Sunday, November 2, 2014

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

Two reasons for the post title:
1. I was Janis Joplin for Halloween this weekend.(See below)
2. I've decided to challenge myself to "No Spend November" this month. 

Freeing Myself of Debt

As a recent college graduate supporting myself in an apartment with one roommate, I am no stranger to financial struggle. I make enough to cover those essentials (rent, utilities, internet, groceries) but I find myself with little left over, and zero available to save. I also opened two credit cards (both with $1,000 limits) within the past year. I got the first one to help pay for a summer course I needed to graduate, and then opened another because I still didn't have enough during my transition between graduating and beginning my first full-time job. 

I planned to pay them both off and revert back to my debit card once I began working. The problem is, that still hasn't happened. 

I don't consider my lifestyle plush or frivolous, but there are areas where I need to cut back. Those $8-10 lunches at work add up, as do the concert tickets, beers, and random splurges at Target (even IF they're from the sales rack, which mine often are.) I spend a lot on gas and groceries, and need a structured budget to keep my cashflow in check. I want to free myself from the need of excess things

As Chuck Palahniuk tells us in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you. It's only after you lose everything that you're free to do anything.”

So I've decided to participate in No Spend November, a challenge to freeze spending on non-essentials during the month of November, when holiday purchases and consumerism typically runs rampant. For me, it's more about giving myself a head start to permanently changing my budget and spending habits. I figure if I can go an entire month without unnecessary spending, I'll be in a better place for saving and spending responsibly for the rest of the year. This is going to become especially important when February rolls around, marking the end of my student loan grace period. 

As part of this challenge, I'll be writing down every penny that I do spend, and using that information to create a sustainable budget and savings plan for months to come.

Allowable Expenses:
+ Utilities (Typically around $40 for my share)
+ Internet ($20)
+ Gas
+ Groceries
+ Gym membership ($30)
+ Netflix ($7.99)
+ Tom's birthday Nov. 17 (modest spending)

+ Pay off one of my credit cards entirely.
+ Set up a savings account and begin adding to it. 
+ Create a sustainable budget to stick to year-round

If anyone else plans to participate in this challenge, let me know! 

Weekly Tidbits
Vernon, being the cutest and angriest pumpkin EVER. 
One of my favorite murals in town, captured during my first bike ride here.
Piglets at Tom's agriculture school! We brought them our leftover pizza :).
Cleaning up my community garden plot for the season - loved this space.
Hope you're all enjoying the fun festivities and beauty of autumn! Until next time, I'll be pinching my pennies and crossing my fingers that my debt will start to deflate. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Back to Blogging, Back with Purpose.

It's been quite some time. 

I feel like I say something like this every time that I blog. I preface each post with an apology, because I know it's been forever since I sat down and wrote for this blog. It's never because I don't like to blog, I love to blog. It's just been a struggle to find the time to write posts I felt were worth reading. 

But I'm back now, and I honestly think I'll be back for good. I've missed having this in my life, a place to write for myself, while also being open to thoughts and feedback from others. Blogging made me a better writer, and a more mindful person, which is something I'd like to get back to. 

So.. what have I been doing for all of this time? If you follow me on Instagram, you probably already know. 

For starters, I graduated college. Four years and one online summer-class later, I did it. I walked away with a Bachelor of Arts, Magna Cum Laude, in Communications. 

I got a full-time job with a digital marketing agency. And not just any marketing agency, the one I always had my eye on during college, and thought would be a cool place to work. I landed an internship there last spring, and everything fell into place. A few weeks after classes ended, I was joining the marketing world!

It's crazy how things happen, and happen so fast. 

I moved into a new apartment with my best friend. I adopted a handsome, quirky shelter cat named Vernon. I joined a community garden. I went to music festivals and shows, farmers markets, the ocean (once), and various hikes. I discovered that my favorite drink is a watermelon margarita (specifically when made by Tom), and I've learned to *somewhat* cook for myself. Still working on that one.

Troy Waterfront Farmers Market

My best friend Amanda and me at Hampton Beach for my birthday

Little baby cherry tomatoes in my community garden plot!

My love.

Rival Galaxies at RestFest 2014

Our new kitty, King Vernon.

The new apartment.

