Friday, September 10, 2010

Negotiating Government Services

So this week included negotiating the government services for pregnancy assist. First, a trip to the Health Dept to get certified pregnant, and then a couple days later a trip the the Dept of Human Services to apply for TennCare/Medicaid. The two trips were very different.

The Health Dept is a local branch in the neighborhood. We didn't make an appointment, but just showed up. The whole encounter was highly stressful. The building was ugly and cold. There was no one to greet us, only a few signs in not obvious places directing us to a sign in sheet. There were two different waiting areas, and it was not clear which one was best. We ended up waiting and watching to see what was going on, and then choosing the smaller room with the chairs around the edge, since that seemed to be where people on the list we signed were being called from. Sitting in the chairs, it became obvious that there was one woman dealing with everyone on the list. Her cubicle was open to the waiting area, so there was no feeling of privacy. Everyone had to talk softly so that the entire waiting room didn't know their business. The woman was obviously stressed out and her back hurt, but she kept having to get up and walk to other parts of the building.

After 45 minutes, we were finally called up. Five minutes later, we've been initially entered into the system, stated our need for a proof of pregnancy, and then told to go sit in the other waiting room. That one woman that we waited so long to see just seems to greet and sort people. I felt relieved that we had signed the right paper and ended up in the right place after all. I had spent the whole 45 minutes feeling nervous that when we got called up, we would be told we did something wrong and have to go wait all over again somewhere else.

Another 15 minutes later, a nurse came and got us out of the second waiting room, just as cold, the chairs just as uncomfortable, and this one more cramped and with a high-pitched children's show on the tv. We are taken down a hallway, talked with, weighed, given a cup to pee in, iron is checked, etc. She gave us a bottle of prenatal vitamins and a package of name brand baby advertisements along with the slip of paper that certifies the pregnancy. On the way out, she told us to stop and make a WIC appointment, which took another 10 minutes since no one behind the windows she directed us to seemed to actually know how to do it. I think it took 4 different people to make the appointment for us.

In the end, it took an hour and half to pee in a cup and get officially declared pregnant, and the whole experience was nerve-wracking and left me stressed for the rest of the day.

In contrast, DHS is a cattle call. We had filled out our application online, and then been mailed an instruction sheet telling us to come within 20 days to their central office between 6:30 am and 9:00 am. Ungodly hours! I chose to stay up all night in order to make it in time, because waking up with minimal sleep is a very bad thing for me. We pulled in at 6:40. There were two lines in front of the doors, each about 50 people long. A security guard was briefing everyone about what would happen. I had to go back and put my apple and water bottle back in the car since it wasn't allowed. The doors opened at 6:45, people who had applied online went in first, the guard took my official paper with my name on it, and told us where to all sit. We were then briefed on what to expect: we can come and go outside, they will start calling names at 7:30, when they call our name we will get our appointment time, any questions?

I felt much more relaxed about the whole thing. There was a person who could answer questions. I knew when we might get called. I knew I was in the right place, and was given information about timetables and what to expect and where to go. We were called up a little after 8:00 and given an appointment time of 8:30. At 8:10 we were called to the appointment early and followed a completely disinterested man into a huge room of cubicles. I could not see the far walls, it was so huge, full of head-high cubicle dividers for as far as the eye could see. His cubicle was not too far into the labyrinth, and without any greeting or smile we were asked for specific documents while he tapped things into his computer.

After a few minutes he said we were not eligible for food stamps at this time. I told him we already knew that, that the online eligibility screening said it would be TennCare only. He said there were no TennCare slots open. Not even though we're pregnant? Oh, you're pregnant? Do you have proof of pregnancy? Yes, here. Five minutes later, that's been entered in, we're approved, it will be a letter in a week and the card in three weeks.

The whole thing took 2 hours, but it was so much easier. The seats were cushioned, the room was not too cold, there were no annoying tv shows, and there was a loudspeaker so we could hear who was being called. Also, I felt much less nervous about being in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, or being judged for being there. The man who helped us couldn't have cared less about us. He was completely deadpan. And while that lack of compassion might be disturbing, it was also reassuring, because he wasn't going to say anything personal. He turned us down for food stamps in the same deadpan way that he approved us for TennCare. And when we left, we got to the car just before it started raining and it only took another 2 hours for the residual stress to leave my body afterward.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Next Wave of Freefall?

