Saturday, December 31, 2016

5 Best Decisions of 2016


  1. Cutting my hair! - Some women enjoy playing in and manipulating their hair: I am not one of them. I like low maintenance. And, while I was unsure how the shape of my head would support a close cut, I can truly say I have no regrets. 
  2. Spending Tanya's Spring Break with her in California - The trip in March was the first time that Tanya and I traveled together without either of our parents, and I think we were both a little nervous. However, thankfully, the trip to the west coast was a total success and I am looking forward to flying to Mexico with her next May in celebration of her graduation.
  3. Visiting the Motherland (Nigeria) with Stephen - Such a long and arduous flight that was - but it was totally worth it. Stephen's family welcomed me with open arms; the food was fabulous; and I would do it again in a heart beat.
  4. Hosting Tanya for a month this summer while she completed a rotation in Arlington - We had so much fun together and probably only got on each others nerves once. I enjoyed watching her make friends and hang out in NoVA/DC. 
  5. Saying 'yes' to Stephen - I'm going to marry the man of my prayers in 2017 (!). We've dated for 4 years and I was definitely ready to say yes. The planning process has not been perfect, but it's been a great way for Stephen and I to learn to negotiate, compromise, and to play off of each other's strengths.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Traveling to the Motherland

I spent 2 weeks with my boyfriend, Steve, in Nigeria - visiting his parents and the places where he grew up. I plan to take the next few days to walk you through our experience. I hope you enjoy...


Day 0

I felt like I was finally done packing. All the little things were in their rightful place. I was ready. Time to step out for the last minute errands – you know, my eyebrows, snacks for the airplane, and Chipotle. As soon as the door closed behind me I realized my mistake: in my effort to be thorough, I had already taken my apartment key off of my keychain and tucked it inside the bag I would be carrying on the plane with me – my apartment key was locked inside my apartment. Dear Lord Jesus. Now what? My roommate works in Tyson’s, so I can drive and get the key from her, or I can have Steve meet her on his way to my place (I’m closer to the airport, and Tyson’s is in the middle of our apartments). I texted him. He agreed he could scoped the key. I texted Brittany, she provided me the address to her office building and promised to leave the key at the desk downstairs. Huge crisis, averted. I can breathe again.

My eyebrows look great. I then grabbed popcorn from Safeway and 2 burritos for the price of 1 with my fabulous Chipotle coupon. As I was wrapping up my order, Steve called to say he was at the apartment: perfect timing.

Here’s to hoping, that this is the only crisis we have on this trip.

Day 1

I tried to sleep, but my tummy wouldn’t let me. 6 hours on a plane – at some point you must use the restroom and I needed to go #2. I got up, handled my business and washed my hands with the lovely soap. Got back to my seat and realized I had not packed hand lotion in my carry on. Y’all know how I feel about lip gloss and hand lotion. Ugh! I eventually ignored my drying hands and went to sleep.

Woke up some time later. My hands are still dry, so, so dry.

We land in Amsterdam. My booty is sore and this layover is for 6 hours. Dear Jesus, help me. After finding our gate, Steve and I left his brother with our luggage and we decided to explore the airport a little. Lots of expensive stores – a fancy Johnny Walker, Hermes, fine chocolates, upscale lotions…. We stopped at a bar and found out that the “herb” shops open in the Netherlands around 9am (no, there were none in the airport) and that bars are open around that time as well. Thankfully, I had told my bank I would be traveling (Steve didn’t think this was necessary), so while the price of most things were listed in European pounds, we were able to pay for things with my credit card – some registers in the airport would give me the options of paying in euros or in dollars. I spent about $8 for 2 bottles of water, and $14 for 2 beers.

After some time we made our way back to our luggage. Steve slept on my lap for a good portion of the layover; though I was tired, I couldn’t fall asleep. Eventually, it was time to board our second plane: this is when I learned that Nigerians have no concept of a line (or a queue, as they call it). Once the parents with small children and the elderly were permitted to board the plane there was an onslaught of people pushing forward to hand over their boarding passes – like we all didn’t have assigned seats, like we all weren’t going to the same place. But I digress.

