I’m Alive!

My Max. You just wanna squeeze him in this photo, don't ya??
My Max. You just wanna squeeze him in this photo, don’t ya??

Sorry if any of you have worried about me over the past few weeks but a lot has taken place. I started school and was taking 11 credits of classes in addition to working about 42 hours per week. In short, it was too much. The five credit BIO class was killing me. It took up literally every single free moment of my time. And I found myself asking “how does my knowing about photosynthesis actually help me help animals?!” So I ended up dropping down to just 6 credits. Well, 7 credits when I start the Intro to Vet Tech class next week.

Winter scene on land I hope to soon take care of (because really, do any of us really own the land we live on?)
Winter scene on land I hope to soon take care of (because really, do any of us really own the land we live on?)

I went to North Carolina last week and think I found a place to live. And a little house in which to live. It will likely be about 396 sq feet and on a 2 acre wooded lot. Some of it will have to be cleared, of course, and I’ll either hook up to city water or dig a well (the lot is up an incline so it may be more expensive in the long run to connect to city water due to the size of the pipe, but we’ll find out about that as time goes on.  It’ll be a little bit outside of a small town outside of Charlotte, and I think it’s what I need right now. When I was down there, I went to the property one time on my own (I let the builder’s property manager know what I was doing) and just kind of wandered around a bit and listened to the breeze in the trees. A car passed, and once it was gone, I realized how quiet it was. And I thought of myself, sitting outside with Osito on my lap about a year in the future, just listening to the breeze and the birds in the trees.  It will be so different from how I live now, in a big city, in an apartment, but I think it’s just what I need.


Living in a smaller space will mean giving up or letting go of more stuff from my life, and it’s something I look forward to doing. Every time I let go of something else, it makes me feel lighter and freer.

I also met with two different vet offices when I was down there. One was a companion animal office in a part of town that I learned was not so great, by personal observation and by talking to a new friend (who feels like an old one, I am very glad to say.)  The other was an equine vet practice that I learned was a bit unusual due to its size and the fact that it actually had a vet tech. I guess a lot of equine vets don’t usually have their own vet techs. Usually, they rely on the horse owner and at most, have a receptionist.

<3 my Bonkers

So, my plan will be to try working with companion animals (with which I feel very comfortable right now) and volunteer with larger animals. I also found from talking to different vet techs that the hands-on experience is definitely more needed for me right now than to be taking a ton of classes through a distance-based program. I’m going to continue on with the classes I’m already taking and take a Medical Terminology class this summer, for sure. But I think the regular Bio and Chem can wait until I’m quite certain that formal schooling is the way to go and worth the small bump in pay it would give me as a result.

Just when I wondered whether I should keep my cat condo, this happened.  <3 HoneyBun!
Just when I wondered whether I should keep my cat condo, this happened.

I can’t wait for the next phase of my life to start. Until then, I’m going to save every penny I can to put down on the house and to make sure I have enough savings. I know my salary will likely be a third of what it is now and I’m preparing myself for that mentally. I may have some medical stuff coming up in the next month or so that will require me to spend some time out of work and if I do, I know it will be a good break to keep myself focused and on the positive, right track. (And who knows, maybe I will even have more time to blog?!) 🙂

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Big Changes (News!)

Isn't Fancy georg
Isn’t Fancy gorgeous? Such beautiful markings.

So, after months of Paralysis by Analysis or Decisional Impairment, I pulled the trigger, and have decided I’m going to NC. I’ll be traveling in February (let’s just leave it a bit vague since this is the internet) to do a couple things. One, hopefully find a place to live, and two, (2) check out the area, and (3) hopefully meet some veterinarians or vet techs that I can just talk to about their jobs, their field in that area of the country, etc.

