Archive | August, 2012

Finishing Strong

30 Aug

It’s T-20.5 hours until Dragon*C0n.

Naturally, I haven’t begun to search for my costumes.

I also haven’t quite finished making my costumes.

I also also haven’t finished work.

Basically, I’m right on schedule (for me, for cons).

The good news is that I’ll get it all done.  I’ll find my costumes, I’ll finish making the child Borg costumes, I’ll remember to be on time for my shift, and somehow I’ll cram everything into the car for the hour’s drive to Atlanta.  Heck, I’ll even probably remember to stop off at my brother’s apartment and pick up the cane that my roommate needs for her costume.

(She’s totally going as Wil Wheaton. Actually, as Wil Wheaton’s character Dr. Parrish on Eureka.  Wil Wheaton broke his ankle while filming so the writers rewrote it so Dr. Parrish had to miss the mission to Titan, which really sucked for Dr. Parrish (and probably Wil Wheaton too), but provided the PERFECT COSTUME for my roommate, who had already made an Astreaus uniform and then broke her foot last week.)  (Oh, and when I posted this on Twitter, WIL FREAKIN WHEATON REPLIED TO ME!)

So, not only did I tweet with Wil Wheaton, but the writer/producer of Eureka as well. *nerd flail*

The point of this chaotic post is this: I just have to remember that it will all get done.  It will all work out, things will be remembered, and anything that is forgotten can be adjusted for.

Sometimes I feel like I ought to tattoo that on my foot, so the next time I’m kicking myself for messing something up, I can remind myself that it’s probably not that big of a deal.

ooh, I bet there will be someone at Dragon*Con who could help me with that….*

With that, I’m off to work.  The Con runs through Monday, so I’ll be back on Tuesday, likely with pictures of children dressed as Star Trek aliens.  You’ve been warned.

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*Note to mom- Kidding.  Totally kidding.  I mean, it would be way too expensive and take up way too much skin to have 24 words tattooed.  Oh, and there’s the whole needle thing too.

Two Thirds (Or Only $163,748.40)

28 Aug

I forgot to post again, didn’t I?  My bad.

Seriously though, I’ve had a lot on my plate.  The new job (if you missed that on Thursday- I HAVE A FULL TIME JOB NOW IT STARTS SEPTEMBER 10TH I’M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT YOU SHOULD GO READ THURSDAY’S POST HERE I’LL LEAVE YOU A LINK JUST CLICK ANYWHERE ON THIS EXTREMELY ANNOYING ALL CAPS RUN ON SENTENCE YOU’RE WELCOME KTHXBAI OH WAIT I DIDN’T FINISH THE ORIGINAL SENTENCE) has finally been settled and now things should calm down.  My schedule will still be busy, but it will be a much more predictable busy.

The biggest change will be for my student loans.  While it’s not a marked pay increase, this full-time job means a steady paycheck, which means far less uncertainty about making my monthly payments.  I’ve got four months left to pay off these loans.  I started with a balance of $11,533 on January 2nd, and I have a balance of $4,849.11 as of August 28th.

According to a loan calculator I found online, my current monthly payment goal of $1,334 is still good.  This surprised me, since I only managed to scrape together about $120 for August’s payment (due to paycheck timing issues. This is why a steady guaranteed paycheck is such a huge deal for me).

What surprised me more were the following paragraphs of advice the loan calculator offered me, based on my current loan balance and four remaining payments.

“It is estimated that you will need an annual salary of at least $163,748.40 to be able to afford to repay this loan. This estimate assumes that 10% of your gross monthly income will be devoted to repaying your student loans… If you use 15% of your gross monthly income to repay the loan, you will need an annual salary of only $109,165.60, but you may experience… a partial economic hardship. Partial economic hardship is defined as having annual education loan payments in excess of 15 percent of discretionary income, where discretionary income is the amount by which Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) exceeds 150 percent of the poverty line.”

An annual salary of only $163,748.40.

Only $163,748.40.

Only $163,748.40?

ONLY $163,748.40?!?

SINCE WHEN DOES A SIX-FIGURE SALARY GET TO HAVE THE WORD “ONLY” IN FRONT OF IT?

If I was making six figures a year, you can bet I would have cut the word “only” out of my vocabulary.

You can also bet I wouldn’t be writing this blog. My student loan debt would have been exterminated faster than a first-name-only character on Doctor Who. (Seriously- if they don’t give a last name, they won’t last to the end of the scene).

So, according to this helpful calculator, by devoting half my total income each month to my student loans, there is a chance I could “experience a partial economic hardship.”

I’m so glad a website took the time to tell me that.  I had no idea, after only eight months of this, that I could be missing out on things like books, movies, video games, food, and clothing because I was spending more than 10% of my discretionary income on loan payments.

