Liebster award nomination

liebsteraward_3lilapples1I’ve been nominated for a Liebster award for my blog by another amazing blogger, Sarah Elizabeth Lane. I’ve never heard of this award, truthfully, but I like the idea behind it. It’s a great way for us newbie bloggers to reach out and connect with one another and it’s a nice incentive to keep writing! Who doesn’t enjoy a gold star now and then? Writing is damn hard, and it’s a lonely occupation. So thank you, my dearest Sarah, for the nomination. I have always been impressed with Sarah’s well-crafted stories, she makes writing look so easy, but we all know it isn’t! Plus, she has my heart as another lovely Italiana. Sarah, you have a beautiful soul and way with words I can only dream of aspiring to, not to mention, your self-effacing humor makes it so darn easy to love you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Now I get to answer some questions! So without further ado, here are my responses. Enjoy.

1. Why did you start your blog?

This is my third blog. I started my first one in the late 90s, another one when I studied abroad in Wales, and now this is my third attempt. Throughout my childhood I kept a journal. I’m not the best conversationalist, it’s just easier for me to write when I want to accurately convey my feelings. I started this blog as a way to communicate with other expats and Sci-fi/fantasy people. Truthfully, I write for myself. I’m not expecting to make money, it’s just a way to express my thoughts and share with the incredibly engaging and loving writing community on WordPress.

2. What was your dream occupation when you were a young child?

I’m pretty sure I changed my mind as often as I changed shirts! Two in particular stuck with me the longest: veterinarian and marine biologist. The vet thing didn’t happen because I couldn’t deal with animals dying around me and marine biology, to be fair, I considered until I was about 18. About then I realized I’d have to go to college for most of my 20s, and I could expect to make pennies on the dollar. It didn’t seem to add up to me. Should I have received a scholarship, perhaps that would have changed …

3. If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, in only two words, what would they be?

PURSUE SCIENCE! I had no idea that I was so passionate about astrobiology until later in life. I’ve read so much about astrobiology. I wouldn’t mind if my career led me to a science writer or communications specialist working at a Space Agency (ESA, NASA, you just wait!). Maybe there is hope for my science fiction career yet …

4. If you could get lost purpose, anywhere, where would it be?

I would love to get LOST in Italy. Florence was so incredibly beautiful, and getting lost was half the fun! All the secret alleyways with beautifully hidden hole-in-wall restaurants. I need another Italy trip. I don’t even want to go to any touristy locations, I just want to go to Italy and EAT.

5. What is your most prized possession, and why?

I still have my security blanket named Dee Dee. This is the only ‘thing’ which has been with me since the start of my life, until now. I’ve lost touch with people and given away objects, but DD has been with me forever. I knew Lewis was a keeper when he didn’t make fun of me and introduced him to DD.  🙂

My goal is to eventually make a quilt and turn the few lasting bits into a square.

6. What is your favorite quote, and by whom?

My mom use to always say, “this too shall pass.” It seems really trite, but it’s become a mantra. Not only will things change (better/worse) but life does indeed go on. It’s an important thing to remember on bad days.

Another favorite Lord of the Rings quote (neeeeeeeerd!) by Tolkien, or really Gandalf, is when he says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” It’s so true. How many times have we looked back thinking, if only… life is about seizing the opportunities when found.

7. What is your guiltiest pleasure?

For a few years I enjoyed watching Army Wives! That was my sinful pleasure. Now my guilty pleasure is drinking port and eating delicious  dark chocolate which has orange, vanilla and chili’s. It’s sooooooo delicious. I think I upgraded my guilty pleasure big time.

8. If you could spend a year anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do there? Let’s pretend money is not an issue, per say, but that you’re not necessarily a Lottery winner either.

Belize. I’ve always wanted to go to Belize. When I was 25 my co-worker just came back from Belize with the most amazing outlook on life. She was positively glowing, and not just from the best tan I’ve ever seen, she genuinely looked 10 years younger. She sat down next to me and said, “Kassie, when you get a chance…. Belize. Just go. Trust me.”

I’ve never forgotten that.

9. Waffles, pancakes, french toast…or vodka?

OMG. Best question, ever!!! I really miss Saturday morning brunches. The British just have NO IDEA how to do a good brunch. Waffles and hot chocolate and mimosas, pleeeeeease.

But I’ll never say no to a bloody mary.

10. Name your go-to driving in the car/home alone/shower sing-along song.

Alanis Morisettte, “You Oughta know” and Metallica’s “Sad But True”

I’ve belted out these renditions more times than I can count. They are also my karaoke go-to songs and I know them by heart.

