When the Doubts Creep In

 

This song speaks to me a lot – read on and you will see why.

I was just at my brother’s wedding in Florida this past weekend.  So many of his friends, many of which I know from his being in grade school and college, said to me that they were impressed at how I did something that most people just talk or think about doing, and don’t actually go through with it, and that is, a major change in life.  While this made me feel good, it doesn’t banish all doubts from my mind.  Sitting there and seeing so many people who seem to have it all together, many younger than me, and making MUCH more money than me.  People able to afford to go on vacation when they want.  And remembering, I used to be one of them.  It does make you question whether some of your choices have been the right ones.  Just because I made such a huge  life decision a few years ago, doesn’t change the questions that even I ask myself sometimes.

When people found out I worked at a veterinary hospital, many assumed I was either a veterinarian or a vet tech.  And even though I am not ashamed of what I do, because I think I’m very good at bridging the gap between animal skills and social skills, I felt like once I told them I was a veterinary receptionist, that was the end of the conversation, or like they didn’t know how to respond to that.  Like I’m not living up to what my schooling would allow me to do.  I got the impression that it didn’t really impress that many people.  But I also found that regarding many of those people, I didn’t really care what they thought. If I had listened to all the naysayers a few years ago, all those who tried to project their fees upon me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  I’d still be at Harvard, still doing the same job I had done for years, maybe learning a little bit more.  But always wondering, “what if?  What if I wasn’t too scared to go out and try something new?”  I had already had those feelings about other decisions, like “what if I hadn’t gone to law school?  What if I had tried to get a career as a writer or in publishing back when I was just out of college?  Why did I think my only choices were lawyer or teacher?”

I made these changes  over the past few years, because I was sick and tired of looking back and wondering “what if?”   I didn’t want to live for many more years and still have all those regrets.

So maybe yes, I’m not using all that schooling that I am STILL paying for (and WILL be FOREVER), but when I talk to people going through the tough decision to euthanize their pet, and I can get them to smile as they reminisce about them, or just help that situation be a smidgen less painful, I feel like right now, I’m doing what i need to be doing.  I don’t want to do it forever, though.  But I do know that right now, my resume will benefit from my being in one place for at least a year.  (I can’t believe I’ve been there for almost 6 months already!)  I’ll figure out my next step. I just have to trust that I will know what’s the right decision for me to make, when the time presents itself.

The good thing about my company is that it does have hospitals all across the country and in six provinces of Canada. And my job  is one that I can “shut off” when I go home for the day.   That gives me time to work on other projects.  My mom brought an article ripped out of a magazine for me to read (she’s a mom, it’s what they do.  Technology is not her thing.)  It was about puppy mills.  Although I already know a lot about them, it still struck me.  Maybe I am not doing all I can do to further my passion.  Maybe I should take some of my God-given talents or skills and use them in other ways than what I currently do.  Find other ways to help out animals, like through writing.

Now, I put this thought into words here on this blog, but I can tell you that in the past, reading about how freelance writers get their jobs, it scared the crap out of me. I might feel like I can write well enough on my blog, but no one is paying me to write here.  And if there is only one thing that I learned from working at the Big Red H, it’s that there is a wealth of information out there and it can be hard to sift through and get to the point where you truly feel like you have exhausted all the resources at your disposal.

When I thought of becoming a writer a few years ago, I remember how I started to subscribe to all of these magazines that taught you how to write.  And then I read through all these books that talked about how to “hone your craft.”  By the time you’re done reading through all of it, it can be pretty damn scary.  You can feel like a total failure before you even get started. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt or feels that way.

And that’s not the only thing that I have doubts about sometimes.  I wonder if I am doing the best by my animals.  One of my cats (my diva, Max) can’t stand Morgan, and with Morgan claiming the bed every night, his affection for her won’t grow.  Callie seems afraid of her a lot but is getting better.  HoneyBun tolerates her but lately not as much.  Thank God for Snuggles, who entertains her and plays with her a lot.   I’m just worried she is not getting enough exercise for her breed, and like I’m not challenging her brain enough.  Cattle dogs/heelers are working dogs and high energy.  I do try to take her on regular walks, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, and then she’s running around in the backyard like a dog with a serious case of ADHD, barking at every single bird she sees, tongue hanging out of her mouth, as she cocks her head up at them.  (I have to admit, she does look like she’s smiling.)

Am I arrogant to think that only I can give them the lives they deserve?  A man came into my hospital last week, and after a few days, he had to euthanize his dog, one that you could see he clearly loved very much.  When he was leaving, he said, “if you know someone with a heeler, let me know.”  And I talked to him about Morgan, wondering if maybe she would be better off with him.  He’s retired.  He has the funds to take care of her (his dog’s stay in our ICU wasn’t cheap.)  He also has a yard, and she wouldn’t be in a crate all day.  Would she be better off? I know she loves me.  And I know how much I love to sleep at night feeling her next to me.  She makes me feel safe.  I know that no one will break into this house without her alerting me to their presence. (Have I mentioned the high crime rate in ABQ on this blog before?)

If I were to give up Morgan to someone else, I think of how guilty I would feel. How I would feel like I was breaking a promise to Morgan.  You see, when I adopted her, I told her she had a home with me.  I’ve always adopted animals with the eye to keeping them for the rest of their lives.  So maybe I just need to spend some more time working with her, challenging her brain, and make sure I spend enough time with each of them.

But I also want to keep up with my own workouts and running. They help me to push the doubts away.  My runs give me some of my best thinking moments.  So then I tell myself, I just need to prioritize differently and ensure I have enough time for everything I want and need to do in a day.  Maybe sleep a little less.  And then I wonder if it’s possible to do all that.  Again, doubts.

