The System

I just got done staring at two large packets of government paperwork I need to fill out for services for the little man. I have a sneaking suspicion that these two packets are for the same service – one an initial application and one the follow-up. This is not the first time I’ve had this suspicion, but all of the paperwork is so similar it is really hard to tell.

Dealing with the Department of Human Services is a never-ending flow of paperwork and caseworkers. Every year or so we get a letter informing us that the little man has a new caseworker – I’m assuming this happens because of the massive loads the workers have. Only one has every shown any interest in the little man. Only one time in five years have we ever had a caseworker suggest something to us or even contact us after an initial phone call. [This has always been my #1 complaint with DHS – you have to know specifically what question to ask to get any help.] And of course, she wasn’t our caseworker for long enough to finish that particular application. There seems to be little carryover from one person to the next. Hence my sneaking suspicion that we have already filled out these forms.

Sometimes the paperwork arrives at the house without even a simple letter of explanation. Other times the letter is so full of convoluted government speak I have to read it multiple times to completely understand. Almost always I have to google the service I am filing the forms out for – it is usually something I have never heard of. The letter, of course, reads like it is something I have requested or discussed with the caseworker. Yeah, right. Other times, the paperwork is clearly meant to be completed by a DHS worker in the room observing and working with the little man. I don’t even know what all of these medical terms means, but the google and I will give it a go.

I try not to blame the individual caseworkers for the state of the system. I know they are overworked, underpaid, sometimes – sadly – very jaded. Our current caseworker isn’t even in our county, by the way. In fact, if I wanted to actually meet with her to discuss some of the complicated subjects and forms, I would have to plan for a three-hour drive.

Somewhere along the line we gave up. The only services the little man uses currently were facilitated by the social worker at his daycare. If we have questions, we call and ask her. I’d have to dig the form out just to tell you the name of our current DHS worker (something I will have to do to complete the section of the forms where they ask us, once again, if we have a DHS worker and, if not, do we want one).

He will be starting school next year though and it is time to jump back into the system. I really hate navigating the system. Sadly, I’ve found the best way to get any actual help is to take my [well-educated, white] self down to the office in person. I’d like to be able to do something to help. The people who so desperately need these services are being shut out of the very system set up to help them. I don’t even know where to start though.

On My Bookshelf

51cyBIEqvgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury by Allison Light (2008)

From Amazon.com: “When Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own in 1929, she established her reputation as a feminist, and an advocate for unheard voices. But like thousands of other upper-class British women, Woolf relied on live-in domestic servants for the most intimate of daily tasks. That room of Woolf’s own was kept clean by a series of cooks and maids throughout her life. In the much-praised Mrs. Woolf and the Servants, Alison Light probes the unspoken inequality of Bloomsbury homes with insight and grace, and provides an entirely new perspective on an essential modern artist.”

My thoughts: I decided to read this book strictly because the ebook was on sale and I was loading my Nook in preparation for my conference in DC. I enjoyed it. The contrast between the philosophical beliefs of Woolf and the everyday interactions with the servants working in her home was fascinating. In general, I’ve always been fascinated and perplexed by the contempt upperclassman often had for the people they were so dependent on. I read the book with what I think it a fairly standard image of Virginia Woolf from someone who is well-versed in classic literature, but hasn’t done her own research. I left with a more complex picture and something to think about.

My recommendation: A pretty good book. Very specialized and probably doesn’t have widespread appeal. Considering checking it out if you are interested in women’s history. Just because you are a Virginia Woolf fan doesn’t mean you will enjoy this one; in fact, you might not appreciate the words taken from her letters and diaries.

dispatchesDispatches by Michael Herr (1977)

From Amazon.com: “Michael Herr, who wrote about the Vietnam War for Esquire magazine, gathered his years of notes from his front-line reporting and turned them into what many people consider the best account of the war to date, when published in 1977. He captured the feel of the war and how it differed from any theater of combat ever fought, as well as the flavor of the time and the essence of the people who were there. Since Dispatches was published, other excellent books have appeared on the war. . .but Herr’s book was the first to hit the target head-on and remains a classic.”

My thoughts: I’m reading up on the Vietnam War for a work project and this one stood out to me since it was written by a news correspondent. I was not disappointed – just like the Amazon.com review says, this book really “captured the feel of the war.” I loved how he wrote about his impressions of the soldiers and their impressions of him. He related the war to the changing culture flawlessly.

My recommendation: Excellent. It wasn’t an easy read – as you might imagine – but it was worthwhile. Read it.