— and now to continue on the tradition. Here are my nominees —

Bridget Hoida

I met Bridget through her brother, Jeff Hoida, as we were in the same high school class together. Bridget is an amazingly talented (and published!!) writer. Her So LA is an amazing read, I couldn’t put it down. Oh, and she’s a teacher and helps students with their college applications. Bridget is someone I wish I met earlier in life, we could have been besties. Her creative energy is infectious, plus she’s a down-to-earth good-natured person.

To the baby in the restaurant

Lili and I had the most fortuitous meet-cute. We met in San Francisco, as we were both working for a short-term contract position. She asked me how to fill in a W2 form, which I thought “Has she never had a job before?!”

She explained she just moved over from England. And hey, guess what, she use to live in the same town as my British boyfriend! You couldn’t make this stuff up. We instantly bonded and have been friends ever since.

Lili writes a series of letters to individuals. Her conversational style is effortless. She’s a true talent, and I see her writing screen-plays one day. Her soul belongs in New York I feel. I’ve often told her she has the soul of someone older than her early 20-something would lead you to believe.

BexAdler

I hope Bex starts updating her blog again! I loved reading her book reviews. I have a tendency to stick to one particular genre, but through her different recommendations I’ve starting reading a bit more outside my ‘comfort zone’, so to speak. Not only did she also go to Sacramento State (woot!) she has also taught abroad in China and is now teaching in Oregon. Bex is ambitious young lady, and seasoned world-traveler. I keep hoping she’ll write a book about her experiences abroad one day.

If my fellow bloggers choose to accept their award, here are the rules:

1. Post the award on your blog
2. Thank the blogger who presented the award to you and link back to their blog
3. Answer the questions given to you by the nominator
4. Nominate a handful of bloggers  with less than 200 followers
5. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer
6. Notify your nominees by posting on their blog

— Here are your 10 questions, fellow nominees —

1) If you could re-do one event in your life, what would it be?

2) What do you like about blogging?

3) Describe your life at age 65.

4) N’Sync or Backstreet Boys?

5) If you could get into a verbal sparring match with one person, alive or dead, who would it be?

6) You life will be made into a movie. Who would play you?

7) What is your go-to drink?

8) Fill this in.  “When I see a group of hipsters in the street, I want to _____ ”

9) Gym or watching TV?

10)  Who has inspired you to make some of the decisions you’ve made today?

 

 

 

But I’m still American?

The excitement when I first held my red Italian passport. Standing at the airport, with two pieces of luggage and a backpack, saying goodbye to my family. To my life.

Moving to another country is a life-changing adventure. But, is it the right one?

I thought, what am I getting myself into. My great-grandparents left Europe to pursue new opportunities and here I am, returning to the start. Am I letting them down?

You think … what about friends and family members I love and cherish. All the happy memories created during high school, college. You are going to miss birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, graduations, babies, funerals, little ones growing up. I am saying goodbye to the California sunshine, lifestyle, and cuisine. Everything I have ever known.

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Pacific ocean near Half Moon Bay, California

Why am  I leaving? It’s my home, my country. Am I leaving for a better life or will I create something worse? Fear and regret. And yet, I still step on the plane.

One thing I didn’t anticipate is the in-between. While there’s no harm in returning, you’re a changed individual. Neither completely European or American. Your journey creates homesickness in your heart. I miss the heat. But, I miss the lush, emerald green of Britain. Can you belong to both?

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Raw beauty of NorCal.

Living abroad, you’re reminded that you are the OTHER. You’ll never completely understand the references, the jokes from past shows or their childhood memories. People will always question your logic and expect a rational answer; they just don’t understand when you can’t provide clear answers.

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The beauty of England

But despite all this you will feel more grounded than ever. I’m ITALIAN / AMERICAN. Perhaps my spirit has always resided in two places, but it took leaving to understand that part of myself. Why do we have to choose where we place our love? So you just stop thinking and start living and loving. You grow to accept the differences and choose to love even harder.

I love my country. I love my heritage. And I love the life I have created after two years of hard work. Soon, you grow to enjoy returning home all the more because home isn’t just one place. Home is HERE and home is THERE, equally and simultaneously.

 

 

The psychological aspects of reaching 999

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Today, I want to embrace an important milestone in my life. One that, I hope, others are also beginning to experience. Especially my fellow 30somethings hollllaaaaa’ ::FISTBUMP:: who are moving forward in their careers and making a name for themselves.

Today, on this seemingly ordinary day in March, I have left behind “thousands of credit card debt” and have run with open arms into the warm embrace of “hundreds of credit card debt.” If you want an exact amount the running total is $999 … that’s almost $8K paid off.

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ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!

That, my friends, is a huge psychological boost. While my C.C. debt has gone up and down over the years it’s been so, so long since it has fallen into the hundreds. And even then, it was never paid off. But this time it’s different. One shackle has been destroyed and a few others are so loose they are practically falling off.

