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!!!