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Bet On It

My husband and I are big fans of casinos.  During our cruise to the Bahamas, we spent so much time in the ship’s casino that the employees working the room knew us by name and memorized our favorite drink orders.  Locally, we love the Indiana Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, and even spent a Christmas there when our son was out of town with relatives.  If time and money allowed, I’d be at the casino more often, but our schedules, our son and dog, and countless other factors only leave room for a handful of visits every year.

I love the sound of the slot machines, the tight look on the faces of gamblers around card tables, the crowds that form when someone hits big, and that satisfying feeing of cashing out with as much (or hopefully more) money as you walked in the door with.  I’m a timid gambler; I stick to the penny slots and only put in a max bet when my husband reaches over my machine and does it for me.  Even us frugal gamblers can get a lot out of the experience, which is unique in itself and unique to the individual locations.  No two trips to any casino are the same, and I love that.

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When you mention a casino, most people’s minds go to Vegas, but you don’t have to make that trip to have a good time.  Yahoo has a great list of casinos outside of the Vegas strip that offer a great time and unique atmosphere.  The Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut is one I never had a chance to visit when I lived in the area, but plan to get to in the near future.  If none of those locations work for you, a quick internet search can pull up plenty of alternate options.

One alternative to being there in person is taking advantage of an online casino.  CNN Money posted Q3 earnings from Galaxy Gaming that shows incremental growth, which highlights the increased popularity of online gaming.  Playing online at Netbet casino is as close as you can get to being there while never actually leaving home.  If you do a Google search for “casino” and virtually any other word, the top ten results will be about 50% physical locations and 50% online gaming sites.

As someone who just kicked an addiction to a SmartPhone slots app where the winnings were purely for fun with no real money involved, I can definitely understand the appeal of online gaming and gambling.  With the holidays breathing down our neck, it might be worth a shot to take a short break, get in the car or log on, and see if you get lucky.  My husband and I won $500 one year off of a scratch off ticket; anything is possible.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pull some virtual levers and roll some digital dice.

 

 

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What You’re Worth

I got my first job when I was 16 years old, working the fry station at Chick Fil-A.  After a week of grease burns and sore fingers, I was put on the front register.  One week after that, I got moved to drive-thru, which I often ran alone.  Within a month I received a raise, which wasn’t much to talk about.  At barely over minimum wage, I wasn’t exactly overflowing my bank account every two weeks.

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I’m 33 now, with very brief period of unemployment between Chick Fil-A and now, thanks to moves, a kid, college, and unexpected life events.  During those years, I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot.  My three years working at Shoe Carnival was where I learned the most about customer service and employee relations.  My time at Health 1st was where I learned to be a leader.  But wherever I’ve worked, regardless of the business type, there were always three very distinct types of people around me.

The first is one I unfortunately see a lot; the employee who comes to work simply for the paycheck.  They may make $15 an hour, but they put in an effort that isn’t even deserving of minimum wage.  More often than not, you can find them taking a smoke break, texting friends, or wandering around instead of doing their job.  If it’s not getting half-assed, it’s not getting done at all.  These are people who take no pride in their job, regardless of how important or trivial it may be.  This attitude and work ethic succeeds in getting you absolutely nowhere.

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The second type is also very common; the employee who earns their paycheck to the penny.  They’re reliable, efficient, and get the job done.  They aren’t habitually late, absent, or away from their assigned area.  Most employers I’ve had fit into this category, and about half of the employees I’ve worked closely with do as well.  It’s a good place to be, especially when working in a team environment where the success of one determines the success of all.  I feel confident knowing that the people I work with are putting in a solid day before clocking out and heading home.

If you fit into this category yourself, that’s fine, but simply striving to earn your paycheck can cause issues.  If you’re entering into a company, making $12 an hour, and all you do is put in $12 an hour’s worth of effort, how can you expect to ever advance?  If you feel that you’re underpaid, which is common in retail and fast food establishments, does that mean your effort decreases because you feel undervalued?  Not looking past the paycheck towards bigger and better things is a huge hindrance.  Even if you don’t see yourself with your current company for the long haul, extra effort can go a long way into giving you a glowing reference when you finally get a new job.

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The final type is one I strive to be and hope to become more consistently; the employee who works towards the salary desired, not the salary earned.  This is the person who goes in and does a million dollar job nearly every day.  People are fond of saying that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  Why not also work for the job you want?  A suit and tie alone isn’t going to move someone up the ladder; they must have the work history and drive to back it up.

Right now, I am lucky enough to be in a place where I can work towards a salary I want, not the one I have.  When I started work here in late August, I was making $13 an hour.  It was barely enough money to get me by week to week, but I busted my tail and am now making considerably more than that, having moved from temp status to full-time employee in record time (average times are generally a year or longer).  Now that I’m getting paid more, I have noticed that I’ve automatically pushed myself to work even harder.

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I’m by no means the hardest working person in the building, but I never leave this place wondering if I did enough, regretting not finishing certain things, or feeling as if I slacked off.  My counterpart here is the same way; the two of us are forever busy and never standing still.  Whatever the position, whatever the goal, it makes so much sense to suck it up and give it your all.  I can choose to be annoyed by my workload or I can choose to enjoy it and tackle it with passion.