But Kassie, you still have ‘thousands’ of dollars with your student loans to pay off….

YES. Yes, I do. Paying off debt is not quick ; it’s a long-term process. My student loans will be paid off in increments over the next few months and years. However my credit card debt is no longer a wild, out-of-control monstrosity. My creation obeys me.

It’s nine hundred and ninety-nine because that’s what I told it to be. I’m the ring-master and $ 999 is waiting for its next command. And in just two short months it will perform its final show. Happily, 999 is not expected to survive. The only thing more beautiful than $ 999 is its distant cousin: $ 0.00.

But $ 999 isn’t just about finding and asserting control it is also about patience. And forgiveness. $ 999 provided much needed insight.

Kassie, did your partner help pay off your debt?

Hell no. We’re both dealing with our debts separately. Although don’t get me wrong … this is still a team effort.

Since becoming an expat in Britain both of our careers have grown by leaps and bounds. But while our careers have grown up, strong and beautiful, our finances have withered, stunted and deformed, caused by debt accumulation. It’s not even like we’ve been reckless, heck, we’re still driving an old beater Volvo. But life just has a way of catching-up. There were occasions where we fell into the classic, “well, let’s just put it on the credit card” and overspent. In all honesty, the majority of my credit card debt came from being unemployed for almost a year.

But now we’re looking forward to our life together. $ 999 allowed me to understand that a good partner is one who supports you when making the unpopular decisions.

Budget planning is a jagged pill to swallow. No one likes to look like financial shit in front of anyone. We had to be completely honest and surrender. I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.

But to get it done just throw your hair into a high ponytail, put on some yoga pants, and GO for it. $ 999 taught me beauty is also measured by maturity.

Drawing up schematics doesn’t have to be fancy. I used paper, pen, and a calendar. But having a plan is crucial. We have a white board hanging next to our door where we write all monthly expenses, and subtract from our own respective budgets, to keep an eye on our spending habits. I’m now being held accountable for my actions.

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Don’t lose sight of your goals. Ignore the haters.

The hardest part is sticking to a budget, so $ 999 provided instructions in how to honor patience. Here is where social media can be a hindrance. It’s so easy to compare our lives. Especially people who are purchasing everything under the sun, going on trips, showing off wads of cash. I’ve broken down and cried, stamped my foot, left in a huff, and done so many other ridiculous, immature things. Yes, indeed, some are blessed to have a debt-free lifestyle, but $ 999 has gently reminded me that chances are many are also swimming in their own debts. How would I know otherwise?

$ 999 knows its time is limited but it’s okay with that. You know why? Because it’s just a fucking number that means nothing to itself but everything to me. The smaller it gets, the bigger my smile.

So, what’s my point? My message is for anyone struggling with their own debt to start small. Find your happy place. But above anything else, start paying it off NOW. Waiting just delays the inevitable.

I’ve ticked my $ 999 box towards freedom. I can’t wait to meet sexy $ 0.00.

Observer

hide-n-seek

“We have our parts to play. Listen. Hidden traits can be revealed.”

The two Seekers began in unison, eyes tightly shut as everyone scrambled in delighted panic. The long-legged Irish sisters took risky spots behind a smaller vehicle, close to Base. The judge’s daughter hid behind her family station wagon. And lastly, the mischievous dark-haired fraternal twins ducked behind bushes in front of another neighbours porch. The Sisters giggled, shushed each other, then had another fit.

“7! 8! 9…” shouted the Seekers.

I debated joining the Sisters, with Base strategically close and an easy run from all directions. But it didn’t feel right. I stopped mid-dash at a cluster of three grouped Birch trees in my front yard. This was the spot.

I wedged myself between two larger ones, ignoring the scrapes on my legs, and crouched low to the ground as leaves crunched under dirty hands. My heart beat furiously, a steady knockknockknock against my chest. I could smell earth and damp. Sweat beads formed on my forehead as I tried to even out my breathing through flared nostrils, sucking in fresh cold air. Eventually, the melodious symphony of crickets and toads replaced the steady thumping from my excited heart. I felt ready.

“…19, 20!! Ready or not, here we come!”

I crouched lower, my head inches from damp ground. Breathing deep, I watched through the Birch trees. I watched as the Seekers mumbled to each other, then parted.

I watched the Hunters.

Seeker Tommy ran towards the Irish Sisters. YOU FOUND US! peals of laughter emitting from them both, as he tagged Katie first. Seeker Julie calculated her steps then gave chase towards Judge’s daughter Cheri and the mischievous brothers, Lee and Jon. The brothers split-up and ran towards Base, but Cheri stood her ground. Julie targeted her supposed easy kill before Cheri, at the last moment, ran away from Base, further down the street. Julie stopped chasing and looked for someone closer and slower, growing desperate.

