, sunflower seeds, cranberries and pistachios SHALL BE MINE. Until I realized I dropped the hand sanitizer and lotion into the same bag with my trail mix. I laughed so hard in church at a time where it was inappropriate to laugh at church.

I crack myself up.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Let's Talk About It

I don't think I've talked about police brutality here. I don't think I've had the words to succinctly sum up what I'm feeling or what I'm watching or what these last 100+ days since Mike Brown was killed have felt like. They haven't felt any different from the days when Trayvon Martin was killed or when Derrion Albert was killed or when Hadiya Pendleton was killed.

But there is an uprising. My feelings coupled with the feelings of millions of Americans nationwide is that we will not stand for injustice and we will not standby while injustice is being served and my heart is pleased with the reaction.



I saw this poster on Facebook and it so succinctly sums up what I've been thinking and feeling about police violence, in particular (I hate all violence).

There's something about self-defense or watching a lifetime of Bad Boys-like movies that makes us think killing the bad guy is ok. Then layer that with people thinking everyone who is black is a bad guy and black people having the responsibility of managing other people's fears. I've never seen so many laws on the books that let you kill a person because of your fear. How can I manage another person's misperceived notions about me?

Some of us have to pay for this with bad annual reviews (and subsequently subpar pay raises) from our workplaces because while our work quality is stellar, white people are "afraid to talk to us" or think we're too "abrasive." Economic disenfranchisement much? Others of us pay for this mentality with the ultimate price of our lives. Slavery mentality [just like rape culture] affects us all and I'm happy the nation is rising up against it.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How Did I Get Here?

A lot of days I find myself reflecting on situations and thinking about how I got here. Usually, I'm sitting in skinny street traffic on some God-forsaken cobblestone road trying to get to the one mall in the suburbs of Pittsburgh that has a reputable Indian woman to thread my eyebrows, trying to figure out what happened to my much more convenient, fabulous, big-city, metropolitan life of years past.

Currently, it's 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning and I'm sitting in my apartment writing banner ad copy. I'm a public relations professional. I don't write banner ad copy. Copywriters write banner ad copy. It's like 20 words or less and it's giving me the heebie jeebies.

But... I'm a public relations professional, which means I do everything. I make Starbucks runs. I plan client dinners. I write strategies for top brands. I manage people, places and things. I make news when most people just watch it and my well-respected journalists friends just report it.

AND... I do things that are out of my comfort zone [and outside of my job description] to meet deadlines, which today equals writing banner ad copy from my living room at 4 a.m. because sleep and sensibility all went out of the door when I chose this profession.

Would't trade it for the world.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Low Places

There's something about taking public transportation that messes with my self-esteem. Sitting there waiting for a bus or a train for an extended period of time with no control whatsoever of whether it's coming or not makes me wonder am I really where I want to be in life. And not to mention all of the free time makes me extremely introspective and it turns my crazy switch right on.

This Thanksgiving weekend I didn't have a schedule and I didn't rent a car. If you know me, that would be shocking. I got in Wednesday night and the moment I opened the passenger door in my parent's garage my mom goes: are you about to get dressed and go out? I'm like no, I have no desire to be in these streets.

I saw some people. I missed A LOT of people.Then I skipped the Posh party and my close girlfriends throw that party, so I felt like crap about it. So while I'm waiting on the 146 after picking up books from Luvvie (and getting a much needed mani/pedi and these brows threaded for the gods), I'm thinking, am I a horrible friend? Is my life over because I'd rather play with my friend's two year old than go to a day party.

Have I made such despicable decisions in life that lead me to standing in the cold, sober with a bag full of books on a Saturday night when my peers are either spending time with their husbands and children OR standing on tables? How did I get here and is it ok?

Well, thank God for church and a word from the man of God. On Sunday, Pastor Hannah preached about how Abram got kicked out of Egypt because he had too much stuff. (Longer story. Genesis 13. Read it.) He made the parallel to how the devil will bring you down, but when he sees no matter what happens to you (sickness, losing a job, depression, loss of a loved one), you still give God the praise, he'll throw you out of [Egypt] whatever horrifying situation he catapulted you into because you are of no use to him. Even where you're low, you're still only of use to God.

Man that spoke to me. I was like let me turn this frown upside down. My life is amazing. Riding the CTA for four straight days almost had me thinking otherwise. If we're being honest car traffic is much worse. I read books on those train rides.

AND I wasn't a complete old fart. I went to a 90s party at Beauty Bar that night. There was no line, cheap cover, cheap coat check, cheap drinks and I wore flat shoes. It was a low stress, high reward partying experience. It was so lowkey, I might as well have been in Pittsburgh and I loved it. Wait.

Monday, December 1, 2014

You Dropped a Bomb on Me

So Thanksgiving's happening. I leave my mom's house to make a couple of stops with the other side of the family. Ah yes, the burden of the child who has two sides of the family when the parent does not. It's big fun, I assure you.

When I left my mom all of the sides were done. As far as I knew, the turkey was done. We're waiting on a couple of guests to show up and putting the table settings together. I get back 2 hours later. No one has eaten. Man, COME ON!

My stepdad has two homeboys that are eating with us. One is there, the other ran to the gas station. And by ran, I mean he walked. But then the one he went to was closed. So he went to another one, and we waited. Chile, we waited.

So he gets back and we go around the room and say what we're thankful for.

My mother, and her chipper behind, drops a bomb that she's thankful for health screenings and prescreenings offered by her employer (she works at a hospital). She had a procedure done and they found a polyp that was precancerous and they removed it and she doesn't have cancer and praise the Lord. Next.

NEXT?!?!?!?!?!?! MA! Seriously? How are we supposed to process that before the cornbread? I just acted like I didn't hear her and thanked God. That's too much. And the fact that she went through it without telling anyone... Maybe she told her husband.

Then my aunt says she's happy for a job. She's been unemployed for XYZ time and starts her new gig tomorrow. I had no idea. Heavy.

THEN my stepdad's friend says he had two broken legs, a broken rib, was in a coma for 7 months and they thought he was going to die, but God. Heavier. (Maybe he was in a car accident, maybe he was beat up. I don't know. No one asked. I didn't ask.)

I did not cry around that circle, a miracle among all the other miracles we discussed. I think we need to start having testimony service early in the day. Give us time to praise, worship, mourn and weep, then we can eat later. I just wasn't ready that close to the ham and potato salad. 

Also, if you know my mom, can you maybe NOT mention this post to her. She doesn't read this blog or really know remember it exists. If she can't even tell her firstborn child she's going through a procedure, imagine the scolding I'm going to get that I shared her testimony with the internets. Ex-honey said she didn't want to worry me and I should be happy because there was nothing to worry about. Ex-honey is right. I talk to ex-honey. Sue me.

I am truly happy for all the blessings around that dinner table circle and my family and our dysfunctional communication. God is good, anyhow.