But you know what?  Doubts get you nowhere.  They keep you locked in place.  And God knows, I felt locked in one place for so many years.  Trapped by my own insecurities and the need for stability.  Trapped by the fear of failing.

“Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled on.” Really listen to the words of that song.  Because it won’t be easy.  And it won’t be boring.  But you will find out a lot of things about yourself.  And hope that you never stop doing so. 

As always, thanks for reading. Please drop me a comment below if you have ever had doubts that you’ve had to face, and how you did so.  And thank you.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Herd, Snuggles

As you can tell from the title of my post, there is a new family member.  His name is Snuggles, and I think little Osito had a hand in his making his way to me.  Allow me to explain.

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A very sleepy Snuggles.  This usually happens after he and Morgan rough house (I always watch them to make sure no one gets too excited.)  Adorable. 🙂

You know from reading my last post that I lost my little Osito a few weeks ago.  Well, the following day, my friend Elaine’s dog, Annie, was crying and crying at the front window in her house, and wouldn’t stop until Elaine went to see what was amiss.  She looked outside and saw this little brown dog on her front lawn and he was running from one neighbor’s house to another.  A lady was walking by and helped her to catch him.

Upon closer look, Elaine could see that he had some sort of injury to the right side of his face.  His jaw was misaligned, and one of his eyes appeared to be much smaller than the other, or maybe that’s just because it was more sunk into his head than the left side.  So basically, it looked like he suffered a major trauma to that side of his face at one point.  Then she looked down to his feet and saw that his toenails were so long, they had curled under his feet and he was essentially walking on them.  That couldn’t have been comfortable for him.

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Just relaxing in the backyard with Mom

She took him to her vet, located nearby and asked them to see if he had a microchip.  He didn’t.  They suggested she take him to AWD (Animal Welfare Department) but also said that he would likely be put down there.  So she called me and asked if my hospital could do that kind of work that he might need.  We do.  So she brought him down to me, and I had a doc examine him, who surmised that he had had a broken jaw at one point.  However, it wasn’t causing him any pain at this point, you could touch it and he would never cry out.  So clearly, it was an old injury, and one that he had learned to deal with.  I told some of my coworkers that I would take him home that night and see how he did with the herd, and see what I thought to do  in the morning.

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Super drugged up after being neutered and having some teeth removed all in one shot! This pic shows how his jaw is misaligned.  He doesn’t let it stop him from doing anything, and I’m so inspired by him.

Well, you all know where this is leading.  The following morning, I was like “no way in hell am I taking this little guy to a shelter.  I don’t know how i will afford to pay for his care, but he’s staying with me.”

Flash forward to last week.  He has all of his vaccinations, and he IS microchipped. He has a collar with his and my names on it, and my phone number.  He has now been neutered. He had a dental surgery that removed three of his smaller teeth and a canine tooth that was hanging out of his mouth like a snaggle tooth.  This way, when he eats, he doesn’t have a tooth pushing up into the roof of his mouth, since it is so misaligned.

The dental vet thought that he might be 9 to 11 years old.  That’s older than was initially thought, but it makes sense based on his energy level and the grey hair I see under his chin.

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Taking a breather from playing

He has fit into the family quite easily.  Morgan loves to play with him, and he pays no mind to the cats.  He weighs about 12 pounds, so he’s what we call a chi-weenie (part Chihuahua and part mini-Dachsund (or weiner dogs as I like to call them.)

He loves loves loves to be snuggled, as his name suggests.  He doesn’t bark much and has a great demeanor.  Very loving.  When he wants to be picked up, he gets up on his hind legs and rests his front paws on knee.  He loves to sleep on the bed and on one of my living room chairs.  And usually, it’s with all four feet up in the air while he lies on his back.  You can tell by that pose, he’s happy and comfortable where he is.

What’s unusual about this story is that Elaine’s dog, Annie, doesn’t usually whine and cry like she did that day.  She usually barks, if anything, at people passing by.

Also, his temperment is so much like Osito’s, I definitely think that he was a gift she sent to me. He loves to sleep under the covers just like she did.  He is perfectly content to just sit beside me on the chair while I’m reading or doing some transcription. And the fact that he is another senior makes me love him all the more.

I may not have been planning on getting another animal so soon, but I’m glad he found me.  Thank you, Baby O, and Annie for being the conduit that day and getting your mom involved. ❤  Osito can never be replaced, but I’m finding a different part of my heart for this little one to occupy.

Have a great day everyone!!  And as always, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP, Little Baby O

It’s been a while since I’ve written, sorry about that.  I’ve moved to a new apartment that has a yard, and I’ve had a lot of transcription work to do in my free time, so there hasn’t ‘been much time to write. 17436096_10154809315754930_3801261957445801897_o

Also, as the title of my post shows, I lost my little Osito.  Last week, it was a “shit show” as we call it sometimes at work – three euthanasias all pretty much at the same time.  My hospital only has two visiting rooms, set up to look like a living room of sorts, where parents can say a final goodbye to their loved furballs.  Then I came home.  I went outside with Morgan for a few minutes, to the back yard, as I always do.  When I came in, I said aloud, “Okay, where’s little Osito?”  It’s normal for her to sometimes sleep through my initial entrance, but usually she wakes up by the time Morgan and I come back in.  I looked at all of her various beds spread out around the kitchen and the bedroom and didn’t see her, which started to get me worried.  I then went over to her favorite bed area, and that’s when I saw her.  She was clearly dead.

