Sunday, December 23, 2012

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - Charles Dickens

Merry almost Christmas! I am realizing that it's been a month since I have last posted. I guess that's a testament to how busy/crazy things have been with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Nonetheless, things have been very merry and full of joy. I am happy to say that I safely arrived home last night (after quite the lengthy drive in our old Ford Escort) but my big and comfy bed was nothing sort of perfection.

So, I'll try to hit the highlights from post-Thanksgiving to pre-Christmas in the city. I am glad to say that I survived the December 1st LSAT! It was a grueling 5 hour endeavor, but it's nice to have more free time without my classes each week and loads of studying. The downside is I will probably be retaking it in February, so after a couple weeks of a mental break, I am going to begin studying again within the next couple of days. Because the LSAT is such a determinant of your competitiveness in the application process, it's worth putting in the extra time and dedication. I have also more or less finalized an application list and have finished most of the other big parts of my applications. So at this point, it's really focusing on taking the LSAT again and then getting my apps in and playing the waiting game. I probably won't know where I'll be attending until sometime in April or maybe even May, but I have a feeling the time will fly by and I am faithful that I will end up where I am supposed to. This year has helped me focus more on my current actions and being present to my situation. It's still really exciting to think about spending the next three years in law school, though!

The second weekend in December two of my favorite people road-tripped to Philly to see me! Sam (one of my best friends from high school) and Meredith (my college roommate) came together for a weekend of festive fun. It was so awesome to see them, and it was a great chance to do some of the touristy City things I hadn't gotten to. I walk by the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall area daily getting on the train to and from work, but am sort of embarrassed to say I hadn't done the actual tours yet. The Friday night they arrived we went to get cheese steaks at Steaks on South. Another place checked off the top 10 list Katharine and I are trying to accomplish! Saturday we spent the day exploring the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market, Love Park & the Christmas shops around it, and Macy's for their annual Christmas light show and Dickens Village. We also got pizza at one of my favorite places on South Street and explored a couple of local bars at night. It was the perfect weekend and I had so much fun showing my friends my new home. It reminded me just how much there is to do in Philadelphia and how it's important to not only experience your work site and people you encounter daily, but to also get invested in the culture in which you live. I am excited that I still have nearly six months to see a lot more of the city's wonders!

 Love Park

 The Liberty Bell

 With Santa at Macy's

The third weekend in December was a busy one! Katharine's AV mentor invited my community members and I out to a nice dinner. We went to Raddichio-Cafe, which is an amazing Italian restaurant just steps from our apartment. I had chicken parmesan and enough bread to feed an army. What I really like about most restaurants in Philly is they are BYO/BYOB so it's nice being able to bring a bottle or two of wine to enjoy with your dinner.

The next day we went to the International Reentry mass and dinner for the AVs who just got back from South Africa and Peru. The mass was at Villanova and the dinner was delicious. One great thing about being a current volunteer is we tend to get all the leftovers after events. :) It was really heartwarming to see volunteers returning to their families and friends, but also sad to experience their mixed emotions as they said goodbye to their communities and their AV leaders and mentors. I cannot fathom spending a year abroad with a group of people and then having to readjust to America and transition into a new lifestyle that is separate from your fellow AVs. It's very similar to what I will experience at the end of June, I'm sure, but for now I can't picture it!

 Internation Reentry Dinner

 International Reentry Dinner

On Sunday we went to a volunteers gathering at Chestnut Hill College in Philly. There were volunteers present from a variety of different organizations who live in and around the city. Although everyone serves at different sites and their programs are all unique, it was nice and rejuvenating to meet fellow volunteers. We did a lot of games and activities based on the Holiday theme and had a great dinner. The college itself is beautiful, and we captured some great Christmas-themed shots.

VIP has been a really amazing place to be. Each day I learn something new and have invigorating conversations with coworkers and people connected to the organization. I have slowly gotten more responsibilities and work, but I have also become better at organization and time-management. I often find myself thinking of new creative ways to enhance my experience and share ideas with others. I came up with the slogan "Do a Good Deed this Holiday Season" to promote our deed transfer cases to volunteer attorneys. I tend to stress about having so many cases that are not yet referred, although I know that eventually they will go out to volunteers. Taking a homeownership case is a big commitment, as it can take many years to complete a lot of the cases. We also had a holiday lunch and gift exchange at work, which was really fun. It seems there's always extra sweets in the kitchen at work too, so I am never short of sugar-filled goodness!

Again, it's so nice to be home for a small break. I hadn't been home in over four months. On the 2nd I will head to mid-year retreat and be reunited with all the domestic AVs. I am really excited to hear about everyone's experiences in community and at their sites. I think it's one thing to do service and internally reflect, but it's another to share your experiences and grow together in solidarity. I hope everyone has a relaxing, safe, and wonderful Christmas and New Year!

P.S. Here are some lovely holiday shots:

Philly Christmas

Friday, November 23, 2012

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them" – John F. Kennedy

Well, I am long overdue for s a new post! Things have been crazy (per usual) but in a good way, of course. I'll try to touch on the highlights of the last couple of weeks.