But when life happens fast, we often don't reflect, we react. We roll with the punches, or freak out. Thankfully, I've been doing the former. I've been immersed in my new job, learning a lot about copywriting, content planning, scriptwriting, managing social accounts, and more! I've even been fortunate enough to write several blog posts for the company and our accounts. Needless to say, all of this blogging on the job has made me miss writing on here.

My hope and plan is with my new-found knowledge and (somewhat) improved time-management, I'll actually be able to keep up with it. I might make an editorial calendar, and play around with some different ideas of what to write about.

I want this blog to have more purpose beyond a retelling of my day-to-day life. I want to challenge myself to try new things and take adventures that you, the reader, would want to follow along with. I want to improve myself, and document how I get to where I want to be. I also want a place to just write my shit. To not worry---to much---about how good it is, or if the voice is right. This is me, and this is my voice, so it has to be right. Right? (That thought process does not apply to businesses, by the way ;))

So yes, stay tuned. I'll be back soon.

PS. Anyone still reading this who followed me from before -- you are amazing. The kindness and loyalty of the blogging world never ceases to amaze me :).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

And so it begins.

My final (planned) semester of college has begun. 
Utter craziness. 

I'm lucky to only be taking three classes though, and one internship for credit. Which is good, because I also work 20 hours a week M-F at my main job, and I'm starting my wine festival weekend job again at the end of this month. So I plan on being busy, but that's how I like it.

I really loved both of the classes I went to today. One was "Community Development and Neighborhood Planning" in the Urban Planning Department. It's not part of my major, but I became interested in the field once I began working at my current job, which does a lot to create healthy communities where I live. I've learned a lot about urban issues, food deserts and food justice from this job -- all things that are hard to ignore once you understand that the problems exist. I've actually considered blogging on this subject, but the idea never made it from brain to pen, or keyboard. My other class today was a "Communications Campaign Practicum." We'll be working with a real client all semester to plan and execute a communication plan to increase engagement from their target audiences. At the finish, we're supposed to have a nice portfolio to walk away with. I plan on going above and beyond in that class, being my last communications class, and my final opportunity to walk away with something tangible to prove what I've learned. I won't get to go to my third class until next Tuesday, but I'm hoping it's good. It's an introductory Public Affairs class, so we'll see.

The only complaint I really have from my educational experience (I went to an inexpensive state school, and loved it) was the lack of graphic design in the Communications program. They only make graphic arts available to people taking classes in the Art department, which isn't me. Meanwhile, all of the jobs for "Communications Specialist" or "Marketing Coordinator," or basically any of the job titles I've researched all want Photoshop and InDesign experience. Meanwhile, my school acts like they're totally divorced. It's frustrating, and will probably result in me taking a couple of digital design courses at the nearby Arts Center this late spring/summer to build my skill-set. Hopefully I'll be bilingual after this summer, too! I started my Rosetta Stone program and loved it. I did it until I fell asleep last night, and I'll probably do the same tomorrow.

Tom's move to college was a success. He travels so light, it makes me feel like a pack-mule or something. He and I moved all of his stuff in with two trips to his truck, that's it. It was strange being on someone else's campus, someone else's dorm. But it was cool, and I'm so happy he made the decision to do this :). He's still trying to feel out the roommate situation. The guy is nice and all, he's been there for a semester already. But his girlfriend, who lives with her parents off-campus some commutable distance away, lives in his dorm. It was so bad that when we arrived and no one was there, I was actually nervous that they mistakenly put Tom into a female's room. The roommate's bed was donned with a big white, flowery comforter, throw pillows and several jewelry boxes and miscellaneous girly crap. Later on we met them, and since his previous roommate left early, they had been living together in the dorm. And it appears that they have no real plans of changing that arrangement. The first night, while I was still there, the roommate offhandedly said, "And my girlfriend's going to stay over tonight, if that's cool." I guess that might have been Tom's moment to speak up and draw the line, but it was awkward. He just met the guy and was trying to get along with him. But is it me, or is that completely insane to spend every night of your first week with a new roommate with your girlfriend with you in your bed? Talk about uncomfortable.. I didn't even have to work the day after Tom moved in, but staying over in his dorm didn't even cross my mind. I just feel bad that he's stuck third-wheeling it, and doesn't get much privacy between the two of them. At first, it was made to seem pretty temporary, but now Tom isn't so sure. He's always so easy-going and relaxed, so it's hard for him to have to confront this kid. I'm debating on telling him to make an excuse that it makes me uncomfortable that he's living with a girl, hahah, even though I'm not so much uncomfortable as I'm annoyed for Tom. I'm not the least bit threatened, but it's not an ideal situation and I'm pissed he has to deal with it.They both seemed nice, but in my opinion it's totally disrespecting Tom's privacy, and the fact he's paying for this teensy-tiny space and this girl is not. Have you guys encountered similar problems, or have any advice for handling this sticky situation?