I’m not sure why – maybe it was the sheer number of vet offices and animal hospitals I found within the Greensboro area, or the fact that my weather app told me it was in the 50s there this week, while we’re freezing to death up in Boston. Maybe it was the prices of homes down there and the realization that I could actually afford to buy something and have it cost less than renting.  Maybe the fact that taxes in the county areas outlying Greensboro have taxes of about one-tenth (yes, you read that right) of what I used to pay for a house in the suburbs of Boston.  I told my sister about some of this and she just laughs. I sound completely amazed and keep saying “OH MY GOD, it’s SO CHEAP!” and she’s like “um, yeah…that’s what it is for most places in this country.” (Remember, she’s in MI, a state pretty much in the shitter, but still…) Or the fact that some of my online research confirmed that there is a large number of horses that can be found in NC, along with horse events. And where there are events, I think they need vets, and where they need vets, I hope they also need vet techs.  And even if I don’t work with horses, there a ton of companion animal vet practices down there as well, and you all know how I love those types of animals too.

And maybe it was the luck that when I looked into flights to get there, I could find a non stop flight for $177 on jet blue, so I can check a bag for free.  (Good thing because little Baby O is going to go on her first flight with me. I’m going to be gone for five nights, and I always miss the furballs when I am gone. Plus, it would actually cost more to leave her at home.  And, believe it or not, but she actually will cost more to go on this flight than I will. For the bargain basement price of $100 each way, NON-REFUNDABLE of course, your pet can fly with you as one of your carry-ons. Yep, she costs $200 while, taking up a human size seat, cost less. Figure that one out…

Anyway, I was able to find a really nice place to stay through airbnb, and it’s actually on a horse farm. So yes, I get to see horses there too! I feel like things are starting to really come together. The lady with the horse farm is married to a real estate broker so he was able to refer a realtor to me who I have really liked working with so far, and she was able to refer me to a few lenders, one of which I contacted the other day and really like. So, I’m already pre-approved for a mortgage.

Now, I want you all to know – my plan is to only buy a place that, if I were to only make 10-12/hour, I can still afford the place and even be able to save money every month. That’s a possibility down in NC.  I REFUSE to be house poor.  Just because I got approved for about 5X as much as I want to spend on a house doesn’t mean I need to spend it. And I don’t plan to. I want a small house, something that is in decent shape, and not too large – a 700 square foot house or smaller would be ideal, as that’s pretty much the same size as my apartment now.  (I think i surprised the mortgage broker too, when I said, oh no, this isn’t just what I want for a few years while going back to school – I want a small home, permanently!)  And in case you are wondering why I am looking to buy rather than rent, well, it literally will be cheaper to own than to rent down there. And I would like to build some more equity in my life in addition to my retirement funds.

I’ll write more about the lending process as get further into it, but so far I’ve found that it’s actually harder to take a smaller mortgage from a lender than a big one – there is a federal law that aims to prevent small mortgagees from paying large fees relative to the amount of the loan. So I may not be able to borrow less than $50K – needless to say, I’m going to do some more research into this.  But I’ve decided, if that’s the case – if I can get a smaller home, with maybe more land, then I would be able to take care of more animals down the line. And that’s hugely important to me.

I’m really feeling like this is the plan that it has rightfully taken me a long time to come across. I know I have changed my mind more times than I can count but with every false step I took in one direction, it taught me more about myself. Small is still great for me. I still love the outdoors, and having a small space forces you into the outdoors. I still want to experience warmer weather during this time of year. And I DEFINITELY want to have animals in my life in a big way. This morning, Max rubbed up against me as I was doing some handwashing in the bathroom, and I thought to myself “how could I NOT want to work with animals every day??!! They make me so happy.”

Well, it’s time for me to get a move on, on this MLK Day. My plan is to get a lot of my letters written up so I can snail mail them tomorrow to vets down in the NC area. Now that I can tell them when I am coming down there, and school starts tomorrow! (yay!), I can demonstrate even more my commitment to the move and to the new way of life.

I swear, she knew I was taking photos of her for the blog - she stood very still for this one!
I swear, she knew I was taking photos of her for the blog – she stood very still for this one!

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Location, location, location

Fancy, who has changed my life's course. Quite literally.
Fancy, who has changed my life’s course. Quite literally.

