While I was studying my ass off for the university’s math placement test, Cutie suggested I should switch studying environments by visiting the nearest coffee shop near our place. I assume this was because smoke was coming out of my ears from the frustration of studying math :/
Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I’ve decided to give it a shot.
Things have changed. I think I understand why foreign and recently graduated high school students flock to school in large droves: coffee shops. Aesthetically pleasing environments that sell coffee, tea and small pastries and/or sandwiches.
Such places did not exist the first time I went to school. The most popular hangout spot was an old, wooden bar named Los Tigres (The Tigers) in front of the nearest Burger King and Pizza Hut.
The saddest part is that since I didn’t have a car at the time, those places where the closest restaurants I could walk to after class (at 9PM!). Or when our water got shut down several times at our dorm due to the water company strikes. When our dorm lacked water, we couldn’t cook our own meals and had to resort to the nearest fast food restaurants who had existing water storage tanks that lasted a while.
Indeed times have changed for me: I am pretty damn sure that with access to a better diet I think I might have a shot at conquering math. And not worrying about access to water. Of course, the coffee shop is not as 100% as quiet as a library, but if you have ever lived in a dorm environment, you learn how to zone out environment noise from your roommates.
It has happened again: after years of not-so-lean living (from working full-time), my frugality has plunged into OCD territory. It could be that becoming a college student again has awakened memories of survival mode from going to college the first time:
- Living on $20 a week. All of that would be spent on ramen, chicken, rice and non-perishables (lots of canned goods!).
-Waiting impatiently for student loans to kick in so that I can afford books and healthier food
-Riding the bus and bumming rides as much as possible during the evening and walking during the day.
-Paranoia due to living among kleptomaniacs in the women’s dorms (have lost a few things in spite of being extra-careful with my stuff).
Except this time, my mind knows I am not living in those same circumstances anymore, yet whenever I walk into the library, I gasp at my ability to estimate how much money is in one room by counting the amount of Macbooks, iPads and iPhones students have on them ($32,000-$40,000 worth). What boggles my mind is that NO ONE is afraid of anyone stealing their stuff. I thought the campus was a low-crime zone until I checked the crime report the university posts yearly: 390 on-campus thefts per year. In a place where university attendance reaches 26,000, it would look like a drop in the bucket for some. When I bought my first laptop, I waited until I was required to take an accounting class that required the use of their bookkeeping program. Since the university labs that housed that program closed at 6PM, I had to bite the bullet and buy one (and bought a lock with it!).
Once I leave the campus and returned home, my eyes try to adjust my mind to my current reality: Married. Not living with 3 other girls in a 400 ft space with locked possessions. Healthy food in the fridge. Have easy access to transportation. Not panicking on how to make my last $5 last until Sunday. But my mind can’t completely adjust away from my impulse to take frugality a step further.
Example: Making my own fragrance free, dye free laundry detergent
Or growing my own herbs:
-Popping corn and taking a bagful to campus so that I can avoid the temptation of spending $8 or so for lunch on campus.
I am not sure if this is due to a huge generation shift, the fact that I am living in the US (or both) but there are a few truths that need to be published out there:
-Economic prosperity has increased and has somehow trickled down to those who are preparing to enter the workforce full-time or changing careers. So many students own cars that parking is a huge problem (even with THREE parking decks)!
-Luxuries are cheap, whereas necessities are expensive (electronics are more attainable than health care and healthy food). It used to be the other way around when I was 18.
-There are over 100 study abroad programs being offered to google-eyed students that want to live abroad and study at the same time! I suspect there has to be A LOT of students who have well-to-parents who can afford the $14,000-per-semester price tag on sending their kids to a school that will give credits without proof of increasing the job prospects after graduation. Seriously, $14,000 is a year’s worth of tuition without leaving the damn state! I blame the university for this carrot-dangling crap (the professors are the willing accomplices of this. If enough students sign up for these, the professors do get to go on these trips on the cheap!).
-Students have an advantage of finding part-time work over non-students. This did not occur while I was in in school: it was completely backwards in my case. The only way I could have gotten fast-food work was if I were on food-stamps and were a single mother. The rest of the job listings required 5 years experience for $8 an hour. That was 10 years ago. Now with the increase in service jobs, with some creative juggling a student can work and study (or donate plasma for $250 a month!).
