Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Same Sex Marriage Legalized in the United States

Rainbow Piggie Bank
Welcome to the 21st century, America.

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 vote that the Constitution guarantees a right to same sex marriage. In the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were." While I'm somewhat disturbed that the ability to determine a group's rights hinged on a single vote, I'm pleased with the final result.

It's been a long road to finally get same sex couples the rights they deserve. In 2008, I took to the streets to protest when California voters legalized discrimination by passing Proposition 8. Four years later, a U.S. appeals court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional ultimately leading to the issue being sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision. Hard to believe that it's been 7 years, but in this country change is slow.

While we've finally eradicated this dark mark of legalized discrimination against same sex couples, the battle is not over yet. Since Friday's ruling, I've observed numerous individuals (mostly religious) around me and on social media express disagreement with the ruling, along with derogatory and stereotypical statements about LGBTs in general. Additionally, certain states and counties have already made efforts to deny marriage licenses to same sex couples (though I'm sure their efforts will be futile).

As a social worker, I have to be understanding of others' cultural and religious beliefs. However, I struggle when those belief systems involve supporting legislation that segregates and treats certain populations as sub-human. My hope is that with further education, these people will open their eyes and realize that we are all humans and hence should be treated with dignity and granted the same rights.

Congratulations, America! You did well this time!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Burnout Prevention: Epic Road Trip 2015!

Road Trip 2015
July is fast approaching, meaning it's time for my third annual trip to San Diego for Comic-Con! Thanks to convention scheduling, Comic-Con is extra early this year (July 8-July 12). I'm not ready!

To add to the July excitement, my friends at TSG.tv are hosting a Mario Marathon from July 17-24 to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Initially, my intention was to Amtrak down to Texas after Comic-Con. However, after finding out that a number of my friends are road-tripping south, I decided to take advantage of the time between Comic-Con and Mario Marathon and take a road trip of my own!

Here's my itinerary thus far:
  • San Diego (for Comic-Con)
  • El Paso, Texas
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Dallas, Texas (Mario Marathon)
  • Santa Fe/Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Santa Barbara, California
In the next few weeks, I'll try to post about my planning process from packing, arranging transportation, to booking the cheapest lodging possible (including some free hotels). This is probably one of my most ambitious trips yet, and it's certainly been a learning experience. It's also been an exhausting one as I've spent most of my free time and many late nights working on my itinerary and packing. Travel planning is a lot of work, but I'm hoping that it all pays off next month!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Social Workers are Ridiculously Underpaid

social workers are underpaid
I try not to gripe about my salary too much. As a medical social worker in California, I know my salary is above average compared to the rest of the country, allowing me to do things that many other social workers cannot do. While I make nowhere near what people with engineering, medical/nursing, and business degrees make, with the exception of housing woes I am actually doing alright.

However, I find it hard to stay quiet when it comes to unfair pay disparities within my profession. Social workers are mandated by their Code of Ethics to combat social injustice. One platitude frequently touted by the profession is "Equal Pay for Equal Work". While this statement is typically used to advocate for gender pay equality, I feel that it can also be applied to pushing for fair wages for social workers, especially those in the hospital setting.

As many medical social workers know, our jobs overlap heavily with nurse case managers. In fact, I perform many of the same discharge planning duties as RN case managers. With the exception of a few variations (i.e. RN case managers having to perform insurance review tasks and social workers handling most crisis situations), RN case managers and social workers are so similar that they are often grouped into the same department. Unfortunately, their pay is vastly different.

According to payscale.com, the average RN case manager salary is $66,000. The average medical social worker salary is $49,992. Or course, this varies on location. In the Bay Area, medical social worker salaries are higher and nursing salaries are much, much higher.

Recently, a coworker disclosed that a nurse case manager friend at another hospital recently received a five-figure bonus for good work. On top of that, she quoted a six-figure base salary that is more than double my hourly salary

Later I was looking at a complex case manager job postings which require either an RN or MSW degree. In a discussion with another coworker who works at other hospitals, I found out that MSWs still get paid significantly less than RN case managers despite performing identical duties and having the title "case manager".

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel somewhat demoralized, especially compounded with my family support. I realize that nursing school is difficult, but so is getting a masters degree in social work. What continues to baffle me why a masters in social work deserves half the salary of an RN case manager with an associates or bachelors degree, especially when our job functions overlap so much.

I definitely understand why nurses earn what they do, and their salaries are fair given the cost of living around here (but ridiculously low everywhere outside of California). As I was writing this, I went back and reread my past post on nursing salaries to remind myself of the rationale behind why nurses are paid so much more. To be honest, until social workers unionize or our leadership stands up for us, then I'm not sure what can be done to fix our wages. On an individual level, if I demand an RN case manager salary for the work I do, I'm sure I'd get replaced by a social worker willing to work for much less.

