Archive | October, 2012

How Debt Is Kind Of Like A Zombie Apocalypse

29 Oct

It was a weekend of unrelated activities for me.  I got home from my grandmother’s house on Saturday afternoon, went to a Haunted House on Saturday night that was put on by the local fire department & could give professional Haunted Houses a run for their money, watched fairy tales and zombies yesterday, and went back to work today.

Actually, now that I write it out like that, I do see a common thread of zombie.  Except for my grandmother- she’s not a zombie.  (She’d be an excellent zombie-slayer, however, but that’s another blog post.)  But otherwise- zombies at a Haunted House, zombies on the TV, zombies at work (I assume because it’s Monday. Working from home makes it difficult to judge my coworkers’ state of alertness), I think I even discussed zombies at church, which isn’t as weird as it sounds, considering The Walking Dead crew rented our building several times while filming over the summer.

This building…
won’t ever be seen on the show. The zombies just ate lunch here. Like, salads and stuff- not brains. Brains would have stained the carpet.

I really like zombies.  I don’t know if it’s the public health student in me who loves the idea of a good epidemic, the writer in me who admires the versatility of the concept (28 Days Later super-fast zombies, Resident Evil 6 zombies that can shoot you back, The Walking Dead zombies that seem to make nice pets, etc), or the reader in me who adores snarky-yet-insightful books such as Zombies: Where To Find Them and How To Avoid Them and The Zombie Survival Guide.  (Both of these books are shelved with my other how-to books, because when the hordes of the undead descend, I don’t want to be trying to remember who wrote them and which shelf I’ve put them on.  It’ll be grab and go.)

Whatever the case, you’ve got to love an enemy that not only can’t be stopped by death, but actually gets far more terrifying after it dies.  It requires a whole new level of survival strategy, far beyond the lazy-man’s-way of point and shoot.  With zombies, you’re not just running from a tangible enemy, you’re running from a disease.  You may outrun a shambling reanimated corpse, but those airborne germs are a lot harder to avoid.

Lysol is missing out on the college-student demographic by not marketing their products as zombie-proof.

Luckily, the CDC says that the chances of a true zombie apocalypse within the next ten years are essentially zero.  But you know what is a lot like a zombie plague in the real world right now?

Debt.

Think about it for a moment.  I’ve even made you a handy comparison table.

 

Zombie Plague

Debt

Able to drastically alter your lifestyle

Able to seize your possessions

 √

Makes you willing to sacrifice your neighbor to escape

Makes you disconnect the phone and seal the windows

Makes it hard to eat

Results in shambling shells of former people

Separates the adults from the children (figuratively, but literally in extreme cases)

Can follow you even after death

 √

(not legally, but I’m pretty sure debt collectors are simply high-functioning zombies)

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So, by slashing down my student loan debt, I’m essentially training for a true zombie apocalypse.

That’s preparation at its best.  Also, I’m going to start putting “zombie apocalypse training” in the memo line of my checks to my student loan company.  I wonder if that’s tax-deductible…

While I’m off to research tax loopholes, you can take solace in the fact that if the zombies really do arrive, the debt collection agencies are going to be the first to fall.  Even zombies hate those guys.

There’s A Bunny Under The Bar (My Week With Nana)

25 Oct

“Hey Nana, there’s a bunny under the bar.”

“There’s what?”

“A bunny. Under the bar.”

“Well, how’d she get there?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe she was looking for some hops?”

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These are the kinds of conversations I have with my grandmother.  She had surgery two weeks ago today to remove a cancerous tumor from her colon, not that you’d ever know it from looking at her now.  I’ve been at her house since Monday, and it’s been a week of conversations like the one above.  I figured that today, I’d share some of the better ones.

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1. How To Peel A Potato

Me: “I am terrible at peeling potatos.  I think I ended up with half of the potato I started with.  I should have joined the army- at least then I’d know how to peel a potato.”