It shouldn’t matter if you’re in a job that you consider a career or if you’re in one that is simply a pit stop along the road to your dreams.  A little bit more effort goes a long way.  The obvious benefits to your employment aside, it does wonders for your self-esteem and self-worth.  Is anyone really proud of themselves for trolling Facebook all day on company time?  Bragging about getting paid to do nothing sounds foolish.  It IS foolish.  There is room for fun in every job, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of your quality of work.  It’s all about deciding what kind of person you want to be.  A ten buck an hour guy your whole life, or someone worth twice their weight in gold?

Boom

So much has happened over the past few months.  In August, I lost my job working as a contractor for the Army National Guard, thanks to some shady behavior by a bitter coworker.  No more riding to work with my husband, no more cushy job that I was grossly overpaid for, and no more paycheck.  I’m not ashamed to say that I completely panicked.  My husband and I had just put down quite a bit of money to get a home built, and this was a serious blow.  It took nearly a month for me to find a new job, and when I did, I had to settle for almost half of what I had been making.  But at least I had a job.

unemployment-job-work-110414The nice thing about my new job was that it was only a couple of miles from our apartment, plus the hours allowed me the perfect amount of time to drop our boy off at school.  The downside was that I was stuck driving my mom-in-law’s Suzuki, which was on its last leg.  The thing hates the cold, won’t run if it’s a drop under half a tank of gas, and rattles if you go over 40 mph.  But it ran.  So I worked, collected my meager check, tried to get used to not having PTO or paid holidays, and drove my husband crazy.  We emptied out our savings, went crazy selling things at yard sales, and somehow were able to pay our overpriced rent, plus finish saving up for our down payment on our home, which was getting built quicker than we imagined.

On October 27th, we closed on our new home, and it was a fantastic feeling.  Moving only a couple of miles down the road should have made it easy, but even with five days to complete the move and get out of our apartment, we cut it close.  It might have been easier if we had been open with what we were doing, but we decided to keep things under wraps until the house was officially ours.  The weekend after we were settled in, we had a wedding to attend, and the weekend after, a baby shower.  I was exhausted, but happy to be in our new home and able to spend time with people I don’t nearly see often enough.

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Things were going well, but trying to get used to a smaller paycheck wasn’t easy.  Things got worse when it began getting cold outside and the Suzuki decided that it was fun to take ten minutes to start whenever it was 30 degrees or below.  It was time to get a new car.  That I couldn’t afford.  We found someone who could work with me and would accept the Suzuki as a trade-in, but I still had to come up with cash to put down, plus deal with a higher monthly payment than I was happy with.  But it was either this or nothing.  Without picture perfect credit, I wouldn’t get a monthly payment I could live with.  So I signed the papers and got a “new” car.  The next day, the Suzuki caught fire, so I felt slightly better about my decision to upgrade.

As a contingent worker for my company, I am not afforded the same benefits and perks as our full time employees.  The fact that this place is fantastic definitely helps, but the pay just won’t work for the long term.  Goes without saying, I did a virtual backflip when my boss asked me if I was interested in going full time.  I did a few more after she told me that my interview went well and they wanted to make me an offer.  I about passed out when she told me the salary offer.  As of January 5th, I will be a full time employee with benefits and a beautiful paycheck, and I could not be happier.

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My husband always says things have a way of working out.  They always work out for us, and he reminds me of that fact quite a bit.  I lost my job.  My car caught fire.  But I got into a new car loan that works to build my credit; the company specializes in doing just that.  I got a new job that I absolutely love and that is close to home.  My husband and I finally got a house that we adore.  And, thankfully, I got an offer for full time employment that solves my financial issues.  It doesn’t come in time to have a normal Christmas, but we’re working around it and hitting the casino instead (our boy is with his grandparents, thanks to a court order, so he will miss our first Christmas in the house).  Things have been hectic as all hell, but I’m so grateful that they are coming together beautifully.  I have everything I need to have the best Christmas ever.  My husband, my pup dog, my boy returning home soon, a beautiful house, a car that isn’t on fire, and a kick ass job that will come with amazing pay in 2015.  I’m a lucky lady.

This Is Taxing

It has finally happened; I’ve been forced to file an extension instead of filing my taxes online and on time like I have been since I turned 18.  I didn’t do it because I was missing documentation, nor did I do it because I couldn’t scrounge up the cash to pay what I owe.  I did it because this lovely state of mine has been screwing up my taxes ever since I moved here from Georgia.  I’ve worked for three different companies since moving here (my second job has been the same position and office, but through different contracting companies) and no matter who handles my pay or who I submit my paperwork to, my state always tells me that I have failed to pay a single dime to the state and therefore owe quite a large sum of cash.