Words can’t describe very well how I felt.  This little girl has been a major love in my life for the past four years.  I adopted her when she was 12, thinking I might have only 2 years or so left with her, and then I learned chihuahuas can live til about 18 or 20, sometimes.  I hoped she would be one of those rare exceptions and make it to 20, or hey, even live forever.  One can dream, right?  She was turning 16 this year.

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outside my first apartment in Albuquerque.  

During the past few weeks, I had noticed she was squatting a lot more and it seemed like not much urine was coming out.  I also noticed she was having less control of her bladder.  Whereas before she might have tried to wake me up at night to put her down from the bed onto her pee pads, it seemed like she was just peeing in her sleep, and then I’d wake up to find both of us lying in it.  Yep, eew.  Not good.

So I  took her to my vet and she diagnosed a urinary tract infection, and did some blood work.  Her kidney numbers were a bit elevated, and so were her white blood cell counts.  I expected the higher level of white blood cells, since her body was fighting an infection.  But we weren’t sure if the kidney disease was recent, or something that had been underlying for a while.  My vet prescribed Clavamox, an antibiotic that I could give in liquid form, since her teeth are pretty much, well, she had one.  I think.

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one of her favorite activities: sleeping!

Osito normally loved her sleep, but I’d been noticing lately that she seemed to sleep even more.  I ascribed some of it to her lack of appetite from the antibiotics.  So we tried to give her an appetite stimulant.  It was only 1/4 of what was already a very small tablet, but when your dog has basically no teeth, it can be hard for her to “gum” a pill pocket and get the pill that way, and if i just put it into her food, she would lick around it.

So I started giving her Royal Canin’s Recovery food on Friday night, heated up.  She seemed to really like it, and it probably helped that she hadn’t had a pill in about 24 hours.  My vet also gave me Covenia, which I could give to Osito in injection form, having learned how to do Sub Q stuff when I was an animal caregiver at Best Friends.  That would eliminate the need for oral meds, or so we hoped.

Earlier last week, I had taken Morgan for  a walk to one of the Open Spaces that is located close to the Rio Grande.  I carried Osito in my “Outward Hound” pouch and she seemed to enjoy the walk.  Well, until the wind kicked up, and it started to drizzle a bit, and then I was partly running back toward the car, so she was jostled around a bit.

Last weekend, on Saturday, we had a really sunny day.  So I took her along with me and Morgan on our walk, again in her carry pouch.  She had so much sun on her face, which I know she always loved.  She was content to be carried around.  I remember wondering how many other walks like this I would be able to have with her.  Maybe a part of me suspected what was coming.

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At Lone Rock Beach.  I think it was the first time she had ever felt sand between her little toes.

The next morning, she ate ravenously from the heated up food, and then she fell asleep on my lap, her belly full with good food.  I’ve always loved those moments, looking down at her and knowing she trusts me enough to allow herself to be at her most vulnerable around me.   One of the best feelings I’ve been fortunate to have in my life is to look around the room, see all of my animals with one glance, and know that they feel safe and content.  Maybe that’s how human parents feel.  I’ll never know for sure, but for  me, it’s enough.   Some of us just weren’t meant to be parents to humans, only pets.

I just always wish I had been able to be with her at the end.  To hold her and kiss her and let her know how much she was loved, and still is.  But some suspect that she may have waited for me to not be around, and spared me that pain. All I know is, it still hurt.  And does now.

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Moments like this would make me melt.  Seeing her and Bonkers together.  They’re together again, just now in heaven. 

I ran Osito back to the hospital where I work, and she will be privately cremated, which means I will have her ashes back shortly.  I picked out an urn that is in the shape of a heart,  and have paid to have her paws impressed into clay.   The words “My Little Baby O” will also be on that plaque.

Osito will join Bonkers and Sebastian, Chloe, and my paw print of Daisy (my foster dog from Best Friends), and my picture of Clara in their place of honor.  (Clara was buried out behind the house I used to share with my now ex-husband.  My parakeet was also buried out back.)  They are always close by me that way, physically, and in spirit. I don’t think your animals ever leave you, honestly.  For Osito, I know that is especially true, as I will explain in my next post.

Osito, before you, I never understood why people could love little dogs like they do.  Now, I totally get it.  You were the main inspiration behind my leaving my job in Harvard to work with animals.  You changed my life.

You are missed, more than you could ever know.  I love you, baby girl.

 

 

Hopes. Tears. Stronger.

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The Rio Grande at sunset

I hope that each of you out there has a place that they can go to that acts as an aid to help you breathe more deeply and feel more settled.  For me, that is the bosque (woods) near Tingley Beach in Albuquerque.  It’s right along the Rio Grande River.  Whenever I go there, there is a sense of the familiar, which is comforting, but also there’s always something new that I see or observe, and that’s also comforting in its own way.  Usually, I’m there with Morgan, but occasionally, it’s just me.  I love to hear the sounds of the birds calling to one another, or the wind in the trees above me.  On very windy days, I get to see the tumbleweeds blow across the trail in front of me.  And it’s on those days that there seems to be a certain urgency in the air, and I can see it in Morgan’s face when she walks in front of me.  She occasionally looks back to make sure I’m still there with her and I always assure her that yes, Mommy’s right here.