I hope everyone had a great holiday – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, whatever you celebrate! I also hope everyone will have a great new year. My friends and I are in the mood for a mellow NYE this year, so we’re just hanging out at a friend’s house and will have a game night.  Last year was fun, just a bit expensive. Every New Year’s Eve is super expensive in the Boston area.

Melissa, the barn cat (aka "the creeper" because she is skiddish around humans but creeps around to keep an eye on what we are doing in the barn. Super cute.)
Melissa, the barn cat (aka “the creeper” because she is skiddish around humans but creeps around to keep an eye on what we are doing in the barn. Super cute.)

So, before the Christmas break from work (I work in academia so I’m off this week from the full-time job) I was talking with some good friends at work. I was telling them about my plans to move to NC. They were worried that I might not fit in there, and because they consider me super high-energy (to put it nicely, others might think I’m hyper), things might not move quickly enough for me. LOL.  I’m also pretty liberal so they worry I might not feel completely comfortable there – I’ve been told that a lot of the NC coast could be considered to have voted “red.” They asked me about working in other states since I want to try working with large animals, and the subject of Kentucky came up. They also mentioned some southwestern states, and places like the Dakotas, Wyoming, etc. Most of these states, I would love love love to visit. But to spend a winter in Wyoming? No thanks.

Kentucky had already crossed my radar a little while back, for the fact that it is known to be quite beautiful in certain parts, like in horse country. And living somewhere beautiful is definitely high on my list of priorities. I’ve lived in ugly places in the past (sorry, Northeast Philly, but I’m looking at you) and while the living was cheap, I don’t want to do that again if I don’t have to. Then, I spent a few mornings with Fancy, the horse at the ARL in Dedham – see her pics at the beginning and ending of this post. (By the way, she is available for adoption!!! And she’s a thoroughbred.)   And it just hit me. I need to work with animals like her!

I have been thinking of working with large animals already, and when I did some further research, I saw that being an equine vet tech is actually considered a specialty subset of being a vet tech. So that’s my plan as of now. I know I will try to work in a companion-animal vet’s practice during school, and who knows? We’ll see what happens.   As I said to my mom the other day when telling her of my decision, I can’t adopt a horse and bring it home with me, whereas when I am around cats and dogs, I just want to save them all and bring them home with me. 🙂  Needless to say, she was relieved to hear that since I already have five cats and a dog! She was also a little surprised though, as she said “you never learned to ride as a kid” and I said, well I’ve always loved horses (she must not have remembered.) And well, I knew we couldn’t afford riding lessons or anything like that so I never asked for them. No use making my mom feel bad about something she had not much control over, which was our finances.

So…Lexington, Kentucky is located within Fayette County, where there are 150 horse farms out of the total of 450 that exist in the state of Kentucky at large. I’ve done some preliminary research and the standard of living is WAY cheaper than in the Boston area. No big surprise there, of course. I was astounded to see what $500 will get you for a rental unit. Then, just for fits and giggles, I decided to look at prices of condos and they blew me away even more! You can buy a condo in Lexington, KY for what would simply amount to your down payment for a condo in this area. It’s completely insane!

Yes, Kentucky does get a tiny amount of snow but it is nothing compared to Boston in winter. So I can handle that. My plan is to go out there at least once beforehand, and spend some time there, observing neighborhoods at multiple times of days, and probably go back out again another time to meet with a realtor and firm something up. My mom has offered to go with me which could definitely help, having another person’s opinions. (Just gotta remember they are my mom’s…)

Close-up of Fancy in the barn.
Close-up of Fancy in the barn.

I hope you will all have a great and safe New Year’s!

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Little Things for Which I am Thankful: Weekend Edition!

Mr. Billy Goat and his shy female friend. She's just beautiful up close.
Mr. Billy Goat and his shy female friend. She’s just beautiful up close.

I’m not going to put this in list order like I usually do, because, well, I’m just not in the mood and I feel like sometimes that breaks up the flow of my thoughts.