It was really interesting being in a city at the time of a national election. You definitely see a lot of mixed visions. There were a lot of campaigns trying to encourage people to register to vote and of course to actually vote. My office was closed on Election Day as it aligns with the mission of our agency to have your voice be heard. I had mailed in my absentee ballot so the day was relaxing for me and a chance to catch up on sleep and LSAT prep. That's where the majority of my life has been these last few weeks - between work and LSAT prep I don't have a lot of free time. But the test is in a week from tomorrow, eek! I think I am as ready as I'll ever be. Standardized tests have never been my cup of tea unfortunately, but it is what it is. I am excited at the prospect of attending law school with either an international focus or grounded in the public interest/pro bono sphere. I am sure at some point in my life my passions will merge and I will find the right path. For now, I have both direction and an open mind, which I think are two valued components of starting the admissions process and then seeing what opportunities present themselves.

I should mention that one of my community members and I watched the Election results with a few of the friars who live next door. They were so funny to listen to - I think I had the preconceived notion that they would be very old-fashioned and also very conservative, but it just wasn't the case. All in all, an entertaining evening. I won't get into any political views on here because it's not the place, but I was really happy to see how many people took the time to vote and valued the importance of democracy. There are so many people in the world who fight and die for the chance to participate in an election like ours, so if just for this reason alone I feel you can not throw away the opportunity to be simply go to the polls and cast a vote.

Things at VIP have been great. I have a lot more cases now but I am learning to time manage better. It seems the day ends and I am so surprised, as I have barely noticed the clock creeping to the evening hours. I even have some different types of cases right now, like a fraudulent deed transfer and an adverse possession claim. I have become more comfortable and confident speaking with clients and attorneys. There is still so much to learn but I enjoy knowing that every day I will be speaking with new people and working on old projects as well - so it's a great mix. I also volunteered to help a coworker with Corporate Pro Bono Day. It was a training for small business and corporate attorneys to meet with young women who are in a business class. They all are wanting to start different types of businesses so the attorneys met with small groups and helped them to get started and answered their legal questions. I don't typically see our volunteer attorneys working directly with clients so it was a really rewarding opportunity. So many volunteers give their precious time to help the marginalized and it's such a humbling thought. I know that when I am an attorney one day I will remember this and hopefully dedicate some of my time to people who really could benefit from the expertise but cannot afford the price tag of the service. If you go into law, there has to be some desire to help people, I just never want to forget that grounding!

I went to a party at a coworker's house last weekend with one of my roommates. It was an adventure getting there, as she lived in a different part of Philly. But we had a lot of fun and it was good to get out and actually meet some new people. There are two girls that I work with who just graduated from college in May and although they are not working at VIP in a service capacity, we still have a lot in common in terms of our age and interests. I am beginning to be more comfortable with the people that I work with and also look to them for support and guidance. Many of the attorneys on staff have gone to a wide array of law schools and had many different types of experiences before coming to VIP, so it's great to talk with them as I am in this transitional part of my life. And hey, there's always some networking and connections to be made, right? :)

My coworkers Cindy & Mariana

I guess it's time to discuss Thanksgiving weekend! I was so excited to have a four day weekend. Tuesday and especially Wednesday at work were just so strange because a lot of people were out and there was the anticipation of the break. We actually had about 6,000 envelopes to stuff for fundraising so the entire staff worked on that for pretty much all of Wednesday. Needless to say, I don't want to see another envelope or letter for a while! Paper cuts galore. Wednesday evening one of my community members and I went to see Breaking Dawn Part II. I usually see the Twilight movies at the midnight premiere but now that I am a working woman I am just too gosh darn tired! It was really nice to relax and watch a movie at a theater though. Thanksgiving Day morning we went to the parade in Philadelphia. It is the oldest Thanksgiving parade in national history, though Macy's kind of outshines it, haha. Nonetheless there were thousands of people there and I saw Boyz II Men and Justin Guarini perform. And no holiday parade is complete without Santa at the finale! Then we came back and cooked up a feast. I was surprised it only took us about two and a half hours to prepare everything. Cooking for just three people is not too much of a hassle, but we certainly have a ridiculous amount of leftovers. We bought a six pound chicken breast, although I think it came with two breasts, but I am not complaining since I only eat the white meat anyways and it made it cook a bit faster. I also attempted to make a chocolate pudding pie by myself. It's still in the fridge but I'll let you know how it tastes today. It was sort of strange not being home for Thanksgiving. It only kind of felt like the holiday, but we set the table nicely and drank good wine and feasted and said what we were thankful for. We watched the Charlie Brown special at night and took after-dinner naps. We had brownie sundaes and ate some more. All in all, it was a great time. If you can't be at home, as long as you're in the comfort of other people you care about it's a good feeling. Here's some photos from Thanksgiving:



OH! I also got my business cards on Wednesday at work! It was pretty exciting to receive my first business card set.

Well, this post was a good distraction from my LSAT studying, but with the test being about a week away and this next work week going to be busy and having a site visit from our Augustinian Volunteers supervisor during the nights, I better make really good use of the next three days. Wish me luck!