I’m feeling something here in Albuquerque that I haven’t felt in a long time.  I’m not sure i can put the right word(s) to it, but I’ll try.  I feel more like myself.  Running in the woods, it reminds me of how I used to run along the shores of the Charles River in Boston, and how I would run through the trails of the trees and relish the feel of the packed earth below my feet, watching the flow of the water so close to me.  I remember the instant boost of energy I used to feel when I would see the crew teams out practicing on the river, and I would think, “if they can keep going, then so can I.”   Here, along the Rio Grande, there are no such crew teams, but there is the current of the river, and the call of birds flying overhead, and on the river’s surface.  It’s a different boost of energy that I get.  The same, but yet different.

I see runners in front of and behind me, and feel like I’m slowly finding my tribe again.  I’ll never be at the same speed I used to, but that’s no longer the most important thing to me.  Now it’s the ability to get out there, and run for myself, and for my dog, Morgan, who is my usual running partner these days.  We get to share in the beauty of being outdoors, and getting exercise, and running the “crazy” out of ourselves.  I’ve realized she is a great companion to me.  Just like her mom, she’s always wanting to get out there and explore, and I talk with her about our adventures that we go on every day.  I feel less scared to explore things when I’m with her.  I know she has my back, just as I do, hers.

I’ve met a friend in town who I feel like I can talk to easily, as if we’ve known each other for years.  I can’t tell you how much that means to me after having felt unsettled for the past 16 months or so.  Knowing I was meeting people that I sometimes connected really well with, but just feeling like I hadn’t found my “place” yet that I was searching for.   No one will ever replace my best friend Sarita back in Boston, of course (she’s my little sis that I never had), but it feels really good to connect with a kindred spirit again.  Someone who just seems to “get” you.  Someone who accepts you for what you are and bring to the table.

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Sitting near one of the duck ponds at Tingley Beach, which is across the street from a beautiful golf course.  I just thought to myself, “yeah, this is where I need to be in my life right now.”

My job is challenging in some ways, but I feel like I’m in the right place for myself to be right now.  It’s challenging to see animals suffering, and also the suffering of their parents, whether it be for financial reasons, or just health problems that can’t be solved.  As I sit in the visiting room with folks preparing to say their final goodbyes to their loved furry ones, I’m often told “I don’t know how you folks do this every day.”  Truth be told, I don’t know either.  I just know that if there is a way that I can try to ease the pain of those moments for someone, I will do my best.  It’s hard to know when someone might appreciate a hug, or when you should ask them a question to make them smile or remember  a happier time in their pet’s life, but I do my best.  And more than one has made me shed a tear.  Last week was the hardest.  Several DOAs, and some very tough euthanasias.  It was a Sunday shift that I thought would never end.  Thankfully, it finally did.  Maybe I won’t end up becoming a vet tech after all.  I’m not sure.  I just know I’m good with people and with animals, and for right now, I’m not second guessing what it is I’m doing with my life.  If other people think I’m wasting my potential, so be it.  I will decide what is right for me, not someone else.

My life here is a humble existence, and a simple one.  I have a small apartment, but a lot of furry love surrounds me every day.  As I sit and type this, Callie sits behind me on the chair, purring away.  I look at the others, and see them all sleeping soundly away and that makes me feel at peace.  I’m able to provide the basic necessities for all of us, and that’s good for me.  I don’t need a lot to feel happy, or at least content.

At times, I do wish I had someone to share my life with again.  If you’re on facebook, you know how it likes to show you “memories” of posts from the past.  I was reminded yesterday that it had been about three years since I last spoke to my ex-boyfriend, six months after he had unexpectedly and very suddenly broken up with me on a trans-atlantic phone call from the Middle East.  That call brought some much needed closure to me, but I now realize it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way about someone, and part of me wonders if I ever will again.  Am I broken if I don’t feel that way again?  Am I just hiding from the potential of being judged by someone, and found lacking?  Is this a mode of self-protection, or is it fear holding me back from growing in that way again?  I’m not sure, honestly.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.

This is the post I wrote about that relationship, three years ago.  I just read it over to myself, and I’m glad to say that yes, I’m still getting a little bit stronger every day.  Learning about myself and realizing I may never achieve all my goals and dreams, but the journey really is in the time spent figuring them out.  It’s the growing that takes place along that path, that journey.  Because I know myself well enough now to know that whenever I achieve one dream, I’ll always be looking for another dream to latch onto.   Three years ago, I thought once I figured out a dream to chase, I had to do it NOW, NOW, NOW, and my friend Dan knows how often I used to obsess about and change my dreams on an almost day to day basis.  (That he is still friends with me now shows me that I have been blessed since I decided to go on life on my own, leaving what everyone has been taught should be their dream:  the marriage, the house, the good paying job, etc.)

If I were to die tomorrow, would I feel like some things were unfinished?  Yes.  Definitely.  But would I be able to die more satisfied, knowing that I had finally started to open up to my fears and hopes,  and acknowledge that I’ve been truer to myself in the past seven years or so, than I ever was before then, in my life.  Life isn’t about being comfortable.  For me, it’s about growing, and learning, and loving.

I’m not sure where this post came from, honestly, but it’s one that I feel has been trying to make its way out of me over the past few days.  I’m not sure I’ve even expressed all my thoughts the way that I really want to, but I now know it’s better to have tried than not to have tried at all.

Thanks for reading. And I’ll close with the video that I included in my post three years ago:  A Little Bit Stronger, by Sara Evans.  Still true, today.

 

Catching Up (READ: I’m Alive!!)

I’m so sorry it has been so long between posts.  I have started a few posts over the past few weeks but didn’t get around to finishing them.  Why, you ask?