Movies on this flight were free: so I scrolled through and found “Joy,” I settled in to watch and within minutes my eyelids grew heavy….

They fed us several times on this flight: Snack. Dinner. Dessert. Breakfast. I thought it was interesting how the flight attendants described the Dessert foods. The options were either a cinnamon bun or quiche: Some attendants would simply say “Sweet or savory?” Another offered, “Cinnamon stick or cheese pie?” – That was my favorite.


When we were about an hour out from our destination, an announcement comes over the PA system, “in order to comply with….” Nigerian something something…. Basically, the attendants then walked through the cabin of the airplane and sprayed something into the air… idk what it was supposed to do or kill; I was just glad that it smelled nice.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

26 Useful Life Lessons

I was talking to some of my 'big sisters' about lessons I've learned being a young adult. Things that may seem like common sense to some people, but may have never crossed someone else's mind. Many times it's about the environment we grew up in (like your parents may have handled certain things, and you never had to think about them). But, here are 26 lessons from a 26-year-old - some of them I've experienced in my own life, and some I've learned through friends:
  1. There's an air filter in your apartment, and you should change it regularly (every other month of so)
  2. Buy a basic toolkit: handheld drill, hammer, nails, screws
  3. Know where the basic fluids are in your car (like the oil, windshield wiper fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze)
  4. Get your oil changed regularly (every 5k or 3k miles - depending on the mileage on the car), and learn how to at least check it yourself
  5. Don't pay a car dealer to repair your car, ask around and find a local handy man
  6. Car batteries only last about 4-5 years
  7. AutoZone is your friend (buy certain items from them - like light bulbs or windshield wipers - and they will install them for free!)
  8. If your car fails inspection, you have a certain amount of days to fix the issue - so don't panic, and don't feel like you have to pony up the cash right away
  9. Uber's surge prices on NYE are stupid - just take a taxi, it's much cheaper
  10. If you don't like your doctor or you feel like s/he isn't listening to you - GET ANOTHER DOCTOR
  11. Male gynecologists are just as qualified as females - don't be scared
  12. Your birth control should be free, if it's not, ask questions
  13. Be aware that some doctor's visits will require out of pocket payments - and you might even receive 2 bills: one from the doctor's office, the second from the place that handled the lab work (and these bills may come WEEKS after your doctor's appointment, so keep note of when you went to the doctor's and what you had done)
  14. When you pay off a loan, use that same money to make a larger payment towards your next debt; this way you're not asking yourself later, "Where did that 'extra' $300/month go?"
  15. Contribute to the max that your company will match in your 401(k) - it's free money (unless you're flat broke, then handle that situation first)
  16. Don't shop just because someone gave you a coupon
  17. Even if you want quality, discount places can still be your friend (Bob's Discount Furniture, Groupon, Nordstrom Rack)
  18. If your nail cuticles don't grow that fast, get a gel color change, instead of a full gel manicure - you cannot tell the difference, and you save like $20/visit and still look cute
  19. Eat breakfast at home - sure you look cute grabbing breakfast in the cafe, or in the Starbucks line...but that's like $20/week you could be saving - microwave some oatmeal, boil an egg, microwave some bacon....
  20. Order chicken instead of beef, you'll be just as full, and your wallet will thank you (or heck, go vegetarian while you're at it)
  21. Find out your credit score - you don't want to be shocked by or not understand your own numbers when it comes time to shop for that new car or house - but at the same time, don't obsess about the number
  22. Save for a rainy day - because that day will come
  23. Ask your parents for your birth certificate, passport, savings bonds, and your immunization record/card when you move out
  24. Always carry cash - you just never know
  25. Your spare key should probably be with someone who lives near you - remember this when you move
  26. Your resume should currently be up to date - even if you have no intentions of using it any time soon
What's a lesson you'd like to share? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, January 4, 2016