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The idea that I haven’t paid anything to the state always comes to light after I file my taxes and pay the $100 or so I still owe to the state.  I’ll get a notice in the mail in the form of a tax warrant stating that I owe a ridiculous amount and that I must pay it as soon as possible.  I’ll send in my W2, proof of payment after filing, and whatever else I can think of.  It usually takes two or three tries, but eventually they manage to look at my W2 and see that I have in fact paid my state tax.  Job done, I move on.  It’s become part of my routine and I didn’t think much of it until this February when all hell broke loose and a hold was placed on my bank account.

It’s been nearly two months since it happened and I’m still cleaning up the mess.  I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m at least told I don’t owe anything, but until I have that in writing and in my hand, I’ve been advised to hold off on filing my state tax.  I have to hold tight for a while and put my trust in the people who suspended my license for not paying a traffic ticket for failure to yield AFTER I paid said ticket on time.  I have to remain calm while offices who have consistently let me down work to probably let me down again.  It’s driving me absolutely crazy.

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I’ve considered getting someone to do my taxes for me, but the problem isn’t in how I’m filing them.  The problem is that regardless of the fact that I report the tax I have paid to the state, the state will not recognize those payments and tells me I owe an entire year of tax and then some.  I’ve changed my deductions, worked with my employers to see if it’s something on their end, but nothing solves whatever issue I’m having.  No one from my state has told me what the issue is either.  And the year I was meant to get a refund of around $70?  Didn’t see a dime of that.  In all honesty, I think the only way I can solve this issue is to move out of this state and go somewhere that isn’t trying to screw with me for giggles.

In all seriousness, I write this in the hopes that someone out there can throw a bit of knowledge my way.  For some further background information, I currently work in one county, live in another, and my employer is based in another state.  Prior to my current job though, I worked and lived in the same county, where my employer was based, and still had the same issues.  I’ve tried claiming more deductions, then less deductions, and nothing changes.  I am married but file separately.  Now, here’s where you come in.  Have you heard of this happening before?  Do you have any advice at all on what I can do to fix this and prevent it from occurring again?  Should I just live off the grid and stop paying taxes altogether?

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Please leave any help you can in the comments section, so both I and anyone who comes around can benefit from your words of wisdom.  If you have a similar story to share, please do so, as I’d love to know that I’m not alone!  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some research on the benefits of closing my bank account and keeping all my money in a mattress.  They can’t get to it there…

It’s Not That Hard

For almost four years now, I’ve been responsible for handling time cards for a handful of people in my office.  I collect their leave slips, their tracked overtime forms, and their travel compensation requests.  I check their claimed time against the reports and our attendance report prior to getting all their paperwork signed by our Branch Chief and submitted to D.C.  I do this every two weeks, and in the nearly four years that I’ve been completing this task, I’ve only made one mistake which was 50% the fault of the employee submitting paperwork (he forgot a few things, so his leave was a bit screwy for one pay period).  It’s a glamorous job, I know.

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Due to some issues in the states we assist, which are insanely boring and zero fun to discuss, we have a few people who travel for weeks at a time all over the country.  Their absence means that they either have to submit their time card to me while on the road or get it to me before they depart.  Easy, right?  The first time around, half of them completely forgot about it and had to scramble to fax everything over to me by the cut off time.  I’d like to tell you that particular problem has worked itself out, but they still forget on a regular basis, and I’m currently still chasing down one time card submission from an angry guy twenty feet away from me that’s been ignoring my requests.  It boggles my mind; when my time card is due, it’s signed and submitted first thing in the morning.  I want to get paid on time and paid properly.

Lately, our traveling employees have been trying to be good about submitting their time cards early so I have them on file and ready to go when they are due.  Unfortunately, this has also proven to be an incredible challenge.  Because many of them work late hours and are still hanging around when I’m gone for the day, I’m not always at my desk when they get ready to turn in their paperwork.  Most just leave it on my keyboard or in my chair, but some are less cautious to let papers with their social security number just lie around.  Sometimes they give it to my boss (who often loses it, as his office is a crazy black hole filled with random papers and empty coffee cups).  Other times they leave it with whoever also happens to be in the office, giving an unsuspecting person a responsibility they likely do not want.

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My solution for the crowd that submitted paperwork when I was away and wasn’t comfortable leaving it out was to simply scan and email the documents to me.  Every part of my office has a scanner that takes the document straight to a convenient folder on the shared drive.  It takes me about five minutes to scan and email all 13 of the time cards I currently process, and that includes time waiting on Outlook to catch up and time spent naming the documents before scanning.  To me, this was the best solution in keeping time cards secure while still ensuring I received them.  But sadly this has proven to be impossible for one special person.  She acts as if I haven’t requested she do this three times in the past (four counting today) and continues to needlessly make my life difficult and jeopardize her own pay by not ensuring that accurate information has been received.

Putting the paperwork together for each time card is very easy and takes only a few moments; I do it for my boss every two weeks.  None of our employees are new to the process and confused about how things work.  And I don’t care who you are, no one is too busy to take two minutes and complete a couple forms to make sure they get their paycheck on time and in full.  My special case constantly waits until the last possible second to submit her paperwork, meaning that she often drops by after 4pm on Fridays when I’m already gone.  This is the fourth time she has made her time card an issue by submitting it late, giving it to the wrong person (who thankfully is one of the good ones around here and kept it safe), and ignoring my requests that would ensure I received everything I needed on time.