So how do I cope with this on a daily basis? In the words of Peggy Carter, "I know my value". Going into social work, I knew that I would be overworked and underpaid. Even though others are getting paid much more for doing the same work, I find satisfaction in the work I do and the people I help on a daily basis. Making less does not make social work a lesser profession, nor does it make me a lesser person. I am much more than my paycheck.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Golden State Warriors NBA Championship Parade

I will preface this post by saying that I'm a spoiled sports fan who roots for all Bay Area professional sports teams. Growing up, I was lucky enough to see Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, and the San Francisco 49ers win multiple Super Bowls. I'll never forget the Battle of the Bay World Series of 1989, which I was preparing to watch on TV when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened. In college, I got to see Cal go to numerous bowl games and beat Stanford in the Big Game every single year I was a student. Between 2010 and 2014, I witnessed the magic of three successful World Series runs by the San Francisco Giants. Now, after 40 long years, it's time for the Golden State Warriors to have their moment! Yes, my friends who live in other states hate me, but I tell them I pay for it with Bay Area housing prices!

While the Golden State Warriors play in Oakland (and moving to San Francisco in 3 years), what sets them apart is that they are the entire Bay Area's basketball team. Unlike previous championship series with the Giants (as I work with diehard A's fans) and 49ers, everyone around me was unanimous in their support of the one local basketball team. In fact, when the Warrior finally clinched the championship last Tuesday, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose all erupted into celebration (with no riots or property damage in the Oakland area - take that, national media)!

In all honesty, I wasn't planning on attending the championship parade. While I've been following the Warriors since the days of Run TMC, Spree for Three, Chris Weber, Chris Gatling (who I ran into at the grocery store as a kid), etc., I'll readily admit that once high school started I didn't pay much attention to professional sports until I finished my masters program and fell in love with baseball again. Also, I didn't want to put my coworkers through the same scheduling "musical chairs" I pulled to get time off for the 2014 Giants World Series Parade. Fortunately, I had a scheduled day off, along with the rest of my family. Parade day for everyone!

While this parade incorporated components from other World Championship parades (i.e. double decker buses for better viewing, political dignitaries, cable cars, confetti galore, etc.), there were elements that I could only describe as "Oakland". Here are some pictures from a fun day!

Warriors Parade Banner
Blue and Gold banners lining the parade route
Libby Schaaf and MC Hammer
Oakland's mayor and MC Hammer riding a fire shooting snail!
The Janky Barge
Politicians riding "The Janky Barge"
Players' bus
Double decker buses so everyone can see them! Draymond Green did get off his bus and interact with the crowd, including high fiving my dad!
City of Oakland Float Warriors Parade
Oakland had some pretty unique and quirky floats during this parade. Here's another one!
SF Cable Car
Obligatory SF cable cars on wheels
Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala's MVP Bus
MVP Bus!
Stephen Curry and Larry O'Brien Trophy
Steph and trophy!
AC Transit Bus Warriors Parade
Can't forget about public transport!
BART float Warriors Parade
BART train!
Duck Congee and Chinese Donut
Lunch in Oakland's Chinatown! I'm sure this parade was great for local businesses!
Given Oakland's reputation in the national eye these days, there was probably nothing better for the city, their economy, and its people than a spirited celebration on a beautiful day! Bravo, Oakland! I couldn't be prouder of my birth city!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Product Review: trèStiQue Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon *UPDATE*

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up to my review of trèStiQue's Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon! Today, I received my replacement shiny lip balm in the mail. Included was a lovely handwritten note from Jenn, one of trèStiQue's co-founders!

trèStiQue handwritten note and shiny lip balm
Handwritten note from Jenn!
I cannot say enough about the quality of trèStiQue's lip products and their excellent customer service! They are just wonderful! Thank you again, and I look forward to trying out more products soon!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Costs of Moving Out (2015 Edition)

As many of you are aware, I've been trying to move out of my parents' house for several years. Back in 2011, I ran into barriers with the rental markets and couldn't justify the costs. In more recent years, I've lost numerous bidding wars in my failed attempt to buy a house/condominium in the Bay Area thanks to bubbling prices. Now, I've decided to try out the rental markets again and had set a goal to move out by this August. Unfortunately, I'm now having serious second thoughts over whether I can afford to live on my own without sacrificing my retirement and living paycheck to paycheck. Here's a rundown of expenditures should I choose to move:

Rent: $1100 for a studio (one of the cheapest in the Silicon Valley)
Utilities: $0 (included with the studio)
Internet: $50 (no cheaper options)
Food: $100
Cell Phone: $30 (T-Mobile prepaid plan)
Health insurance: $250
Car insurance: $100
Gas/Car Maintenance: $300
Hygiene, cleaning supplies: $20
401K Contribution: $1500
Roth IRA Contribution: $458.33
Monthly Grand Total: $3908.33 
Annual Total: $46899.33
State and Federal Taxes: $15588 (if making $60000) to $21881 (if making $75000)

According to this calculation, I basically have to make roughly $65000 a year pre-tax to cover shelter, food, basic necessities, taxes, and retirement without going into debt. This does not account for an emergency fund or entertainment. Really not a lot of wiggle room here.