51D8sZSu+lL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian by Bob Saget (2014)

From Amazon.com: “Millions of viewers know and love Bob Saget from his role as the sweetly neurotic father on the smash hit Full House, and as the charming wisecracking host of America’s Funniest Home Videos. And then there are the legions of fans who can’t get enough of his scatological, out-of-his-mind stand-up routines, comedy specials, and outrageously profane performances. . . .In his bold and wildly entertaining publishing debut, he continues to embrace his dark side and gives readers the book they have long been waiting for—hilarious and often dirty. . . . Saget opens up about some of his personal experiences with life and death, his career, and his reputation for sick humor—all with his highly original blend of silliness, vulgarity, humor and heart, and all framed by a man who loves being funny above all else.”

My thoughts:
I didn’t like it and only read 30 pages or so before abandoning it. Saget’s humor seemed nonsensical and forced. In general, his humor isn’t my favorite, but I usually enjoy it. I think, for me anyway, this book failed because it just didn’t work in print. I think my opinion would be much different if I was listening to an audiobook read by Saget.

My recommendation: Read it if you love his standup, maybe try an audiobook if you are on the fence, skip it if you think he is Danny Tanner.

The FALL Challenge

It is no secret that I love this time of year. Winter is my absolute favorite season, so when my birthday passes, the leaves start to change, and the temperature starts to dip, it only means we’ve begun the ultimate countdown to the time when I’m at my best.

In honor of this wonderful time of year, I’m issuing myself challenge. I’ve scoured the interwebs looking for the best, the most fun, the quintessential, and the stereotypical to create a list of all the activities that represent fall. I call it “Stephanie’s Freakin’ Awesome Legendary List” or FALL for short.

No complaints about what is or isn’t on my list. A few things got nixed right at the beginning because I really dislike them or they just don’t fit in with out still-pretty-warm climate.

I’m going to try to do all of these things on this list and report back here for your enjoyment. Time frame = today through Thanksgiving. If I do all of these things, you can live vicariously through me and just stay on the couch.

Some ground rules: 1) Completing this list cannot interfere with my actual obligations. 2) The husband and kids will not be forced to go along with any activity they don’t want to complete, but I reserve the right to coerce someone else into it. 3) The husband has the right to tell me to cool it if my activities get out of hand – not that I would ever do something like that. Oh no, not me. 4) Completing the list has to fit into the regular budget.

Stephanie’s Freakin’ Awesome Legendary List

1) Take a drive to look at the changing leaves
2) Drink a pumpkin latte
3) Eat something that really shouldn’t be pumpkin flavored
4) Carve a pumpkin
5) Create a centerpiece with gourds
6) Visit a pumpkin patch
7) Go trick-or-treating
8) Buy candy corn, but probably don’t eat it
9) Tell a ghost story
10) Smores!
11) Drink cider
12) Poke cloves into oranges for another centerpiece
13) Wear an adorable knitted hat
14) Roast pumpkin seeds
15) Create a fall-themed wreath
16) Make a turkey out of a handprint
17) Watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
18) Make food that tastes delicious, but looks like something scary or disgusting
19) Go apple picking
20) Make an apple pie

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Thirty-One

Tomorrow is my birthday. [There will be cake.] To celebrate, I want to share thirty-one things I am thankful for on my thirty-first birthday.

1. For my friends and family. I’m not going to cheat here and list them individually. I’m thankful for all those people out there I love. And my dogs too, those smelly little balls of annoying mischief.

2. For the little man’s therapists. We are very lucky to have some amazing people working with our son. They love him almost as much as we do.

3. For having enough. Even if I sometimes want more.

4. For coffee. Because, duh.

5. For the ability to help others. I’m a big donate-er and volunteer-er. I don’t always have the money, but I can [usually] make some time.

6. For having my husband’s talents recognized. He worked a very long time for an awesome promotion. I’m glad it paid off in the end.

7. For cooler weather. My birthday begins a countdown to winter and the holiday season (my holiday season begins with Halloween and skips right over that pesky Thanksgiving). My favorite time of year!

8. For Junior League. I love my league ladies.

9. For Netflix. Because I can’t imagine trying to amass a collection to rival it’s selection.

10. For Ulta and TJ Maxx. My two favorite browsing (and buying) stores. A great place to decompress after a stressful day.