I hope you and yours had a blessed Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Flexibility makes buildings be stronger, imagine what it can do to your soul" - Carlos Barrios

It's been two weeks since I have last written! It's been such a whirlwind of craziness lately, so I will attempt to remark on the major events of the past couple of weeks...

When I last wrote I was busily preparing for my big event at VIP - Pro Bono Opportunities Day. After the copying debacle on Friday evening, I was a bit nervous for what Monday would bring in terms of preparation. I spent the entire day until 6pm at work preparing all the last minute things that go into such a big event. Possibly the most frustrating (yet rewarding) component was finally, successfully printing name tags for the judges and trainers. Who knew how difficult it could be to effectively produce labels, name tags, and the like from an office printer. Luckily, I started early on that feat and was finished by about 3:00pm. I dropped all of the materials for the event at Philadelphia Bar Association on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, I arrived at the Bar Association at 7:45am and set up. Participants, judges, and trainers began arriving around 8am for a networking breakfast. Then it was the poverty simulation and the Ethics training. All in all, it went well and there were no major issues. We ended up with about 35 participants, which was no where near the goal of 60 the Executive Director had, but a quality number of people nonetheless. It took A LOT of advertising and creative thinking to broadcast the event. I felt good after cleanup was done, and my boss was nice enough to give me the rest of the afternoon off. I didn't fight her on that - with all the extra time I had been putting in, I needed a solid nap and some R&R time alone at my apartment.

Here are some photos from the event:

The rest of the week I was able to catch up on some of my cases and other work that I had neglected a bit to PBOD. Once Friday rolled around, a lot of the office was worried about Storm Sandy and its potential impact on our computers and other electrical equipment. We were instructed to unplug all electronics and surge protectors before leaving on Friday evening. The impending storm was a pretty scary thing. It was supposed to hit hardest between Delaware and New Jersey, so living in Philadelphia we were obviously worried about what impacts it would have on our apartment and work sites. I was all prepared with extra water and flash lights, and was certain that we would lose the power at some point. Because it was Halloween weekend, though, we were determined a full weekend of fun!

On Friday night, my roommates and I went to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia because it was Harry Potter weekend! The cute strip of stores, bars, and restaurants transformed magically into Hogwarts and the names of the places all resembled places from the books. They had an opening ceremony, a sorting hat, and a pub crawl. We mainly just walked around, tried butter beer, and had dinner at a local pizza place. It felt very Fall-esque! On Saturday, there was a quidditch tournament with a lot of local colleges participating. Unfortunately we did not get the chance to see this because we had been invited to a volunteers gathering at Villanova on Sunday afternoon. It was a chance to meet other volunteers in the Philly area and have a Halloween potluck dinner and party of sorts. So we needed to work on our Halloween costumes!

 Butter Beer! :)

Because of the uncertainty of the storm, the volunteer gathering was postponed. Sadly we had spent the majority of Saturday working on our costumes! My community and I were the Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2. Luckily, it was not an entire waste, because we went out to a local bar on Saturday night who was hosting a Halloween party!

On Sunday I did LSAT homework and we mentally prepared for the storm. My work was closed both Monday and Tuesday. It was a good time for me to relax and get some more LSAT work done. Luckily, though, we never lost power. I will say that my apartment is FRIGID, but that's another story. We need to have the heat turned on in here because we are wearing gloves in the house and doubling up comforters just to stay somewhat warm! As for the storm, it definitely poured and the gusts were intolerable and loud, but we lucked out. I know a lot of surrounding areas, especially NJ, was hit badly. As I talked with family and friends, I realized just how much a natural disaster can shake parts of the world and cause destruction and damage. As I read a lot of statuses from college students excited that school was closed and classes were canceled, it dawned on that it's sort of sad that a natural disaster is being celebrated by some. I began to think of a lot of my clients who are facing homeownership issues. Many of their homes are in only liveable condition, with a lot of unsteady roofs and leaking. A storm like Sandy may have been detrimental for them. So, I took my two days off to catch up on LSAT preparation, but I also made a point to think about how lucky I was and how some people are not as fortunate.

Wednesday was Halloween and a busy day at work. After being closed for two days, we all had a lot to catch up on. It was nice having such a short week, but it only means there will be more to accomplish this week. I actually have Tuesday off from work for Election Day. I happily sent in my absentee ballot already!

This weekend was very relaxing. We ate frozen pizzas and watched Mamma Mia on Friday night. on Saturday I slept in and did some LSAT prep. Then we hung out with a fellow AV who lives in the area. I was excited to set the clocks back, because getting another hour of sleep is always so uplifting! Today is dedicated to more LSAT prep and relaxation before another work week. Busy but happy - things are going well! Happy November :)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” - Saint Augustine

Well, it happened. This was one of those weeks they talked about so much at Orientation. One of those weeks you wonder what it is you're doing and why you're doing it. Why you CHOSE it, nonetheless. One of those weeks you rely on the strength within yourself and most importantly, the bond of your community to pull you through.

