Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gettin' Muddy

Speaking of saying yes and doing things that make me nervous, guess who did her first mud run last weekend?

My gym friend Jen asked me if I wanted to be part of her team. Actually she asked me last year and I laughed at her, but this year I contacted her to see if the invitation could be repeated.

So that's how I ended up awake at 5am last Saturday morning and driving to Jacksonville for the MS Muckruckus. The team was made up of 12 people, 11 of whom were in much better shape than I am. Jen was our team captain and named our team the Mud Badgers. Our team shirts were the envy of everyone there!

Photo courtesy

We met up, got registered, and then it was time for taping:

One of the guys convinced me to tape around my pant legs and the tops of my shoes to keep some of the mud out

It didn't work though. I had mud EVERYWHERE.

The race was a 10K with 28 obstacles. Apparently the goal was to get the runners as muddy as possible. Here's a photo of Shawn, who placed 15th overall for the day (out of 1300 runners), swimming through a mud puddle:

Image courtesy Bruce Lipsky,
There was a giant swing set that you were supposed to use to launch yourself across a huge ditch of mud. Brad got some serious air going over that thing! See that race volunteer behind him with his mouth hanging open?

Image courtesy

Unfortunately, Mark landed wrong off of this obstacle and ended up with a pretty serious tib/fib fracture. So he and (the other) Melissa did their post race celebrating in the ER. 

For me, the most difficult obstacle was this huge crazy net thingy. Remember when I told you that I don't like indoor rock climbing? This was even worse because the whole thing moved around A LOT and I had to swing my leg over the top to get to the other side. But it was mile five, too late to quit.

Yeah, I climbed that
Like most scary things, the fear of the unknown was the hardest part of all of this. Now that I have done a mud run, I know I can do another one (and I have a better idea of how to train). Good thing because Meg has already sent me an invite for the Hero Rush in November!

Mud Badgers!!!!
So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try saying yes- see where you end up!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Image credit: Urko Dorronsoro

There was a story on NPR a few days ago about a woman working on the assembly line at the Chrysler plant. She was a single mother of two teenagers who had a Master's Degree and had been laid off from a Human Resources job, lived on $300 per week unemployment for a while, and eventually filed for bankruptcy. She found her new job to be really really boring, but was grateful to be employed.

Stories like that make me feel guilty about complaining, but I'm going to do it anyway.

I live in a big college town. In 2004, the housing market was beginning to boom- if you wanted to sell your house, you put a For Sale sign in the front yard, and by the time you finished putting it up you had an offer. Prices were climbing. Interest rates were low. I decided it was time to buy.

I picked a modest condo that I could afford without being house poor. I had about $12,000 in the bank that was left to me by my grandfather, which gave me a down payment of about 15%. My credit was and is impeccable. I planned to own this little "starter" house for 3-5 years, sell it with no problem, and move on to bigger and better things.

Housing prices continued to climb. Around town, a bunch of apartment complex owners began selling off units as condos to young families and graduate students. Several new condo complexes were built. Suddenly the market was flooded with condos, which were being sold for ridiculous prices.

Then the bottom fell out. Suddenly mortgages, which banks had been giving out like free toasters, became difficult to obtain. Prices dropped. Foreclosures increased. Houses sat empty for months or years waiting for buyers. Condos didn't sell at all.

I live in a very different neighborhood than I did eight years ago. When I moved in, more than half of the units in the complex were occupied by the owners. Almost all of the units were occupied. At the time I was looking, two condos out of 100 were for sale.

Today more than half of the units are rented, which makes buyers ineligible for an FHA loan.  About 25 units are for sale. Probably 15 are empty.  There have been several break ins in the neighborhood in the past few years. At night I worry about someone breaking into the house while I'm sleeping, leaving me trapped in my upstairs bedroom.

I estimate that I currently owe about $35,000 more than my condo is worth.

