Potter Park Zoo & More

In my post about moving in, I told you that I would have more to share about our adventures in Lansing.  I had to pause to give a memorial post to my beautiful puppy, Mitzi. Unfortunately, she passed just four days before my 20th birthday.  (I love you, baby girl.)

I’m going to try to move past that. Not forget it, but move forward. I want to tell you about some adventures. I have more to share.

I’m going to dedicate this post to talking about “Be a Tourist in Your Own Town”, a program that takes place in Lansing once every summer. Over eighty businesses join forces to create one seven-hour event, in which families can purchase passports for just $1 and receive discounts, free admission, and prizes at some of the most interesting places in the city.

Austin and I were beat from moving last week, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to hit everything. We’re also trying to conserve gas because, with Austin commuting to work four times a week and gas being as expensive as it is, we just don’t have road trips in the budget.

We looked through our passports and decided on just two of the eighty locations – Potter Park Zoo (which I’ve been wanting to see for months) and Royal Scot Golf and Bowl.

It was about 8:45 in the morning when we left for Potter Park Zoo. It was shaping up to be a nice day outside. The heat wave had broken, the sun was out, and there was a calm breeze going. Rather than running the air conditioner, we rolled our windows down. We’ve learned that a “nice” day means you can open a window (or a screen door) instead of wasting energy.

The zoo is about fifteen minutes from our apartment – maybe less. When we entered the driveway, I was pleasantly surprised to see acres upon acres of lush trees, grass, and plants. It occurred to me that “Potter Park Zoo” probably meant that the zoo itself was located within Potter Park.

I was right about that. Potter Park is an actual park – with tons of picnic tables, a bike / hike trail, and playgrounds. We sincerely wished that we’d brought a picnic with us, but it was too late to go back.

The park (and the zoo) are both affordable for families that want to spend an afternoon outdoors. The admission per car is $3 for residents to park in the lot between the park and the zoo. The admission for the zoo itself is $6 per resident and $11 per non-resident. There are special prices for students and seniors. Compare this to the Detroit Zoo, where prices have skyrocketed to $17 per person.

I have some pictures to show you from our zoo adventure. Hopefully those will provide more detail. But there are a few things we noted about the zoo that I want to share first:

  • There are plenty of bathrooms, as well as a concession area and picnic areas within the zoo itself.
  • Peacocks roam openly – everywhere.
  • The zoo is extremely shady. You should bring sunscreen, but you won’t have to lather up more than once.
  • There is a petting zoo with a tortoise, donkeys, goats, chickens, and pigs. Expect the peacocks to talk to one another – a lot.
  • The zoo is fairly small in comparison to places like the Detroit Zoo – but you get to see all of the same animals, and they are all properly cared for.
  • For those of you who like to take pictures, the animals at Potter Park Zoo are eerily photogenic. Every single animal enclosure we visited had at least one resident that was willing to come closer to us. These are happy animals. And that was really nice to see, with everything going on.
  • Your best time to visit the zoo is early morning, when it first opens. You’ll find the pathways are fairly empty and all of the animals are just waking up. If you go during the afternoon, you’ll be significantly less comfortable due to the heat. If you go during the evening, the animals are going to be sleeping.

Let’s get to some of those pictures.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I think a gallery works much better. So far, anyway. I’ll have to check it out on mobile.

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Anyway, after the zoo, we went to Royal Scot Golf and Bowl – which offered two free games (plus shoes) in exchange for seeing our passports. I’m used to bowling prices in Howell, so we were shocked to find that the concessions were affordable. Plus, they offer $1 games and shoe rentals on Sundays. We agreed that we’re going to go back sometime soon. Talk about a cheap date!

By the time you read this post, it will probably be Saturday or Sunday. I’m planning on writing another post for this weekend about freelancing and my current jobs. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks,

Cassie

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An Open Letter to My Puppy

11889433_1053627451315105_5718302087946689907_nMitzi,

I thought I could handle writing this tonight. But the title alone made the crying start all over again. I’m trying to see the screen through my tears, because I have some things I need to say.