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Well, I think I mentioned this before.  I am doing some transcription work in my own time, and I’m loving it.  I was able to transcribe 3 1/2 days of a trial, and now am transcribing what can be called pre-trial interviews.  I tend to equate them in my mind with what I used to do as a lawyer – depositions! But it’s not lawyers asking the questions, but investigators.  We had investigators with my law firm too, way back in the days.  It’s interesting to me because I also get to learn about different areas of the law that I might not have known before, or on which I had the barest smidgen of knowledge.

NEWS FLASH!!!!  All of this extra work allowed me to make a payment of $1200 to my credit card debt!! Yes!!! A ZERO balance with Capital One WILL be mine by April if not sooner.  I have three paychecks coming in March, and one will be automatically put toward my debt.  That should pay off the balance or pretty damn close to it. And i have been working on my taxes.  Looks like I’m getting a refund this year, woohoo!!!!  And YES, it will go toward my debt!! I’m beginning to think I might even be able to pay off my two credit cards this year!

My friend, Elaine, said I should treat myself to something with my AZ refund.  If I do use it for anything other than debt, it will be for some dog obedience classes for Morgan.  I’d like to get her to be more socialized around other dogs.  Right now, when she sees another one, she freaks out and goes berserk.  Not with Baby O, though.  With her, she is very gentle. I’ve also seen her try to groom HoneyBun a few times, and the Bunster puts up with it (mostly), so it warms my heart to see it.

I did break down and buy an actual chair for my apartment.  I had been using a loveseat folding kind of chair and finally it just got to me how unstable it was.  So I went and looked at several thrift stores before finally realizing that they have a Habitat for Humanity Restore near me, and that’s when I picked up this baby for $33!  Each animal has taken a turn on it (some more than once), so as you can see it’s a big hit.  I I also needed to feel a bit of permanence in my home life, but I wanted something that could be easily moved, come April. And it fits in my car and has wheels!  And fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), Morgan can fit on my lap on it, so now she has this crazy idea that she is a lap dog! (Sigh.)

the new chair as occupied by Morgan!

the new chair as occupied by Morgan!

I started RUNNING again last week!  I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and took Morgan with me, and she did really well.  Yep, she’s my new running partner.  I love her to death, and we both love running in the Bosque (that’s woods for everyone else not in New Mexico.)  She always seems calmer among the trees,  and I know that area has the same effect on me.  So I try to get us over there as often as I can.

I’m going to be volunteering with RoadRunner Food Bank this Wednesday in their warehouse.  I’ve volunteered at a food bank back in the Boston area and really liked the time and work I did while there.  Definitely felt like I was being productive.  And here in Albuquerque, there is a large homeless population, and I’m sure, many who are struggling to get by.  So I’ll see how it goes when I am there, and if I like it, I’ll plan on going back!

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I sent in an application to volunteer with the city animal shelter but their training sessions are all while I am at work.  (My “weekend” consists of Wednesday and Thursday.)  So I need to reach out to the coordinator and explain my schedule and see if I can maybe meet with her at a different time.  Or find a different shelter with which to work.

I don’t want to get too political here on this blog, but I know that a lot of people have been upset with the several executive orders that have been signed recently.  I’m scared of what is happening in this country and while I wasn’t alive back then, I have read a lot about the Holocaust.  I’m definitely a liberal, so the idea of discriminating against someone just because of their religion or the way their name sounds, just makes me sick.   So I did apply to be a volunteer at the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum.  They even have a library! So I need to follow up on that application and see how I can be of use.  I don’t have a lot of money to donate but what I do have is my time, and skills, so that’s what I will give.

the chair, obviously a big hit, but it's getting kind of crowded!!

the chair, obviously a big hit, but it’s getting kind of crowded!!

The news has gotten so depressing to me lately, that, honestly, I hardly turn on my TV anymore.   Instead, I’m loving so many of the SNL skits I see on YouTube, and have been listening to a fair number of financial podcasts such as those that are linked on the right side of my blog.  I know I can’t make change on a large scale but I can look out for myself and try to help others in small ways.  That’s my way of resisting!! And I want to use my writing skills and/or research to help others.

Oh, and one more thing!! The book I worked on for so long with my author has been published!!!!! It is called Presidents’ Secrets:  The  Use and Abuse of Hidden Power, by Mary Graham.  I’m so proud of the work I did on this, and for having been able to work with such a wonderful woman for so many years.  She was incredibly gracious to me in her acknowledgements.  It is such a gratifying feeling to see something that you worked so hard on, come to fruition.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been working on.  What have you been up to lately?  Please drop me a line and let me know! And as always, thanks for reading!

 

Living on a Shoestring (Read: My Budget), But (Mostly) Feeling Abundant

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Taken at Kit Carson Park in Albuquerque.  I loved the way the stormy sky combined with the leave-less cottonwood trees to create an otherworldly feeling.

I have been meaning to blog for the last few days; I’ve been feeling inspired to write.  But I’ve also been extremely motivated to work on a side project, doing legal transcription.  There is a time deadline to it, and it’s something that I find quite interesting, so most of my free time has gone to that in the last week and a half.  Listening to lawyers talk, well, it reminds me why I walked away from that career field, and I’m SO GLAD I did, even though it was a choice that has stuck around with me for my financial life ever since.  I used to beat myself up over that and the financial choices I made, but now I just try to move forward.

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Little Baby O, or Osito as I call her.  She melts my heart with her sweet disposition every day, and just look at that cute little face! 🙂 

I promised you a post on my budget, and I think I’ve got my new payroll stuff calculated pretty well. I’ve received a few paychecks and have determined that I am losing about 18% of my pay to taxes.  (Pisses me off that I make so little and pay such a percentage while people like Trump make billions and then pay nothing, but that’s a topic I won’t go further on in this post because I’ll just end up jumping up and down on my soapbox.)