So now I live in a house that I can afford to stay in but can't afford to leave.  I'm thinking about leaving the area for graduate school, but I can't figure out what to do with the house. People endlessly suggest renting it out, but based on the number of empty units in the neighborhood, I would have to be prepared to pay the mortgage for several months at a time (not feasible on a graduate student income). I'm also agonizing about some improvements that need to be made- a remodel of the upstairs bathroom and some cosmetic updates to the kitchen- which I think will cost at least $5,000.  Is it worth it to invest the money to make the condo more renter friendly?

My parents have encouraged me to consider a strategic foreclosure- simply walking away from the property. This decision not only jeopardizes my credit, but also my savings, because the State of Florida allows mortgage companies to sue for the balance.

I was talking about this to a friend the other day, who said, "These are the questions I ask myself every day." She and I are lucky that we own modest homes, but a friend of hers is something like $200,000 underwater on her large house in a bigger city.  My parents have been paying two big mortgages for over a year, and are praying that their former house sells this spring. I wonder how many people out there are in a similar position. If we are employed and paying our mortgage every month, do we even show up in the statistics?

I try to stay away from playing the victim, but I'm making an exception here. I thought I was being financially responsible by buying instead of renting.  I followed all the rules- I saved my windfall for a down payment (wish I'd gone to Europe instead), kept my credit clean, bought something I could afford, made every single payment on time.  I'm not eligible for any kind of assistance or refinance. I just have to make the agonizing decision to either stay stuck in my "starter" for at least the next several years, or to break the rules of good finance (not to mention my own personal moral code) and just stop paying something I owe.

Is anyone out there are in the same position as I am?  Have you found a good solution? Have you taken part in a short sale or strategic foreclosure? If so, please post a comment- I can't be the only person who would like to hear!

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and thanks for letting me play the victim for a while!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Just a Nurse

You will never hear me utter the phrase, "I'm just a nurse."

Back in my cubicle days, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I would say something like, "Oh, you don't want to hear about it. It's not even interesting to me."

If nothing else, my current job is "interesting." I'm also proud to have it- I get people through some of the worst days of their lives, I help make scary medical information manageable, and I can deal with a person at his pukiest and barely gag. I'm a nurse, dammit, no "just" about it.

But actually my real objection to the phrase "I'm just a nurse" is that it's usually a cop out. Generally I hear it uttered in the context of, "I'm just a nurse, the doctor decided that you need to have blood drawn," or "I'm just a nurse, I don't know if you need to be admitted."

It's true that in the hospital nurses are outranked by some other members of the medical team, but it doesn't mean that we are powerless automatons, unquestioningly following the orders of others. When a patient asks why a blood draw is needed, I explain what we're looking for- elevated white blood cell counts, kidney function, electrolyte abnormalities, etc. If I don't know if the patient will be admitted, I either find out, or explain that we won't be able to make the decision until test results come back. The correct answer to a patient's question is never, "I don't know, somebody else decides."

So when I hear "I don't know, I'm just a nurse," what I really hear is, "I'm too lazy to take the time to explain this to you." I know it's frustrating when patient care begins to interrupt your Facebooking and texting, but really, when that's the case, just admit it. Just tell the patient, "I'm completely burned out and I don't care about you enough to address what's making your scared/nervous/uncomfortable." Perhaps you were disappointed because you thought being a nurse would be like it is on TV, and your primary job funtions would be looking good in scrubs and servicing medical residents in supply closets. I get it, I do, but don't blame your incompetence on the profession that so many hard working people have dedicated their lives and every other weekend to doing.

I guess what I'm saying is that when you say, "I'm just a nurse," what you're really telling everyone is "I'm not that good at my job." Sometimes the most important thing we do is to address the patient's concerns. Isn't that what you would want on one of the scariest days of your life?

Thank you as always for making it all the way through this rant. As a reward, here is a cute picture of Leo, who doesn't care how well I do my job as long as it keeps him in a cozy bed and lets him eat the high end cat food.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and beware of cop-out excuses at work. They only make you look bad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Image credit: Caro Wallis, Flickr

I found this post from Fishing Buddha on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago.  The author explains that being rejected can actually be good for you if you react the right way. It came at exactly the right moment for me, because I'm reapplying for a job I didn't get selected for last year.