In all seriousness, it was just an extremely stressful week. As I mentioned, I am planning Pro Bono Opportunities Day which is Tuesday. The goal for participants was 60, but as of last Wednesday we had like 18. I made a ridiculous amount of phone calls and emails and tried to rack my brain for any creative form of recruitment I could think of. I enlisted the help of the staff to reach out to their contacts, but it just was not happening this year. I know it was not my fault, but it's hard to not feel the pressure and feel like a disappointment if goals aren't met. I've always put pressure on myself, but this time it has a real effect on VIP and others, as it is an opportunity to train and recruit potential new volunteers and donors. One woman from a firm even had the audacity to say that I was "soliciting" her firm by sending a mass email. Soliciting? We're a non-profit whose aim is to help the poor and marginalized in need of legal assistance. Needless to say, I definitely hit a breaking point on Thursday morning. The positive that came out of this was the realization that I work at one of the most kind and understanding places. In addition to being positive and passionate so much of the time, my coworkers are honestly such kind-hearted people and I realized how much support and insight they offer. I hope that throughout my life I will be blessed to work somewhere like VIP, where the staff are not only knowledgable, driven, and passionate - but also kind and compassionate.

Now, things were looking up by Thursday afternoon as I promised myself I would leave at 5pm or shortly after, as I had been staying an hour to two hours late the past few nights. I also started my night online LSAT class this week so Monday and Wednesday night from 8:00 pm-11:20ish pm I was at my computer - exhausted. I was just beat by Thursday night. It was my night to cook dinner, but other than that, I was looking forward to crawling into my bed early and getting a much needed good night's sleep. I made chicken parmesan all by myself which I am really proud of:

Thursday I slept beautifully and felt rejuvenated for my busy Friday. That afternoon I was to go to Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA), which is one of the legal agencies that refers cases to VIP, to make copies. VIP used to be housed at PLA until it got its own office which is much spacier and suitable for the work we do. VIP has an agreement with PLA to do our large printing and copying jobs, though, since it is paid for by PLA. It was recommended to me to go either at the beginning or the end of the day because it would be less busy and the copiers would be less in use by the PLA staff. I walked over around 4:00pm with a VIP staff member whose mom actually works at PLA. She got me set up at a copier on the second level of the PLA office and then returned to VIP. I was about five packets in, with about another 40 minutes of copying left to do, when this PLA staff member appears behind me with a puss on her face. I knew from that moment this was not going to go well. She immediately started huffing and puffing and yelling that some people have work to do and asserted that I was not doing anything of importance and that I was supposed to be at the upstairs copy machine. When I quietly explained that I was told to go down here because someone was using the upstairs copier, she shouted and swore and marched upstairs, as I remained in a state of shock at her behavior. She returned after a few moments and told me there was another copy machine in the back that I should be using and continued with her attitude and turned my copy job after. I was flabbergasted. I left the door to go upstairs, unaware that once you enter the stairwell you can walk up and down the flight of stairs to each level, but each door has a key code by the door. Obviously I had no idea what the code was for any of the floors, and the doors were dark without windows, so it's not like I could have knocked or flagged someone walking by. Essentially I was stuck in the stairwell with at least another 40 minutes of copying I needed to complete. By this time it was nearly 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon and I didn't even bring my cell phone with me to PLA. I was almost in tears, but luckily figured out how to exit the stairwell at the first floor and end up at the entrance. Great, I thought, I can just take the elevator back up to the fifth floor and start this process over. Unfortunately for me, it must have been the backside of the building because once I exited at the appropriate floor it was not the receptionist area I recalled from when I first entered, but instead what appeared to be a back door with only a telephone you use to call in. I tried multiple extensions listed on the sheet next to the phone, but no one picked up, given my luck. Again almost in tears, I rode the elevator back to the first floor to ask the person at the front desk for assistance. But no one was there, big surprise. I went back to the fourth floor and luckily saw someone walking by so knocked on the glass door. She let me in, but I was unaware of where I was. I wandered to the back of the office space and saw my dear copy friend there, with nothing short of a glare on her face. She made a sly comment about why I was there that I chose to ignore, and tried to explain that I couldn't figure out how to get back upstairs and I needed the key code. She said it was personal information and then angrily agreed to take me up in the elevator herself. In the elevator she continued yelling at me and I had just about enough. When we go to the fifth floor receptionist area where I had first entered the people nicely asked me if I had finished my copies - then saw the horrible woman behind me. She continued to yell at them and swear and I just burst into tears. It was embarrassing but I had held it in for too long. She disappeared, yelling, and they apologized and explained she was a horrible person and always has been. A staff member led me to the back copy machine and I was luckily able to finish all of my copies before the office closed. I didn't get to leave until well after 5:30pm, but I vowed to never go back to PLA so there was no way I was leaving it until Monday. I hurried back to VIP, hoping that someone would still be around so I could get into the office, and was glad to see the lights were still on. I walked in my office, threw my massive amounts of copies down, and saw a note on the chair at my desk from my boss saying to come see her when I got back from PLA. I walked into my boss' office and she apologized and explained that Cindy, the mean, bitter woman from PLA, was a horrible, evil person who made everyone miserable. She said PLA had called her and alerted her Cindy had given me a hard time (for lack of a better phrase...) and she was very sorry. Long story short, this week was the most stressful one I have had in a long time.

