Friday, September 30, 2011

The Game of Life

Our most recent training session was called "The Game of Life."  For this we were asked to wait outside until our trainer and her helpers had set up the room for the game.  We were given two rules: 1) get through the four stations and 2) start with station #1 or #2.  Before we were let back into the room, Normea gave each of us a name tag to wear with three or four capital letters on it.  She had us line up outside, changing our order, ordering some people to face the wall and not talk, telling one girl not to touch anything or anyone.  She moved some of us closer to the door of the room, and we could not enter until she gave the word.  I was one of the first to be escorted into the room.  It was set up with four different tables, and an S.O.S. staff member was behind each table.  The first table I was taken to was Employment.  I was told that because of my race, I could own a chain of ethnic restaurants.  Next I was taken to Bank to get some money.  After quite a bit of run-around, I was given five dollars and taken to Housing.  The houses cost either 2 or 3 dollars.  I bought one for 2 dollars, and was then sent to Finish and Complaints.  There I showed proof of housing (a laminated picture of my house), and was given a letter stating that I was now eligible to enter the Resort for $1 and rest.  I had completed the game.  More on the game soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Becoming a Crisis Counselor

Instead of taking more classes and more tests and doing more research to prepare for graduate school, I now need focus on only one thing: getting experience working in human services.  This means volunteering at two local agencies.  The first agency, S.O.S., provides services to the homeless, and those in danger of becoming homeless.  To volunteer as a crisis counselor with them, I've been participating in their 21-hour training program.  The training consists of 4 three-hour meetings on weekday evenings, and one full Saturday.  I've done the training sessions called "Homelessness" "Crisis Counseling" and "Game of Life" and next I'll do "Empathy Day" and finally "Assertiveness."  There are about 20-40 people in training with me.  Some are interns (MSW students), some are volunteers like me (mostly hoping to get into MSW programs, also like me), and some are staff members at S.O.S.  Our trainer is a rather gruff black woman named Normea (nor MAY a).  She snaps at us if we don't follow the rules, but I'm pretty sure she is secretly a sweetie-pie.

What will I do at S.O.S. once I finish the training this coming Monday?  I will start out as a Food Counselor.  S.O.S. has a dilapidated old two story turn-of-the-century house in the historic district of Ypsilanti where anyone in the area can come on Tuesdays to pick up bags of food to feed their families.  Before getting their food bag, people are required to go into a little office with one of us counselors and help us fill out a few forms.  Each individual can only get food four times a year from S.O.S., so we keep a card on file with their name and when they last got their food bag so that we can check to see if they are still eligible.  If they need more food, we can write them a referral to a few local churches which also give out food.  One of the churches will give each individual food once every three months.  Another will give food once a month.  Another agency will give clothing and household items (pots and pans, brooms, etc.) to an individual in need once every three months.  We keep track of all the referrals we give so that we don't give them more often than the respective agencies are willing to provide.  A referral is just a form that we fill out and sign, which the person can take to the next place in order to get their food or household items.  I am not sure if these places accept walk-ins without referrals.  While we are filling out the forms, we are trying to find out how they are doing, what led them to needing food this month, if they currently have a place to live, if they are in a domestic violence situation, things like that. 

I will be volunteering at S.O.S. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (while Naomi is at preschool) until January, when I will do the training at the second agency I want to work for, Ozone House.  When I complete their training, I hope to volunteer with each agency once a week.  Ozone House provides services to teens, including a 24-hour crisis hotline, which I think the volunteers man.  I really like the fact that instead of doing more and more esoteric things in my quest for a doctorate, I am now doing lots of practical, hands-on things, that are helpful to real live people today.  That makes me feel more confident that I have made the right choice.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Minor Change in Plans