I have had a great weekend so far! Yesterday started out bright and early, about 5:30. I spent the morning with the barn animals at the Animal Rescue League from about 7:40-9:30 a.m. I learned how they take care of the pigs, pigeons, chickens and the outside animals too (goats, sheep, and horse.) And yes, I honestly had no problem dealing with animal poop! Maybe having the herd of my own to look after at home, it doesn’t phase me anymore. (Now, ask me to change a baby’s diaper and the thought terrifies me! LOL). When we were all done, I had about 45 minutes during which I could spend a little time socializing with the animals. This is exactly what it sounds like – getting them to feel more comfortable around humans. Read more

My Winter Jacket is Hot Pink! (READ: Live your life!)

A little one that makes me smile every day, all day.
A little one that makes me smile every day, all day. This photo was taken by my friend Gail of Warmest Wags Pet Services.

There, I’ve said it. I’m a 42 year old woman who wears hot pink and is super proud of it. I don’t care what others think. And it’s so liberating!!

I was thinking about this this morning as I waited for the bus (after yesterday’s miserable bike rides back and forth to both jobs during the pouring rain, I decided to not ride in today with the temps in the 30s and the winds in the 20-30 mph range.) I got this jacket last week for $20 at a consignment shop when I was home with my mom in upstate NY.  Some might think I got it for the name on it (Calvin Klein) but really, I could care less. I would never pay for the name on anything!  I just knew I needed a warmer jacket than what I already had, and that it needed to not be made of animal products, and that would last me for this one winter season. Let me make that, my LAST winter season in the northeast! 🙂  And this jacket fit the bill. Made of all synthetic materials, will keep me warm (until it gets EXTREMELY cold and then I have another jacket I bought (with tags on) for $30.  I know it would have cost me about $200-300 if I bought it brand new. Score!

Seriously, how many people do you see walking around in warm winter coats that are all black? If I were to look and take a tally while on the bus, or on the T, I’m sure about 80% of the people would be in black. How depressing is that? And, more importantly, why?? Why all dress the same? Why all follow the same path in life? Go to work (which you may or may not like, most probably would say “not”), come home, eat, watch TV, sleep, get up, eat, and work out or get ready for work, and then commute to work. Repeat, more times in your life than is healthy.

You know what? When I look at that jacket, it makes me smile. It helps me to realize how far I’ve come and especially in the last year or two in growing and becoming more aware of what inspires me, motivates me, and makes me tick.

You know what? When I look at all of my five cats and my dog resting contentedly in my apartment, I smile. A lot of people would term me a Crazy Cat Lady because of how many I have. But I don’t care. They make me happy.

You know what? My ex boyfriend broke up with me for a few reasons, one being the different way we viewed animals. (He hunts, and thinks it’s ok to have a working dog like a hound stay outside all the time — luckily, for the dog he has now, he lives much further south.) Whereas at one point, I took his breaking up with me as a negative judgment on how I live my life and what I choose to care for and consider important, I now feel gratitude that that comment made me really take a hard look at my life. It made me realize you have to know what you feel in your heart is right. You need to know what touches you and gets you really fired up and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.

What got me out of bed this morning was knowing that this afternoon I was going to be able to volunteer and learn about livestock animals. I met a horse, several chickens, a pig, and some goats and sheep.  I learned how to put the halter on the horse, how to lead it and also petted her quite a bit. She is about 15.2 hands tall, dark brown all over, and just has the most gorgeous brown eyes, and her name is Fancy.

One of the sheep came up to me and clearly wanted to be friends, as she let me pet her! Some of the goats in that paddock are very shy so it’s going to be my goal to get them to be more comfortable around humans. I figure, I can bring a warm thermos of something to drink and possibly a good book, and if I stand still long enough, they will become curious about me. If I can show them I’m not going to hurt them…they say that animals react to the energy you put out, so hopefully my energy will be one of calm and love and acceptance. Yes, even while cleaning up after them (READ: ahem, picking up poop, lol.)