Has anyone else noticed these things? What do you think?
Never knew cycling could be so exhausting. Or annoying.
I have accidentally ran over two squirrels on the 6 mile bike stretch from campus. These little critters dart across your path right as your are going 14-15 mph, not giving enough time to dodge them. :(
Still, I prefer cycling over driving. Finding a parking spot on campus is a pain.
Alas, no weight loss yet! I hoped to loose weight during the first month of cycling, but so far, what I have gotten are sore, stronger legs and better stamina, so to speak.
I refuse to go vegan. But I don’t shun fruits and vegetables either.
What has helped keep my sanity and health is eating as much of a balanced diet as possible: vegetarian dishes 2-3 times a week and omnivore dishes made with organic bison or chicken.
Cutie and I are craving organic herbs, so we both started growing them in our own kitchen. The herb we hope to use the most out of is the oregano one, but has been super-slow to grow. The basil and the mustard are OK while the rosemary, dill and thyme are still in their early sprout stages.
Big surprise: After 15 years or so, I have finally quit craving/eating ramen. Once I read that consuming ramen (the supermarket kind) increased the risk of diabetes and hypertension, I quit cold turkey. I am already cursed on that end and I hope to delay/prevent those conditions as long as possible
Alas, no weight loss yet! I hoped to loose weight during the first month of cycling, but so far, what I have gotten are sore, stronger legs and better stamina, so to speak.
The level of difficulty in my Modern Greek class has increased. I continue to work on my math for the up coming math placement test, but I feel like I am not retaining enough information. I am still going to keep trying because hell, why not? On the side note, I have reached out to the mental health center on campus to seek help concerning my anxiety issues. It turned out that I was referred to off-campus therapists because it turns out that the center wants to deal with people with first-world problems (sarcasm).
Rant: Can’t stand my classmates sometimes. One of them tried to convince the whole class to skip a day so that it would force the professor to not give a quiz or homework just because he wanted to go to a concert that day. The rest of the class agreed to it, but I didn’t. I honestly can’t understand how if you are paying over $1,000 for a class would you want to skip it for a concert. (Yes, I know I won’t make any friends that way and no I DON’T CARE).
Ever since we moved back, I haven’t been annoyed by the cost of living in the South. Just after I filled my gas tank, a smile broke as I looked at the receipt: $22! I used to grunt at the cost of filling up my tank to the tune of $43 in Canada. Now I don’t grunt anymore. It actually feels good to be able to afford to buy necessities without pulling my hair out. That is pretty much the only big advantage of living in the South. Since we live in the most liberal part of the state (in a college town), its not too bad.
I hope to finish my degree in the distant future and find work up in the northern states (as much as I hate winter, at least they pay more) or to a state that doesn’t hate women <cough! Texas>. If I am lucky, I may find work in Canada provided I get an employer to sponsor me (a long shot, but anything is possible).
After a long hiatus, I have discovered a lot about myself and the plunge into new things:
Taking care of a sick cat.
In a matter of 24 hours, my cat went from energetic to a puking, anti-social mess. After several visits to the Animal ER and her regular veterinarian, I went from bawling/sleepless mess to telling my cat I loved her everyday. None of us know what exactly caused her acute kidney failure but I blame myself for it. It doesn’t make sense that I feel this way about an animal. But after 7 years of companionship, I felt my world crumble as I was trying to come to terms with the shock of what happened to my cat. Luckily, thanks to the doctors, my cat is back to her normal self (pending blood tests). The veterinarian prescribed some special food and will run another blood test to see if my cat’s kidneys are functioning normally. Cutie and I are looking into getting a male kitten to give our mature female cat a play buddy.
I began riding my bike to the university campus during that first week of classes. What I did not realize how hard it is to ride 6 miles (in 90 degree Fahrenheit weather) uphill with a backpack filled with my books and essential cycling items (water, bike pump, patch repair kit, etc). By the time I reach the campus, I become a cranky, haggard, sweaty mess rushing to the nearest air-conditioned building. My energy plummets after the blood pumping into my head slows down. Before I can go to class, I have to drink my French thermos full of espresso and freshen up in the women’s bathroom. By the time I go into the classroom, I made sure to sit as far away from the other students as possible. In the long run, cycling 36 miles per week should provide some long-term health benefits.