Seizing my chance, I sprang like a gazelle and ran. Julie gave chase after me but I was too far ahead. I touched the edge of Buick, Base, before she could claim victory.

“Yeaaaaah! Wooooooo!!” I yelled, grinning. “I win! I win! I’m alive!” Everyone laughed. “Okay, let’s go again!”

In the distance voices called. Katie turned and grabbed Caroline’s hand.

“We gotta go now, time for dinner.” The Sisters skipped hand-in-hand towards the silhouettes of their parents standing outside.

“C’mon, let’s play!” said Jon and Julie.

As they started counting, I ran towards my secret spot nestled among the Birches. But this time, I wasn’t as careful. As I stepped onto the wet grass I slipped and twisted my ankle. Grimacing, I looked down and my skinned knee and tender ankle. There was no way I could run to Base.

“11, 12, 13…”

I glanced up at the Birches.

The hardest part was the first branch. After that it was a piece of cake. I quietly crept up, up, up until I was just high enough and out of sight. The dense foliage of other surrounding around the Birches provided plenty of stealthy cover.

“Here we come!”

Julie ran immediately to the Birches, having seen me run there previously. I should have known better, Julie was a good Huntress and I got lazy. High above her, I grinned in amazement as she circled in puzzlement, before running to the cars with Tommy and other neighborhood kids.

“Kids, time to come back!”

“Ah man, 5 more minutes, c’mon!”

“It’s time for dinner, time to come in!”

Tommy and Julie shrugged and ran back home. Other neighborhood kids did as well. I watched them all as they walked/ran back inside with their parents.

When everyone had gone, and the street quiet, I climbed down and returned inside for dinner.

The next morning, I walked over to the Birches. It was the end of summer and the sky looked a bit grey. But how the Birches gleamed against the drab skylines. All three had beautiful white parchment bark, which could be stripped away in long, thin sheets. Three beautiful white trees in the middle of a lush green enclosure. Each standing proud and majestically.

I climbed the tallest one.

Higher than last night, I surveyed the cul-de-sac. I watched families come and and cars whiz past the main road outside the cul-de-sac. Kids yelling in their homes, in the street, in their backyards and driveways. Laughing, crying, talking. Televisions. Stereos. Radios blaring. People shuffling in and out of cars, homes. Band practice, cheer practice, baseball practice, swim lessons, tutoring lessons. Cars driving past the neighborhood. Cars driving through the neighbourhood. Parking, leaving again.

I watched ants trail up one of the branches. The sway and tug and pull of life, as wind tousled my hair and leaves rustled on the ground, around my Birch. I watched everything. My small world view.

When the street lights flickered on, illuminating the dark street and parked cars, I felt peace. I then heard neighbourhood kids playing tag, screaming in delight as they chased one another. The thrill of hunting your prey. The thrill of being caught. The grandiose thrill of being alive.

I climbed down to join.

I’m Fighting Back Against Debt. How do you slay the 26K Monster?

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Writing about student loan debt has been tremendously helpful. Now it’s something I cannot deny or run away from because there it is, written out clearly for the world (and ME) to see.

Debt is fucked up. It’s certainly not something we like to admit to our friends, family and more importantly to ourselves. Who likes to saunter into dinner parties and casually mention, “Yes, that is a wonderful new car to purchase, Brenda. And John, Hawaii is lovely to visit. As for me, I’m walking around saddled with 50K in student loan and credit card debt! Isn’t that just delightful?!” Uhm. No.

Debt is a tough pill to swallow. It’s embarrassing. There are times when I think to myself “what the hell is the point of working if half my income will be going to paying off debt?!” Seriously, it’s the worst feeling ever. It’s a rollercoaster of embarrassment and emotional feelings you can’t ever escape.

“I can’t afford to (:insert the biggest dream you want here:) because of my fucking debt!”

As much as I want to push away or ignore it, I just can’t. It’s a constant daily reminder. “Oh wait, I can’t afford to travel around Europe this summer after all!” The only good thing is that debt helps when it comes to reevaluating priorities. What is it exactly that you want? Is debt actually holding you back or are you too scared to move forward? It’s a great wake up call.

Now that I’m in my 30s my priorities have changed. Nothing would bring me greater joy than to get married, have kids and own a comfortable home with my partner. But when you’re saddled with debt these “pursuits of happiness” are not easy. How is it possible to afford a mortgage if you’re writing off half your income to student loans?

Denial is a fucking bitch and I’m tired of it. So I’ve decided to grab debt by its collar and slap it across the face. It’s no longer controlling me, I’m going to control it. I’ve climbed to the top of the mountain just to scream — SCREW YOU DEBT. YOU’RE NOT HOLDING ME PRISONER ANY LONGER!!!