How Did I Do?: 2015's Goals

12/19/15

Around this time last year I started to think about resolutions for the New Year. But I didn’t want just one – I wanted various things I could focus on throughout the entire year. I came up with 6 different goals:

1.       Mind. I wanted to read more and I wanted to finally learn some sign language
2.       Body. I was going to run 4 5ks and get abs.
3.       Soul. I wanted to become a member of McLean Bible Church and become a regular volunteer.
4.       Relationship. I needed to learn to admit – timely – when I became upset or was bothered by something.
5.       Finances. Finish building my emergency fund.
6.       Work. Get that promotion!

I didn’t consider any of these goals a “one and done” – they would take time and they would take a new rhythm.

Mind
                Reading more was tough. Because reading, for pleasure, was a pastime I had not really enjoyed since my college years. Did I want to read fiction or non-fiction? Did it matter? At some point, around mid-2015 I went to the library and checked out 2 books about finance, one was Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover”. I loved the book so much, I went online and ordered a few copies (I intended to share the wealth of knowledge I had gained). And the simple act of being in the library and being surrounded by so many options, I eventually wandered over to one of my favorite sections: mystery. And then I stumbled over into romance. Since then, I’ve enjoyed a few quiet Saturdays inside, with just me and a book. No music. No TV. No boyfriend. No distractions.
                The American Sign Language class…. While at Miss United States 2014 I met an ASL interpreter who was working an event in the host hotel and he owns his own interpretation company. I took this as no coincidence: the trouble has been that his classroom sessions are all in DC. And if you know me, you know that going into the city is not a thrilling event for me – particularly on a week day. So I’ve been putting it off and putting it off. Until I found an Adult Continuing Education program offered by Fairfax County Public Schools. I was able to sign up for a 10-week class starting in April, and this coming January, I will be taking the second level of the course. (Go me! I need to be practicing what I learned 6 months ago! Goodness.)

Body
                Tanya and I ran the Polar Plunge 5k in February – once we were moving, it wasn’t as cold as I thought it was be. We also did a 5k Mud Run in May…then 3 days later, I did a Superhero-themed 5k at my job, with Angela. In June, she and I ran a Wipe Out-themed 5k – Stephen and Joanna were part of the fun, as well. Then Angela and I walked another Freddie Mac 5k in September, and a little over a week later I walked the St Jude 5k in Richmond. If you were counting that was 6 5ks. I think the best part wasn’t that I was active – it was sharing those moments with great people, supporting different causes, and doing a 5k in ways I wouldn’t have thought about.
                I didn’t get abs. Lol.

Soul
                On March 25th I became a member of McLean Bible Church. This was actually Steve’s idea….the funny part? He didn’t become a member until December 9th – but we won’t get into that. Church membership was not something that was ever seriously talked about or discussed in my earlier years. I think my father is still a member of the church we went to in Colonial Heights – and we haven’t lived there since the early 90s. One pastor said going to a church and not becoming a member was like dating someone but never taking that step of commitment – I definitely didn’t want to be that person. Haha! I enjoy knowing that I am a vetted and approved member of the church and that as a member I get to have a say in how the church is run and how funds are spent. It’s a good feeling.
                I started attending Serve DMV – McLean’s weekly service initiative in June. I fell off after a few weeks as I didn’t feel like I had found my niche. But through volunteering there, I became aware of an afterschool program that was in need of some volunteers. I completed the orientation and had my background checked. Now, on Wednesday nights, I help grade school children with their math and reading homework. It’s mentally exhausting somedays. Some days I feel really good when I leave. And some days I hear my mother come out of my mouth: “Do I look like a dictionary?” “No, you tell me – is that the right answer?” “Are you just guessing?”