Since I haven’t set foot in a classroom for over a decade, that sense of dread of being too slow hasn’t completely left me yet. Every time I enter the classroom, I pray for not making a fool out of myself or for not missing a beat with the lecture. This feeling does not disappear even after I study before entering the classroom (once I am caffeinated!). I guess it’s because I feel so OLD among the freshmen :(. I hope to get over this after taking my first test on this Wednesday.
Still working on my math. It’s overwhelming and I hope to get into the Computer Science program for the Spring Semester. The thought of failing the math placement tests make me more anxious than the fact that I would be in my late 30’s re-entering the work force after graduation.
I think I need more sleep….
After living in Canada for a year, our bodies became maladjusted to the US made non-organic food ingredients: feeling sluggish, stomach cramping and feeling nearly brain-dead. So after we found a place to live in the South, we began shopping at the Co-op Organic Food Store. We are not 100% organic, but we are getting there. The side effect of this transformation is dealing a big hit on our food budget <SOB>. But at least we are not paying exorbitant amounts of money on rent.
Personal Update (For those who don’t care, skip this part):
After several years, Cutie has finally convinced me to get a bike so that I can ride to campus three times a week. Searching through several bike shops (even places like Target and Wal-Mart), I had to swallow my frugal pride and get an actual decent hybrid bike suited for my build. I never liked spending over $400+ on myself but whenever I rode 5+ miles on that thing, I felt like I was riding the wind. Another thing on my list: padded shorts to help my sore bottoms.
I have been practicing my math and modern Greek everyday (except during that week where my little niece stayed with us) and so far it has not eased my anxiety over not being well-prepared for either subject. The part that worries me the worst is not being able to test into Calculus I so that I can start my undergraduate program for computer science. I am also still fighting with my alma mater to send my transcripts to the university.
Been reconnecting with a few friends: some are going back to school and some are starting families. Ever since I moved back to the South, my appetite has decreased, my depression has improved and I am more physically active.
The change after living abroad:
I did not miss US politics. I know this country is going in the wrong direction, in spite of it being a more economically favorable place for us to live. I got spoiled on the Asian food and being involved in a good board gaming community. I saw that it is possible to live in a country where its government actually care for its people and does not force/impose biblical gibberish on health care, employment or environmental issues. But as I said before, I am willing to move back to Canada ONLY if I could get a job there. Seriously, that place is for the rich/ well-to-do!
(WARNING: RANT) I should not have filled out that damn form last night (and lost sleep due to making calculations in my head over how to afford college for my second degree). But since it is a requirement from the university I am applying to (and hopefully get a scholarship for books), I did it anyway. Why would I go for a second degree? Because, as I have told my academic adviser bluntly: “No one will take me seriously as a programmer unless I have a degree to back it up”. Case in point: a friend of mine who is an excellent coder/programmer with over 10+ years of experience can not find work in her field because employers kept passing her over for programmers with actual degrees. So she is also going back to school.
For those not familiar with the FAFSA acronym, it is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid available for graduating high school students, graduate college students, current college students, etc. attending or going to attend a U.S. university or college. For those familiar with it, the FAFSA is a double-edge sword that was made to troll and hold applicants in suspense before the start of the school year.
My first experience with the FAFSA was confusing and bittersweet: it was the first piece of paper that made me felt so happy that I was an unemployed and broke college student. Since my parents couldn’t help me financially (based on their tax returns and constant unemployment), I managed to secure the maximum Pell Grant (financial need-based aid) every year. But it wasn’t enough for all of my college expenses (food, books, student housing). So I had to borrow money to make ends meet. I have considered every year during my undergrad years the option of living at home and saving some money. The turbulent and unstable situation at my parents’ house would made it impossible for me to live with my mother (and would have forced me to drop out). I have even tried to find employment during my college years, only to find that I was TOO broke to afford transportation to drive to work (public transportation was non-existent). Every year that passed and I borrowed, I prayed that my Expected Family Contribution (or EFC) would turn to $0. Every year I hoped that by the time I finished college I would find the kind of job that would help me pay those loans back and hoped never to borrow again.