It’s time to grow up. You’re not going to beat me.

snowball1First order of business: What is Debt Snowballing?

Snowballing is simple but also very effective. The snowball method involves making a list of all the balances you owe to various institutions (credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc.) and then tackling your smallest balance first. What you’d do is pay the monthly minimum on all your balances, except your smallest balance, which you’d pay off the most aggressively by applying as much extra money to it as possible. Once you eliminate the smallest balance, you tackle the next smallest balance, and then the next until you’ve paid everything off. This is a similar method I’ll be employing. Now that I’m in a healthy job, I can afford to make large payments each month. Every year I get a promotion, more money towards debt pay off.

Suze Orman also says it’s important to also pay yourself. So each month, I’ll continue putting additional money into my savings account.

Have a plan

Moving to a no-interest (for 18 months) credit card was a super wise investment. That is, by far, the debt with the highest interest rate. Credit card debt has no redeeming features either. At least with Student Loan debt you can deduct up to a certain amount on your taxes. But that’s about the only good thing.

Looking at my figures and what I can afford each month, I’ve found that I could pay off my entire credit card debt and one student loan completely by next summer. That’s about $13K worth of debt alone.

In savings, I’ll have roughly £3500. That’s money I can continue to save for emergencies or I can put half it towards paying off my next sizable loan.

Keep Moving – Paying off Student Loans A, B, and Krakken

After my credit card debt and first of THREE student loans are paid off, I’ll SNOWBALL that money and pay off my second student loan by December 2014. So that will be two out of three KILLED in a year and a half,

220px-Colossal_octopus_by_Pierre_Denys_de_MontfortKill the Kraken

My worst “debt” is an amalgam of three combined student loans, which was formed after the Wachovia 2008-2009 bank disaster. I fondly call it the $26K Monster, where the K actually stands for Kraken. The worst bit is that the fixed interest is at 6.8% . Good in a sense, because I hear that if these politicians ever decide to go higher they can’t because the interest is fixed. But it sucks as interest is at 3% (which is great for my one variable student loan).

Over the next year and a half, I’ll have to pay the minimum to keep the interest in check and pay down part of the principle. But here is where is also gets tricky. Do I choose …

OPTION A

Acquire a personal loan. The personal loan would pay off my remaining student loan balance. Now I wouldn’t have conduct a bank transfer overseas each month (which costs an additional £100 each year) and can payoff the loan directly from my bank account in Stirling. The personal loan has a lower interest rate and would cost less each month. I’d chose the option to pay off in three years but instead pay it off in two, thus, completing my debt reduction in roughly three to three and a half years (depending on any future promotions I get in the future). Or do I choose …

OPTION B

Not taking a personal loan and continue making monthly payments to have the student loan paid off in a two and a half years. Both options are highly dependent on a number of factors namely, if I get approved for a personal loan (and that will pay off the total amount) and if I get a good interest rate which will enable me to have it paid off in a few years.

Overall, it’s a highly aggressive but also satisfying plan. There’s a bit of excitement knowing that after a few years whatever I earn I will be able to put into my checking and high interest savings account. While it’s said that most student loans will be paid over a period of ten years I can’t imagine spending another ten years in absolutely misery of seeing my money flush down the drain.

BTW, people who are considering going back to college but it will cost them thousands and thousands of dollars to do so, please take my advice and apply for scholarships and grants! Off set the charge as much as you can.

How are you tackling your MONSTER debt?

Does anyone else have debt they are trying to avoid? How are you going about to solve the problem?

Relearning the Joy of Being Thrifty

So far, 2013 has treated us well. After working a year for Delphi, I’m starting a rewarding career at Oxford University. Lewis is transferring his work in another section at Jaguar, and overall, we’re looking at planning our future together.

2010-2012 were not great, financially and mentally. After graduating, I found myself unemployed with immediate student loan debt. I was able to work as a contractor keeping my various bills paid, but it just wasn’t enough to live on my own. Unfortunately around this time as well, a lot of friends were into lavish entertainment; this was their preferred adult lifestyle, which I completely understood. But this didn’t make it easy for me on a day-to-day basis. I got to choose between a) staying at home feeling sorry for myself, or b) spend a bit of money to have a social life with some great people. Some good friends knew of my situation and always offered to pay (because they are bad ass nice sweethearts). But for the most part, this was out-of-pocket expense I just didn’t have.

That landed me in a bit of hot water. 😛

Fast forward to present day and I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve slowly regained my footing, I’m making the ascent out of the slippery self-created mud pit. This nagging beast of burden has been a constant thorn in my side and I’m sick of it. It’s time to SLAY THE DREADED THREE-HEADED MONSTER.