So when the economic downturn hit, I said, "I'm not participating." I didn't want to be a part of that energy or a part of that self-fulfilling panic. And I had the savings to make it stick, honestly.

Well, now I am seeing with a little more distance. I have friends who were hit hard by the change of economic fortune winds. Friends who lost jobs or couldn't go anywhere in their companies, not even lateral transitions. Friends who did a little here and there, including working for parents who could still finagle payment, actively searching with their professional job skills and resumes, who spent months doing the best they could financially and wracking up debt while they tried to get their life back on a steady financial course. These were friends with impressive resumes, some with resumes of decades of impressive contract work, who struggled.

Now, it seems as if the friends who struggled the most got tossed a lifeline. Some are back to work. Others found the promotions or changes of scene that they really needed. I am very very happy for them. They went through a lot, and it was absolutely time or past time for something to happen for them.

Problem is, I am feeling like the next wave, and I am not alone. I am among those who were able to stave off problems. Well, now my cushion is depleted and my needs are increasing. I have been able to ride out the last couple of years, no big deal. Now, I need the economy to be functioning with opportunity and jobs. My mind is impressively trained, but my resume is all over the place. I have never had a professional position, nor am I sure that being "professional" would be the best venue for my skill set. In continuing to pursue lucrative self-employment (I decided today to call my employment status Ungainfully Self-Employed), I need potential new clients to have the cash in their budgets to pay me.

And in talking with others, I am not alone in having run out of safety net. I am not in freefall yet, but there seems to be an awful lot of yawning asphalt far beneath my balancing act. We shall see how it all comes out, but I have friends who have gone from paying down the principle on the mortgage to applying for food stamps, and friends who paid every bill on time every time who have declared bankruptcy. I have a fabulous support network and skills at manifesting, so I am affirming that everything will fall into place nicely. I am just getting quite nervous in the meantime.

Monday, September 6, 2010

And the Default Answer Is....

I know a lot of people, mostly but not entirely women, whose default answer is Yes. If anyone asks them to do something for them, be involved in an event, coordinate details, give them a ride, help them out with some cash, they say yes. Sometimes they have elaborate rituals of being able to say yes without putting themselves at risk, like my friend who will loan anyone $20 if they ask for money. He figures the $20 is small enough that it isn't a burden if he never sees it again, and then if the same person comes back and asks for money again, he can ask about the repayment of the $20 and they tend to leave him alone.

I have friends who really fret about not being able to say Yes. They want to say Yes, you can crash on my couch for as long as you need it, Yes, I can loan you your rent money this month, Yes, I would love to buy a ticket to this awesome event and go with you, but circumstances prevent them from being able to actually say the Yes. It makes life hard for a single mom family to have a person staying rent free and abusing the thermostat with no move out date. It is impossible to loan a month's rent to someone else when you don't know if you'll be able to make your next rent payment. And if you don't have the money to spend on an evening out, then you don't have the money to spend on an evening out. It's a boundary thing, it's a people-pleasing thing, and often it's a I-have-to-earn-your-love-because-I-am-not-enough-in-myself thing.

In contrast, my default answer tends to be No. Surprise me, and I will probably say No. If I am under stress, or the suggestion sounds hard, or I don't know where the money to lend would come from or whether you will be absolutely reliable at paying me back by our specified (and perhaps signed document certified) date, I will say No. I have actually learned to mitigate my No-saying by asking for time to consider, since a flat No can shut the door to great adventures. I will say, No, not right now, or No, maybe later, or No, but let me see how this works out and I'll get back to you. I figure it is much easier to change a No to a Yes (and makes the asking people happier) than changing a Yes to No when they have already begun to count on your involvement.

I first realized my No-saying tendencies when my friend would ask me to add another person to my weekly food distribution. My first answer was almost always No. I would then think about why I said No, whether it was because I didn't want to deliver to another person or I was at full capacity or I didn't want the hassle of finding out whether the new person would be reliable at picking up, and discuss it with my friend. Often, she troubleshot my objections by figuring out a way to get someone else to do the delivery or vowing to find someone else to take the food if the original intended recipient didn't show, and in the end my No became a Yes. But I did wonder at my propensity for saying No to situations that looked like a hassle.