A few weeks ago (Tuesday Sept. 6), I was sitting in my Experiemental Psychology class listening to our professor give a lecture about the field of psychology as a whole.  One of the things that he said really struck me.  He encouraged each of us who was interested in Psychology as a way to become a therapist to also look at degrees in Counseling and/ or Social Work.  He explained that those paths require virtually no research, are much faster, and are probably better suited for many people who want to work in Human Services.  I was aware of the things he was saying, but listening to him that morning struck me again as something I should carefully consider.  Two days later I met with the two psychology doctoral students that I've been working with to score the TAT stories.  They were talking about how their professor wanted them to spend even more time on school and less time on their outside lives.  They were complaining about their heavy load: preparing for prelims, teaching classes, grading papers, preparing three papers for publications, working on their own research, working on their professor's research, and taking classes.  As I listened to them talking I was taken back in time to the years between 2001 and 2005 when I was working on a Ph.D. in history at UM.  At that time, I was so overwhelmed with all that was expected of me in school that I couldn't imagine being able to complete all of my work without living as a hermit and devoting every waking moment to school.  And not sleeping very much, and drinking a lot of caffeine to stay awake.  This was the lifestyle of most of my cohort, but my lifestyle, with a husband and two children, church callings, a household to run, felt impossible to fit into that doctoral program.

I have been nervous and worried about trying to do a Ph.D. again, now with 4 children instead of 2, but I've also been trying to tell myself that it will be better the second time because I've chosen a field that I'm much more interested in and more prepared for.  But listening to Alex and Greg talk, it occurred to me that they were under no less stress and had no easier expectations than I had had in History.  Their life sounded like a nightmare for me, one that I've already spent several years living.

As I continued to ponder these two experiences, I began to ask myself why I was insisting on the Ph.D. track instead of the much easier and faster MSW degree.  I would probably be even more employable as a therapist with an MSW than with a Ph.D. because I would cost less.  And my MSW training would all be practical, professional training, as opposed to the Ph.D. with its strong emphasis on training "scientist-practitioners", in other words, people who conduct experiments and do research as a primary focus, with some clinical work on the side, mostly to enhance their efficacy as scientists and researchers.  I was willing to jump through the hoop of research, but that is not what I want to do with my career.

I came to see that the reason I was following the Ph.D. was because I had decided that I could not put the family into more debt.  Ph.D. programs offer full funding, plus a stipend, while MSW programs cost money.  And at the end, a Ph.D. will make more.  But when I took money out of the equation, my choice was startlingly clear.  I had virtually no desire to do a Ph.D.  Sunday night I took this problem to Dan to discuss the possibility of us going into more debt to pay for social work school.  He was fine with it!  The more I talked to him, the more comfortable I felt about taking out a loan to pay for school, something I've never had to do before.

The next morning, I realized that if were really going to change my plan and pursue an MSW instead of a Ph.D., I would not need the class I was currently enrolled in, or any other classes, for that matter.  When I got online to find out if I had missed the drop deadline, I was delighted to see that the deadline was that very day.  I called and got a full tuition refund.  Later I got a refund for my parking permit, I dropped out of the research project I had been working on (not relevant to social work school), I took back my library books about preparing for the GRE and the Psychology Subject Test (no GRE used in the admissions process for social work program).  I was shedding unnecessary stresses, costs, time commitments right and left.  It felt amazing to let all of those things that I was doing to prepare to apply to Ph.D. programs go.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes, M-22

Dan and I are in Traverse City, Michigan, on another 24-hour date.  My parents are visiting, and agreed to stay with the children so that we could have this little adventure together.  We left yesterday (Sunday) at noon.  Dan wanted to take a road we had never been on before, so we did not take the fastest route.  Looking at the map, we could see that on our new route we would be pretty close to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and decided to make a little detour to see it.  I have wanted to visit this park for many years, so it was exciting to be headed there unexpectedly.  Our first stop was four hours from home, in Frankfort, Michigan.  As you approach Frankfort on the M-115, you get the first glimpse of Lake Michigan.  This view is framed by a large archway over the highway. 

We were planning to turn right from  M-115 onto M-22 North, but I really wanted to see the lake up close, so we continued down the street we were on (Forest Avenue) to a tiny culdesac (Sac Street) with beach access.  Parking the car, we walked out onto the white sugar sand.  The sky was blue and the sun was shining; the beach was almost empty--just a few couples scattered here and there on benches in the sand.  Dead ahead was a long cement walkway out into the lake with a lighthouse at the end of it.  Lake Michigan is so big it looks like the ocean.  There are even waves.  We walked out to the lighthouse, which is boarded up and smells like pee, and walked back.  There were two port-a-potties on the beach that were leaning at crazy angles down toward the sand.  Their doors were hard to open because the sand was blocking them.  Dan had to use one, and we were afraid it would topple over on him, but luckily it didn't.  The neighborhood we were parked in was so pretty:  Tree-lined streets of beautiful Victorian homes.  It seemed like a little paradise on the beach.