Possible solutions:
-Contribute less to my retirement funds
-Get some roommates
-Move in my boyfriend (and risk getting disowned)
-Continue living at home
-Eliminate all travel, shopping, and entertainment
-Get a higher paying job, or work multiple jobs
-Move out of the Bay Area

I definitely have a lot to think about over the next few months.
*UPDATE* It looks like I forgot to add my HSA contribution to my initial computation. Here's the updated budget breakdown:

Rent: $1100 for a studio (one of the cheapest in the Silicon Valley)
Utilities: $0 (included with the studio)
Internet: $50 (no cheaper options)
Food: $100
Cell Phone: $30 (T-Mobile prepaid plan)
Health insurance: $250
Car insurance: $100
Gas/Car Maintenance: $300
Hygiene, cleaning supplies: $20
401K Contribution: $1500
Roth IRA Contribution: $458.33
HSA Contribution: $279.17
Monthly Grand Total: $4187.50 
Annual Total:  $50250
State and Federal Taxes: $15588 (if making $60000) to $21881 (if making $75000)

Looks like I have to make more than $70000 now. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Product Review: trèStiQue Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon

trèStiQue Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon
trèStiQue Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon
As previously mentioned, I spent a considerable amount of time at the trèStiQue booth during Generation Beauty and fell in love with the makeup they have to offer. As a frequent traveler and someone who spends very little time applying makeup in the morning, I tend to gravitate towards products that are portable and multifunctional. According the website, "trèStiQue was founded by two industry veterans who believe: makeup should be simple for everyday and quick." This philosophy is perfectly in line with my personal habits!

trèStiQue lip crayon outside box
Lip Crayon unboxed
Today, I'll be reviewing trèStiQue's Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon in Florence Fig and Rose Balm. This item retails on the trèStiQue site for $28, but I purchased it for 15% off at Generation Beauty.

trèStiQue Lip Crayon in Florence Fig and Rose Balm
Lip Crayon in Florence Fig and Rose Balm
With their patent pending 2-in-1 system, trèStiQue uses high quality makeup and employs magnets and tools to create a custom makeup pencil you can take anywhere! While trèStiQue's Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon comes with a lip color and a moisturizing balm, you can easily twist off the balm and replace it with a lip brush (sold separately).

trèStiQue Matte Color Pencil in Florence Fig
Matte Color side in Florence Fig
My favorite part of this lip duo is by far the matte lip color, which is a beautiful neutral pink that enhances my natural lip color. My job's dress code specifically prohibits bright makeup colors, so this is perfect for me! Additionally, the formula glides on smoothly, doesn't bleed, and is pretty moisturizing on its own. If I need additional moisture, I just flip the pencil over and apply the Rose Balm on the other side!

trèStiQue Shiny Balm side in Rose Balm
Shiny Balm side in Rose Balm
trèStiQue Shiny Balm Twists Off
The balm twists off and can be replaced by a lip brush (sold separately)
The Rose Balm is a sheer pink that can be used over the lip crayon without any color change. I really like how the balm moisturizes your lips and provides shine without the sticky, gooey feeling you get from most lip glosses. I just wish they gave you more balm!

trèStiQue Florence Fig and Rose Balm swatches in sun
Swatches in sunlight
trèStiQue Florence Fig and Rose Balm swatches in bathroom
Swatches under fluorescent bathroom light
My main problem with trèStiQue's Matte Color and Shiny Balm Lip Crayon is the packaging. When removing the magnetic cap from the matte lip color, I have to be careful not to nick the product itself. Unfortunately, the balm side uses a non-magnetic cap that takes some effort to carefully snap off without touching the product. In fact, the first time I took the cap off the balm, I ended up denting the product.
trèStiQue Shiny Balm Lip dented
Dented lip balm :(
The second time, I accidentally broke the product off completely, leaving me really, really sad.

trèStiQue Shiny Balm broken
Broken lip balm :(
Fortunately, trèStiQue has a return/exchange policy, so I've e-mailed them and am waiting for a response. As much as I'd hate to part with the beautiful Florence Fig, the broken Shiny Balm is pretty much unusable at this point. Next time, I'll have to be a lot more careful, but trèStiQue should really consider making their products completely retractable to avoid damage while removing the caps!
*UPDATE* I received a response from trèStiQue's wonderful customer service and they are sending me a replacement balm! I am so happy! Thank you so much!

Critiques aside, I highly recommended trèStiQue due to their quality, portability, and simplicity of use! I look forward to trying their other products and vastly lightening my makeup load the next time I travel!