I’ve put myself on a timescale to have almost all debt wiped out three to five years, depending on my future career with Oxford progresses. While that makes my heart smile knowing I FINALLY have a plan, that’s still a LOOOOONG time. Life gets in the way. Events will happen. How do I learn to balance life without going deep into my shell and not reappearing in a few years?

Surprisingly, it just took some soul-searching. I had to prioritize choices and goals. I’ve acquainted myself to a college lifestyle. I’ve decided to cut my spending and look at: charity shops, reuse/recycle shops and travel deals.

Charity Shops

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I found this at 70% off, for only £3.50.

In Britain, there are some fantastic charity shops absolutely everywhere. Charities like: Oxfam, Red Cross, Sue Ryder, British Heart Foundation, animal welfare. Shopping here BEFORE going into a high street shop has saved me lots of £££, plus, proceeds go to a great cause. It’s definitely been a win-win. I’ve been lucky to find some gorgeous second-hand cardigans for work, books, scarves, brand new IKEA plates/dishes and things I’ve needed for our place.

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Reuse empty coffee tins for planters.

REUSE/RECYCLE

The town “tip” (recycle garbage, for my American readers) has a fantastic Sue Ryder charity shop next door. I love, love finding hidden treasures! One of the coolest things I’ve found was an A4 sized 100-year-old large postcard, depicting the old mill in Warwick. Grand total, £3. I’ve also found glass bottles (for my plants), cookware and wooden plant stools for under £5 a piece.

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Picked up this jade plant (money tree) for FREE on freecycle.

I’ve also grown to love Freecycle.org! The people I’ve met are incredibly sweet and down-to-earth. I’ve been able to nab some free mason jars and scored an absolutely gorgeous jade plant (money tree). I almost got a king sized futon and brand new IKEA kitchen island, but sadly, someone just picked it up as I enquired. It’s all about timing with freecycle!

Traveling Smarter

Unless we’re traveling with a group of people, Lewis and I have decided against hotel room travel for just him and I. Instead, we’re going to network more with people we know globally and use travel websites, like couchsurfing.com, Livingsocial and Groupon. If we can’t find a deal, then we’re not traveling there. Hotel rooms cost a fortune, that’s money we can pocket instead.

For all its positives it MIGHT be frustrating once you’ve become thrifty. It’s so much easier going to the store to purchase things you need instead of hunting for the best deal. This is why the majority of my shopping is now also done online with vouchers, and/or free shipping.

But it’s also rewarding. I know in a few years my debt will be slashed by 50% and I’ll have a sizable amount in savings for my rainy day and emergency funds.

What thrifty tips do you have? Have you found that being thrifty is really more enjoyable? What sort of amazing deals have you found?

A few more pictures! Here are a couple of pictures of things I’ve gotten for a few quid recently:

Wooden jewelry box for £2.

Cookware for only £3.

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Motorcycle Trip Down Memory Lane

May 1997. Stockton, California. 

“You have to put the strap through the loop underneath.”

He lifted my chin and moved my hands from the helmet. “See? Just loop it once. Twice. Done.”

“It’s not my fault. I can’t see it in front of me, okay?” I felt pathetic.

He grinned and tugged, the silence deafening as the world muffled. He knocked the top of my head as if checking a gourd.

“You ready?” He towered over me. How tall was he anyway, six foot five? What a giant.

“Yeah. Ready as I’ll ever be.”  I said. “How good are you at riding these?” I could barely hear the sound of my voice.

He jumped on the motorcycle and started it, revving the engine a few times. “REALLY good!” he yelled. “Now get on, stop procrastinating! It’ll be an experience.”

I awkwardly climbed on behind him, shifting my body weight back away from him. It feels weird being in his personal space.  My helmet knocked the back of his and we laughed.

“Okay, I’m going to give you some pointers!” He yelled over the engine. “When I move, you move! When we turn lean with me, don’t lean the other way or straight up. Just go for the ride. Hang on to ME, not the side handles! It’ll be fine, I PROMISE! Ready?”

I nodded. Then realized he couldn’t see my response.

“YES!” I sounded braver than I felt.

He backed down the driveway then took off down the road. I gripped his waist and closed my eyes.

ohshit.ohshit.ohshit.ohshit. we’re gonna fall. this is it…shit.shit.shit.

As we approached the first turn he curved gracefully and I leaned with his body,  as he instructed, and we hugged the turn perfectly. He downshifted at the stop sign and paused to give me a thumbs up.

“THAT WASN”T SO BAD!” I yelled, not sure if he heard me.