Except that didn’t happen for 2 years after graduation. Due to economic hard ship, I deferred my loans as long as possible. When I finally did found work, although I paid large amounts every month, NONE of my payments were going towards the principal, rather towards the projected interest of my loans. This BS was happening in spite of consolidating my loans. This would mean that in 20 years I would have ended up paying over $50,000 for a $38,000 loan. Because the lending company championed by my alma mater felt it can extend my loan as long as it wants, regardless of my large payments. So, fed-up with their BS, I paid off the entire amount and basically told Sallie Mae to go fuck themselves. After this whole crap was over, I swore never to touch that FAFSA again for anything as long as I lived.
Except that I did after nearly 10 years of not going to school.
I am no longer a broke college student limited to that damn FAFSA application. I was lucky enough to get financial aid that did not involve using that damn FAFSA that can help cover most of my expenses. But even though that application has changed since I last filled it out, it STILL trolls students and prospective students with the following:
a) It’s good to be flat broke. If you are unable to qualify for merit based aid, unable to serve in the military or not have rich parents (or a trust fund), then the FAFSA is your only recourse.
b) Short change people who have paid taxes for years from using some of the federal aid to go to school in order to advance into becoming a more skilled work force. A skilled work force means higher paying jobs and more taxes paid to the government. Do you have a job? Sorry, no aid other than a loan. Do you have savings? Sorry, but you should spend all of them, regardless of your other needs (medical bills, transportation, etc.)
c) Borrow irresponsibly. Apparently you can’t even accept the information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to help calculate how much you can earn in your field or how the job market will be after you graduate. From personal experience, it is best to expect 20% less than average, assuming you don’t feel like hustling for a raise in pay or you are unable to. Unless you’ve graduated from an Ivy League school.
Which leads to:
d) Unless you get all of your expenses paid with scholarships and grants, borrowing means you will be broke after graduation. No matter how hard you try. Even if you are lucky to find work before graduating, the first few months are going to be slim: purchasing your own health and car insurance, rent, groceries and other work related expenses do add up. If you chose the wrong kind of loan (a private one) you are royally screwed: the loan companies don’t have to cut your slack on your payments and charge you more interest than the federal ones. And then there is the job market you are forced to look in. It is much like borrowing money to escape from poverty only to continue or fall into greater poverty after school is over. The FAFSA needs some SERIOUS reform. Universities and colleges need to stop relying on these damn applications to see if a student needs financial help. EVERYONE who has worked and paid their taxes should be able to receive unchained help from the government and not rely on loans.
Cutie and I have been staying with his parents for a few weeks. It has been so far an odd experience for the both of us. My in-laws needed help building another horse fence to expand another pasture. We would wake up in the morning and go to work out in the field, digging holes, placing posts, trying to avoid contact with hundreds of poison ivy bushes, etc while being eaten by ticks and mosquitoes. It does not matter that we take all of the precautions to try to prevent ticks and mosquitoes from eating us alive. I even wear OFF Deep Woods Bug repellant everyday as my new perfume, no thanks to those retched bugs. I have had sleepless nights because of those bugs and compounded to that are my allergies to god-knows-what at my in-laws’ place. Instead of complaining, I take a pill everyday and night and hope that I can sleep through the night, undisturbed.
When I am not working at the farm, I have been contacting a few of the leasing offices for a place to live. So far, I can’t do much as long as I am not even in the same state as those offices are located in order to speed things up. Even Cutie has been showing signs of wanting to move to another place since the farm work and the lack of interest from our hosts not wanting to partake in fun activities has us both drained. We are currently staying in a town that has more nursing homes than a decent restaurant. Or hosts activities that are either for children or the elderly.
Keeping in mind that these circumstances are only temporary, I have come to the conclusion that living on a farm is NOT for me. I have more respect to those men and women who do partake on working on a farm because it is super-hard work and every county needs farmers to help feed the populace. I am glad I live in a country where I can choose not to pursue that path instead of being forced into that path. So glad.