Silver lining is by the time I left the office on Friday, we had 30 people signed up for the event. My boss was happy with this number, and I felt at least a certain level of relief. My boss even told me to take Tuesday afternoon off from work. I can go home once I am done cleaning up from the event and rest up. Normally I would fight her, but with the anxiety at an all time high, I felt so relieved that she told me to do this. Plus I've put in extra hours lately, anyways.

This weekend has been so relaxing, and what I desperately needed. I honestly have not left the apartment since returning from work Friday night. Yesterday I did some LSAT work, slept, watched a movie, and carved pumpkins with my community members. They came out excellent!

Of course my roommates are a bit more artistically gifted than me (notice the cat pumpkin...) but I was proud of my typical jack-o-lantern nonetheless. We displayed them on the stoop outside and felt accomplished. Today I took a practice LSAT and was actually very happy with my diagnostic score! I feel so much more relieved than I did two days ago. I know this week will be stressful, but once the event is over on Tuesday, things will be a bit calmer, at least in terms of my workload. And it is only ten days until Halloween! I am not sure what my community members and I are going to be yet. Next weekend we are doing spooky mini golf, Harry Potter weekend in Philly, and a Halloween themed volunteer gathering at Villanova. This is my favorite holiday and time of year so I just have to remember to take a deep breath every now and then - and fill it with hot chocolate and pumpkin seeds.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year's mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” - Wallace Stegner

It is Sunday evening before Mass - one of my favorite times to relax and unwind and think about the both the past week and the upcoming week. Last week was exhausting. Even though it was just a four day week, my days were jam packed with emails, phone calls, and cases galore. When I returned home from work each day our site supervisor from the Augustinian Volunteers was waiting in the apartment for our monthly site visit. Site visits include individual meetings, community meetings, prayer, dinners, and other logistical things. We take turns each night cooking dinner for the community. On my night I did pancakes, home fries, and fruit. I think one of my personal goals for this year is to become a more skilled cook. I can make all basic dishes but I have not ever spent the time cooking more elaborate meals. Maybe I will make my favorite Cameroonian dish for my community one night - it's jasmine rice with a tomato-based peanut sauce and fried plantains. Yummm.

On Thursday night Hannah, our site supervisor, got us pizza and then we went out for frozen yogurt! It was also a new episode of Big Bang, so no complaints here. I am beginning to really enjoy Thursday nights because it's the anticipation of the weekend lingering and just one more work day to complete. Fridays are casual at VIP too, which is always a relief as my laundry begins to pile! On Friday I went to the Department of Records at City Hall with a coworker to learn the process of recording deeds, as I will have to venture there by myself on Tuesday to meet an attorney and client to record her new property deed. For lunch two of my coworkers and I went to this acclaimed hot dog restaurant called Underdogs. They have 22 varieties of hot dogs and if you grab a menu you can get a punch each time you try one of the varieties. If you order all 22, you get your name on the wall. There were some interesting choices, but a lot of them contained spicy ingredients, so I think personally I'll just stick to Underdogs in a non-competitive nature, haha. I should mention that two of my coworkers are currently pregnant so it is really funny listening to their unusual cravings. Hence, they were the ones who introduced us to Underdogs, just two blocks away from VIP. I got the California Dreamin' dog, which is a grilled hot dog on their signature roll complete with tomatoes, avocado, and a lemon twangy mustard. Their fries are delectable as well. I might just have a new favorite hot dog joint!

California Dreamin' hot dog

On Friday night I passed out early (exhausting week!) and spent Saturday morning cleaning and relaxing. Then around 3:00 my community members and I ventured to Linvilla Orchards in Media, PA. It is this picture-esque location in the suburbs with over 300 acres of everything from pumpkin patches, to apple orchards, to cider doughnut stands, to caramel apple vendors, to several indoor farmer's markets, to handmade Halloween and Christmas decorations. There is even a petting zoo and playground for children and fun hayrides. We had a blast exploring and taking Fall photos. We each got a pumpkin and even though mine was just a little over 10 lbs, my arm muscles are sore from carrying it back to the car! We then went apple picking and found unique spots to take pictures. It was a nice escape from the city for an afternoon :)

 Before pumpkin picking!

 Me in the pumpkin patch

 Philly community in PumpkinLand

 Caroline giving Katharine a boost to reach an apple
 Our potential Christmas card photo

 I got the apple! :)

To top off a splendid day, we stopped at Wawa on the way home for dinner. This has been on my bucket list for some time now, so needless to say I was quite excited! People in both PA and NJ rave about the wonderland that is Wawa. It's similar to that of a 7/11 or any other mini mart at a gas station. HOWEVER, the cool part of Wawa is the store is known for their delicious food options. You place your order at touch screen computers, print a receipt, pay the cashier, and then return to the food spot and your order is processed quickly and accurately. I decided on a chicken cheese steak sub complete with lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, mayo, pesto, salt, pepper, and grated parmesan cheese. I also got a fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie and a hot chocolate with chocolate drizzle and whipped cream. What a perfect ending for a cool, Autumn day.