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Most of these people are old enough to be my parent, have worked here for years, and are competent enough to hold their position successfully.  They have homes, bills, and other adult responsibilities.  They manage to feed themselves while at work every day and always sprint down to the main office when we have a pitch-in or free donuts.  And still, EVERY time and without fail, I am chasing half of them down up until the last second to get their time card paperwork so they can get paid.  If they fail, I must submit either a basic card for them (80 hours straight pay, no overtime or comp time recorded) or I must submit a card with only the leave I am able to track from their leave slips, if any.  This obviously leads to errors in pay that can sometimes take a month to fix.  My job is complete so long as each employee has a time card, so my insistence on timeliness and accuracy is solely for their benefit.

I’ve begun to be a tad less understanding with these folk when it comes to their inability to follow simple directions.  I hate to come off as bitchy, but being nice isn’t working so a more direct approach is much needed. The feedback I’ve received from my special case’s supervisor is positive, but who knows if she’ll actually have it sink in or if I’ll just be frustrated once again two weeks from now.  As much as I’d love to quit playing babysitter to these people, I can’t help but go out of my way to help, as I know how pay issues can really screw a person up.  Keeping my fingers crossed that one of these days, they act like they care about their paychecks as much as I do.

2014: The Year Of…?

After almost two weeks off from blogging due to vacations and laziness brought about by -16 degree weather, I am back and slightly ready to jump back in.  In truth, I am forcing myself to write something against my will.  If I don’t, I will continue to slack off and neglect something that is important to me, even if I don’t always want to give it enough of my time.  One of my resolutions for this new year is to give this blog the attention I think it deserves.  I hate the idea of new year’s resolutions, but I have in fact made some silent promises to myself that I hope I can keep.

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsRelax, I’m not going to list them for you.  If you’re into sharing your goals for this new year, more power to you, but I find that if I talk about a goal to enough people, I’ll eventually view it as unimportant and neglect it.  I’m not ashamed to say that I am totally horrible at keeping resolutions.  Like a lot of people, I’ll do fantastic for a month or two, but eventually give in to temptation, or simply get lazy and say to hell with it all.  The most common broken goal seems to be to lose X amount of pounds by a certain date.  Gym memberships are purchased, junk food is thrown away, and workout videos play in living rooms for a few weeks.  Then, when results don’t come quick enough or when friends encourage dinners and donuts, the goal is forgotten and the pounds remain where they are.

Having goals is important.  If the new year is the excuse you need to set some, you should do it.  Many people laugh off the idea of a new year meaning a new beginning, but why can’t it mean just that?  What is the downside to finding a reason to better yourself and your life?  If someone decides to dedicate more time to charitable work, does it really matter why they are doing it?  We’re only 13 tiny days into 2014; if you have yet to set a goal, there’s plenty of time to rack your brain and come up with something good.

imagesI’ve already been asked a dozen times by various people about my resolutions.  My answer?  Sure, I’ve made a few.  No, I’m not telling you what they are.  To be blunt, it’s no one’s business what I’ve chosen to fix about myself unless I choose to make it their business.  If I’m in a financial bind, that’s on me.  If I’m fat or lazy, it’s none of your concern.  If my kitchen needs remodeling, you’ll find out if I ever invite you over.  I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t see why I should have to open myself up just to satisfy someone’s curiosity.  Unless one of my resolutions is to be an open book, I’m keeping this stuff to myself.

Another reason I don’t share is because of the negative and nasty people who exist in this world.  The ones who will fail at their own resolutions, remember that you resolved to dedicate more time to your art, and then proceed to pester you about how you’re progressing.  They want you to fail.  They can’t wait to hear you say “I couldn’t keep up with it” so they feel better about failing themselves.  If it’s not them, it’ll be the ones that crushed their resolutions and want to point out your failure so that their success looks even sweeter.  I don’t have time for awful people and keeping my mouth shut tends to keep them at bay where this is concerned.

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While I may be anti-resolution in the typical fashion, I am most definitely all for self-improvement.  I only suggest that when you set your goals, you do it for you.  Don’t resolve to get a new job because you’re being pressured to do so, do it because YOU want to advance and move on.  Don’t feel obligated to set amazing sounding goals so you can impress those who ask.  Set goals that matter to you, and make them as public or as private as you damn well please.  The more personal you make your goals, the more likely you are to reach them.

After leaving behind a giant pile of broken resolutions and empty promises, I’m looking at 2014 and seeing great things for myself and for my family.  I’ve silently set some realistic goals for myself that are attainable, beneficial, and helpful to my family as well as myself.  Other than my husband, no one knows what I have my sights set on and that’s how I intent to keep it until I reach said goal and feel comfortable shouting about it.  Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll cross mine for you as we all journey into what looks like an amazing year.  Happy 2014!