The idea of seeking out rejection as a way to get better really got me thinking. Take the rejection as an opportunity to improve, and try again. I'm not much more qualified for this job today than I was six months ago, but I revamped my resume and did some networking, so I'm hoping to be a little more noticeable in the big pile of applications.

What's most important is staying positive. After the last time I didn't get the job I wanted, I wrote a Pollyana post about how everything happens for a reason, but I admit I didn't always live my words. I had a pretty bad attitude at work for a couple of months. Turns out, feeling sulky and resentful 40 hours a week doesn't make anything better.

Right now I'm working on being a good employee at my current job. I might not love the job I have, but I still really love the work I'm doing and I'm surrounded by great people. Also, the first person a hiring manager calls is your current boss. If she says that you have an attitude problem and don't work as part of the team, you can bet your application will go right in the trash. Most importantly, negativity begets negativity. If I spend time dwelling on the things I don't like, everything seems worse than it actually is. Also, I don't want my attitude to make everyone around me dislike coming to work (or dislike being around me).

In the past two years I have learned that trying things I find a little scary can lead to some amazing and life-changing experiences.  Now I want to find out if putting it all out there, with the possibility of getting rejected, can help me achieve more.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and wish me luck!

Friday, March 9, 2012

On Networking and Paul Revere

Leo uses Facebook to  keep up with his extensive network
I recently read a book that changed my opinion about networking.

The book was The Skinny on Networking by Jim Randel.  I picked up a copy after Baker from Man Vs Debt described it as the best book on networking honestly and genuinely (something like that, I can't find the post again). From what I can tell, Baker is a no bullshit kind of guy, so I thought the book would be worth reading.

I used to picture "networking" as a group of guys in suits fake laughing, trading insults, and generally congratulating themselves on being masters of the universe. The whole business sounded distasteful and sleazy.

Reading Randel's book made me realize that I was already doing some networking without knowing. When I worked for a large corporation, I made it a point to (try) to be helpful and friendly to everyone else. Sometimes I wasn't successful, but my temper and occasional lack of a verbal filter are topics for another post. I made an effort to play nicely with others because I learned quickly that 1.)You never know who will be your boss next week and 2.) Things get done more easily if you know the right people and they are willing to help you.

Point #2 was really emphasized when I read started to read (and might one day finish) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He explains why you know all about Paul Revere's midnight ride but have never heard of that other guy who rode through the night trying to warn people of the attack. Paul Revere was a "connector"- a guy who was involved in all kinds of diverse activities and who knew lots of people. Think about it-who are you more likely to open the door to in the middle of the night: your brother's business associate who you met at a neighborhood Christmas party, or some guy you don't know from Adam? And that's why Paul Revere was successful in warning people of the planned British attack, and that other guy has faded into obscurity.

Hopefully none of us will have to stave off a British invasion, but the point is that it's much easier to accomplish things if we have cultivated the right connections. It's hard to know in advance who the right connections will be, so its best to make a LOT of connections. Get to know those people, help them out if you can (sometimes you are the right connection), and they will be much more likely to contribute to your success when you need them.

What I have learned about networking is that the lessons from kindergarten still apply: be nice to everyone (try anyway), share your toys, help others when you can. I still haven't mastered "If you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all," but I'm a work in progress. Overall it seems like a good way to live, and having people to help you when you need it is just gravy.

I was looking back at my New Year's post about resolving to say yes more.  I'm not doing a very good job of sticking with it, but I want to get back on the wagon. Not only does saying yes lead to more interesting opportunities, but it helps you make those connections. Paul Revere didn't get to be the subject of a famous poem by skipping parties and staying home.  Those of you who know me personally are welcome to hold me accountable!

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and let me know if you want to borrow this great little book!
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