I have figured out what my fixed expenses are every month, so I’ll write those down first.  Some things, like my renter’s and car insurance, I pay on a semi-annual and annual basis, so the amounts you see below are what I need to save every month (and have taken out of my paycheck via direct deposit) to have that payment ready.

  • Auto loan: $141.42 (let’s call it $142)
  • Rent (includes utilities): $525
  • Tower Garden (only until April 2017, unless paid off earlier): $81.54 (or $82)
  • Cell phone (unlimited data): $95.45 (or $96)
  • Car Insurance: $58.33 (let’s call it $60)
  • Amazon Prime: $8.25
  • Renter’s Insurance: $17.33 (let’s call it $18)
  • Citibank Credit Card: $58 (minimum payment)
  • CapitalOne Credit Card: $59 (minimum payment)
  • Private LAL loan: $167.11 (let’s talk about that a little more below)

The total of all of these comes out to, with some of the figures rounded as noted above: $1215.36.

Some of these amounts might seem scarily high for someone in my income bracket, but here are a few details.  The LAL loan has been paid way in advance, and I’m talking years ahead of schedule from when I was making a lot more $ in Boston and paid off several thousand of it before I decided I was going to make a crazy life change and move to the southwest.  So there is flexibility with that loan.  I could literally call up every month for the next four to five years and tell them to not make the automatic withdrawal payment, and I would not be in default.  However, interest would accrue and accrue and accrue, so I am not doing that.  I am, however, not paying the full $167.11.  Instead, every two weeks, when I get paid, I pay $20 on the loan.  It’s enough to cover the interest and make a small payment of about $15 in principal every month.  The total amount on that loan is still over $10K so it’s further down my debt snowball than the credit cards.

When I take out the $167.11 number and add in $40, that makes my fixed expenses a little less scary.  The number is $1088.25.  Now I can eat, and so can my pets! (Of course, if you have read my blog for a while, you already know I will go hungry first before they will.) 

You might also think my cell phone bill is high.  It is, but I have unlimited data through T-mobile and the way I access the internet at home is by using my phone as a mobile hot spot.  I don’t have a wifi provider, router, etc.

So what’s my income?  Well, I usually get about 37-38 hours per week, so I will budget myself based on what I would make per paycheck if I only worked 37 hours.  I will have $45.01 taken out, pre-tax , of every paycheck for my health, dental, and vision insurance through work.  Yes, I realize that seems incredibly low for all of them, but it’s a high deductible plan.  The deductible is $4500.  The choices at work were not great – even the lowest deductible plan of $1850 was going to cost me $152 per paycheck, and I definitely couldn’t afford that.  I usually only go to the doctor anyway for preventive care and for routine things like eye exams, dental cleanings, and to get my prescriptions rewritten.

Oh yeah, my income.  If I average myself out to 37 hours per week, I have a salary of $23,088 before taxes. We get paid every two weeks, so I budget based on two paychecks per month.  (Yes, there are two months of each year where I then get an extra paycheck.  It will go straight to debt and/or savings when I get to that point.)  I have decided to put 3% of each paycheck into the 401(k) they have at work which is through Prudential.  That comes out to about $53.20/month going into the 401(k).  After subtracting my before-tax benefits, I am at about $1632.70.  Then I pay taxes of 18% or  $293.87.  Also, I am paying $2.80 per each paycheck for long term disability.  I have calculated my take home pay to be roughly  $1,338.87. 

I elected to not get coverage for short term disability because it was going to cost me at least $15/paycheck. I definitely had to make some tough choices when it came time to enroll in benefits, which I am happy to say I am now ELIGIBLE for!

I plan on continuing to work out, and will be starting to run again.  I’ve been getting the bug to do so, outside.  Morgan and I walk on what they call the Bosque Trail and yesterday I saw lots of runners out there, and I really wanted to join them.  So, I’m going to.  Why just wish or dream when you can DO? [update since I started writing this post, I did it yesterday!! It felt freaking awesome even though I’m slow as molasses fighting gravity to go uphill.]

So, let’s do the math.  $1,338.87 minus $1,088.25 leaves me with $250.62 to feed myself, my pets, and put gas in my car.   Luckily, gas here is cheap, and there is a lot to do for free. It’s part of why I moved to a city again, to take advantage of what it has to offer.  Also, I tend to eat pretty cheaply and hardly ever eat out.  And my pets, I know where to get the best deals for their food and litter, toys, etc.   I’ve been budgeting about $55 per month for gas, and so far I’m doing it.

Those of you who know about Dave Ramsey know that he preaches that we shouldn’t save for retirement until we are out of Baby Step 2 (paying off debt.) Well, here’s the thing.  I’m 44.  I can’t wait until I get it all paid off.  I need to be saving NOW.   If there is one thing I know, it’s that when you save for retirement, having more time can make a huge difference. I hear the stories about how little many people have saved by my age, and I’m glad to say I’m ahead of the game at least in that respect.   But I can’t just forget about it, and rely only what I saved when I had a higher income.  I don’t have kids, so there is no one to look to, to take care of me when I get older.  I need to worry about me.

Looking at these numbers, one might feel a bit constrained, and you might wonder just how I can feel abundant in the face of it.   The way I’m feeling abundant about things is by reminding myself that I am following my heart and refusing to live by what others think I should do.  One of my current coworkers thinks I’m insane to have left a good paying job at Harvard, and a small bit of me occasionally agrees with her.