Spirited

Yesterday at work, while I was braving our godawful restrooms, I overheard two women talking about the holidays.  I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but acoustics carry in that place and they were hardly making an effort to keep their voices to a dull roar.  As I squeezed past one of the women to get to the sink, she said to her friend “I just can’t get into the Christmas spirit this year.  I’m so lost on what to get my daughter.  I’m just going to give her $200 on Christmas morning and she can do whatever she wants with it.”  To my surprise, her friend thought this was a fantastic idea, and the pair left me in peace to finish scrubbing my hands clean.

imagesI already went on a short rant about gift giving last week, so I’ll spare you a recap.  I will say that simply handing over some cash to a relative, especially a close relative like your child, is hardly the way to get into the holiday spirit if you’re not feeling it this time around.  Instead of giving up and relying on the bare minimum to get you by, why not try…..

Saying Merry Christmas to more people, strangers or friends.  It’s simple, easy, and doing it with a smile almost forces you to get in good spirits about the upcoming holiday.  Not enough people say “Merry Christmas” anymore; I guarantee you’ll thrill the anti-Happy Holidays crowd, and in turn make yourself happier.

Don’t overspend/stress about gifts.  This is advice I need to take myself, as I’m almost always stressing about getting enough gifts for everyone.  Putting too much emphasis on how much you spend and/or how many things you get for each person in your life is a surefire way to murder your spirit.  If a friend or family member is going to be offended because you didn’t spend enough or get them enough, they aren’t worth any gifts at all.

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Stay away from the crowds!  Do your grocery shopping during odd hours, DO NOT GO TO THE MALL, avoid rush hour as much as you possibly can, and try out smaller shops instead of braving the pit of hell that is Walmart.  Nothing can get you angrier than being stuck behind the gaggle of old ladies while you’re just trying to pick up some eggs and a gift card.  Avoidance will make you happier, regardless of the time of year.

Scatter decorations so you’re always around something Christmas related.  Put a candy cane in your car, get a small wreath or bows for your office, and go to town at home.  Do whatever is comfortable for you and fits your personal style.  I can’t help but be in a good mood when I’m home and we flip the lights on, illuminating our tree.  It always serves as a personal reminder of how magical this season can be.

Nog it up.  Egg nog tends to magically appear around Thanksgiving and then vanish into the new year as mysteriously as it arrived.  Even when it’s only my husband drinking it, just seeing it on the table and glimpsing the bottle in the fridge makes me feel spirited and excited about Christmas.  There are endless choices for brand, flavor, plenty that come with alcohol already mixed in, and countless recipes online.

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Go to church.  This one doesn’t work for me anymore, but I can recall many times in my past where a few hours with youth group, doing secret angel gift exchanges and spending time together was one of my favorite pastimes during the month of December.  Going to mass is also a great reminder about why we celebrate Christmas (for you religious folk).

Volunteer.  When I was living in Connecticut, I did a lot of volunteer work at a home for disabled men, the elderly, at a soup kitchen/homeless shelter, and a few other places around my city.  Doing so not only makes you more appreciative, it’s incredibly rewarding to know that you were able to help someone and brighten their day, even if it was only for a few moments.

Turn on some music.  Holiday music that you enjoy, that is, as the music pumped through speakers in stores can have the exact opposite effect on your mood.  The rock version of Mr. Grinch always puts a smile on my face.  And then there is this.  I dare you to not smile.

Make some cookies!  If you have kids, make sure they are heavily involved.  If not, bake some up for yourself and your favorite people.  Decorate with icing, get fun cookie cutters, and have fun with it.  If you’re more skilled than I, go for a cake, a pie, or whatever other dessert you associate with the holiday season.

Do an early gift exchange.  My husband and I exchange one gift on Christmas Eve, which is a pretty common tradition.  But why not exchange a gift now?  Giving and receiving early will hype you up for Christmas morning by giving you a little sneak peek of what is coming.  It’s always fun for me to try to choose a great gift for my husband to open early as well (although sometimes challenging when it’s wrapped and I can’t quite remember what it is).

Don’t be a loner!  If you’re lucky enough to have family close by, spend time with them.  If not, get together with friends.  If that isn’t an option, volunteer work as referenced earlier will put you in close contact with others.  Or go shopping and make it a point to smile at a stranger.  Being alone is the worst way to get into the spirit, so surround yourself with people, spread some joy, and have a Merry Christmas!

Shrinking Christmas

I’ve been quite absent from the blogging world as of late.  With Christmas just 20 days away, our office Christmas party that I’ve been planning just 24 hours away, and the various stresses of having my pay screwed up, I’ve been purposely avoiding posting anything because it would be nothing but complaints.  Thankfully though, the whiners in my office have mostly quieted down, my husband has done wonders in reducing my silly holiday stress, and our DVR is finally down to a single digit count of recordings.