Fully immersing ourselves in the Wawa ordering experience...

This "Fall Harvest" weekend was just what I needed to rejuvenate before a busy work week. I am so excited to carve our pumpkins and continue in this Autumnal festive spirit.

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Everyone who achieves success in a great venture, solves each problem as they came to it. They helped themselves. And they were helped through powers known and unknown to them at the time they set out on their voyage. They keep going regardless of the obstacles they met." - W. Clement Stone

Happy Columbus Day! I am pretty excited that I have today off from work. I do love my job, honestly, but it can be very exhausting and I was desperately in need of this three day weekend to rejuvenate myself for the weeks to come.

This weekend was really fun! On Thursday night I went to the premiere of the new NBC show that is airing this week: Chicago Fire. There's a website called that I recommend to everyone! You register for free and put in your zip code and it shows you which movies or shows have open screenings. You then get two passes per person for free. The show itself was pretty interesting, but I don't know if it's one I'll have to watch weekly. Then we went to an open night market in Chinatown. I couldn't believe how many people were there and how many streets it took up! There seemed to be neverending food options and music that resounded in my ears well into the night. Here is a photo of my community and I under the Chinatown Arch:

One of my community members, Caroline, went to NH to visit her boyfriend for his birthday for the rest of the weekend. My other community member, Katharine, and I got a lot of fun things in. On Friday after work we ventured to Campo's to try yet another cheese steak. We decided to try all of the Top 10 authentically-rated Philly cheese steak locations. Why not? I should mention that last weekend we went to the ever-famous Pat's and Geno's. The two cheese steak stands are right across the street from one another, so Katharine and I had a half of each. It's hard to say which I preferred, because at Pat's you can get toppings, such as peppers and mushrooms, but the rolls at Geno's are quite heavenly. There is definitely a South Philly attitude evident when it comes to ordering at Pat's, which you may have seen on TV. Quick tip, "wit" means with onions and "witout" means without onions. Whiz is definitely the key to the delicious cheese steak flavor. I think this was my mistake at Jim's Steaks, where I opted for American cheese and ketchup. The whiz is essentially canned cheese and quite disgusting by nature, but it's so flavorful! We also had cheese fries floating in whiz and plenty of soda to wash our steaks down. Needless to say, after Pat's and Geno's Katharine and I felt the whiz in our tummies for a day or two...

Katharine with our Pat's cheese steak and cheese fries

Me with our Geno's cheese steak

I tried the cheese steak hoagie at Campo's, which is most known for their bread. The hoagie had lettuce, tomatoes, onions, whiz, and steak. It was quite delicious:

Katharine opted for the pizza steak, which combines mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce. We keep seeing it on the menus here so she was inclined to try it:

 After indulging our delicious cheese steaks, we perused the streets of Old City for First Friday. There were many vendors out and shops open with lots of free wine. We had to go easy on our stomachs though because the cheese steaks were just a bit much to handle! On Saturday we made chocolate chip pancakes and then ventured to Old Navy and Target for some shopping. After we returned to the apartment we ate Halloween themed Kraft macaroni and cheese (my personal favorite) and watched The Witches to get into the October spirit. We then ventured to South Street to meet up with a fellow Augustinian Volunteer who's currently serving in Lawrence, MA. She was in Philly for the weekend with a small group of Merrimack College students doing a service project. While most of their group enjoyed Jim's Steaks for dinner, Katharine and I ventured across the street to a pizza place called Lickety Split for a slice of "South Street's Best Pizza." It reminded me of the part in Elf where Will Ferrell marvels over "the world's best cup of coffee!" But in all seriousness, the pizza was delicious! We each got one slice, which was more than enough, because a slice covered nearly two paper plates! Here's a photo of Katharine's amazing veggie pizza:

After our South Street adventure, we headed back to the apartment and I got ready and met up with a friend for a few drinks. On Sunday the weather was terrible (50's and rainy, ick!) but we still ventured over to South Philly for an Italian festival. It was about one street long with a bounce house and crafts for kids, Italian clothes and goods for sale, live entertainment, and SO much delicious authentic Italian food! We had trouble deciding what we wanted to eat, but ended up with fried dough, pasta, and a chocolate cannoli each for dessert. It was really nice to see a small celebration with a lot of neighborhood people outside celebrating their heritage. As for me, I may not be an ounce Italian but it has never stopped me from loving the food. :)

 At the Italian Festival

   Delicious Cannolis

After we returned from the Italian Festival we watched one of my all-time favorite movies, Hocus Pocus and relaxed until 7pm mass. Then I headed to bed quite early to catch up on sleep for this week.