Before I knew it, we lurched from the stop sign, as I tightened my grip. As we left my neighborhood he sped up with traffic. There was nothing between myself and the road, just the man in front of me. Delta Sierra Middle School whizzed by. Grapevine Comics and Cards, my first high school job, all familiar places I’ve walked to a million times, were left behind in the dust.

Weaving easily past cars on Pacific, he turned on March Lane and the road opened. We flew by familiar restaurants, coffee shops. The sun felt hot on my shoulders and my back sweaty under the heavy jacket.

We stopped at a light and he gestured towards I-5. I gave his arm a bit of a squeeze in understanding.

We were about to get on the freeway. I was trusting him with my life.

Signaling, he merged. We sped up incredibly quick and I gripped tighter. The wind howled and the engine hummed, drowning out everything. I’ve never felt so exhilarated and petrified in my life. It felt amazing.

We’re flying! WE’RE FLYING!!

Suddenly, the engine sputtered and he signaled to turn off. We drove into a 76 gas station and he turned off the motorcycle.

I hopped off, almost falling onto my butt. My legs were shaking.

“OH MY GOD! THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!! MY LEGS ARE JELLY!!!”

He raised his visor. “Stop yelling! I can hear you fine!” he said, getting off the bike, removing his helmet.

“Oh. I didn’t even realize! I can’t hear myself. Look! Look at my hands!!!” I raised it to show off.

He nodded and smiled, as he filled the tank. “Yep, that’s the adrenaline. I knew you’d like it.”

“So what the hell happened on the freeway?” I said, scratching my forehead. “Why did the bike sputter like that?”

“Oh. Yeah sorry. I forgot I was almost out of gas. I switched to the reserve tank …”

“Wait what. We almost ran out gas on the freeway. WHAT THE HELL MAN?!” I fumed.

“Yes, yes I know. Sorry. It completely slipped my mind.” He laughed and waved me off. “C’mon we’re fine, don’t look at me like that. Are you going to be pissed the whole time now?”

I sighed. “No. I’m just surprised. Hell, I’m ready to go again!”

“Good.” he said, replacing the gas nozzle. “Get on, let’s go.”

He hopped back on the freeway going back the way we just came, but exiting far on Eight Mile, in the deeper countryside. We headed towards Bear Creek High School as the sun dipped lower in the sky.

The sky reminded me of rainbow sherbet. Orange, yellow, pink … pink and blue. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. We sped down the countryside, as the engine purred. No traffic just the deep country dotted with new homes. The air felt crisp, the sweet smell of countryside as anyone from Stockton would recognize. It smelled like home. He leaned back enjoying the drive, decreasing his speed. He squeezed my arm and I patted his hand.

Perfect.

After returning home, I dismounted and removed my helmet, a huge grin plastered on my face. He removed his with a look of apprehension.

“Well?” He said.

“Well yourself.” I replied. “That was absolutely amazing and you know it.”

“Told ya. I knew you’d love it. Your hair is sticking up everywhere by the way….”

I laughed. “I don’t care. It was worth it.” I handed him the helmet.

“Thanks Steve.” I said. “I won’t forget it.”

He nodded. “See you tomorrow, Kassie.”

He put on his helmet on and drove away. I watched until he was out of sight before going in.

Perfect.

Country-road

 

In remembrance of Stephen M.

Rest in Peace. 1980-2012. 

It still haunts my dreams, precious…

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December 10th, 2010. The day I cut the umbilical cord.

Nine months prior, I had a thought. Wouldn’t it be fun to just …

Later, an idea was conceived. Which grew into a lengthy three page outline, and blossomed into a beautiful white-and-black 88-page thesis.

After nine months I gave birth to  “Mythic Archetypes: Welsh Mythologies in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t perfect, a few things bothered me. There was room for expansion in certain areas, but it was time to let go after I finished!

It’s mine. My own. My precious.

Choosing a topic was a risk. It wasn’t the most popular subject to write about. Why would you want to write about THAT? While other graduate students were debating taking the comprehensive examination or reworking their critical theories about Joyce or F. Scott Fitzgerald, I chose to follow my passion. High fantasy. How could I merge Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with some Welsh mythological research. What could I do different that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseam? Could I defend my thesis? Was this even WORTH exploring??

We grow to love our creations. And hate them. I’ll never forget throwing books/papers on the ground tearfully screaming: “I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I’LL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH!”

Then a few hours later I’d pick up my papers, rework a few paragraphs, and feel the delicious surge of accomplishment. A seductive thrill raced up and down my spine.

My precious.

All agony is forgotten once you hold your newly created idea. That initial conception you thought oh so many times! The seed has long since sprouted branches and grown into a friggen tree! But now, that tree bears fruit and you can pluck that fruit and share it with people.

My labor of love.