By the above definition, I earn roughly $7,000 a year in discretionary income (or $7,000 over 150% of the poverty line for my one-person household).  My student loans started at $11,533.  That means I was already looking at living under the poverty line this year.

To borrow yet another internet meme: Partial economic hardship I am in you.

But you know what?  I wouldn’t have changed anything about the past eight months.  I learned a lot about how far I can stretch a dollar, what’s truly important in life, and even who I am.  The months when I’ve made my ideal payment have been awesome, and the months when I’ve fallen short have been the most insightful.  Along the way, I’ve made new friends, heard from people that I’m inspiring them to pay off their own loans, and I hope made at least a few people better understand what it’s like to be simultaneously full of potential and totally stuck at the beginning.

Two thirds of the year are gone.  Four months and $5,000 stand between me and my goal.  It’s time for the final push.

On Being Really Busy

24 Aug

On Monday, I wrote about being busy, and how I wanted to learn how to let myself relax and let some things go.  Having worked five part-time jobs for over a year, this is easier said than done.  However, I think I have taken a huge step in the right direction.

You see, it is a crazy world in which we live.  People do things that we don’t always understand.  They make poor choices (like watching Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo) or they waste their money (like buying knock-off Nutella.  Trust me on this people- stick to the original).  Sometimes they even do very strange things, like offering to hire a 25-year-old blogger to a full-time position that perfectly fits with her masters’ degree.

I mean, really?  Who does this kind of stuff?

Oh wait.  As it turns out, I know someone who does that last thing.  (I know someone who does the first two things as well, but this blog isn’t about me…. wait…)

That’s right.  Someone in a position of authority has extended to me the offer of full-time employment, complete with benefits (yay health insurance!) and a salary that doesn’t have to come from five combined sources!  It also uses my Master’s Degree, which honestly is something I was beginning to think would never happen.  The best part is, this is the same company for which I currently work 35 hours a week.  My job title changes, and my pay structure, but the work itself will largely be an extension of what I currently do, which I enjoy.

As of yesterday, I have accepted this offer.  Starting September 10th, I will be employed full-time.

Yep, that’s about right.

Now, what that means for my other four part-time jobs is a bit unclear.  I’ll still keep three of my part-time jobs for sure- one as a weekly babysitter, one as the Children’s Ministry Director at my church, and one as a freelance writer/ producer of web series (provided we can ever launch said web series).  None of these pay particularly well (and one doesn’t pay at all…), but they are jobs that I can easily do with a full-time job.  Most importantly, they are things that I truly enjoy.

What is most uncertain is my retail sales job.  This is a job that, while insanely frustrating at time, is one that I do enjoy.  It’s also the best paying of my remaining jobs.  What I am hoping is that I can keep this job for a little while longer and just reduce my hours to weekends and maybe one closing shift here and there as needed.

What I expect will happen, however, is that the store will hire or promote someone into my position to cover the hours I can’t work and there won’t be any hours left for me.  I haven’t talked to my manager yet, so I don’t know which way the hammer is going to fall, but I have coworkers who would love more hours and they deserve to have them.  I may very well have to say good-bye to this job, and that terrifies me.

You see, my full-time contract includes a six-month probationary period and as soon as I saw that paragraph, my anxiety-captive mind started racing.   What if I hate this job?  What if they decide they hate me?  What if I can’t do the work?  What if the company gets taken over by Skynet and my position isn’t needed after six months?  I mean, these are legitimate concerns.  I have contingency plans for just about everything, but there is no plan for downsizing due to hostile sentient computer takeover.

We regret to inform you that your services are no longer needed. Please stand by for…… TERMINATION.

But I think the thing that scares me the most is the idea that I won’t be so busy.  I’ve been so busy for so long that I don’t think I know how to not be busy.  I don’t know any reply other than “let me check my schedule and get back to you.”  I don’t know how to make plans more than a week in advance because my schedule has never been steady before.  I don’t know how to prepare for a day that doesn’t have at least four calendar notes.  Essentially, I am Scott in the video below.

space

It’s so true.  It’s so sad, but it’s so true.

So there are a lot of things still up in the air right now.  All I know for sure is that come September 10th, things are going to be different.  With luck, they’ll be good different.  In any case, I’m off to develop my Skynet contingency plan.  I’ll see you all on Monday.

On Being Busy

20 Aug

It only occurred to me today that I never posted on Thursday last week.  Oops.  Chalk it up to the momentum carrying me away last week.  Seriously, it’s been a crazy few weeks.  I worked nearly 30 hours per week at my retail job for two weeks straight, which would have been fabulous if I hadn’t also been working 35 hours per week at my consulting job.

As a result, I started seeing a lot of things fall through the cracks.  I forgot to return emails, I fell way behind on self-imposed deadlines, errands and household tasks went unfinished, and if the rabbit didn’t make so much noise when she’s hungry (or glare at me with a wall-penetrating stare), I’m not sure that I would have remembered to feed her twice a day.