Relationship
                This one I bombed. Completely. Utter failure.
So much so that it resulted in me having a day, not too long ago, where I just had a “word vomit” session with Steve really late one evening. Why the word vomit? Because I had failed miserably about articulating my feelings, my fears, my concerns, my questions over the past several months. Yes, months – not days or weeks, but months. It’s a problem. One, I think that stems from childhood where my questions and feelings weren’t always embraced with open arms and gratitude. So, as a young woman, I struggle with acknowledging that how I do feel does matter to the man in my life and that the only way those feelings can be acknowledged and accepted is if I speak them into the open.

Finances
                Emergency fund. Done. October 29th. It was a great feeling. It took patience. Which I will admit, I lost for a few months when I *mumbles* stopped contributing to my retirement fund *stops mumbling* so I could get it done just a little faster. But in the end, I accomplished the task I set out to accomplish. And I couldn’t be happier about it!

Work
                So, I didn’t earn a promotion this year. But, I would not state that this goal – unlike #4 – was a complete failure. I did earn what is called a “soft promotion” (people at my company like to make up terms and phrases, so I’m not sure if this is technical HR-speak or not), aka: I got a pay raise. I asked for more responsibility and I got it. The trick was that I got the responsibility, then I worked my butt off not to fall on my face and to ensure that my manager didn’t look crazy for giving me work that I didn’t really have the job title for. I earned it. And it was after I earned it, that I was compensated for it. And while my title is the same as it was in January – my responsibilities are not the same – they have grown; the people I know and interact with, there have been some shifts there too. I grew, I have a larger span of control, and I got more exposure. I’ll count this as a ‘soft’ win.

Overall, I think I did fairly well. I'm thinking about 2016's goals - I've got to keep pressing forward. That blog will be coming shortly.

Did you have any resolutions/goals that you bombed miserably? Or any that you enjoyed accomplishing so much that you plan to "take it to the next level" in 2016? Share them with me, I'd love to hear about them!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Miss Virginia United States 2014 Farewell Speech

I can hardly believe that a year has passed since I was crowned Miss Virginia United States! I have spent this last year promoting my platform, “Volunteerism & Community Involvement”: partnering with organizations like the Grace Oughten Cancer Foundation; Relay For Life; Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Virginia; and, St. Jude’s Hospital (just to name a few).

I must say a special thank you to my coworkers, with whom I had the most fun: delivering toys to children in the metropolitan area during Christmas, building new homes with Habitat for Humanity, and planning an awesome Field Day for the students of JC Nalle Elementary.

Thank you to my wonderful sponsors: to Ginny Betteridge of Rodan Fields for helping my skin look radiant throughout my reign; to Dave McIntosh Photographics for my stunning headshot; The Photography Smiths, LaDexon Photographie, Carrington & Finch Photography, Rick Myers Photography, and AJ Photoz for great photoshoots; and to Melissa Mangrum for my fabulous makeup at nationals.

To my pageant family … Laura Clark & Chris Wilmer: I admire your vision and your passion for this organization. Mariah, you have such determination and strength that most young women your age could only hope to possess; and Jocelyn, thank you for being my sounding board and I wish the best for you and your future hubby.

Most importantly, I want to thank those nearest and dearest to my heart for molding me into the woman who stands before you today. To my Elite sisters – Bridget, Chrissy, and Kiara – pageant week would have not been the same without the three of you in my corner. To Steve, thank you for being the calm in the storm that is my life. To my father – for pushing me to always be my best; Mum, thank you for reminding me that I am always enough; and to my sister, Tanya, thank you for always being my number 1 fan.

What a blessing and honor it has been to serve this great commonwealth. Thank you all of your support and love.