I also heard from my local vet’s office last week about my inquiry into volunteering with them. They asked for my resume and availability, so I sent the resume off to them yesterday. Cross your fingers! They are part of the VCA animal hospital network, so I am hoping to see how a private vet office operates from an insider’s perspective, rather than as the person paying the vet bill. 🙂

One of my friends commented on my last post that I should do what makes me happy because people are going to judge me nonetheless, and that’s what I’m doing. And that is what I am hoping I can encourage all of you to do, if you haven’t begun doing so already!

Anyway, I just wanted to share how happy I felt this afternoon as I stood outside in the freezing cold but learned about something I think I am going to love doing.

As always, if you have liked this post, please hit like or subscribe! And stay tuned because I have some ideas for changes to the blog, in what I hope will be helpful (or at least entertaining) to many of you out there.

Getting Out of My Debt: A New Plan (I’ve Had IT!!)

I came to a few realizations last night and I went to bed angry. Fighting mad angry. But in a good way. I owe a lot of this to my friend Dan, who answered a text message of mine that said “Do you think I’m stupid for wanting to leave a good paying job to do something that will pay so much less?”

The reason I asked this question is because I see so many people struggling just to get by and I feel like I should just be thankful for whatever opportunity is thrown my way. For example, there are the cleaners/housekeeping folks at my gym – all three of them work two jobs. None of them have English as their native language, which definitely hurts their job prospects.  I know for a fact that one of them works seven days a week, and that a second one was until he finally had his daughter talk to me to write a note to the manager stating that he would like to take Fridays off since he was working seven days a week. (He and I are slowly teaching each other some words in Spanish and English.)

In response to these concerns, my friend Dan told me, among other things, “you can still be thankful and desire to live a Purpose Driven Life.”  He also said something that struck home: “No one says on their death bed, ‘Thank God I paid off that student loan.'” Finally, “It (my student loan debt) runs your life in that it makes your decisions for you.”

So now, I’m going to do what he suggested: “Find a balance between the obligation you owe the debt and the bigger obligation you owe yourself.”

I looked at my loan details last night for my Big Daddy loan. I started paying (or shall we say, deferring and forbearing) back in 1997. Now that I have been paying interest-only payments on it for the last two years (as part of a graduated repayment plan), just to keep it from growing, I see that the final repayment date is in 2034 and another in 2035 (Big Daddy consists of two consolidated loans – one is unsubsidized federal money and the other is subsidized.)

In case you’re wondering what the difference is between a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized one–well, the difference is when who pays the interest that is accruing during terms when you are not in repayment, such as when you have taken a deferment. Deferments can be for a number of reasons but the most common ones are that you are currently in school or you are going through some sort of economic hardship. With a subsidized loan, the federal government pays the interest coming due. With unsubsidized ones, that interest just keeps on accruing and accruing and accruing and at the end of your deferment or forbearment period, all that unpaid interest gets thrown on the top of the loan, essentially making your principal balance, upon which more interest accrues, even larger than when you started. Do you see why this can get overwhelming to think about? I had loans that were unsubsidized during my first year of law school. You’re encouraged to not work during your first year of law school for  a lot of reasons. So even by the time I graduated my principal balances had already grown by a whopping lot.

My Big Daddy loan actually consists of two loans – out of $75K, one has a principal balance right now of $44K.  So that puts the other one around $31K.  Here’s the funny thing – that loan that now has $44K to its  name – when I consolidated that loan back in 2001, guess what the principal balance was at that time? Yeah….it was about $41K.  All these years, I have paid at the very least $538/month, and for many years, while I was married, I even paid extra principal to it every month. Sometimes, about $700/month, on the combined Big Daddy loan.  So, how, you ask, is that balance even higher? If you take an average of $6000 paid every year and you multiply that by 13, how much do you get?? Hmmm. 78K.  And yet the balance of Big Daddy these days is still over $75K.

So here’s what I decided the other night – I’m going to switch careers to something that I find much more fulfilling, and if I pay less money per month to my student loans, so be it. I want to have a life where I feel like what I am doing every day is more in tune with my heart. And for me, that means working with animals.