I am really happy with my service placement. VIP is honestly the most amazing place to work, where there is a great mix of veterans and newbies. Every day I feel like I am getting more and more comfortable and knowledgeable about my place in the organization. I have had a lot of very interesting conversations with clients thus far, some easier than others, and some quite heartbreaking to say the least. One man I spoke with on Friday afternoon told me that it was the anniversary of his mother's death - the deceased record owner of the home he is trying to get title to. He saw it as a sign from God that things might just get better for him. Many of these people have been living in the property without title for years but need to get title because there are back real estate taxes or a delinquent mortgage and without their name on the deed to the property, the companies or City will not negotiate with them. It's sad and frustrating for the clients who have generally been paying the bills for a long time and recently got behind. Once behind, the City or companies threaten foreclosure and without being the legal record owner they will not communicate or accept any further payments from our clients. We work hard to get the cases referred but because of the many needs and the complicated structure of these cases, it can be a lengthy process. This week, I will be working on getting my first probate cases prepared to be referred, which is quite exciting.

Hopefully I can get some of these cases off my desk this week to make room for the many more to come!!!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Autumn... the year's last, loveliest smile" - William Cullen Bryant

Happy Fall! Autumn is definitely my favorite of the four seasons. I love the crisp air, how it is not too hot to go outside and I am not sweating just by walking around the house, yet it's just chilly enough to need a light sweater in the evening. It typically doesn't rain too much in the Fall, either. The weather is perfect for a nice stroll or run and there isn't the treacherous mud that we see in Spring. I love the apples and pumpkins and all the wonderful baking that occurs and restaurant specials and Autumn brews. Most of all, though, I LOVE Halloween! I love getting dressed up in costume Halloween night, I love candy, I love seeing the kids trick-or-treating, and I love everything that leads up to the holiday. :)

There may not be as much foliage in Philadelphia as I have seen every year before in NH and MA, but it's still a great time to be in the city. There are a lot of harvest festivals and events that take place in October and November, and there is a lot of different foods and drinks available to try. Additionally, the Eastern State Penitentiary opens its doors over the next couple of months for "Terror Behind The Walls," which is supposed to be one of the creepiest and scariest haunted houses in the country, as it takes place in the massive prison. Might be worth checking out to kick-off the best season ever...

So the week before last I unfortunately got sick. I tend to get a surprise illness in September, so I half-expected it was going to happen at some point. Last Tuesday morning I woke up feeling yucky, and soon after the cold of the century turned into ear and teeth and sinus pain. I stayed home from work for a couple of days and finally went to the doctor on Thursday who prescribed a few different medicines. Funny story about that. I asked the doctor where the closest pharmacy was to get my prescriptions filled and he pointed me in the direction of China Town, which was a couple of blocks away. I automatically assumed the pharmacy he referenced would be a Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid - or something of the sort. However, when I arrived at the address the doctor had indicated, it was a hole-in-the-wall store with a handwritten "Pharmacy" sign. I wandered in and saw two Chinese ladies rummaging through the store's two narrow glass cases filled with over-the-counter medicines such as Peptobillsmol and Tylenol. Another man was behind a large counter and asked for my insurance card. I handed it to him promptly and my prescriptions were filled in a grand total of six minutes. It was quite the speedy process until I asked to pay with my American Express credit card and they needed to locate their credit card machine... Needless to say, I was a bit worried about this pharmeceutical joint that I discovered, but tried to remain calm knowing that the doctor had pointed me to it. I still stopped at the nearby Rite Aid on the way back to my apartment and had a pharmacy technician there analyze the boxes that the China Town pharmacy had given me, She laughed a bit and told me that they were perfectly fine. All's well that ends well, as I felt better within a few days. My weekend consisted of lounging, watching Big Bang season 5 on DVD (thanks mom!), and going out for ice cream in the pouring rain at "The Franklin Fountain." After watching Man Vs. Food, we had to check this place out! They are famous for their homemade fudge and massive sundaes, and on the show, he ate what's called "Mt. Vesuvius." Needless to say, we stuck with a small sundae each with hot fudge which was MORE than enough. But, if you ever have a hankering for it, here's a photo of the famously large sundae:

On Sunday night we went to our typical 7pm mass. After mass ADROP (Augustinian Defenders for the Rights of the Poor) sponsored a wine and cheese reception to celebrate the UN's "Peace Day" which was the Friday before mass. One of my housemates, Katharine, works for ADROP as her service assignment. They did a variety of "Peace" activities that week, including a poster competition for children at a local Catholic school. The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders warmed our hearts with their posters representing peace. She also attended and helped to organize a conference at Villanova yesterday concerning restorative justice. There was a keynote speaker by a prior Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and panel discussions with victims of prison and defenders. I wish I could have attended because it sounded super interesting, but alas, I had work.