I wasn’t there when you died tonight. I moved a week ago. I moved in with that really nice boy that you like so much. I promised you that I would visit. The last time I saw you, I promised you I would visit. I didn’t know that would be the last time. I should have known that would be the last time.

When we brought you home, you weren’t even a few months old. You could fit in the palm of Dad’s hand. We were making sugar cookies that night, because Christmas was a couple of weeks away.

I remember that night so well. I remember it because, on the way home, Mom suggested that we call you Maisy. Then one of us, I’m not sure who, suggested that we call you Mitzi. I loved that name. It stuck. By the time the car ride was over, you had a name. And it fit you so well.

We introduced you to our other dog, Finn. You laid down on the floor and acted like you were going to sleep. When he came up to sniff you, you pounced. We couldn’t believe how brave and playful you were. Finn hates people. He hates other dogs. Yet, for whatever reason, you two were friends from the very beginning. I think, in a way, he needed you. We needed you, too.

We put you in a crib while we frosted the cookies. You whined and cried so hard and so loud that you sounded like a seagull. Over the years, you got quieter. But not by much. You were such a vocal dog. I used to record you, talking back to me when you didn’t like something. I swear, nothing we did could make you stop. You had so much to say.

Over the years, you got older – but you didn’t act like it. You and I, we got close. I called you my baby. I spoiled you. For years, you slept at the end of my bed. You would curl up between my legs. If I didn’t let you sleep in my room, you would cry or scratch at my door.

When I was sixteen and going through the hardest time of my life, you were there for me. Whenever you heard me crying, you scratched at my door until I let you in. You licked my tears away and tried to play with me. You took care of me. And I had a bond with you that I can’t compare to anyone else. You saw me at my worst moments. You heard me scream. You heard me cry. You saw it all. You were there.

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It happened about a month ago. That’s when you started to get sick. Everyone else will say it was a week or two ago, but I knew. You came back from the groomers and I knew. Something wasn’t right. You didn’t want to play. You didn’t want to eat. Nobody outside of our family understood how weird that was for you – but we knew. Then, we discovered the ear infection. We cleaned you up.

I feel stupid now, thinking that an ear infection was making you act that way. I should have known better. But saying “should” won’t bring you back. Saying “should” won’t make it feel better.

Tonight, you couldn’t stand up. Tonight, Mom rushed you to the vet because you weren’t breathing correctly – because you couldn’t walk. Tonight, you had a small seizure in the car, breathed a few more times, and then you were gone. Tonight, you left us.

It was so sudden, the way you went. I’d just woken up from a nap. Mom asked me if I could come keep an eye on you tomorrow. You have to understand that I had no idea it had gotten so serious. I was so focused on my move. I should have insisted that you had x-rays. I should have fought harder. I knew something was wrong. I look at old videos and pictures and it’s so clear to me now that there was something wrong. But I didn’t. And I’m so sorry.

Mom was there when you died. She held you during your last breaths. I hate myself for not being there. I hate myself because I couldn’t get in a car and get to you in time. I hate myself because I wasn’t able to say goodbye. But she was there. And she held you. And she told you that we loved you.

I’m still in shock. You were only nine-years-old. You were too young. You should have had half of your life ahead of you. Austin was supposed to watch you while we went on vacation in two weeks. And now, you’re gone. Now, you’re not going to run to the door and say hello. Now, you’re not going to be there when I visit. Now, you’re going to be gone. And home isn’t going to be the same anymore. Not without you.

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I want to hit rewind, but I can’t. I want to go back to sleep and pretend I didn’t wake up to find out that you were gone, but I can’t. I just can’t. And I wish I could.