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Anyone who says the holidays aren’t stressful is either rich and content with being alone, or a dirty liar.  My husband’s extended family in Ohio hosts a Christmas get-together annually, which was one of the things that was getting to me and keeping me from even logging in to this page.  We live furthest away from his grandmother’s house (where it is always held, except for one year when grandma made a reluctant exception to accommodate my sister-in-law and her newborn), so we have to get up incredibly early to make the four hour drive, getting there earlier than anyone else since my mother-in-law has to help cook, and then we have to try to leave at a decent time to drive the four hours back and let our poor dog out so he can get some relief and some food.  Last year, we were sick, which was a blessing in disguise because we didn’t go.  That year, it was decided that rather than just buying gifts like normal, the adults would draw a name and buy up to $50 worth of something for that one person.  As far as the kids, everyone buys for all of them.

I hate this idea.  My husband and I ended up with his uncle (who we see once a year or less) and his sister (which we see much more often, plus we’ll see on Christmas anyway).  My mother-in-law just recently tried to give my husband a stack of gifts for grandma so we could wrap them and pretend they were from us.  Why…. I’m not quite sure, since I got the impression that drawing names was her idea because of her limited income.  Let me be clear; I am an adult and I’m not trying to suck every last dime out of an elderly woman so I have a stack of goodies to unwrap.  I will gladly give up the Yankee candle that she usually gets for me and just be happy with a card and a hug.  I don’t want to be limited to buying gifts just for one person when I’d love to get something for my husband’s younger cousin and when I found something perfect for his aunt.  It’s silly and it’s not what a family Christmas should be like.

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Another reason for the name drawing idea is due to the fact that my husband’s younger cousin (who was just married last year and who isn’t rolling in dough like her sister and my sister-in-law) was unable to afford gifts for anyone but the kids for our 2011 Christmas.  This angered someone who didn’t get a gift, which spawned this awful name drawing idea.  In all honesty, I didn’t even notice that she hadn’t gotten me a gift until it was brought up that someone was cranky.  I saw the gift she got for my son, thought it was adorable, and hoped she liked what I got for her and her husband (then boyfriend).  I was just happy to see her and to see everyone mostly getting along.

Christmas isn’t meant to be about how many gifts you can squeeze out of family members or tallying up how much person X spent on person Y.  The whole point is to spend some quality time together and to have fun.  By putting emphasis on who gets what for who, the fun and the joy is taken out of the day and we’re left with something that isn’t worth an eight hour round trip drive.  My husband has told my mother-in-law that we won’t be going once again this year.  I’ll be sending a bag of gifts for the kids and for my uncle and sister-in-law, but I’m doing it out of obligation and not out of want.  That isn’t what Christmas should be.

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My husband pulled me out of the funk I was in over this Christmas by telling me to quit worrying about people who I see once every 365 days, who I barely know, and who likely won’t care one way or the other if I’m there or not.  He got me focused back on my family HERE and making sure that WE have a fantastic holiday.  Does that sound selfish?  Absolutely, but it’s not meant to.  I’m an atheist, so I’m unmoved by the prayer and bible readings that my aunt has every Ohio Christmas before food and gifts.  I don’t celebrate the day to honor a deity, I celebrate to be with family and to put smiles on the faces of my loved ones.  I don’t celebrate as a way to appease every single person who I associate with, I celebrate to show my love to people who appreciate it fully.  I want my husband and son to have the best Christmas in history and I want to make my mother-in-law smile with some gifts from the heart.

I’m finally not ashamed to say that I am currently guilt free about skipping Christmas in Ohio.  I’m looking forward to spending the day at home with my husband and kid and dog rather than spending 8 hours in the car, all of us complaining on the drive up and complaining even more about everyone’s behavior on the drive back.  I’m glad my poor pup won’t be alone in the house for 12+ hours and that my kid won’t be cranky and miserable, longing for his bed.  I’m happy to be focusing my attention on the people who make me a priority in life and who are a priority in mine.  Mostly, I’m happy to be in a place where I don’t feel as though I have an obligation to please everybody.  I’ll never be able to make everyone happy, so why not spend time on people I KNOW I can make happy rather than people who are barely in my life at all?

Party Fever

Last month, my office friend C asked me to help her on the party planning committee so we could nail down a location and start fundraising efforts in the hopes of getting our party fully funded so employees could show up and not worry about paying anything out of pocket on the day of the party.  My other office friend M joined as well, along with a handful of others and our Master Sergeant.  The first meeting went well; I came prepared with ten possible locations and C came with about five of her own.  Between she and I, we were able to narrow it down to a few, eventually settling on Longhorn.  I was shooting for Dave and Busters myself, but with an office that has a lot of people who don’t care about arcade games, it sadly did not fly.

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With the location good to go, we were able to calculate the cost per person with tax and gratuity factored in.  If 50 people attend, we would be looking at over $1000 to get everyone fed.  It honestly seemed like a near impossible task.  We conducted a loose change contest where four teams would fill buckets with pocket change each week.  We held a silent auction and informed teams that the amount their item(s) went for would count towards the loose change contest.  We held theme days (mainly so Soldiers could be out of uniform for a day) that required participants to pay $5 to be counted.  We had a Halloween decorations contest, with an entry fee of $5 and votes for 50 cents.  We had planned on much more, but after four weeks, it is completely unnecessary and I have just ended the loose change contest.