Hope everyone's having a great week & staying warm!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Collaboration Nation

Thanks to a friend, I came across HitRECord for the first time. If you love Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this will knock your socks off. I guess the project has been around for a while, since 2010, as an open online collaboration between artists, writers, musicians, videographers, and other talented individuals. The project is gaining a lot of attention right now because they've just begun a television variety show, piecing together collaborations around a different theme for each episode. The first one is available on YouTube, titled #1. So if you're just discovering this as I was, it'll be easy to catch yourself up! I'm not usually one for gushing recommendations about shows or movies or anything really--but I just watched this tonight, and I felt like it would be selfish not to share. Even though I'm not really artistic, at least not in the visual sense, it still amped up my creative energy just by watching. It made me want to write, and here I am.

A quote Gordon-Levitt gave to the Salt Lake Tribune really stood out to me.

"Before it was a television show or a production company or even a website, it was just a little turn of phrase that I used to encourage myself," said Gordon-Levitt, who came up with the idea when he was having trouble getting work in his early 20s. Discouraged, he realized, "I have to take responsibility for my own creativity. I can’t wait around for someone to hire me and tell me that I’m allowed to make things. I love it too much. I can’t wait."

That resonates pretty well with me. Probably in a slightly different sense, I'm not really looking to make videos or to spearhead my own television production at the moment. But I am reaching a point where I should be putting myself out there. And I should be creating, if not for an audience, then at least for myself. I've been away from personal/creative writing for far too long. Academic writing can be draining at times, and I've been a college student for four years now. Saying that "out loud" just sounds ridiculous. Four YEARS..???!! Life moves fast. In another four years, I'll be 25, then another, 29. The concept of aging doesn't bother me, not yet anyways. But my main concern is that it only flies if I'm having fun and enjoying it. Yes. Days go quickly when you pack them full of things to do, to-do lists and errands, conference calls and business trips. Some of those may very well be a part of my life, but I don't want to look back on the last four years and remember nothing aside from working my ass off. College flew, but I have fond memories of crazy concerts, a winter vacation spent volunteering on the Ecuadorian coast, movie nights with roommates, and coming home from a night out and ordering the same Pad Thai from "Asian Place," yes, that's their real name. Tons of inside jokes that will probably follow me or my friends forever, depending on who's the subject. I've managed to get a lot done in college, while still making a little time to enjoy myself here and there. But it gets harder with time, and with added responsibilities. So I guess my main point here, is that I want to remind myself not to get too caught up, to remember to make time for self-expression, good times, and great people. 

And to be creative, and find ways to make my work meaningful. That's the ideal.

I had a good meeting through work yesterday, where I was able to meet with several community and social service agencies in the region and collaborate about how we can help people best with our resources and services. Everyone was so energized to help, it was awesome. We talked about doing back-to-school giveaways for backpacks and school supplies for the community, doing a gardening themed event and giving away seeds and information on how to grow food, among others. It feels really good to be a part of something so positive. I feel that way a lot at work, and the days where I get a little overwhelmed or discouraged, I try to bring myself back to that feeling of purpose and it usually restores me. 

For giggles, and since it's Thursday, I've included some throwbacks to my earlier college days. Enjoy! ;)

 Really starting to miss my bangs right about now.. Hmm..

I got a little off-topic I suppose, but what gets you guys feeling creative? Or nostalgic, because I'm feeling a bit of both. Mostly nostalgic, but at least I found the motivation to post :). Second time this month! I'm making some serious progress, hahah. 

Hope everyone's having a great week, heading into a fabulous weekend!