11. For health. No explanation needed here.

12. For Friday nights. Friday nights are my blow-off nights. Absolutely no thinking allowed – I don’t even like to watch new television shows of movies on a Friday. The whole family has adopted my Friday-way (well, except the no new shows part) and it rocks.

13. For trashy television. Yeah, I freely admit it – I watch a lot of trash.

14. For scary television. Love it!

15. For the little man’s ability to say “mom.” It melted my heart the first time he looked at me and was able to say mom. It just happened a few months ago. It was a huge step for him.

16. For burritos. A favorite food of mine; the perfect delivery system for almost any filling.

17. For my daughter’s confidence. She is growing into an amazing person.

18. For snuggles. I especially love those times we curl up on the couch during our Friday night blow-off time.

19. For cold ears. A bad habit I developed as a kid, but so comforting.

20. For great teachers. My daughter as always had excellent teachers that have been able to motivate her. I know I would never have the patience to teach her all they do.

21. For being supported. I’ve decided that you really can’t be happy in life if you aren’t supported. That doesn’t mean someone caters to your every whim; it just means you have people around you to help you through all the good, bad, and in-between times.

22. For Mister Rogers. You would not believe the little man’s smile when Mister Rogers walks through the door of his television home. He is a staple of our television watching

23. For Are You Being Served? One of my favorite shows since I was a kid (yay, PBS!). I own the entire series and love to watch my favorite department store workers. They can always make me smile.

24. For books. Because, duh.

25. For hummus. Because, yum.

26. For being calm. Calm is a difficult state for me to achieve sometimes. I am very thankful for those moments I am able to pull it off and recharge.

27. For harpsichords. Classical music is a great way to help me find my calm. Harpsichords are my happy place.

28. For the ability to travel. I have to keep my wanderlust in check somehow. I am very thankful that I have the means to travel . . . at least occasionally.

29. For Girl Scouts. My daughter has never been a big after-school activity kind of person, but has been doing Girl Scouts for several years. I love the companionship she gets from the other girls and the thrill she gets from trying new things.

30. For colorful socks. Embrace the whimsy.

31. For writing this blog. My ultimate stress relief. I’ve connected with some pretty amazing people – you can’t beat that!

Saturday Review: My Monopoly

Disclaimer: I received a My Monopoly game from BzzAgent.com for free for review purposes.
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My Monopoly is a classic board with classic cards, but also with the added twist of being able to personalize all of the board locations and some of the cards. It comes with stickers and blank tiles. You can then print off your own photos using their app or website. There is no extra charge to use their website, but you do need to have the ability to print quality images at home.

I’m a board game fan and a Monopoly fan. We already own a traditional board (from the 80s probably) and a Doctor Who edition. No, we don’t play it very often. No, I don’t think we will play with this board very often either.

Pro: I had loads of fun making this game. Really, I thought it would be a hassle, but was pleasantly surprised. Most the time, I could be heard giggling to myself about my choices. The website gave you the ability to pull photographs over from facebook – a bonus, in my opinion, since many of the photos I like best end up on facebook. It shortened my photo-looking time down dramatically; I picked out what I liked there and then sought out additional photos from my computer files. Another pro – there are enough stickers provided use the opposite side of the tiles for a WHOLE OTHER GAME! Yes! You can make two My Monopoly boards out of this one set.

Neutral: The photograph interface was a little clunky. I never could figure out how to make it pull photos automatically from Instagram like it did from Facebook. I don’t consider these cons, as they slowed the process, but didn’t hamper my creation too much. Some of the photos didn’t print quite lined up the stickers leaving a slight white line on the side. Not very noticeable, but still something to mention. Also, once you create your sticker place tiles, they fit into spaces on the board but are loose enough to fall out of you tilt it. This is good because it means you can keep changing your board around, but it is also a bit of a hassle as you have to put it together every time you want to play.

Con: The photos printed fairly matte and some ink rubbed off of my hands while I was putting it together. I don’t know how much wear this will realistically stand up to and I’m assuming a liquid spill during a particularly rowdy game will leave a mess. I’d love to see glossier photo stickers.

Verdict: Super fun. Especially great for families and anyone wanting to own a piece of their own personal fandom Monopoly world.

My favorite personalization? Glad you asked. I created a community chest card with a photo of the little man playing in a box. The card awarded you a small amount of money, so I captioned it “You sold your box!”

Updates! [Enter Clever Title Here]

The Daughter: [She still doesn’t have a fun blog nickname. I’m just not creative enough.]
She started sixth grade; it has been good, but a little bumpy. Apparently, the entire grade spent the first week utterly confused by their lockers. I get it, that lock is pretty weird the first time you encounter one. Tardies were had all around, but the teachers understood. Another adjustment – she just switched from two teachers to eight individual periods. Again, another shock for the sixth graders.