For the last time, I am your Miss Virginia United States (2014)

, Phyllicia Whittingham.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Choosing to Take a Tumbling

So it was decided that for New Years, the boo and I would not stay in the house (as we had last year…and as I had done for my entire life). We were going on a ski trip. Logical question many people ask here is: "Oh, you ski?" …SMH. The answer is no. I hadn’t skied a day in my life – heck, I had to figure out how to spell “skied” (because we all know it looks like sky-ed). Anyways… I don’t ski; I don’t care for winter; I don’t like the cold; and, I only like snow when I’m looking at it from inside, preferably with a cup of some herbal tea in my hand. Don’t judge my life. I was born in the Spring… I live for the time of year where it’s not too cold and it’s not too hot. But, back to this trip: I was going.  I was "kind of" asked, and of course I said sure, because babe was excited and as long as I was with him on NYE, nothing else mattered (right?).

The week leading up to the trip I found myself getting annoyed at the prospect of going to Sranton, PA (the location was based on a nice Groupon deal). My friends who had been skiing all tried to school me on the art of skiing. “Just wear the right clothes,” they said, “You won’t even feel the cold,” they said. The right clothes? Serious eye roll – that meant BUYING the right clothes. Ain’t nobody got money for that! (Don’t know you that Christmas just passed?) And these would be clothes I wouldn't wear again. Waterproof pants, snow boots, winter hat (I don't like winter hats), thermal socks…the list only seemed to grow by the day. I was not happy. The day before we were to hit the road, I carried my butt to Marshalls and TJ Maxx – of course they were picked through of their winter wear selection. (I did manage to pick up some thermal tights in my size, though.) So I hung my head and walked into Sports Authority – the winter angels blessed my life: a brand of women’s clothing was 50% off. I grabbed my nice fitting pair of puffy waterproof, insulated snow pants… (they even had a lining that provided an ankle cuff to prevent snow from coming in my socks). I bought  feet warmers and cute earmuffs while I was at it. I borrowed my sisters North Face and my friend’s gloves, snow-boots, and thermal sock. I was ready.

The funny part? I was the most prepared of the 4 people on this trip! Steve had a jacket that looked like a rain coat. Teese had no waterproof anything, and Fred…his pants were made of the same material as Steve’s jacket. (Luckily there was a rental shop that rented out snow pants and jackets for cheap, nearby.)

I wanted to take lessons at the slope, but they only did the class every two hours. We would have cut it too close for the 10am class, and the 12pm class was too late, as our morning pass only gave us til 1pm. So, I had little choice but to wing it…. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly ‘take flight’ gracefully. First you have to conquer the obstacle of getting down the flight of stairs that leads from the rental hut to the snow… not fun in ski boots. Then the magical art of clipping the boots into the skis (my skis were sized incorrectly – so back up the stairs I go – thankfully up was easier than down – to get my skis re-sized…. Then back down the stairs and into the properly-sized skis… Now about trying to maneuver to the ski lift: Steve was right in that, because I had ice skated before, moving on the flat snow in the skis wasn’t too terrible.

To get onto the lift you had to get in line and then go down a very, very short slop to where the attendant was waiting to help you into the lift. I didn’t know how to stop, however, so that meant the attendant had to catch me and then help me sit down. (What a sight that was.) Then the fear of getting off the lift… and if you aren’t ready, the lift kind of gives you a nudge (a firm nudge) to get you going. Once you gather yourself back together you’re left staring down at this hill. …and wondering how in the world you are going to make it from point A (the top) to point B (the bottom). After stalling for long enough, you decide to push off. And you’re moving, fast…too fast, so you move your body forward or backward in an effort to slow down (or something), and you only seem to go faster, until you’re falling -- tumbling. I look up from the snow and I’ve managed to lose both of my ski sticks, and one of my skis. (I neglected to put my hands through the loop of my ski sticks – so that was totally my bad.) Getting these items back was a chore. That requires you to sort of climb back up the mountain (on hands and knees): but remember you have these 5 foot skis on your feet – or in my case, foot. And picking up said foot, and placing it firmly any where is near impossible. So you’re there… hoping someone will fall next to one of your ski sticks so they can toss it to you…or something. The snow angels were looking out and some girl was able to hand me my sticks and I was able to pull myself up the foot and a half distance between myself and my ski, in order to reattach it to my boot. I got up (I’m making that sound a lot simpler than it really was), and started the journey down the hill again...