My hiatus from the blog sphere can be best described as tiring and stressful. Spent the last month in Canada spending time with new friends (finally!), packing and dealing with the retarded moving company. At least we didn’t have to pack our stuff into a UHAUL van and drive back and forth from the Edmonton Airport to our place.
Once our suite was cleaned out and our tiny car was packed, we drove out of Alberta and across the Saskatchewan plains into North Dakota and beyond. The drive was so miserable that I was actually glad to greet the US Customs Agent when we reached the border. I was SO grateful the agent did not make us get out of our car and open our hatchback trunk: our tiny car was tightly packed to the point that it surpassed a clown car’s capacity.
Cutie and I arrived at his parent’s compound, happy to be greeted and to rest after a long week. I knew I missed the US when I was happy that my father-in law provided a bag of Cheetos to snack on. Or when we went to a Walmart Superstore in the nearby town and gasped at the size of the store and the variety of food there. I was happy when we made a stop at the small liquor store and managed to buy a 6-pack of my favorite beer (that I haven’t drank in a year!) and not pay $15 for it (Canada has high alcohol tax). Cutie and I became more relaxed as we indulged in home cooking and worked on the property: he helped his dad build a fence while I pulled thistle weeds.
Cutie insists that the move to Canada was not a bad idea. He is right: living abroad sounds romantic but it is a huge and challenging learning experience. What I learned from living abroad in Canada:
1- Food restrictions. This is why when I went into a store at the West Edmonton Mall, a 12 pack of Cherry Coke was selling for $25! Canada restricts a lot of the ingredients found in processed foods in the US. But that hasn’t stopped the Canadians wanting certain brands and paying up the nose for them.
2- Canadianitis: I have encountered this attitude several times among acquaintances and friends who truly believe that Canada is the best country in the world. I understand that the land has blessed them with a good life, but the grass is always greener on the other side. Especially when that side has been fertilized with chemicals. I love my country, but it will be never be #1 in the world.
I have worked with immigrants and Canadians and found that they have similar economic and social problems as in the US. Except Canada has less corruption. I saw how the Great Recession has not hit Canada and that although the shopping sucks, there is a least one store for every designer brand that exists in the universe. Like all cycles, this one will also come to an end and will force everyone to hunker down.
3- Urban and road planing is ridiculous and stupid. Damn the construction season! No kilometer markers, closed main roads and the gas stations are not found near the roads. Cutie and I had to make 30 min detours into small towns just to gas up. What annoyed me the most are those bikers riding at the lane exits. In the US they are banned from riding near exits or along the interstates because cars can and do run over them.
4- I understand why some of my Canadian friends are going to use their vacation time just to shop in the US: EVERYTHING is more expensive in Canada. Food, housing, items, gasoline…EVERYTHING. Even with the exchange rate, the variety of good available in Canada is limited to the point where I barely bought anything there. We bought chairs at IKEA because we gave up our dinning table and sofa before moving to Canada. I am looking forward to paying less for everything again.
5- Good Asian food. I found lots of exotic Asian food ingredients to use in my cooking. But finding food ingredients off season proved to be a challenge, especially during the winter months. Cutie and I indulged on cheap sushi at a restaurant nearby.6- Lack of cojones. For some reason, a lot of the people who work in manual labor have a chip on their shoulder of some sort. A cashier at the Safeway refused to take my groceries out of the basket to place them on the conveyer belt (could it be a union thing?). Some plumber parked his van behind our car while we were about to leave. Cutie made the guy cow down and move his van. The guy, for lack of cojones, ran to the landlord and complained to her about us being “rude”. I didn’t apologize : I have gotten blocked in my own garage so many times by these contractors that Cutie and I just got tired of being nice. A man in the US would rather be caught dead than to run to a woman to complain about an incident that would have been solved among men. But not in Canada. 7-Living conditions are laughable and are considered normal in Canada: paying $800 a month of a basement suite with a shared kitchen with other tenants is considered a good deal in Edmonton. Or how the Temporary Foreign Workers are so used to being ripped off by rent by their fast food employers (think 8 people in a 1 bedroom suite). If it weren’t for Cutie and I saving for years for this “adventure” we would have been stuck living in a similar situation as these folks. We’ve lived with roommates before and have gone past that point as a married couple. 8- Appreciating my country more: I like the US more now that I have lived away from it. I now enjoy the small things that I once did not care about because I took them for granted. Not to mention the comfort of using US currency instead of Canadian dollars and not gritting my teeth at how expensive the basic necessities are. It’s good to be back.
