Calligraphy for a Cause

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A year ago my life changed. What started as a simple pain in my right hand transformed into excruciating surges of pain in both arms day and night. I was working on a complicated case at work and didn’t think much of it. I needed to write and the job needed to be done yesterday. So I put in the hours, ignored the pain and stayed focused on my goal. In the end, what started as carpal tunnel and a repetitive stress injury turn into a nightmare.

I couldn’t type, couldn’t open doors, couldn’t lift anything, couldn’t grasp objects and couldn’t sleep because of the pain. I could talk and walk, but that was it. If I tried to use my hands, they would scream in pain, go ice cold and start changing colors for several hours. If I tried to carry objects in the crook of my arm, then I would have pain in my biceps, shoulders and neck. If I stayed perfectly still, it was better but the pain never went away.

Three months after my injury my workers compensation was approved. I had doctors turn me away because they didn’t want to deal with the paperwork. The doctors that would see me assumed that I was making it up to get paid leave. They would do a partial job and refer me to someone else. It was absolutely horrific. All I could do was sit there watching helplessly as another doctor did nothing. This was only compounded by the constant pressure from my manager to get back to work. I tried to push my hands so I could keep my job, but only made my condition worse. The doctors wouldn’t help me and my manager constantly demanded more. It was like being stuck on a medical merry-go-round with my manager smacking me every time I went around the circle.

I had no choice but to pay out-of-pocket for all the tests that the doctors ordered. Some of it was covered by my insurance, but the co-pays were not small. Every specialist wanted to see you at least two or three times, even if it was just to tell you that the results were not conclusive and they wanted you to see someone else. Do the math. I’ve seen around 10 doctors. I pay $40 for every visit and each doctor wants to see you at least 3 times. That doesn’t include the out-of-pocket expenses for tests. To put it lightly, our finances were strained.

My husband spent at least an hour and a half every day driving me to and from work on top of his hour-long round-trip to his office. He had to drive me to all of my doctors appointments, repeated bloodwork, the two MRIs, CT scan, echocardiogram, ultrasound, EMG and chest x-ray. I couldn’t cook so we ate a lot of pizza and Chinese take-out, which we normally don’t do for health and budget reasons.

It’s been a year since my injury. I’ve gotten used to my new life. I have anywhere from 40-60% of the functioning back in my arms depending on the day. I can drive for short periods of time. I don’t have to use a straw to drink or ask my husband to cut my food for me. I can cook, which I really missed. I’m starting to feel like myself again and not a shell of who I used to be. I’m still not sure if I’ll ever get full functioning back in my arms. I may not be able to do so many things that I love anymore.

I decided the best way to help with the financial burden my injury has caused is to sell my calligraphy pieces. The medical bills are far from over. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do calligraphy again, especially not to that scale. I want my creative outlets to be more than a reminder of something I used to do. I may be finishing a chapter in my life, but it could be the start of an amazing one. Maybe my limitations could lead to something wonderful. Maybe I can sell a piece of calligraphy, pay a bill and enrich someone else’s home with something I created. Maybe one case and one decision will become something truly positive.

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Please consider purchasing a calligraphy piece. The proceeds are going to a good cause. I’m happy to answer any questions, but sadly will not be able to do any custom pieces.

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Happy Birthday to Me!

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When I was a kid, my birthday was always a big celebration. Our city had its 4th of July fireworks one day early which meant the city gave me the best birthday gift every year. As a family, we’d get together for ice cream pie and celebration beforehand and then walk down to the riverfront for my fireworks. I loved it!

I moved away from my hometown years ago. Now that I’m an adult I think about the bugs, the humidity, the annoying people, the discomfort of sitting on the ground, and the hours of bumper to bumper traffic. I still love fireworks, but I appreciate being able to enjoy them from afar in comfort over getting my old front row seats.

This year, I’m taking a slightly different approach. I wanted to see how many small ways I could celebrate my birthday beyond the fireworks. I started my endeavor when I found out that a lot of the companies I already love have birthday clubs. The companies advertise their great products and give you something for free. You get to feel special and try to forget that you’re really just getting older. I thought it would be fun to spread it out throughout the week so I could enjoy these little surprises.

Now, please keep in mind these are already companies that I buy products from and support. There are a lot of companies out there that offer freebies, but I didn’t sign up because I wasn’t just out to get something for nothing. I wanted to have something I already enjoyed from a company I knew I’d be returning to. Trust me, a lot of companies you know and love offer a lot of discounts and special gifts for your birthday. You just have to be willing to look.