But, then I think of how I’ve grown over these past 17 months or so.  I’ve faced my fears in a way that a lot of people wouldn’t.  I drove cross country all by myself with just my car, and my pets.  I found an RV for us to live in and a place to put it.  When that town didn’t work out, I found another place for us and was able to sell the RV for almost the same amount as my loan on it.  When I knew that Lake Powell wasn’t for me, long term, I moved myself to Albuquerque, and then faced the scariest thing I’ve ever done. (Well, besides leaving my marriage.)  I moved without already having a certain job waiting in the wings.  Those of you who know my fear (actually, more like a phobia) of being homeless,  know how much anxiety and stress that caused me.  A LOT.

I’ve realized what are the actual necessities that I have in my life and for the most part, what are wants.  I need a car to get me back and forth to work.  I need a roof over my head and that of my animals.  Nothing makes me feel more accomplished than being able to provide that for them.  Seeing all of them dozing, knowing even in their subconscious, that they are safe and warm, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.  Yes, the place where we are now is temporary, but I’m working on figuring out what neighborhood(s) would be better suited for us and in which my budget will work.  (And I think I might have found one!)  And having the transcription work, even if this is the one and only time I get it, will allow me to chunk away at those credit cards.  I need to take everything from that project and put it on the credit cards because eventually my federal loans will have to be repaid again (I’m on deferment because of my in-school status.)

I just finished reading a book titled Money, a Memoir, by Liz Perle.  In it, she talks about the emotions that women attach to money, how what we’ve seen as money habits of our parents as children affects us in how we deal with money in our own lives, how women can fight an inner battle between wanting to be independent and wanting to be taken care of, at the same time.  It made me think of the time when I was married.  My ex-husband made good money and my salary (looking back) was actually pretty decent.  I was able to save 14% of my salary into a 403(b) at one point. Life was definitely more comfortable, financially speaking, but I didn’t feel like I was truly alive. Today, I do.  It’s not always comfortable, and not always a happy feeling, but I feel like I am being more true to myself, and that is something that money can’t buy.

And with that, I’ll end this post which I’ve wanted to publish for several days now!  How do you feel about your budget?  Do you feel like you’re living a life of scarcity, or a life of abundance, or do you feel like you are somewhere in between? 

Thank you, as always, for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinching Pennies Until They Scream, or at Least “Squeak”

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Image courtesy of pixabay.com

Many of  you know that I left behind a very good paying job in the Boston area when I moved to the southwest to chase my simple dreams. I had a pension into which my employer put 10% of my income, in addition to my 403(b), and my rent was definitely lower than it could have been for the area I was in, and the building. (Some people might think $1100/month for a studio is a lot, but then again, they didn’t see my studio or have the awesome guys living and working in the building who took care of everything, or the reservoir out back.)

Some days, I look back and think “what was I thinking?” when it comes to how I spent my money. What seemed so important  at the time, whatever it was I thought I needed (I now know it was, I wanted) – I can’t even remember what most of it was. I made more than three times what I make now. Ok, wait a minute. I need to retype that to really let it sink in. I made more than three times what I make now.

So, how am I surviving?! Well, I am really paying attention to where my money goes, and where it doesn’t. I’m not doing the envelope system as Dave Ramsey advocates, because, to be honest, I don’t feel comfortable carrying a lot of cash on me in a city that definitely has its crime problems, even in the good areas. I do, however, have a very small pink notebook that I carry in my purse. On two of its pages, I have written down what my budget is for each category, and then I subtract from it when I have spent money in a particular category. This is the first month I have been doing it this way, so we shall see if what I have predicted or budgeted for each category is actually realistic or not.

I’ve also utilized a few apps and websites to help me whittle down even pennies. Some of you may have heard of some of these, but if not, you should definitely check them out! By the way, some of the links I have mentioned below are referral links – please note, I am not getting paid by any of these companies to discuss them or include their links. I’m just simply telling you my opinion of them, and I will be adding referral links to my page from time to time as I find what I consider good ways to or make a few extra pennies.

Ebates – I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post, but it’s worth mentioning again.  You can either use the app on your phone, or add it as an extension to your browser (I use chrome) and if you are shopping for things online, and go through ebates first, you get cash back. The percentage of cash back differs from store to store, and you get paid quarterly as long as your cash back balance is at least $5.01. Payment is made either by paper check or paypal if  you have an account. It’s like finding extra money somewhere on the ground or in a coat pocket you had forgotten about. It’s your money you are spending – why not try to get some of it back if you can? And yes, this is my referral link.

Ibotta – this is a FREE app that allows you to search for items that have rebates on them at a large variety of stores! Places like Walgreens, Walmart, Sprouts, Smith’s grocery store, you name it. You “unlock” a rebate and then take a picture of the UPC code, as well as your receipt. You can get $10 just by signing up, and then when you hit $20, you can withdraw your cash, either via paypal or to redeem gift cards for places such as Amazon. It’s not that much work, and honestly, you’re already spending the money, so why not snap a few pictures and get yourself some money back in the process? Please check out my referral link and use referral code: ergflfx !  You will get $10 just for signing up, and I will get $5!

Receipt Hog – this is another FREE app that has you take pictures of your receipts that are no more than two weeks old.  You accumulate points based on the amount of the receipt and if you keep meeting targets (such as uploading receipts every week, no matter how small the dollar amount), you get more “pulls” on their “slot machine.” Pulls on the slot machine can get you actual $ or as has been the case for me, more coins. Once you reach a certain amount of coins, I believe it’s 1,000, you can redeem for gift cards for places like Amazon. For me, I buy some of my pet’s food or other things on Amazon, so it’s like getting a discount coupon down the line to save me money. Available for Androids and iPhones!