It is official: my computer died. After taking the damn thing twice to the repair shop, I can honestly say that a) my computer is out of warranty, b) I will need a new one and c) will search for a replacement in the US.
Other than that nuisance, Cutie and I decided to take a break from city life and head for the Jasper National Park. On our way there, we saw a few mountain goats slowing traffic and green-blue lakes:
We stayed at one of the cabin lodges that just opened for the low season. We barbequed our meals every night and chopped firewood for the fireplace. The windows at our cabin were single-pained, so the cabins got drafty pretty fast unless we kept the fire alive.
During the day, we headed out to do some horseback riding near the Pyramid Road area, trying to see if we could spot a few wildlife.
All we could spot was the scenery, a few dead trees and birds. After our riding, we headed to downtown Jasper to find out about the trails and which ones to avoid (one trail was closed due to a grizzly bear sighting). We decided on the trail that would be less populated by hikers (and Cutie wanted to see a black bear): The Valley of the Five Lakes trails:
Cutie and I hiked for a few hours on the trails, managing only to see a few ducks, a chipmunk and a few birds. We ate lunch on the bridge that connected the two valleys, over a small stream.
After our lunch, we hiked on a bike trail that could lead us to Banff, until I heard a loud growl that made me grasp my hiking stick like a bo. Cutie thought it was a mountain lion stalking us, but after walking a few meters further and looking around, we couldn’t see it anywhere.
After going shopping in Jasper, we headed out to another trail where the canyon was. The trail was mostly paved, but what I found amazing was the frozen waterfall:
There was some water flowing downstream, but was enough to take a shower underneath, so to speak.
If anyone wants to stay at this park, beware that at low season the lodging prices are cheaper, but most of the water attractions are still closed (due to the long winter), half of the campsites are closed (again, due to the long winter) and the food and gas are more expensive because downtown Jasper is a tourist town. Overall, it is a nice park and in our case, we saw most of the wildlife while driving on the roads.
First of all, I am going to put a disclosure to all or anyone who cares:
I tried my best to find employment and establish a good life here and it didn’t work out. In other words, this country is not for me.
It has been uphill since day one. Then again, with all of life’s adventures, that is exactly how all of them start. You dive in the cold waters, hoping your body will get used to the chill and come out swimming to the surface as normal. Except when you start to drown and need a lifesaver to help pull yourself out.
I have learned a lot of things while moving, living, job hunting and volunteering up here. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and helped me realize how much I miss my damn country:
- Social progression is good for those who will stay in this country in the long run (permanent residents and Canadians).
- I hate long winters
- The roads were designed by drunken lemurs. After driving on them for almost a year, I can name several places and intersections in the city of Edmonton that were designed for collisions.
-Anti-American and Anti-Immigrant attitudes exist even among the supposedly well-educated
-Canada Post sucks. The services provided by US companies disappoint to no end (Amazon.ca, Netflix, UPS, etc).
-No one wants to get to know you, even if you try to be friendly with them.
I invited this nice lady for lunch last Friday and left me hanging. I thought she would have the decency to call or text me back saying she couldn’t make it. But she had a fucking iPhone so any chance of her being technologically challenged is bullshit. We met while playing board games at the university and I thought we hit it off well. I guess I was wrong.
-Cost of living here is so expensive and people are used to it. That last one made my head explode.
-The quality of health care is better up here. And the costs of tests and medicine aren’t so bad either.
I am going to spend the next few months getting my affairs in order and move back to the US. It’s going to be a long ride but I will take my chances in the US. Nothing up here is worth trying to smuggle back to the US (Canadian beer and maple syrup is sold at Sam’s Club for god’s sake!).