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Moe’s Monday – I love Moe’s burritos and salsa verde. I used to work around the corner from Moe’s Southwest Grill and learned the importance of celebrating Moe’s Mondays. A burrito at Moe’s is normally $6.00-7.50. On Moe’s Mondays it’s $5.00 for any burrito, chips and a drink. Yes, I used to go religiously. Now that they’re further away from the office, it’s harder to break away and return in my allotted half an hour break. On the Monday before my birthday, I was already leaving work early so it was easy to squeeze in a burrito full of happiness. When I looked into their birthday club, I found out that you get any entrée for free if you purchase a drink. You have two weeks before the coupon expires which is another win in my book.

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Fluffy Tuesday – For those of you who don’t watch a lot of standup comedy, you are missing out. Gabriel Iglesias is my favorite comedian. He is simply hysterical. You can watch his videos for free on Amazon prime or Youtube. The easiest way to find him is to look him up under the nickname Fluffy. Watch and you will understand. For the best birthday treat ever, he did one stand up show two days before my birthday. It was amazing. My husband and I laughed the night away!

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To round the evening off, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, Bongos. Bongos is a restaurant in South Florida owned by Gloria Estefan with authentic Cuban food. The atmosphere is great, the food is delicious and the mojitos are even better. It gave us a chance to have a bite to eat and relax before the show.

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Cold Stone Wednesday – When I was in college there was only one ice cream shop in town, Cold Stone Creamery. Considering the insane summer heat, this was the most popular place for 5-6 months of the year. The lines were outside the door, but it was always worth the wait. I haven’t been back in ages and always go down memory lane when I drive past. I was delighted to find out that they have a birthday club – buy one get one free. Since my husband has never had Coldstone before, we both went for a special treat. The company has changed a little bit, but it’s still good ice cream. This is another coupon that you have two weeks to use.

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Aveda and Firehouse Thursday – I love Aveda. They have salons nationwide and have a high standard for their stylists. Each one goes through intensive training and recertification to make sure their skills are above top notch. Their products are amazing and the service is exceptional. On your birthday, they also give you a free gift of a personalized scent perfume or body care product worth up to $25. I need a haircut and highlights anyways. I decided I might as well spend the day getting pampered.

There is one catch to the Aveda birthday club, you have to sign up at least 30 days before your birthday. They’ll send you a card in the mail that qualifies you for your free product. In the age of electronic everything waiting for a card in the mail is annoying, but what can you do?

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Firehouse subs will give you a free regular sub on your birthday with a valid ID. I love this company especially because they support firefighters and other great charities. Their hot subs are really some of my favorites. My husband and I went there for a late lunch.

BBQ Friday – My husband and I love BBQ chicken with homemade Spanish rice. His mother taught us both how to make it and it’s one of the best comfort foods. It’s also incredibly easy to make. It gives us a chance to have a great homemade meal without the hassle. It’ll be the perfect way to round out the week and celebrate the 4th of July. I also decided to make a peach pie. Nothing smells more like summer time than a peach pie cooling on the counter. Add a bit of vanilla ice cream and I’m in heaven.

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The other company whose birthday club I signed up for is Bare Escentuals. I love their makeup. You get a free gift for your birthday which you can pick up later in the month if you prefer. Complete your online profile and earn a shopping day of your choice where your entire order is 15% off. I need to restock on my makeup and will gladly use the discount. The only catch, your 15% off day can’t be your birthday.

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Jamba Juice also offers a free smoothie for your birthday. I signed up for their online deals after my birthday, but because it was the same month I still got a free smoothie. Yeah Jamba Juice! Their smoothies are my favorite.

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White House Black Market also sent me a coupon $10 off a purchase of $50. I’m already a member of their store so I automatically get 5% off and free shipping on all of my purchases. Add the $10 off and their great sale prices and I’m a happy camper. They update their website all the time so keep an eye on it. The item you wanted may be in stock tomorrow.

I had an amazing birthday. Yes, there were fireworks that I got to watch from the comfort of our home. It was a wonderful week full of little special events and a beautiful surprise bouquet of flowers from my husband. He really is amazing! The week of fun is over and I have been pampered and fed to excess. Now I have to return to my normal life, which has its own set of perks. Now I’m a year older, a little wiser and get to look forward to another year of adventure.

A Federal Employee’s Perspective on Furloughs

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Today I wanted to write something a little different. It may be fall and the time of the year for all things warm and cozy, but it’s also the time for the government to decide what they’re going to do with the budget. You’ve heard the news reports with threats of furloughs and a government shutdown. I wanted to take the opportunity to give you a different perspective than the media’s. I’m not here to take sides or make political statements. I’m simply here to let you know what it’s like to work for a government on the verge of a shutdown.

I have worked for the federal government for over four years. It is the hardest job I have ever had. Since I was hired, my agency has been on a hiring freeze and has been encouraging employees to take early retirement. We lose thousands of employees every year and don’t replace them. When I started, I was doing the work for one and a half people. Now I’m doing the work for two and a half. 