Grocery store apps for digital coupons and fuel rewards. There is a grocery store in ABQ called Smith’s, which is what I consider something close to Safeway, like we had in Page.  In addition to viewing their weekly ad, so I can see what’s on sale, I can also download coupons to have sent to my rewards card, so not actual physical cutting of coupons, yay!  Then, if you use your rewards card at the fuel pump, you save $.03 for every gallon, just in every day use. But once you have earned 100 points with your reward card, you save $.10 per gallon of gas! However, one way to quickly rack up points without spending $100 is to fill out the survey that is mentioned on your grocery store receipt. That gets you 50 points, and you can do it once a week. So, you could spend $50 on groceries, and then fill out the survey and get 100 points in one week, thus saving yourself $.10 per gallon.  I have a smaller car than most (a Mazda2) but think about the savings, added up over time, if you were to have a big SUV or truck!

Answering surveys online and on my phone. For Androids, there is an app called Surveys on the Go. It is also available via iTunes. The surveys only pay about $.50 or $1 each, but they also only take about 1-2 minutes, if that. I’m up to $4.75, and once I get to $10, I can withdraw my cash. Every little bit will then go to my credit card balance. We all pull out our phones to kill time, sometimes, such as at the grocery store. I figure, why not earn money at the same time? I also do surveys through SurveySavvy (which also pays you monthly to install their software on your devices such as tablets or phones so that they can observe your online behavior for market research.) I’ve downloaded it onto my phone, and after a few initial snafus (it seemed to be slowing down my phone, but a phone update seemed to cure that problem), it seems to not have any effect on the speed of my phone.  There is also another website called Opinion Square, which rewards you in points for completing surveys, which can then be redeemed for gift cards, for again, places like Amazon!  SurveySavvy has been having some problems lately with their site, so for the current time, I’m actually liking Opinion Square better. If you want to join it, drop me a line or comment below and I can email you from Opinion Square so we both benefit!

I’ve signed up to be a mystery shopper via the Secret Shopper app. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but will let you know what I think of it. It will allow me to get out into the world and earn a small bit of cash at the same time. I know someone whose husband did it a lot at one point back in the northeast, and they could at least enjoy a family night out to dinner that cost them very little if nothing.

Finally, I received a flyer in the mail the other day about donating plasma. As a new donor, you make $50 each time for the first 5 times you donate. After that, the amount goes down based on how much you donate (being vertically challenged, I’m at the lower end of the donation level, so I will likely only get $20.) However, I’m told the plasma center runs promotions every month. I’ve donated twice, and they say that you can donate up to 2x per week, but I will not be doing that for a few reasons. First, you can’t donate two days in a row, and well, my days off are now going to be Wednesday and Thursday. The actual act of donation takes me about 30 minutes or so – I stay hydrated the day before (and try to every day, honestly), as well as afterward. Plus, there is the admin side of things – they only open at 7 and I’m told there are people usually waiting in line already at that point. I have to be at work every day by 11, and my mornings also consist of taking care of The Herd, which includes Morgan’s “walk the crazy out of her” walks. So I will likely only be donating once a week at the most. I also am a bit  leery of giving away too much of my plasma without allowing my body time to regenerate it.  I also value my veins, a lot.  In Europe, they only allow you to donate every two weeks. Is it a bigger industry in the United States? Possibly. They pay you on a prepaid debit card, which I’ve used for both groceries now, as well as pet food. Whatever I save from spending out of my own bank account for these items, I will then put toward my credit card balance.

I’m also starting the basics of meal planning, which I will write about in a future post too. It’s what prompted me to start looking at the weekly ads for Smith’s and Sprouts.  People who have gotten out of debt swear by it, so I figure, if  I can’t beat ’em, why not join ’em?!

As you all know, a penny saved is better than none. And five dollars saved is better than none. It all adds up, in my book. It’s like that “latte factor” we all hear about so often.   You may not agree with all of these ideas, but for now, they are working for me, and as of now, anyway, the US is still a free country where people can do what they want (God help us get through the next 4 years!!)  I haven’t started looking for a second job yet because I know I will be leaving this apartment by mid to late April, and may end up moving closer to my full-time job. (I will talk about those thoughts in a future post). If I’m going to work two jobs, I want them to be conveniently located near each other so as to save on gas and time away from my furballs.

And FINALLY, a friend has asked me to help with some legal transcription – yay! She lent me her foot pedal and I’m downloading the software to get it all to work with my laptop as I write this post. I can’t wait to get started – I used to take a lot of dictation, and I’m looking forward to learning about the subject matter at hand (for confidentiality reasons, that is all I will say.)  I hope to not let her down and make some extra cash in the meantime so I can BEAT, BEAT, BEAT THE HELL out of my credit cards.

And yes, I have made headway on my debt this month – I will update you about that and my budget probably next week. I need to get a full paycheck under my belt to properly budget – for right now, I’m just estimating the amount of taxes and things that will be deducted from it. (I didn’t get paid for Thanksgiving because I didn’t work it and it fell on a Thursday, which is one of my official “weekend” days.) Starting in January, I will also be on the company’s medical insurance, so that will affect my bottom line.

So many future posts!! Thank you as always for reading, and Morgan and the rest of The Herd say they are sending “slobbers and kisses!” to all of you! Have a great weekend, everyone!