You had cancer. That’s what they think, anyway. There was a mass in your abdomen, and it burst. I keep trying to tell myself that this was for the best. That, if we’d known all along, we would have tried to keep you alive for as long as we could – and that would have hurt you more, in the long run. That would have hurt everyone more, but especially you.

I hope it didn’t hurt. God, I hope it didn’t hurt. I hope you’re smiling down at me and watching me write this letter. I hope you understand. I hope you know that I love you.

I love you so much. I will always love you.

I’m making this post a tribute to you, baby girl. I’m going to attach my favorite videos of you, so the whole world can see what a beautiful, loving, adorable dog you were.

(In this video, I was trying desperately to get you to focus so I could make a video of you talking. You’d been barking and talking all morning – but, of course, as soon as I turned on the camera to record, you wanted to play. I don’t like how mean I sound in this video, but I don’t have any other way to hear you talk like that again. Or to see you play. Or to see how sassy you were.)

 

These are just a few of the amazing memories we had with you, Mitzi. You brought so much happiness and light and joy to our lives. You deserved better than to go this way.

You will always be our baby, Mitzi. We love you.

I love you.

Cassie

We’ve Moved!

I imagine my followers are slightly concerned – considering I haven’t written a post in nearly a month.

I’d like to apologize, but I won’t. Because, if I’d been writing on my blog instead of preparing for my move, I probably wouldn’t be sitting in my very own living room writing this post.

Today, I want to talk to my followers about buying your first apartment – and all of the steps that come along with it – by sharing our experience.

As most of you already know, my fiance (Austin) and I have been together since December of 2014. When we first met, I was staying with my parents during my winter break from college. In January of 2015, I had to go back for my spring semester at NYU. Austin and I had one month to get to know one another – and then I had to leave.

Even though we were six hundred miles apart, we managed to survive the first four months of our relationship without going completely insane (for the most part). We didn’t know when the long distance aspect of our relationship would end, but we were determined to make it work.

I made the decision to move back home in April due to NYU’s rising tuition – a downer for my college education, but a boost in our relationship’s chances of survival. I transferred to MSU. Austin started school at WCC. After I came home to Howell, we decided to gear our lives toward moving in together in the summer of 2016. Austin made the choice to transfer to LCC – and we decided to start looking at apartments in Lansing.

Our search began in January of 2016 – just after we celebrated our first anniversary together. Austin was getting settled at his job as a salesman as Bose Electronics. I was launching my full-time freelance career. We found ourselves in a position to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Our projected move-in date was sometime in July or August.

But, the more we looked, the more we realized we didn’t want to wait. We decided on June – just before my family and I were scheduled to go on vacation to North Carolina for ten days (which happens to be two weeks away now – I can’t wait, you guys!).

Even though we picked a date, we couldn’t find an apartment that fit our needs. We both have a certain lifestyle that we want to uphold, and it was really important to us that our apartment had a clean, spacious kitchen, as well as a comfortable bathroom and plenty of space in both “bedrooms” (I planned on using the second bedroom as my permanent office).

We also wanted a separate dining room for Austin to use as a gaming room – since neither of us liked the idea of conjoining a bedroom or living room with all of his equipment (plus two desks).

After searching through the entirety of East Lansing and Southeast Lansing, we were beat. We were almost resigned to moving into an apartment building with a nice landlord, but not so nice amenities, when we accidentally stumbled into West Lansing.

Our first visit to Ramblewood Apartments only happened because we didn’t want to leave without at least looking. It was a last ditch effort. West Lansing, it seemed, was too far from Austin’s job (at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Howell) and too far from MSU. The complex also seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

Then, we met the landlords (or, should we say, landladies). They are extremely kind, understanding, and professional. It felt like they really cared. We took a look at a two bedroom with a garden view, and we were smitten with the huge kitchen, quality bathroom, spacious living and dining areas, and included car ports and storage units. Plus, laundry rooms in each building. Finally, we were getting somewhere. Not to mention Ramblewood covers all utilities in rent, minus electricity.