The first week of the loose change contest netted us almost $500.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that 60 people can come up with that much in just loose change in a week.  Not only were people going to the bank to buy rolls of coins, but they held raffles, bake sales, and paid lunches to raise money for their buckets.  This week, one team turned in nearly $400 from a paid lunch they held to raise money.  The Halloween contest, which I didn’t think would raise more than $60 or $70 ended up bringing in $150 off of just one person out of the seven who were being judged.  The silent auction was a bit out of control as well, with dinner with my favorite soldier selling for $102.  People have lost their minds.

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I have funding for 52 people in an envelope.  M has a ton of cash in another envelope from our silent auction.  I have yet another envelope set aside that could pay for an extra 30 people, plus a stack of ones from our Theme Days that has not yet been counted into our grand total.  I should be very impressed with everyone’s efforts and thankful that we were able to get our party paid for so quickly and seemingly effortlessly.  However, I’m not impressed.  M and I were on a team for the loose change and the theme days (we are dead last in the loose change contest, by the way), but we both dropped off the team after being called cheaters one too many times.  We received bullying emails, demanding that we change the contest to let everyone know the details instead of do a surprise announcement at the party as initially planned.  Otherwise, we had an unfair team advantage and weren’t allowing anyone else to “build a strategy.”

This was meant to be a fun and spirited contest.  Instead, it turned into a nasty competition where anything goes.  Selling bagels and cake is not “loose change.”  Dropping $80 in nickels into the bucket after a trip to the bank is not “loose change.”  Spending $500 on fried chicken, multiple sides and cheesecake in order to raise money for your bucket is not “loose change.”  Me being on the party planning committee and also being on a team is not an unfair advantage, as everyone had a chance to be on it and no one wanted to be bothered.  This silly contest got taken to a dark place and I have grown to hate it.

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The Halloween contest also got way out of hand.  We initially had six participants, but one was added late with a single pumpkin he placed in his cube as a joke.  Voting was slow and normally paced the first day, but on day three things went insane.  MJ had her family come down and buy $35 in votes.  I had people handing me $10s and $20s to buy 50 cent votes so that K could win.  In retaliation, I had D give me $30 to vote for the single pumpkin guy.  This went back and forth all day and over half of Halloween.  One minute before voting wrapped, one of K’s friends rushed over to give me $40 to vote for K.  The areas that actually looked great and had spectacular decorations barely got any votes because everyone was too busy worrying about the nonsense with K and the tiny pumpkin.  They sucked the fun out of the whole thing.

We’ve held silent auctions before, numerous times, for various fundraising reasons.  They always go the same way.  Bids are put on paper by the item with bidding lasting around a week and ending at noon on a Friday.  Most of the time, the high bidders are lingering around to see if they win or not.  Winners are notified via email by the auction organizer if they were not present.  A thank you email with the total raised is sent out later.  That’s that.  This time, people demanded to be given a list of who won what, what the item sold for, and who donated each item.  M was totally overwhelmed by this, plus the people hanging around her desk trying to get information that is really none of their business; why does the whole office need to know that I paid $30 for a basket?

To top it off, MJ decided to drop off the committee because she thinks C, M and I are being “too secretive” about things.  Yes, I am secretive about the loose change totals because we agreed to announce the winner at the party.  I am the only person who knows the totals and I had to keep it that way because MJ decided to tell EVERYONE the first week totals after we cashed the change in, which could have killed what we were trying to do.  I am also the only one who knows the theme day totals (again, something to announce at the party) and the grand total.  Our Master Sergeant wants me to keep that to myself for now, and I’m not arguing.

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People got crazy over a few dumb competitions.  Now they’re getting crazy because we have enough money to fund the party for employees and some spouses, purchase door prizes and team prizes, and fully fund our summer event.  They don’t think that it’s fair to use some of the funding for our next event.  They want to decide where the money goes and how much of it goes there.  They consider it THEIR money, even though it was either donated or used to purchase something in the auction or food sales.  They didn’t want to do any of the actual legwork that was left to C, M and I, but now they want to butt in, bitch and complain, and have control because they bought a wine basket at the silent auction and cookies at a bake sale.

Here’s the thing… I can’t exactly give people their money back because I don’t know how much was put in for loose change, some of that went towards buying items, the silent auction went towards buying items, and the theme day money is how our Branch Chief justifies allowing Soldiers to be out of uniform.  I can’t take someone’s word for it that they threw $50 in the bucket and give that back because they want to complain now.  Donations were made, items were purchased, and because people went crazy, we went way over our goal very quickly.  Our Branch Chief is over the moon about this.  I want to be myself, but all I hear is complaining.

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What would you do in my situation?  C, M and I have done all of the legwork, our Master Sergeant is taking care of things like authorizing contractors to consider the party an off-site work day and not take leave, and our Branch Chief got us the final approval to have the party in the planned location.  The other committee members have either dropped out or been useless, with the exception of Z who helped come up with some helpful ideas.  I was one of a few who were tasked to do this and now I wish I never agreed to it.  One of my coworkers said to me today that “no one ever wants to do the work, they just want to receive the benefits.  Our Master Sergeant said that the whole point of a committee was to have a few make the decisions for the whole.  Where do you stand?