Beyond the mental requirements necessary to keep up with this kind of workload, this job is emotionally draining. We are the face of the federal government. If you don’t like a law or what is going on with the political environment, we’re the ones who hear about it. People scream, cry, panic, emotionally breakdown and threaten us because we do our jobs: to uphold and implement the laws passed by Congress. I have always worked in customer service, but this is different. We are the nation’s punching bag. We’re used to it, but it’s exhausting.

In those four years I have worked for the government, we have been associated with everything that is wrong with our nation. Yes, there are many ways that agencies can be more efficient and accountable. However, there are many of us who are working hard to fix those problems. Instead of being thanked for this hard work, we’re constantly associated with the Washington waste. We’re seen as lazy, stupid and as ineffective as any representative in DC.

Every six months to a year, we are threatened with a government shutdown. We don’t know when or why or how. We’ve just gotten used to hearing that once again our jobs are on the line. Every time the government threatens to shutdown, people become very edgy and emotions run high. Even when there isn’t a shutdown the amount of damage control we have to do is immense. We still have the emergency meetings, messages from the Commissioner, and the genuine fear of our future being in a stranger’s hands. At the end of the day, we don’t know if this is the year it will finally happen. Someone will follow through with all of the threats and shut us down. We just wait and hope we can pay our bills on time. 

Regardless if there is a government shutdown tomorrow, I will be reporting to work. This means that even though my paycheck may be late I will get paid for the work I do. The government decided who within an agency is necessary and what workloads we can complete. In some ways, this is great because I can get a little bit more caught up on my work. However, most of my workloads I can’t touch until the furlough is over. People can come into their local office and call, but if they want something not on the list of pre-approved workloads we have to send them away. That public I described above will be a major problem because we will have to tell a lot of people no.

When the furlough is over, we will spend weeks getting caught up on those forbidden workloads. Agencies who were already behind will take even longer to get caught up. The public will come flooding in and tempers will be flared. The emotional exhaustion I spoke of will be nothing compared to what we will have to endure. We will feel the direct impact of a government shutdown longer than the few days it takes for a decision to be made. To the average person, a shutdown means they can’t go to a park or museum they didn’t plan on going to anyway. To us, it means we might not get paid. We’ll have even more work. We’ll have even more stress. We’ll get even more behind.

Why do we endure all of it? Because we are public servants. We made an oath to serve our country the day we were hired. Yes, we are exhausted beyond words can express but we will keep working and trying. The obnoxious moments are cast aside when we get a chance to really help someone. We make a difference in our country. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.

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Smart Dieting

A New Year has arrived and resolutions have been made. Most of them involve eating healthy, dropping a few pounds or going to the gym more often. Sadly, we’re creatures of habit. We’ll diet and workout, but then after a few weeks we’ll return to our coach potato roots. Any weight lost simply returns and you try again next year. Instead of repeating this cycle over and over again, it’s better to just start on the right foot. There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re dieting especially if you want to be successful.

If you want to lose the weight long term, then you have to think long term.

I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but you can’t eat a whole pizza, fast food and dessert and expect to lose pounds. You will have to change some of your bad habits. If you try a liquid only or carb free diet, there is a problem. When you return to normal food the pounds will return.

So how do you fix this? You have to look at ways to cut back on the calories and fat by doing something for the long term.

  • If you try a clean or raw diet where you eat more greens and fresh fruits, when you’ve met your weight goal you have to keep those foods incorporated in your regular diet.
  • If you like the liquid diets, then expect to always replace one meal a day with a smoothie or shake.
  • You should watch your fat and calorie intake both when you’re dieting and when you aren’t. That way your hard work pays off.

Don’t eat fast food and eat out less.

I assure you there are plenty of nights that I don’t want to cook, but eating out is the easiest way to destroy your healthy goals and your budget. We have all heard the horrors of fast food, so I’ll only say this once: stop eating fast food. Your body will thank you! Yes, fast food is getting healthier, but that’s still not saying much.

One of my favorite eye opening books and articles I enjoy is Eat This, Not That. They grade different restaurants, dishes and tell you the details that you wouldn’t know unless you were standing over the cook’s shoulder. What you’ll discover is that restaurants load their meals with salt, butter, oil, mayonnaise and products with lots of chemicals and use less fruits, vegetables and protein to help them save money. Even salads aren’t safe! Still don’t believe me?

Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad has 1,340 calories, 98 g fat (15 g saturated; 1.5 g trans) and 1,200 mg sodium. Do you still think eating out is a great idea? Make it yourself. You can still have the foods that you crave, but won’t have nearly the same amount of guilt.

Avoid eating processed foods

I’m sorry to have to state the obvious, but if you want to lose weight you have to let go of frozen, boxed and some canned foods. Preservatives, chemicals, excessive salt and sugars are only the beginning of the reasons why you don’t want to eat processed foods. Cooking your own food is cheaper and so much better for you. There are of course going to be days that you’re going to want to have ramen noodles. Once a month is manageable. Once a day is a problem.