We started to fall in love, but we were cautious. Location is everything, and Ramblewood was by, well, nothing. We asked one of the women, and she started laughing. She told us to drive North and turn the corner at the light. She also told us to drive South and look at the entrance ramp to the freeway, which is about three minutes from our front door.

When we drove North and turned right, we found the equivalent of Novi. It was West Saginaw Highway, which holds the Lansing Mall (one of the first place we visited in Lansing). We had already fallen in love with the area, and we felt like fate brought us to the perfect apartment complex right down the street. Minus a few technicalities, we were sold.

Two weeks later, we had our application approved. Two weeks after that, we were supplied with our apartment number and type – a two bedroom with a patio. A patio. Austin could have died. I’ll tell you more about his garden later.

So, that’s the story. That’s how we found our new home. But I also want to share everything in between. I want to share our budget, how we survive on a monthly basis, and what tips we would give to first-time apartment buyers.

First of all, you can find an affordable apartment for two people on a total income of $2000. We like to breakdown the expected budget like this:

Rent: $700

Electricity: $40

Car Insurance: $200

Groceries: $400

Gas: $200

Phone Bills: $100

Cable/Internet: $75

Those expenses cover just about everything you need in a month, if:

  • You share a used vehicle
  • One of you (or both of you) commute to work
  • Your apartment covers heat and water
  • You live in an affordable area

Some tips we would give to first-time apartment buyers?

(1) Share a used vehicle. It makes life much easier, especially if one of you works from home (or nearby). We live in an area with public transportation, so we can figure out days that are a little over complicated with the car. Plus, all of the money you save by not making regular car payments can go toward maintenance on your used vehicle (which shouldn’t be much, if you choose wisely).

(2) Find an apartment that will cover heat and water, or adjust your budget to include those utilities in rent. For example, our budget was originally $600 for an apartment without utilities. We had $200 set aside for monthly utilities. Since Ramblewood covers heat and water for $700 a month in rent, we can afford the other $40 for electricity.

(3) Get cell phones through Straight Talk. It is literally the best service provider out there. You get all of the coverage of Verizon (and unlimited data) for $45 a month. You can even bring your own phone. I’m switching as soon as my contract is up.

(4) Find an internet provider that meets your needs. You’ll need about 25mbsp, for normal internet usage. Also, if you never use the internet or cable, don’t buy them. That’s money you can seriously use in your budget.

(5) Stay a month ahead, at least. You should have your monthly expenses for the following month collected before the 1st. For example, we should have our July budget completed by June 30th. It won’t always be exact, but being ahead will ensure that you aren’t caught off guard.

(6) Don’t move until you have enough money set aside. We waited until we had $10,000 between the two of us. This covered about $6,000 in upfront moving expenses (renter’s insurance through State Farm for a year, our security deposit, our first month of rent and expenses, furniture, electronics, supplies, kitchen appliances / tools, decorative materials, and more), as well as $4,000 in savings.

(7) Leave yourself between $3,000 and $4,000 in emergency funds – especially if you have a used car. You’ll be grateful you did, when something comes up. And add to that emergency fund whenever you exceed your monthly budget and have a surplus of money.

(8) Shop at Walmart. We get it – you don’t want to support the establishment. But it just makes financial sense when you’re moving. I’ll be posting pictures in a few minutes, and you’ll see the furniture we were able to get by shopping at Walmart. You can also shop at Target for kitchen supplies (NOT furniture) – and Kroger is great for groceries, since you earn gas points.

(9) Remember that you don’t need to buy everything right away. Only buy what you need, or what you can afford within your budget. You don’t want to dip into your savings during your first month.

(10) Have fun with it! You’re never going to get this opportunity again. You’re moving into your first apartment. Enjoy the process. Oh, and keep a binder to organize everything. You’ll be thankful that you did – I promise.