I think she is adjusting well here too, but the homework load has been fairly heavy. I feel like they are being asked to tackle junior high-level activities with middle school-level work ethics. We will all have to make sure she is able to stay on top of things. And ugh, math. The daughter is in advanced math. At her school that means she bypassed sixth grade math and moved straight into seventh grade concepts so there is a lot of learning multiple steps at once. Apparently, I needed sixth grade math because I’m pretty lost.

She starts archery tomorrow and a jewelry-making class next week. Girl Scouts also starts back up this week, so her week is pretty busy. Archery and jewelry-making are both after-school activities. I don’t count those to her “one activity + Girl Scouts” limit since it only means I have to pick her up an hour later.

The Little Man:
No real update here, he is as happy as ever. He has officially stepped up into pre-k at his school. That means the next year is the big K and. . . I don’t really know what that means. His health is holding steady, so it is time to start meeting with the school district to see what kind of placement we are looking at next year.

If I’m going to make his update all about me – and it is my blog, so I can do that – it feels extremely odd at this age. I have many friends and acquaintance with children starting kindergarten (for those who didn’t get an early start on kids, this is a pretty common age to have). I don’t get invited into conversations about kindergarten. Sure, I can (and will) insert myself if I want to join, but it is just a bit depressing to have another reminder how different the little man’s childhood really is. I mean, he will be starting kindergarten too. I have a lot of the same concerns and fears (although admittedly, many of mine are very different). I guess I just want someone to pretend our life is normal . . . just for a minute. Okay, whine over.

Me:
Sick and busy pretty much sums up the last few weeks for me. Well, I’ve only been sick for the last week, but [as of writing this sentence anyway] I’m considering going to the doctor. This seems to have lasted way too long for a simple cold. At this point, I’m just waiting for the holidays to get here. Everything is easier at Christmastime.

Yeah, that sounds like a big downer. Really we are just super busy and haven’t yet adjusted to the new back-to-school schedule. It will calm down soon, I’m sure. The big things on the family list are 1) finish getting stuff ready for the big children’s consignment and drop them off, 2) finish up the financing paperwork for the new siding and windows and 3) finish the little man’s huge paperwork update. The big things on my personal list are 1) finish reading through this Central High stuff, 2) draft an article for the local history publication, and 3) make a plan to finish up the Junior League archival stuff currently stored in my bedroom. All quite do-able.

A Monday Moment

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I’m spending my three-day weekend sick in bed and I’m pretty much over it by now.

Here’s hoping you are having an enjoyable time.

I’ll see you on Wednesday.

Saturday Review: Netflix vs. Amazon Prime

You learned last week that we don’t have cable or satellite and get most of our television and movies from streaming services. Today, I’m going to give you our run-down on two of the most popular services – Netflix and Amazon Prime. We have both.

Let the battle begin!

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First up, Netflix.

Cost: $8.99 per month/$107.88 per year

What you get: 10,000+ titles with unlimited streaming; shows from AMC and the Discovery Channel; access to original series; access on iOS devices, Android devices, major game consoles, FireTV, Roku, Smart TVs, Chromecast, Apple TV

Awesomeness: Netflix original series are generally excellent and – naturally – not available elsewhere. In a survey done by Lifehacker in March, Netflix had twice as many of the 250 most popular television shows. You have the ability to add the classic DVD service to your subscription to open up your choices even more.

Drawbacks: Netflix giveth and Netflix taketh away. New movies and shows are added as content contracts are negotiated and tastes change, but this means things are removed too. Your favorite movie might disappear. Additionally, there is usually a pretty significant lag time before new seasons of television shows are available.

Now, Amazon Prime.

Cost: $99 per year

What you get: 40,000+ titles, some with unlimited streaming, some individually priced; shows from HBO, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central; access on iOS devices, Kindle Fire, major game consoles, FireTV, Roku, Smart TVs

Awesomeness: Free two-day shipping comes with the Prime subscription; this applies to a huge amount of products available on Amazon. Kindle eBook lending and music streaming too! Want to watch movies and shows not available in the regular streaming? You can buy them or – in some cases – rent them. Your purchases are easily accessed in your library.