I have been complimented on my boundary setting and maintenance, and I will say that knowing how to say No has a lot to do with that. I also want to add that there is what I think is a separate process of saying Yes to Yourself, which is a way of affirming the self and also, in my opinion, learning to say No to others when saying Yes would mean sacrificing yourself or working against your own best interests and realistic resource limits. I think sometimes saying Yes and saying Yes to Yourself can be mixed up, but that they are quite different.

The solution for bringing it all into balance seems to be asking for time to consider, interestingly enough. Whether the default answer is Yes or No, putting a delay on decision making until you have time to think it over a little bit and really weigh the feasibility seems to be the best way to maximize enriching experiences and minimize commitments that do nothing but drain resources and add stress.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I'm Not Cake Deprived, Thank You Anyway

I eat a gluten-free diet, and have for four or five years now. My story as I tell it over and over again to curious folks is that I had various symptoms for years and my friend and roommate with celiac's said she thought it could be a gluten allergy and I should try going gluten-free to see if it helped. So I did. Within 3 days I was going through withdrawals which scared me, but gluten breaks down into an opiate in the body and causes a chemical addiction. After one week, I had twice again as much energy and it was like a fog had been lifted from my brain. After that, it was easy not to go back.

And for those who think cutting gluten out might be a worthwhile experiment, you have to go 100%, not 99%. Not gluten-free except for spaghetti-Os or vegetarian faux-meat. The entirety of the allergen has to be out of your system in order to know if being gluten-free is helpful for your health.

All that said, I am amazed at the deprivation discourse that surrounds being gluten free. There are thousands, perhaps millions of foods that are naturally gluten free. All veggies, fruits, beans, peas, nuts, and grains other than wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats, are naturally gluten free, as are meats and animal products for the non-veggies and vegans (although, to be fair, some folks with celiac's are sensitive to meat from animals fed wheat). Problem is, the American diet is incredibly wheat-based. Bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, cakes, pies, etc. abound in the American diet. I tell people who are going to cook for me about my dietary restrictions, and wheat is often too ubiquitous for them to realize they have made food I can't eat. "Is there any wheat in that?" I ask. "No, no wheat." "Are those crackers on top?" "Oh, yeah, they are. Sorry."

So what is in the special gluten-free section of the grocery store? Gluten-free options for baked goods and other traditionally wheat-based foods. Mixes for cakes, cookies, and brownies. Frozen pizza crusts. Rice pasta. Gluten-free bread made from rice or tapioca or potato starch. I am given gifts of gluten-free cake mixes, flours, and baking cookbooks. Friends and family email me gluten-free recipes, usually for sweets like flourless chocolate cake (I think I have 5 different recipe links for that one). Not that I don't appreciate it, but I don't feel deprived.

I don't need to continue to eat baked goods. I don't need to eat imitation wheat products, just like I didn't feel the need to buy imitation meat products when I became a vegetarian. I don't need to pretend to continue eating the traditional American diet. Instead, I am a culinary traveler enjoying Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, and other rice/corn/bean based cuisines from around the world.

I often meet people who react to my dietary needs as if they are tragic, as they widen their eyes and ask what CAN I eat? Whereas I find that a little bit of restriction has actually made my diet richer and more diverse. I also think I eat healthier now, because I am more conscious of what I am eating and because many of the quick access processed foods are no longer an option. Not a bad thing.

Oh, and I am really really good at eating the filling out of a pie.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Possible New Nest Dashed to Ground

Today I went to check out a possible place for us to live. It is a property near a river, just over the Cheatham County line, 65 acres with several cabins and various residents living in those cabins as well as great lodge retreat and rental space. A community crone used to have pagan events out there, and it survives in stories even though no one really seems to know what is going on there now.

Someone found them on FB for me, and from the limited info they had posted I found the not-fully-constructed website (no wonder it didn't google well!) and phone number. I have been trying to contact them for about three months. Email was ignored, phone message was ignored, and finally I made another attempt a few days ago, left a "I want to know more about you" voicemail and at last got a call back. I made an appointment for 1:00, googled the directions along with asking on the phone for advice for any rural quirks, and felt excited. If it didn't lead to a place to live, I hoped it would at least provide the lead that would take us where we need to go.