Insert Monty Python rabbit/dynamite joke here.

Last week, I was finally able to catch my breath.  I worked less hours at the retail job, and made a concentrated effort to catch up on things I had set aside or forgotten about.  This week, I have no hours at the retail job, since they’re training a new employee on store opening and closing.  I also had a very productive Saturday, in which I ran errands, planned a month’s worth of Sunday School lessons, and with the help of two friends made significant progress on two costumes for Dragon*Con at the end of the month. I was feeling all kinds of proud of myself, and I celebrated by planning out the next week’s deadlines with a new enthusiasm (what, doesn’t everyone enjoy setting new deadlines?).  After all, this week I finally have time to get it all done!

Then I remembered that I’m going to Denver on Wednesday.  As in, just on Wednesday.  My flight leaves Atlanta at an obscenely early hour and lands back in Atlanta at an obscenely late hour (technically, so late that it will be obscenely early Thursday).  Don’t get me wrong- I’m super excited about this trip.  It’s an in-person meeting with the people for whom I’ve been working for over a year now.  That’s right- the virtual consulting coworkers become real people with faces and everything on Wednesday.

The big problem is that I’m not an exceptionally good flier.  I’m not one of those armrest-gripping, panic-at-30,000-feet people, nor am I one of those sleep-on-your-shoulder/remove-my-shoes-in-first-class people.  I’m one of those can-the-plane-just-drop-to-the-ground-because-this-leveling-off-descent-is-making-me-nauseous people.  As a result, I need to take an anti-nausea pill before each flight.  With my flight schedule on Wednesday, I have three flights within fourteen hours of each other.  Normally, three flights would mean three pills.  But since I’ve long since graduated to prescription strength anti-nausea medicine, I’m not supposed to take more than one pill every eight hours.  So now I have to figure out a way to a) not hurl on the plane, b) not overdose on anti-nauseas and sleepwalk through my meeting, and c) stretch time so a) and b) aren’t problems anymore.

This is my ideal airplane. Also, my ideal pilot.

Basically, I come to realize that I’m never not busy these days.  There’s always something for me to do, and there’s always three other things that I should/could/probably ought to be doing.  At first I thought that it was just the nature of having five jobs, but more and more I’m realizing that just about everyone else is just as busy.  We all have a dozen things clamoring for our attention at any given moment, whether it’s a phone, email, television, child, spouse, pet, boss, annoying wasp that someone let into my office, etc.  It’s getting harder and harder to just relax and focus on one thing without feeling guilty that other things aren’t getting done.  (Except for that annoying wasp that someone let into my office.  I will spend hours hunting that thing down without any shred of guilt.)

I used to want to learn how to stretch time so I could fit everything in.  Now I’ve realized that the real trick is not fitting everything in, but leaving the right things out.  It’s learning how to prioritize my life and shut off the excess noise.  It’s treating one day a week like my birthday and jealously guarding it from work and other appointments.  It’s realizing what can be dropped without taking out everything else, and it’s rearranging everything else to make it fit into the hours.

That’s the real trick.

I have not learned this trick yet.

Also, I want a TARDIS for my birthday, which really is on Saturday.

Someone get on that for me, please?

Momentum

13 Aug phelps

Momentum is a funny thing.  Once you have it a little bit of it, it’s very easy to build up more of it.  The problem lies in getting that first bit.

I have to confess, I’m one of those people who watched the Olympics and not only thought, “I wish I could do that,” but also thought, “didn’t I used to be able to do that?”  It was the swimming that got me, especially the long-distance events.  When I was in college, I used to swim a lot.  As in, I had my own code to the school natatorium.  I would swim 1500 meters, shower, and go to my 8 am class four or five days a week.  I earned my lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor certifications, which both require dive tests and long-distance endurance swims.  I wasn’t a fast swimmer beyond 50 meters, but I was steady and I took pride in that endurance.  Swimming was easy for me, and it was fun.

Then I graduated.  Four years went by without daily access to a pool.  Work schedules, rising costs and unreliable access kept me from using my local aquatic center.  My graduate school class schedule conflicted with open swim at the university gym.  Left with no options, I stopped swimming.  Without realizing it, I lost my momentum.

Then the Olympics started.  I watched athlete after athlete dive into the pool, swim as hard as they could, and emerge smiling.  I remembered the feeling of satisfaction after a good workout, the exhaustion that kept my brain from doing its anxiety acrobatics, and the pride of being able to do something well.  I realized that I wanted that back.

Then I joined a gym.  It has a 25-meter salt water pool, which is shorter than I’m used to, but means no chlorine eating through my swimsuits, the latex on my goggles, or stripping the moisture out of my hair.  It also means access to the rest of the gym’s amenities (including a hydro massage table…).  I was thrilled with my decision, went out and purchased two new swimsuits at the end-of-summer clearance (two $70 suits for a combined total of $47) and a pair of goggles.  I jumped in the pool the first day, and realized something.