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Oh the Times, They are a Changing

I feel like I'm on the cusp of new beginnings. Big things are happening, not just for myself, but mainly for people around me, putting the ball in motion for my future too. One of my roommates graduated in December, and after three intense interviews, has a real "big girl" job, making more money than I ever imagined straight out of college. I'm really excited for her, and since we're in the same field, I've now set the bar a little higher for myself as well. The sad part though, is she's moving out today--four months early--to take the job. Luckily, a mutual friend of our other roommate is moving in, so it won't be too lonely, but she will be missed. In other big news, the love of my life is starting college for the first time in just about a week! He's about seven months older than me; we graduated high school together, but he always disliked school and structured learning. After he graduated he continued to work on my parent's farm, basically as the main help they had in keeping the farm afloat. He stuck around through my dad's broken ankle and hip replacement surgery, working overtime and underpaid in our most trying times. From his experiences on the farm, he's realized that there's a lot more to learn about agriculture and farm animals, so he's decided to go to a state agriculture college to get an associate's degree. I'm so proud of him, and happy that he didn't just rush into something because "you're supposed to go to college." He worked, and he waited until he knew what he wanted to learn before he went back to school, something most people are afraid of doing. While I'd support him anywhere he wanted to go, we're pretty fortunate that this school is only about an hour away from my apartment, and the bus route comes to my city on the weekends. I'm excited :).
Tom and me, Brewery Ommegang this November for his birthday.
His birthday was actually one of the best plans I've had in a while. I left him completely in the dark about what we were doing, only telling him I had "something" planned. Meanwhile, I packed his Northface backpack with a change of clothes and anything I thought he'd need, and put it in my car the night before. Our secret destination was a place called Little Falls, NY, to have dinner at a castle. Along the way, I planned for us to stop in Cooperstown to get a tour and tasting at Brewery Ommegang, the maker of one of our favorite beers that we share, the Witte. If you're ever in the Cooperstown area, I highly recommend paying them a visit. The atmosphere is so laid back there, with picnic tables and plenty of land you're allowed to roam freely. They have a really nice restaurant inside, with humongous wooden tables that you share with strangers. Trust me, it's cool. The tasting itself was a lot of fun too. They set out pretzels and different spreads to pair with the beer for enhanced flavor. I managed to snap a picture of my Witte sample amidst the chaos. The glass looks a lot bigger than it really was, it's actually about the size of a shooter shot glass.
 After saying farewell to the brewery, we headed to Little Falls to check into our hotel. I had found us a place that used to be an old stone mill, right on the Erie Canal. The hosts there were wonderful, which reminds me, I should probably head to Yelp! or TripAdvisor and give these places some good reviews. Dinner at Beardslee Castle was to die for. First of all, it's in a castle. Built in 1860 as a replica of an Irish castle, they serve dinner and also are available for weddings and special events. In my online reservation, I had mentioned the birthday and asked to be seated somewhere quiet. They followed through and placed us in one of the more intimate rooms with only two or three tables, next to a grand piano. We had the room to ourselves the entire time, it was incredible. The only drawback was that Tom wasn't feeling 100%, his stomach had started bothering him before we started eating and he wasn't able to finish his meal. We boxed the leftovers up and enjoyed them later with a movie in our suite, which was honestly just as enjoyable.
Photo from their website. It was too dark during dinner for me to get a great shot.
A couple of big(ish) things are happening for me as well. I'm starting an internship in content and branding with a local agency that I've always wanted to work with, and I'm also getting ready for the maple sugaring season that's quickly approaching. It's been a 60+ year tradition in my family, and last year was the only year we had to "take off" from syrup. My dad had hip replacement surgery, and my mom had a stroke all within months of each other. Once it gets going, I plan on writing about our operation and how it all works, so stay tuned. I've always been a part of it, but this year I want to make an active effort to learn about it inside and out. I love everything about it. I love venturing out into the woods to tap the trees, sitting in the sugarhouse with the aroma of sap boiling down to syrup, and I love that we do it all ourselves.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to become bilingual in Spanish. This is probably the toughest one I set for myself, but it'll be well worth it in the end. I bought the Rosetta Stone program to get myself practiced before I travel to Valencia in the summer (if all goes according to plan.) My hope is that the software will lay the groundwork and jog my memory of high school Spanish, and then my time abroad will help it to actually sink in and let me achieve some level of fluency, even if it isn't perfect.

Another goal I have, a much more boring one, is to establish good credit. I've used a debit card with my student checking account for years: I pay rent, National Grid, and for all of my own gas and groceries, but I haven't built any credit. Do any of you have tips on this? I'm thinking of applying for some type of student credit card, and doing my own research into it, but I'm happy to hear any advice you might have. I'm pretty responsible with what little money I have, but I know I'll be needing credit once I graduate.

It's so strange to be growing up this fast.