Nana: “There are easier ways to learn to peel a potato than joining the army.”

Me: “Oh?”

Nana: “Yes. Like cooking more often.”

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2. Setting The House Alarm

Nana, every night: “I’m setting the alarm.  No going out on any late dates.”

Me, every night: “Oh, but I had such plans!”

Nana, every night: *sarcastic laugh because she knows all my friends live in the internet”

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3. The Orange Chair

Preface: there’s a large orange armchair in the den.  It’s been there as long as I can remember.  My grandfather used to sit in it every night and read, before he passed away.

Me: *sits sideways, throws legs over armrest, opens book* “I love this chair.”

Nana: “It is a very good chair.”

Me: “Even if it is orange.”

Nana: “It was white leather when I was a girl.”

Me: “You had this chair as a little girl?  Did your parents buy it new?”

Nana: “No, they got it from somebody else.  They don’t make chairs like they used to.”

Me: *sits up properly in chair that I now realize may be over 100 years old.*

Nana: “Good girl.”

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4. The Rug

Me: *slips on rug in living area* “Nana, I’m going to tape that rug down.”

Nana: “Ok.  The tape is on the shelf in the basement.”

Me: *gets distracted by the basement of wonder*

Next Day

Me: *slips on rug in living area* “Nana, I’m going to tape that rug down.”

Nana: “You said that yesterday.  The tape is still in the basement.”

Me: *gets distracted by the basement of wonder again*

Repeat every day for a week.

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5. Setting the Alarm Clock

Me: *sets the alarm clock in my bedroom so we’ll be on time for doctor’s appointment in the morning*

10 hours later

Alarm: *Klaxon horn of immediate doom*

Me at breakfast: “That alarm clock is very… insistant.”

Nana: “It worked, didn’t it?”

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Spending time with my grandmother is always an enjoyable time, no matter how many potatoes I have to peel, rugs I have to tape dowm (still have to do that, by the way), or obnoxious alarms I have to endure.  I am truly blessed to have a grandmother like my Nana, and if there’s one thing her cancer diagnosis has shown me, it’s that not a single second spent with her ought to be taken for granted.

I’m off to make dinner.  Thankfully, there are no potatoes to be peeled tonight.

It’s Almost All Attitude

22 Oct

There is a quote that says, “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  I don’t know who said it, but it’s on the five magnets that adorn the employee fridge at my retail job, so I see it a lot.  It’s a good reminder for when you work retail.  My attitude can make the difference between creating a loyal customer and setting off a vengeful person out for my job (yes, those people do exist). 

But over the last few weeks, the broader truth to this quote has become clear to me on several occasions.

1) A friend diagnosed with cancer reminds me every day to stop and appreciate the simple beauty of just being alive, and to stop procrastinating with healthcare appointments.  Her determination to see the good in life, while being heart-breakingly honest about her cancer, makes the entire world of cancer seem a little bit less scary.  Knowledge is the brightest light in the darkness of fear.

2) My grandmother, who was diagnosed with colon cancer last month, may have set a record for the shortest hospital stay after major abdominal surgery last week.  Just four days after having a section of her colon removed, including a cancerous tumor, her appendix, and 20 lymph nodes, she walked (well, not literally.  There are rules about that sort of thing, but she was more than capable of walking) out of the hospital.  I imagine there were more than one relieved nurse to see her go.  My grandmother refuses to submit to illness, and her strength is an inspiration.

3) A former sunday school student with a rare childhood brain cancer is smiling to beat the sun in every single picture I’ve seen of him, both pre and post diagnosis.  He has a spirit that cannot be beaten down, not even by major surgery or inpatient hospital stays.  He and his family’s devotion to making the most of every minute they have together reminds me of the importance of family, whether it’s biological or the ones we make ourselves.