We got back on M-22 and headed north.  Part of the highway goes right along the banks of Crystal Lake, which is lined with vacation homes, many with their own little boat dock.  The lake is huge, and from the look of the tidy, well-kept homes, it is a place that people love to live or vacation.  The next intriguing-looking place we passed was the Platte River, a large river with boats docked along it and a few canoe-rental shops nearby.

We decided that instead of cutting straight over to Traverse City on the 72, we would wind our way toward it on the 22, which goes up the west side of the Leelanau Penninsula and down the east side of it to our final destination.  We continued north a few miles and then left the 22 for the 109, which would take us through the Park.

We followed signs for the National Lakeshore's Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.5 mile loop with amazing views of the dunes and the lake.  When we paid to enter the park, we received a map of the drive with explanations of each of the 12 markers along the road.  Pierce Stocking was an outdoorsman who wanted to make some of the beauties of Michigan accessible to people of all ages and ability levels.  He created this drive in the 1960s and after he died is was bought by and incorporated into the park.  We got out of the car and walked to the scenic overlooks at several of the stops.  The most amazing overlook to me was the one perched on a giant dune overlooking Lake Michigan.  There were signs all along the cement path leading to the dune warning people that if they walked down the dune to the lakeshore, it would be very difficult for them to get back up and if they couldn't do it on their own, they would be charged a rescue fee by the park.  I didn't really understand these signs until we were on the viewing deck and could see the entire dune.  It was super steep, almost a vertical drop about 400 feet down to the lake.  We could see people at the bottom walking along the beach; they looked like tiny ants.  The way back for them was straight up this giant tower of sand.  We heard one of the women on the deck explaining that her son is super competitive, and he does this walk every year.  This year he is 50 and he told her it was really hard to get back up.  After seeing what they were up against, I had no desire whatsoever to make my way down there.

The weather forecast for today was rain all day (yes, it is raining as I write this), so we felt very appreciative for the time at the lake with perfect sunny weather and blue skies.  We finished our scenic drive and got back on the 109, which took us through the abandoned lakeside logging village of Glen Haven, which is being restored as a historic site by the park.  We next drove through the cute little tourist town of Glen Arbor, full of fun restaurants, art galleries, and bed and breakfasts.  A stretch of the road went right along the lake, at a place called Good Harbor Bay, and we saw many beautiful homes between us and the beach.  We crossed the Leelanau Penninsula on the M-204 to Suttons Bay (another cute tourist town), and then drove south on the M-22 into Traverse City.  It took us awhile to find our hotel (I hadn't bothered to bring directions, phone number, or address with me)--we finally called my mom and she gave us the address.  It was on the highway we had been driving up and down (M-31), but it was a lot farther than we had gone, thinking that we would be leaving town and getting farther away from it.  After checking in, we drove back up the highway toward Suttons Bay to eat at the Apache Trout Grill, a restaurant we had passed on our way into town with a completely packed parking lot.  We were starving, and the food was great.  We had fried calamari, Asian shrimp tacos with plenty of cilantro, an avocado egg roll, fried whitefish with a parmesean topping and garlic aoli, a salad of field greens, pesto, a drizzle of balsamic syrup, and an entire round of breaded, deep-fried goat cheese.  And chocolate fudge cake for dessert.

After that we sort of stumbled to our car, stumbled to our room, and collapsed on our beds.  Dan watched some football and I fell asleep.

These 24-hour dates are so fun!!!!!  I suggested the first one to Chicago in July, and it was Dan's idea to do another one just two months later.  Our new plan is to do one every other month (odd months).  In November we are taking the kids down to Ohio to stay with friends, while we enjoy Cleveland (or maybe Pittsburgh) on our own.  In January we want to go back to Florida to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday.  In March we might try something really close to home, like Toledo.  In May we are going to Norway for a week for Dan's 40th birthday.  We were figuring out last night that if we don't go on any dates between these 24-hour dates, all the money we will save on weekly babysitting, dinners, and movies, will make these longer dates a bargain.  We're saving money, really, we are.  We have something to look forward to all the time now.  It has been a huge boost to our marriage and our lives in general.