Except I didn't get far before that “I’m going too fast and I don’t know what I’m doing” feeling overwhelmed me again. And there I was, again, tumbling back into the snow.

So, then I realized that trip from point A to point B, became a multiple stop trip. I was tired, breathing heavy – and dare I say, I had probably broken a sweat. (Yes, I said it. Sweat: in the 20-degree weather.) So, after taking a breather, back up the lift I went: sliding into the European man, who patiently helped me into the lift, again; being nudged off the lift; and, then back I was back to staring down that scary hill.

Long story short, that multiple stop trip was an on-going theme for about 3 cycles. (And let me tell you getting up was way harder than falling down.) On trip 4 I decided to stop being scared. I was going to hold my body straight and not panic. Other people could make it down the hill. Why couldn't I?

What a difference a mindset makes!

I went down…fast…faster….faster ….I focused on not panicking while simultaneously (and oddly) enjoying the rush of cold air on my face….and then gradually, slowly, the incline lessened and I began to slow down…until I finally stopped.

I smiled. I laughed!
I had done it.
I made it all the way to the bottom!

And to think I almost passed up skiing because I hated the cold. I was going to play it safe and just enjoy snow tubing (like I had done back in middle school, at church winter camp). But, ultimately I decided I was being a hypocrite. I ALWAYS talk about how I’ll try anything once; and, if I don’t like it, at least I know I actually don’t like it.

What’s something you’re SO SURE you won’t enjoy, but you haven’t actually given it a fair chance? Do the prep work (buy the right clothes, ask the right questions, seek the right advice), give it a try (if you fall, pick yourself up, collect your skis, laugh at yourself), and then try again (all metaphorically speaking, of course). Sometimes it’s your mindset you have to change (get someone else’s perspective; change your own perspective; think positively). Enjoy the moment: enjoy the ride, the thrill of it all.

I pray this year we each experience the joy of trying something new. Even more, I pray that we are surprised by what we discover – about the ‘something new’ or, even better, that we are surprised by what we discover about ourselves.


Cheers to 2015 and all the adventures that await!



Thursday, July 31, 2014

When "Good Enough" Will Do

So I’ve been neglecting my blog. And as I see some of my HU sisters pick up their blogging efforts – in fields regarding the empowerment of women and finance – I think it’s past time that I get back to writing. The reason I created this blog was to talk about “my journey”: not just in pageants, but in real life. Today, my manager and I had a heart to heart and he said something to me that I thought worth sharing with you all.

I cannot recall his exact words, but he told me that: a success may not be at my level of success, but it can still be success.

What does this mean?

Those who know me best know that I can be very particular…. In short, some may say I am a perfectionist. I like to get things done – correctly, timely, and, usually, I like to go ‘above and beyond’ what I am asked to do. The great thing about this is thatit has worked for meit gets me noticed with management and my peers know they can count on me to carry my weight and help us all look good. I catch the small ‘mistakes’ and I’m good at listening to exactly what someone wants in a deliverable. But, as you might guess, not everything about being a perfectionist is fun. The harsh reality is that as I move forward in my career,deliverables I work on are not always only dependent on me: I will have to rely on others to perform, as well. And though they may perform, they won’t always – or even usually – perform to MY level of expectation. That is frustrating.

It is at frustrating moments like this, that I must remind myself (or pray that I have a manger who is kind enough to gentlyremind me) that I cannot always have things my way. I cannot expect people to do what I would do. I cannot get myself worked up over people who will not do things the way I believeis best. What I can do is be confident that I have done my best and that I have supported my team to the best of my ability. Because even though the deliverable isn’t perfect, it’s “good enough” and sometimes that will just have to do.