4) A trip to Six Flags on Saturday got derailed (ha ha! Wait for it…) when one of the attractions broke down mid-ride.  A hundred or so people were stuck on a train (get it now?), in the rapidly-cooling night, surrounded by grisly murder scenes.  When it became clear that the stop was no longer a planned part of the ride, many people on the train got restless.  Half an hour passed before park staff got on the microphone and announced that we would be evacuated from the hopelessly-stuck train and would have to exit the ride on foot.

     At this news, even with a promised refund of the $10 ticket price, some passengers got angry.  They complained about having to wait to get off the train, then about having to use a ladder to get off the train (the train seats sit about 3 1/2 feet off the ground, a huge step at night), then about having to walk through the woods by flashlight, then about having to stand in line, and then about having to stop at the exit of the park to get their refund.  They couldn’t see the breakdown for what it was- a once-in-a-season chance to walk though professionally-constructed murder scenes on foot and emerge from the woods with the best haunted train ride story of them all.  And seriously?  The on-foot part may have been the scariest part of the otherwise tame ride.

     In the end, Six Flags not only refunded the $10 ticket price of the ride, but the full $25 I had spent on an unlimited ride bracelet for the three speciality Fright Fest attractions.  It would have been easier on their bottom line to just hand me $10, especially since I had already used the bracelet for other attactions, but they chose to refund the full amount, and offered the most sincere apology I’ve ever heard from a corporation.  In the end, the only complaint I had about the park was over its rather revolting hot chocolate.  Pro tip: bittersweet chocolate makes a terrible drink.  This is magnified when it is served lukewarm.

Bad things are always going to happen, whether it’s a broken ride at an amusement park or a life-threatening illness of someone you love, or something in between.  I’ve come to realize that how you react to those things makes all the difference.  Choosing to search for the bright side, to cling to hope, and refusing to let the anger have you can turn an inconvience into an adventure and grief into joy.

Fate may occasionally deal you a bad hand, but you always get to choose how to play it.

Growing Up But Still Bad At Math

15 Oct

So, as is the story of my life when it comes to basic math, I have miscalculated (seriously- I have a Masters Degree in statistical analysis, but when it comes to basic subtraction, I’m at a loss.  True story in fact- I was at the pool last month and talking to a fellow swimmer.  I mentioned that I had swam in college, and he asked how many years ago I had graduated.  You guys, I couldn’t even subtract 2008 from 2012.  I stammered while trying to come up with the answer (4! It’s 4, you moron!! Or just say 2008!!!).  The guy gave me a strange look and went back to his laps. This is why I’m not allowed out in public without a chaperon (or a calculator).).

But this time, I miscalculated in a good way.

You see, I’m further along in my loan pay-off that I thought.  I overestimated the amount of interest each month, and I’m going to owe roughly$470 less on my December payment than I originally thought.  Rather than a final payment of $1,334 in December, it’ll be around the $865 mark.  I’ll be undergrad-loan-free and have extra money in my pocket!

Now, before you all start sending me your Christmas lists, I have already made plans for that money.  It’s very likely going to be buying me a brand-new bed.

Why do I need a new bed, you ask?

Why, because it’s very uncomfortable to sleep on the floor, even if that floor is the floor in your very own apartment.

Yes, that’s right, Ladies and Gentlemen: I am finally growing up and moving out.

Like most of my generation, I moved back in with my parents (or the singular parent, in my case) after school.  No job meant no money for rent.  Now, I haven’t been living at home for free- I’ve been paying a monthly rent to cover food and utilities, and paying all of my own bills.  I just was spending about $500 a month less than I would have on my own.  I also had the security of knowing that I wasn’t going to be evicted if I lost my job(s), and the warm-fuzzy feeling from knowing that I was helping my family not risk losing our house.

But now I have a full-time job, I have medical insurance (or close enough), I have savings, I am about to be free of my undergraduate student loans, and by golly, I’m 26 years old.  It’s time I learned how to cook for myself.  (I’m actually really excited about the prospect of having my own kitchen.  My family doesn’t share my food allergies, and that means I either can’t eat what the rest of the family is having for dinner, or risk being sick.  Having my own kitchen means no gluten, caffeine, or artificial sweetener can accidentally contaminate anything.)