I drove 45 minutes out there, found the place where the private gravel road ended and parked, hoping I had guessed right since there were no actual address numbers made available to me. After being creatively sniffed by the thumping dogs and taken under wing by a resident, we found the woman I was supposed to meet with. She was uncomfortable with me in a drifty kind of way, unsure what to say, and the absolute lack of rapport or chemistry was remarkable. I asked my questions, she gave me answers in a vague sounding voice and gave me a short tour of the great lodge. In under 20 minutes, I was back in my truck. No, they don't have any cabins available or coming available. The one that would be most likely to turn over comes furnished and rents for about double what we can afford (though I only mentioned not needing furniture, omitting the money bit).

It was a bust. A wholesale bust. I even asked if she knew of any other rental properties around, and she said no. On my way back to the highway I detoured to see if I could find some local papers with local classifieds. I took note of a few names I could google and picked up a free paper out of a stand. The free paper turned out to be worse than useless, and the papers I googled are owned by Gannett who also does the Tennessean. Their websites have now made it impossible to find the classified ads that are ACTUALLY IN THE PAPER, and instead link to national websites full of ads and NOTHING REMOTELY USEFUL. Frustrating!

I had such hopes that a situation with so much potential would either work or lead to something that does. I went ready to impress with my ability to help with the retreat center business and be an asset on property, even as I deliberately let others set the tone enough to keep from coming across too strong or trying too hard. In short, I pulled out all my skills, dressed ambiguously enough to pass as more professional or relaxed depending on expectation, and went in expecting good things. And got bupkiss.

I took the more scenic route home and chose not to stop and do errands along the way. It is time for a new plan on how to find the New Nest.

Monday, August 30, 2010

And Now For Some Blind Panic

So, obviously, I took a week off from blogging. Sorry about that, but my head just does not seem attached. Early last week I took off for the woods of East TN to try to get my head back on, and it lessened the panic somewhat, but I am still in a place of deep inward focus with strong internal pressure to get everything external figured out NOW. And I've been watching a lot of Eureka, the tv show. It makes me laugh, so it helps.

Ever read Harry Potter? In the last book, they have to figure out something impossible and keep repeating to themselves, over and over, what they have to find. That's my head: a home, a job, a car, maybe another car, a midwife.... I haunt Craigslist, wrack my brain for doable steps to the monumental, and begrudge myself down time like naps and reading books. In other words, still panicking.

On the flip side, I am so very happy. My partner and I both are. We look at each other every so often, smile real big and say, "Babies!" Belly rubs are crucial. I don't claim that any of it actually makes sense.

In a general progress kind of way, last night I emailed a resume to a Craigslist employer who wants exactly what I have to offer. And tomorrow I have a meeting with a potential housing lead. We'll see if something comes out of those. I am affirming ease of transition and manifesting plenty of divine appointments, perfect timing, and clear opportunities. I have written my spells for housing, cashflow abundance, overall family abundance, and the pregnancy and birth. It is good.

I much prefer being able to make sense of things (this is Philosofishing, after all), and this not making anything make sense due to emotional turbulence of happy-induced blind panic is disconcerting. Very disconcerting. But I will continue to trust my navigational instruments through the storm and hope the horizon reappears to my sightline soon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


We're pregnant! I've been waiting weeks to say that. Turns out we had to wait until the 6-8 week mark before it was safe to tell people, but now we are at 8 weeks and we can spill the beans. We are both very very happy, but scared. A friend of mine once told me that it wasn't worth waiting until everything was figured out financially, logistically, etc. because there is never enough money or stability or anything else. I keep thinking of the movie Idiocracy, where the smart couple keeps saying no, not this year, not in this market, while the stupid people just keep popping out kids. We didn't want to wait forever, indeed waited longer than I really wanted to, so now it's on and we will just figure it out. Because we are smart, resourceful people with a lot of love and support from our family and friends. Dammit.

But I will say I keep obsessing over where we are going to live and on what. We have to move, so I have been compulsively checking the Craigslist listings to see if there is anything in the right size and neighborhood that we can afford. They seem to be very few and far between, but they exist. I also keep checking the vehicle listings since my truck will no longer be adequate.

I've also gone out applying for jobs waiting tables. Cash money is good. Gives me income a little more reliable than my healing work. Haven't had any luck yet, but I decided I would just go apply and not be attached to the results. We'll see what happens.

I am so excited. Babies! This week they have little flipper arms and start to wiggle for the first time. Hey, flippers beat arm buds! Next up, fingers!