After being sick for a few days last week, my work load definitely piled! This past week was super productive for me, though. I did some follow up for Pro Bono Opportunities Day. I got a few of my cases approved at our case review meeting. This means that I was able to write case summaries for the files and begin the process of trying to refer the cases to volunteer attorneys. Each staff member can have a maximum of 30 case files assigned to them at any given point. This includes cases being worked-up and cases trying to be referred to attorneys. Thirty seems quite overwhelming to me, as each case is individual and requires different work. But, needless to say, I am learning a ton. For instance, I learned how to calculate the amount of transfer tax someone would have to pay to have a title transferred to their name from a non-family member. I also learned how to calculate an approximate inheritance tax rate someone would have to pay to have a title transferred from a deceased person's estate based on the mortgage currently left on the property in question. I also negotiated with a mortgage company and "stayed" a sheriff sale on a client's property, which essentially means that because VIP is currently assessing and working on the client's case, the company has given an extension, which is typically 120 days, and needs an update at that time. I also ordered a deed from archives and picked it up at City Hall - which was an insanely confusing process to find the correct and open door to retrieve the document. I was happy to call two of my clients and tell them that their cases have been approved and we were now working on finding them a volunteer attorney. Even though it's still a long road and nothing is guaranteed, just knowing that things are moving in a productive direction and the case is accepted is typically a big relief for the client who sometimes feels helpless and burned out. I also learned about VIP's "Tangled Title Fund." Tangled Title cases are primarily homeownership cases - so the ones that the LawWorks team is assigned to which I am a part of - and the Fund is something that a volunteer attorney who has an open case can apply to have certain fees and taxes paid for so the client does not have to pay out of pocket. Most clients cannot afford these fees, as they are low-income and receiving pro bono services for this reason. I believe each accepted applicant can receive up to $2,500 currently. This covers things like transfer and inheritance taxes and some of the fees for processing titles and such. It's a great benefit for our clients, but the application itself can be time-consuming for attorneys, so we are working to edit it and make it much simpler for the volunteer to facilitate.

All in all, I am so happy that I am at Philadelphia VIP. In addition to learning a ton, the staff is super friendly and open. There's about sixteen full-time staff and several part-time interns. Although the office is split into the LawWorks and Litigation Teams, there is some overlap in terms of the process of the work we do. I am constantly full of legal questions and need help reading and understanding various documents, such as deed and mortgages, since every case is unique and every document is different. It is crazy how one deed from the 1950's appears versus one from a few years ago. In addition, the language really dictates the terms of the case, and this is especially relevant for cases where the deceased record owner left a will. If nothing else, a lot of this information is good to know for everyday life. Shout out to Mom & Dad (and really anyone who is currently will-less) - please write a will. It makes whoever is handling your estate that much more knowledgeable about what to do with your assets and it is less of a sticky situation. I will let you know the things that I desire. :)

Side-note, I am currently preparing for the LSAT. I just signed up for an online course that begins in mid-October. I have flash cards and have been preparing on and off since the summer. My goal is to take the December 1st test so that I have the option to apply to law schools for next fall. It is going to be a test of my diligence - so wish we luck!

Oh, and someone shared this with me recently. A non-partisan Christian group asked both Romney and Obama about their views on poverty and plans to provide help and opportunity to our nation's poor. Each submitted a short video clip on the subject. Definitely worth watching if you have a few minutes to spare:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"I don't ever want to let you down, I don't ever want to leave this town..."

So after going to the concert last weekend I have become slightly obsessed with Imagine Dragons. But if you haven't heard their hit single, do listen:

And I am not ever one to share youtube links, so it's a great song, haha.

Well, let's see. Last week was super busy at work! I felt like every day was a rush against the clock to finish around 5pm. But maybe that's the real world for you, haha. On Friday I went to a Probate training at a local law firm. There were a lot of young lawyers there who are interested in potentially doing pro bono law and specifically working on cases with VIP. I think that it's neat that VIP offers so many free opportunities for attorneys to get involved in pro bono law. It's great advertising because there's never enough volunteer attorneys, but the training materials are really invaluable.

I also finished my first case work-ups. So tomorrow I will present them at our weekly case review meeting! I felt so accomplished.

OH and I am now on the staff page on VIP's website:

Last weekend we just relaxed on Friday. Saturday we went on a cheese steak adventure. I hadn't eaten beef in a very long time, but I couldn't resist the temptation to try a famous Philly steak. We went to Jim's Steaks on South Street. Yes, I do realize that Pat's and Gino's are the MOST famous but Jim's is in the running as well. Haha, listening to peoples' opinions on cheese steak places is hilarious. You would think that it is a hot political debate here in Philadelphia. Here's a photo of us at Jim's:

Saturday night we went out because one of Caroline's friends was visiting. On Sunday we relaxed, went to 7pm mass, and then out for a beer after with some of the church-goers. It was a really fun weekend!

I am really excited to start to be able to go into court. It's neat talking to lawyers and clients on the phone and through email because you get a sense of their stories and struggles with the cases. However, I think it will be very eye-opening to actually experience litigation and do some client intakes at the local courthouse. I wish I could share more anecdotes about the cases I've been working on, but there's confidentiality I must legally abide by.

I did promise some photos of the apartment though. So here's a few!

 View into my bedroom

 One sitting area

 Communal computer/office area

 View into our massive living room area


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The rest of this week will be spent continuing working up my new cases, following up on case pitches to attorneys, and continuing preparation for Pro Bono Opportunities Day. It can be stressful at times, but I definitely prefer being busy over not having enough to do.