So, now begins the hunt for the perfect apartment.  I’m hoping to move in January or February, so I’ve got to start looking now.  The good news is that rents are often lower in the winter, since the demand is lower.  It also means that apartments that have been sitting empty for several months are more negotiable in terms of price.  And I am an excellent negotiator.  (True story part II- I once got 30% off a dress because the zipper was broken.  A discount of $9, which after a 99 cent replacement zipper at Wal-Mart and 10 minutes of sewing, netted me enough savings to go see a movie.  This story took place seven years ago, when you could see a movie for $8… with a student ID.)

The point is, I’m feeling pretty happy about my miscalculation.  After almost a year of adjusting monthly goals because I forgot the factor in interest, or because I couldn’t make monthly goals, or because I just absolutely failed at basic mathematics, it’s very nice to make a mistake at the other end.

I wonder if the government will find a mistake in my grad student loans and send me a letter that they’ve been decreased too…

Probably not.  But that’s a blog topic for next year, when the graduate student loans come due.

Until then, here’s a pretty graph for you.  A fair number of my blog hits come from people searching for a student loan graph, and you all seem to like staring into the soul of my budget.

Yes, the blue “actual balance” line held steady from July to August, and actually increased from January to February, but hey look- it almost touches the red “ideal balance” line twice!

It’s OK To Say Nothing

11 Oct

It feels like the walls are caving in lately.  There’s sickness and uncertainty on every side, and it seems that each time I find a new refuge, the darkness worms its way in.  It is like it is chasing me, and I can’t run fast enough to get away.

My grandmother has cancer.

A former sunday school student has cancer.

A dear friend has cancer again.

Everything is pink this month, half of which is useless because that money won’t go to research and treatment.

And I can’t do anything about it.

All I can do is sit with my grandmother and let her know that I love her and I’m there whenever she needs me.  She’s in surgery as I type this, surgery to remove the cancerous tumor in her colon, her right-side abdominal lymph nodes, and her appendix.

It’s the same for the others.  All I can do is offer help and be there if and when it’s needed.  Cancer isn’t something that you can beat if you just gather enough people together.  There are no armies, no united effort against a common enemy.  Cancer is a personal battle.  Doctors can recommend treatments, pharmacists can dispense medicine, friends and family can offer support, but it comes down to one person fighting against their own body for the right to live.

This results in a strange paradox: the closer you are to someone with cancer, the more helpless you feel.  The more frustration you encounter, the more anger you have to try to surpress, the more it hurts each time you think of what the future holds.  The temptation to pull away is great, the idea that it will hurt less because it will be easier to put up emotional shields from a distance.

This results in an even stranger paradox: the further you are away from someone with cancer, the more helpless you feel.  The less information you have on treatments, on prognosis, on day-to-day strength and emotional well-being, on needs.  The more frustration you encounter, the more anger you have to try to supress, the more it hurts each time you think of the person because damn it but you weren’t supposed to feel anything anymore.

This leads me to my conclusion: cancer sucks all around.  It sucks for those far-removed, it sucks for those closer, and it really sucks for the person with cancer.  Everyone is frustrated, everyone is angry, everyone is hurting, and there’s just no way to avoid it.

So, I have to ask.  Can we all understand this, and agree that we should think before we speak?  Emotions surrounding cancer are always already at the breaking point, and careless words, even well-intentioned ones, can cut deeper than you can imagine.

Now, there are countless posts and articles about what to say/ what not to say to someone with cancer.  I don’t care what those say.  What should be/ should not be said is different for every case and every person, and I’m not going to make a list here.

What I do want to make clear is this: it is OK to say nothing.   I don’t mean that it is OK to not react to someone’s diagnosis.  Ignoring someone’s suffering is just as painful as mispeaking, because the silence leaves the words to the imagination.