Certain things didn’t completely sit well in the end. A few researched points I’ve discussed which could be reworked and tweaked. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your creation is living after all, it has GROWN and evolved. But nitpicking little details can consume you.

So, I let it go. On December 10th 2010. Plus a few extra years.

Now, I’m going back. I’d like to rework some kinks I’ve been wanting to finish.

I’ve wondered about getting chapters published, or re-working the entire thing for a broader reading audience. Am I good enough for it, precious?

I find it strangely comforting going back after a few years and reworking chapters. I’d still like to finish writing my half-finished novel.

But for now I’m visiting with an old friend, whom I love.

My precious…

My Personal Truth Living with Student Loans

Today, I’m writing on a subject I live with every day: student loan debt.

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Living with Student Loans Debt

See, I had no loans as an undergraduate. I turned down college at UCB and UCSD to attend San Diego State University. Why? Because at 21 years old I didn’t want loan debt in my early 20s. My parents helped pay my tuition and I earned an income working part-time for Syrrx, a bio tech company in La Jolla.

While at times I do regret not participating more as an undergraduate in student events, having work experience made life so much easier! Syrrx provided free breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and my earnings went towards living expenses. I had fun working, too! Because of my work experience I found a job in Sacramento after only two weeks of graduating at San Diego State.

Now, fast forward four years to graduate school.

I could not afford graduate school unless I had student loans. I lived within my means, with a bit of credit card debt. I put a healthy chunk of money into my savings for global education. But, I could not afford the ever-increasing tuition.

The Good

Student loans let me to live abroad. I’ve always dreamt of having a global education. Without student loans, I would have remained at my job at UC Davis Medical Center only dreaming of something more. Student loans let me walk through 12th century castles in Wales, drive cross-country with friends to Scotland, listen to British professors explain Irish poets, or meet a certain someone whom I live with now. Student loans made the world an accessible and smaller place. But more than that, I finally had time to research and write to my heart’s content! Student loans made me believe I could pursue all my dreams in only a few years.

I never would have grown out of apathy if it weren’t for student loans. They gave me the chance to kick ass.

The Bad

But, the world after graduating instead kicked my ass. Everything changed within a few years. Before it took two weeks to find work, now I wouldn’t even hear rejections. For every 15 CVs I sent out I would maybe receive a few rejections and, maybe, receive a phone interview. I did receive positive feedback from recruiters. People liked me and liked my experiences. But I didn’t have that extra OOMPH to land a job. I was competing against better caliber people with higher degrees and more professional experience. When I finally did get hired from a few companies they were contract only, providing barely enough money to get by. I did have a good job working as a Research Assistant in Sacramento, but I was laid off after three months. So, what the hell?!

Meanwhile, my student loan interest accrued. The little I did pay back only went towards interest, hardly ANY to the principle. The majority of the money went to living expenses.

I began to worry about my future and question my past decisions. What the hell did I do to myself?!

The Straight Up Ugly

When I finally confronted my student loan debt it was a staggering $50,000. That’s a very jagged pill to swallow. Hell, just looking at that number sends shock waves throughout my body. That’s like paying for three or four cars. Only I couldn’t sell this debt away, this was my monster creation.

I deal with that everyday.

Aside from student loan repayment misery there’s the extra added emotional turmoil. I do not LIKE having any debt. I want to get married, have kids, buy a house. I’m plagued with having too much debt. I have every intention of paying it back but let’s not forget, the cost of living increases each year. Student loan interest, if not fixed, can fluctuate. That’s a shit load of uncertainty.

Whilst I am chipping away at my debt as best I can, each month I change tactics at how to confront it. Some days I feel it best to put everything I have towards paying it off (and live on ramen) another part of me is saying don’t kill yourself! Pay it down modestly. This is not debt that will go away any time soon, is it worth living like shit? Meanwhile, I’m not getting any younger. This is my internal struggle.

Did I learn anything? Yes, you bet. 

My advice to people considering student loans: know exactly what you are getting into. If I could talk to past Kassie, who was bouncing around with no plan, I’d tell her to get her shit together and focus on helping others. Take enough for a few loans, forget the rest. Focus on marketing skills like pursuing science, web coding, ANYTHING contributing to the world. Securing marketable job skills NOW. Not having a clear focus is what landed me in hot water to begin with.

It’s great I realised where my passion lies, but now I have an extra special weight with student loans. I need to plan three months ahead before making decisions. Like poor Frodo, it’s a burden that I alone must bear. No one else will pay this back I need to do it. Also, thankfully, having awesome family and friends helps alleviate some of that heavy burden when I get too hard on myself.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. This is a shift in thought people need to realise. Let’s mentor our young students! Really, truly think about what debt you’re going to inherit when finished.

Only then we’ll start tackling the root of the problem.