Shut Down

I never gave much thought to Government shut downs or furloughs until I moved to Indiana.  It was never something that affected me or anyone I knew until I married a man who worked for the Government and until I eventually got a Government job myself.  Call it blissful ignorance or a lack of concern, but it never felt like anything but a scare tactic to get people working harder to find solutions.  I always figured that we could get ourselves together in time so that nothing would be shut down and no one would be temporarily without work and without their paycheck.

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This year, my husband and many other Government employees were forced to lose one work day per week until the furlough was thankfully cut short and employees were allowed to return to their 40 hour work weeks.  It seemed to be the easiest solution to cut salaries rather than cut other areas that wouldn’t force anyone to fall behind on their bills or enter into debt.  In an effort to cut spending, my office eliminated overtime, reduced travel, and cancelled a very large training event that would have cost quite a pretty penny.  But even with those cuts, we were not allowed to be exempt from the furlough and had our group of civilians out for one day each week.  It hurt some people more than others; thankfully my husband and I made due and didn’t feel too big of a hit.

With the toddler-like behavior of our Government, we are now in a shut down and my office is again under furlough.  This time though, they are out of work effective noon yesterday and do not know when they will be able to return; it could be an entire month until they are back in the office.  I don’t have to explain what a crushing blow it would be if these people were forced to go an entire month without a paycheck.  I also don’t have to explain what it will do to our office to have this reduced staffing for an entire month.  Already, my work load has increased, not only because of the people in my office that are out, but because of the people in every state and territory that we work to serve.  It’s barely been a day and things are already falling behind.

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We are currently residing in quite the hole financially.  Hopefully no one is waiting for a passport because that office is shut down.  Too bad about your vacation because you’re not getting into those parks or museums.  My apologies to any states waiting for mail from my office because our building’s mail service has cut their number of runs.  I even heard on the radio this morning that clinical trials for children with cancer are now shut down as well, forcing an average of 35 children a day to go without this treatment.  The LA Times reported that “about 800,000 federal employees have been sent home. Analysts say the shutdown means a reduction in collective American income of about $200 million per day. Communities near national parks are expected to lose $76 million a day in visitor spending. In Yosemite National Park, lodges and cabins had been scheduled to be filled to near capacity. Instead, thousands of visitors were given 48 hours to leave.”

More seriously, they go on to say that “domestic violence shelters in Montana and Vermont were no longer being reimbursed for their services, and said some shelters could be forced to close altogether. Scientific research across the country came to a halt because scientists could not get into their own labs. Head Start, the health, nutrition and education program for low-income children, is operated locally, but is funded by federal grants — some of which ended Monday. Federal grants were no longer being renewed as of Tuesday morning.  According to organizers, at least 23 local programs in 11 states are now without funding. In Calhoun County, Ala., where a quarter of the residents younger than 18 live below the poverty line, hundreds of poor children were told that their preschools were closed. About 70% of the 86,000 civilians employed at the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have been furloughed.”

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This shutdown is hurting people who can’t afford to be hurt, don’t deserve to have this burden, or are too young to even have a say it in at all.  All the while, our so-called decision makers are sitting comfortably and continuing to earn their salaries while accomplishing absolutely nothing.  It’s unfair, disgusting, and an embarrassment.  When my office was instructed to cut funding in order to avoid a furlough, we did it in a timely matter and were able to cut enough to avoid it.  But still we were furloughed once and have been furloughed again in the same year (although in different fiscal years, which is what matters to the Government).

It makes sense to cut overtime and travel, but it doesn’t make sense to cut work hours and close businesses.  This is harmful to everyone and causes more problems than it solves.  Cutting travel for one person for a useless business trip that could be handed via teleconference or otherwise would save enough money to keep another person in the office.  But instead of doing things that slightly inconvenience some higher ups, they do things that greatly inconvenience the rest of us.  Head Start, for example, is a great program that I’ve seen work is wonderful ways.  Now those children are out of luck for who knows how long because a group of adults can’t quit bickering long enough to solve a problem that quite honestly, isn’t that hard to solve.

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Right now, I have a stack of papers to my left.  I will spend the day going through these papers and beginning the process of getting Service Members reimbursed for various expenses.  Unfortunately, after I do my part, the process comes to a stand still because the civilians who have to do the next step in the process are not in the office today and I don’t know when they will return.  It almost seems pointless for me to do this, but my stack of papers will only grow if I leave it because the other person who does what I do is also on furlough and I am picking up their slack.  It’s not fair to the Service Members who are now having to wait on reimbursements, it’s not fair to the people who should be helping but are forced to stay home, and it’s not fair to me (although I rarely mind extra work, it’s the principle of the matter).

This furlough is doing so much more than keeping people out of work for a few days or weeks.  It affects us all.  Congress should be ashamed of themselves for forcing the Government into a shutdown; I know I’m ashamed of them and utterly perplexed by this total nonsense.  I’m curious to hear what you think of this, what solutions you would propose, and any other thoughts you have on the matter.

 

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