Drawbacks: The shows you can purchase by episode aren’t cheap. If you are trying to keep up with the current season of a show, expect to shell out $2-$3 per episode. Once you start doing this with a lot of shows, you reach a cost point where you are better off going back to a regular television provider.

Verdict: Well, there isn’t really a clear winner. It is all about finding the service that works best with your budget, watching habits, and taste. Personally, our household enjoys having both.

Dolly Dearest?

When I was a child, my family tormented me with a Mrs. Beasley doll.

First, let me tell you about my family. Well . . . they are fun and lovable and unique and crazy just like all families. On my mother’s side – the tormentors – I was the oldest grandchild and the only grandchild for a while. My mom is the oldest of five, so as I grew up I had many interactions with my younger aunts and uncles.

Now, let me tell you about Mrs. Beasley. She was a doll that belonged to Buffy on Family Affair. Mattel produced the doll and marketed it to girls during the success of the show. She was a cloth doll, talked, wore a blue polka-dot skirt and black glasses. The doll in my grandmother’s house no longer had her skirt or glasses, so she appeared with just her naked, but still blue polka-dot, body. Her hair had been cut off giving her a terrible just-escaped-from-the-mental-ward look. I remember pulling her pull string in the back, but can’t remember if she could still talk (I should probably call my grandma and ask).

Here, let me help you with your mental image. Watch this vintage commercial for the doll:

Did you watch that? Did it terrify you? Now imagine the doll looking like she had been in a rough toy shop gang fight. That is the image I was up against.

Mrs. Beasley did not like me. She used to tease me and steal my toys. I responded by yelling, grabbing her, and giving her a right going-over. Of course, I took it all out on Mrs. Beasley, not my grandmother and aunt controlling the doll. Oh no, of course not. Not my loved ones. My family who was supposed to protect me. It was the doll, always the doll.

I’ll see you in hell, Mrs. Beasley.
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Things You Should Know About Surviving When Your Blog Goes Viral

Well, mini-viral anyway.

1) Don’t feed the trolls . . . but maybe poke them a little.
So trolls suck and generally I am very much against feeding them. But. . . a few arguing trolls can really up your comment numbers. I’ll admit that I argued with a few of them to make them keep commenting and fuel the fire a bit.
NOTE: Don’t do this if the horrible comments trolls make bother you. You will just get sucked in to an argument you won’t win. Seriously, you won’t win. Trolls just move on to another comment or part of your statement if they get backed in to a corner. It isn’t legitimate conversation or conflict.

I suggest you develop this attitude if you want to poke your trolls.
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2) Decide on a comment strategy asap.
Comments are going to start pouring in fairly quickly, so you need to decide how you are going to handle them. It became pretty clear to me that babysitting the comment section was just not going to be an option. I decided to delete violent comments (yes, violence over introverts), but not remove the insults various comments were slinging at each other. I edited my strategy just a bit when a commenter used “retard.” Totally unacceptable on my blog. This laissez-faire attitude might not work for you – especially you have a brand or image you are tying to protect/grow. Try to make your decision early so you remain consistent.

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3) Be prepared to be saying a whole lot more than you thought.
I wrote a silly little blog post about introverts that was humorous and – frankly – not very original. I never expected it to take off the way if did. I was very surprised by the depth people could read into my post. All of a sudden a large group of strangers decided they knew all about me and my intentions from that one post. It was a little odd, to say the least. I’m not saying this is necessarily good or bad . . . just be prepared.

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4) Don’t change your focus, but do think about what you are putting out there.
This especially came up since I’m dealing with a personal blog.
Okay, so my blog is personal and it is probably always going to be personal. I’m not expecting 2 million readers to stay-on long-term, so I wasn’t going to cater to their interests (although obviously you would want to do that if you are blogging for another reason). I did want to consider what I had scheduled to post during the peak. I made the decision to move a couple of more personal posts. Now, you could argue that I’m putting all of this out there for public consumption anyway – which is true, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be smart about it. My stats were very likely to plummet to a more reasonable number and I adjusted my posts accordingly.

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5) Enjoy the ride.
Let’s face it; your popular post probably isn’t going to make you a blogging legend. Remember to enjoy it through all the crazy. I bragged as much as possible on my personal facebook (much to the annoyance of people reading, I’m sure). This probably won’t happen again. When a local radio station talked about my post without knowing a local wrote it? Awesome. I inflicted that brag on my coworkers.
Even if it is stressful, even if you are dealing with trolls, even if you are getting a lost of nasty . . . it is pretty amazing. Something you wrote touched a lot of people. Enjoy it.

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