Thanks to the internet you can find thousands of recipes that require you to be standing in the kitchen for less than thirty minutes. You’ll have leftovers and don’t have to starve yourself just to lose weight. If you don’t have time to go through the recipes and work with your budget, the best website is eMeals.com. They do all of the research for you. For $3-7 a month, you can save yourself weight and money. That’s a win in my book.

Basic things to try in the kitchen:

  • When you cook your meals, use reduced fat ingredients as opposed to the regular versions. This way you can maintain the flavor and have less guilt. Reduced fat options also have less chemicals than the fat free alternative.
  • If you love desserts, go to cookinglight.com and make something that tastes delicious but has half of the consequences. No one knows would ever know it’s a light dessert.

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables

Did you know that if you eat an apple 15 minutes before you eat dinner that you won’t need to eat as much to feel full? It’s the healthiest way to maintain portion control.

One of the biggest things that we’re all missing from our diets is fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, don’t cheat and go buy vegetables in a can and think that it’s the same. When you boil down fruits and vegetables, you lose most of their nutritional value. Try to eat your fruits and vegetables either fresh or steamed.

Along the same lines, fruit juice and canned fruits do not provide the same benefit as a piece of fruit because of the added sugars, chemicals and preservatives. Fresh or frozen fruit is best.

Go to the gym

I’m sorry but even with the best of nutritional changes, you won’t drop 20lbs as quickly as you will by going to the gym. Exercise and healthy eating should go hand in hand. Now there are thousands of different workouts. You can do them at home, at work or at a gym. You just have to pick the one that works best for you. I prefer to do intervals. They’re quick, intense workouts that get you better results than spending an hour on the treadmill.

These are some great examples of interval workouts. Give it a try. You will definitely see results!

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Health News.com

Real Beauty.com

Drink more water

I don’t mean vitawater or some sort of sugar packet mixed into your water. Drink plain, boring water. It’s so much better for you than pop, juice or beer. Get rid of it and watch the pounds disappear.

Slow down

Studies have shown us that when we cram our lunch into 5 minutes and barely allow fifteen minutes for dinner that we eat more than normal because our body barely has time to tell us that it’s full. Take a deep breath between bites. Force yourself to eat dinner in courses if necessary, but do what it takes to stop shoveling down the food. Appreciate your meal.

Also, turn off the television. It’s been proven that when you eat in front of the television or at your desk at work that your focus is on the screen and not on your meal. Once again, you’ll eat more than you intended with ease. If you’re married or have children, the 30 minutes of quality time is always a good thing.

Balance is the key

When you’re dieting, eating healthy or trying to lose weight you want to let go of the unhealthy habits and take control of your health by making smart choices. Now, don’t expect yourself to be able to give up everything all at once. Start slowly. Cut back on fast food and eating out. When that’s easier, cut back on processed foods and cook your meals more often. Take everything one step a time. You will see results and it will all be completely worth it!

The word diet spelt out in vegetables on a wooden board.

The True Spirit of Christmas

The Christmas season is finally here! It’s the time for Christmas trees, beautiful lights, caroling, and presents. It’s also the time when weekends are booked, traffic gets backed up, the perfect gift is sold out and budgets become strained. Christmas is such a nostalgic time of the year and it’s also the most stressful. Why? Because we forget what the season is all about.

My favorite quote I try to remember most during the season is: “But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely … And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, ‘God bless it!’” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

Christmas isn’t about the Black Friday sales or stuffing our faces with sweets. Christmas was meant to be that one time a year we step back and not only appreciate the many gifts that we have, but we share them with others. It’s so easy to forget that the gifts we have to share don’t have a price tag.

This December I have decided to take part in a 12 Days of Kindness challenge. For 12 days, I get to stop worrying about my To Do Lists and think of someone else. Whether it’s writing a thank you note to the fire department, baking Christmas cookies to give away, helping someone carry their groceries to the car, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or picking up trash on the sidewalk, every action – big or small – makes a difference.

I have gotten wrapped up in the chaos of Christmas too many times. This year, I want it to be different. Perhaps you feel the same way too. Would you be willing to join in? It’s simple. Here’s the website: 12 Days of Kindness. Anytime you take an extra moment to make a difference in someone’s life this Christmas season, tell us about it. We’ll share your story and help encourage others. You don’t have to wait until December. Make a difference today!

Think of the impact we could have. 10 people across the nation or around the world could change a season bombarded with selfishness. We could remind people that the true spirit of Christmas doesn’t fit under the tree. It’s a simple action we take to make a difference in a stranger’s life.

Merry Christmas Everyone!