It had been four years since I had last swum laps.

Me, upon entering the pool for the first time in four years. I swear, I think I grew two extra limbs based on the number of ways and times I hit myself in the face.

I flailed around like a harpooned squid for fifteen minutes before I decided to call it quits.  The plate glass window at one end of the pool, which allows everyone in the gym to look into the pool, had a lot to do with this.  My screaming muscles had the rest.  I vowed to cancel my membership.

But then a strange thing happened.  I didn’t die.  In fact, I woke up the next day feeling better than I had in months.

Then a stranger thing happened.  I went back to the pool yesterday.  I got in the water, and suddenly my coordination was back.  I could swim from one wall to the other without gasping for breath, and the people outside the window didn’t look like they were trying to decide whether to call 911.

My body in the water was all…

My brain was all…

And when I was putting my shoes back on in the locker room, I had a discussion with a fellow gym-user about the pool.  When she told me that she was going to try swimming because I looked like I was in great shape, I was all…

I have found my momentum again.  This time, I’m not going to lose it.

Blog Search Term Challenge, Part IV

9 Aug

Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.  As promised, I have written a short (short, short) story involving the three winners of the Blog Search Term Challenge.  Enjoy.

In retrospect, putting the archery range next to the royal gardens was the first of many many mistakes for King Solomon.

 

Yes, those are royal porcupines wearing royal fuzzy slippers.  Yes, those slippers were stolen from the concubines’ quarters. Yes, that is a wayward arrow.  Yes, it is a little known fact that King Solomon employed elven archers.  And yes, he really should have consulted Angie’s List before hiring a palace planner.  Everyone knows porcupines are extremely susceptible to elven love arrows.

 

You’re welcome.

August Update

6 Aug

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t been keeping up with my monthly loan updates.  For those of you who didn’t just fall asleep at the mere mention of finance, hang in there.  There’s some interesting stuff in here too.

Exciting news: at this moment, I have $4,884.12 left on my undergraduate student loans.  *cue cheers*

My loans were originally divided into 9 groups.  When I consolidated them a few years ago, two of those groups were labelled as “PIF” or paid-in-full.  Over this past year, I’ve been able to pay off another four of those groups.  The remaining three groups all have balances below $2,600.  My next goal is to pay off Group E, since it has the highest interest rate at 6.8%.

Interesting news: I have learned that it is in my best interest to designate specific amounts for each group.  When I pay an amount over the accrued interest, the rest goes towards paying the principal of the loan. However, my loan company (and I suspect others do this too) put that principal towards the groups with the lowest interest rates much more often than the groups with the highest interest rates.  This means I am paying off the low-interest groups first, while the high-interest groups are still costing me money.  It’s a good plan for the loan company, but it’s a terrible plan for me as a consumer.

I now specify how much of each monthly loan payment is to go to each group.  This lets me attack the high-interest groups first, and saves me money in the long run.  For those of you with loans, it might be worth it to see if this is an option for you.  Don’t let the loan company make any more money off of you than necessary.

Bad news: I’ve had some paycheck issues this month and last, and that has led to me being extremely short on money this month.   I’ve managed to scrape together just $112 for my monthly loan payment.  Of that, $52.20 will go to paying the accrued monthly interest.  Just $59.80, or 53%, will go towards my principal balance.  (For reference, last month 95% of my loan payment of $1,334 went towards principal.)

Everyone who has ever lived with a variable income can relate to how frustrating it can be to not be able to plan a monthly budget with confidence.  The good news is that I can pay my immediate bills, but luxuries such as student loan payments over the minimum amount and new video games will have to wait until everything is sorted out. *sigh*  At least there is…

Good news! It’s August, which means two things:

1) IT’S DRAGON*CON! I love Dragon*Con, and I save for it all year long.  This year, I am very happy with what I’ve been able to save.  It will mean costume upgrades and lots of celebrity autographs. Also, it may even mean food.

2) It’s my birthday month!  I love birthdays, and mine falls very close or during Dragon*Con, so it’s like a giant birthday party each year… with 100,000 of my closest friends.

Last bits of news: I’ve got a very busy work week ahead of me, and lots of potential changes coming in the next month or so.  One of these is a possible full-time job, so keep your fingers crossed for me on that front.  Also, be on the lookout for a short story involving the winners of the Blog Search Term Challenge on Thursday.  Finally, if you haven’t read it yet, go check out Seeing Beyond The Outside, a post I wrote on Saturday about how girls are perceived in geek culture.  There’s been a lot of debate on this topic lately, and the girl geeks are coming out far worse for it.

See you all on Thursday.

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