What I mean is that it is perfectly acceptable to send a note without words, an email without text, or a text without characters.  Send a picture of a happy memory, of a beautiful garden, of a dog just joyful to be outside.  If the idea of a blank text box terrifies you, know that just the words “I’m here” can mean more than you can imagine.

Because even though cancer has to be fought by just one, no one says that you can’t have one or two or nine companions along the way. (Yes, I did just make a Lord of The Rings reference in a blog post about cancer.  These things happen.)  There may be no tangible way to help, no physical presence requested, but that doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t need anything from you.

So the next time you find yourself at a loss for words because you are too afraid of saying the wrong thing, remember that words aren’t everything.  Don’t let a fear of words keep you from acknowledging an illness.  We communicate primarily with words, yes, but there are so many other ways to express support and love.

And sometimes, it is OK to say nothing at all.

Using My Dog To Recreate Internet Memes

4 Oct

I spend a lot of time on the internet.

Sometimes I want to recreate things that I’ve seen on the internet.

Like dog memes.

Yes, sometimes I want to recreate dog memes.

Luckily, I have a very cooperative and photogenic dog.

That’s why today you get this:

Using My Dog To Recreate Internet Memes

1. The Surrounded By Treats Meme

The Original

The Pumpkin

2. The Professor Dog Meme

The Original

The Pumpkin

3. The It Was The Cat Meme

The Original

The Pumpkin (and what’s left of The Quail Toy)

4. The ERMAHGERD Dog Meme

The Original

The Pumpkin

I think it’s pretty clear who the winner is here.

VICTORY!

October

1 Oct

It’s October!!!

I love October.  It means cooler weather, crunchy leaves, hot apple cider drinks, and enough rainy days to keep my angsty writer’s muse happy.

It also means there are three loan payments left this year.  Three more chances to meet my goal and pay off these loans.  As of today, there is just $3,523.91 standing between me and a full pay on the B.A. degree I earned four and a half years ago.

My October payment is scheduled for today, the full ideal payment of $1,334.  Since I FINALLY got my paycheck issues sorted out (it was a months-long process, and I didn’t talk about it much on here since I try not to whine to all of you… more than twice a month), I recieved a nice-sized check last week.  It covered six weekly timesheets, some dating back to May, a reimbursement from travel, and my first official full-time-job salary.

After a not-so-brief and furious mental battle, my practical side won out and I ended up saving most of the money.  After all, I’ll be apartment hunting in the new year and I’ll have graduate loans to start paying back.

Ugh. Graduate loans.  I don’t even want to think about how much those are.

Actually, I should probably go check.  Hang on.

.

..

….

Hmm, I’ve forgotten my password.  It’s been a while since I’ve logged into the site.  Where’s the reset button?

.

..

You know, it’s surprisingly easy to get access to my account without a password.

.

Ok, as of today, my graduate student loans have a balance of $68,769.72.

I knew I didn’t want to think about it.

I don’t even want to talk about it.

I was young. I was careless.  I fell victim to the promise of a stable economy.

But that’s a story for another post.

Today is a happy day, because I am $1,334 closer to being free of my undergraduate loans.  Just two more payments and that degree is paid off.  No more will I hear from Nelnet about the status of my loans.

Which is actually kind of sad, because they keep sending me letters like this:

Great Lakes won’t be sending me congratulatory letters like this. Great Lakes will be sending me vaguely-worded threats as to the location of their money. This has already begun, in fact.

I’ve gotten a letter like that each time I’ve paid off a group of my loans (three so far).  With October’s payment, I’ll pay off one more group.  I’ll be down to just Group E and its sinister interest rate of 6.8%.

I wonder what kind of letter Nelnet will send me in December?  Maybe one with a cat gif?

Maybe even this one?

I like this one.

So dance on, crazy cats.  It’s October and we’re that much closer to the end. 🙂

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