Beginning this week, I am going to begin volunteering with the Animal Rescue League of Boston and work with their livestock animals. Right now, that means goats, sheep, a horse, and some chickens. I heard back from my local vet who asked me to send a resume or CV and let them know the hours during which I could volunteer, so I would be able to get experience working in a private vet office with small animals. I want to try to expose myself to as many different types of animals and types of organizations so I can see what best fits with me and my personality, etc.

I already know the average salary for vet assistants is something like $22K-30K. This is about what I live on right now, but I currently pay extra money to my student loans and paying the higher amounts on my loans. With a lower salary, I will be eligible for different types of repayment plans, and one can lower your payments to about 10-15% of your salary. So yes, it moves the final payoff date out that much further into the future, but life is short.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a slacker. i do want to pay back my debts. I do. I just think that with all the money I have paid this government over the years, the government can continue to wait for the 2x and 3X the principal amounts I will end up paying back. I could walk outside today or tomorrow and get hit by a car or something worse. I could be like Brittany Maynard who was 29 and found out she had an aggressive form of brain cancer. I’m not trying to be melodramatic or anything. I just have decided to not let these loans run my life anymore. I’m going to start living my life for me. And for the animals.

So this is the new plan. I’m going to pay off the private student loan which is sitting around $13,500 right now. That one, I don’t have tons of options about. But the federal ones…I’ll deal with them, probably for the rest of my life, but at least it’ll be a life that I feel good about at the end of every day. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given in this world, and every time I go to a talk at my school about animal rights, I get this strong feeling in my stomach that I NEED to do something to help them. And with my background, I can. I want to work with the animals in a hands-on way, but if there’s a way I can also be involved in using my education or my social or personal skills to their advantage, well, I plan on doing it. I’m open to the opportunities.

I’m home with my mom this weekend to celebrate an early Thanksgiving. I hope you will all have a great weekend. If you’ve liked this post, please hit like or subscribe, or drop me a line below.

Staying True to My Heart

Since I’ve been single these last few months, I’ve had more time to think, and I mean really think. I sometimes look back to who I was just a few years ago and wonder if I’m the same person. I used to have what was called (to my former father-in-law’s coveting eye) the magical snack-cabinet. You opened it up and every kind of unhealthy snack could be found within it. I used to be content to watch hours of TV every week. I would work out a lot but if it wasn’t an actual running workout, I felt like I was kind of cheating for that day. And, while I loved animals (and still do), I was afraid to go to an animal shelter and volunteer my time because I thought it would break my heart to leave the animals behind every day. It still hurts, but I now know I’m doing something when I volunteer at the Animal Rescue League of Boston rather than just thinking about doing something.

Meet Buster - up for adoption at the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA
Meet Buster – up for adoption at the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA

Here’s the thing – I don’t feel like I am doing enough to help animals. Sure, I’ve adopted a few more over the past few years and while that helps those lucky few, it doesn’t help the hundreds of thousands or millions of other ones out there. While I was taking an online writing course, some class members thought that I was a strong writer and so that I should combine that strength/skill with my love of animals and try to give them a voice. So, that’s what I plan on doing.  I’d like to write more regularly on this blog, and I think it would be a good place to highlight some animal issues every week, whether it be highlighting an animal that is up for adoption, or some of the more touchy issues relating to animals. I may also touch on my life as a new vegan from time to time, because the main reason I chose to go vegan was to reduce my impact on their suffering. I know that, alone, it isn’t much. But multiply my situation by many and it starts to add up. I just don’t feel like I have the right to consume animal products. Not anymore.

So, I won’t lie and say I won’t post pictures that might be hard for you to look at sometimes. There are many times that I see something on Facebook and it makes me want to cry (and sometimes I do) but it’s because it has such a huge effect on me that I feel the need to do something MORE. This blog is about chasing my dreams, and one of my dreams is to help a lot of animals, including my own but not being limited to them. Writing is a skill that I have so I need to use it for some good in this world. This blog will just be the start of something that allows me to give a voice to those who don’t have one.