This is a very long blog post already, but I’m going to add some pictures now. After four days (and a lot of hard work), we finally have our apartment organized and ready to show off. Maybe I can add some more tips as I go.

Oh, and stay tuned after this post. You’ll be reading about our adventures at the Potter Park Zoo and Royal Scot Golf and Bowl during the Tourist in Your Own Town event.

Our Front Door

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Our welcome mat. We bought it for $15 at Walmart. Austin didn’t originally want one, but everyone else on our floor had one, and we felt left out.

Living Room / Dining Room

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Our living room and dining room area. The blinds open to our back patio, but it was too dark for pictures. The AC unit is brand new and works really well. We’ll see how the electric bill turns out.

13315529_1228230793854769_9081569431906700428_nOur dining room table. We struggled to find affordable chairs. The table was $180 at IKEA, but the chairs were $35 EACH at Target. We love the high-top look though.

13394006_1228230833854765_924797498807451050_nThis is our couch. We have more wall stickers coming (the walls in the hallway and Austin’s office are painfully bare) – but this is our favorite so far. The couch itself is really soft and cost about $350 at Art Van.

13315588_1228230860521429_8028946937939502357_nThis is our entertainment center – kind of. We got the center shelving unit for $65 at IKEA and the two bookshelves for $30 each at Walmart. We filled the shelves with books and board games. The result was much cheaper than buying an actual entertainment center with surrounding shelves. We’re pretty happy with the result.

13240625_1228230880521427_69851916966079026_nOur television was hung on the wall thanks to the hard work of my father and sister. We are officially hooked up to Xfinity through Comcast. We get 50 channels and 75 mbsp (internet) for $64.99 a month. Austin has his Bose speaker system hooked up – we have Bose speakers all over the apartment. Our TV was $300 at Walmart, and the wall mount was a $10 steal at a garage sale.

Kitchen

13346612_1228230900521425_2104800657294993458_nI think we had the most fun with our kitchen. We had it fully stocked on the second day – groceries included. We got the wall sticker at Target on clearance. Our microwave was $60 at Walmart. We haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but we’re happy with how it all looks. We have another sticker on the way for above the sink.

13322160_1228230913854757_5673809712478319389_nOur stove looked brand new when we moved in. We got an affordable knife set for $50 at Target. The utensil holder, towel holder, and space rack were all from Walmart. The spice rack came with twelve premium spices with free refills for five years for just $20.

13346862_1228230933854755_5252008232355056767_nThis is our dish cupboard. We got our fancy dish set for $65 at Target. We got our not-so-fancy dish set at Kroger for about $15.

Bedroom

13331036_1228230993854749_4244022499622888611_nOur bedroom. We have a bird-theme when it comes to wall stickers throughout the apartment. And we found a home for all of our stuffed animals in the corner.

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A picture in our room. We won it at an auction at the Relay for Life in Fowlerville last year. It was locally hand painted.

13310399_1228231040521411_2389285050271089738_nA bigger shot of our bedroom. I’ve stocked up my nightstand with memories from my childhood. Austin hasn’t had a chance yet.

My Office

13332894_1228231153854733_965793813978470984_nMy office. Austin hooked me up with an additional monitor. We got my desk and the matching printer table for about $250 at Staples. The printer itself was $150. We got ourselves enrolled with HP ink – so we get new ink shipped to us whenever we get low for just $5 a month!

13321671_1228231273854721_6618599011349560351_nThe wall opposite my desk. Mom supplied the bench, Austin supplied the guitar, my parents supplied the table, and I saved the sticker from an untimely death in a previous move.

13327446_1228231337188048_8761713348626834800_nStorage in my office. I didn’t even end up using the floor space. We have a huge linen closet in the hallway, plus a coat closet. With all that storage, we didn’t even need to touch our storage unit.

Austin’s Office

13346858_1228230807188101_8728368743475709521_nAustin’s office area. We sacrificed a full dining room space so he could have his gaming center. He’s even got a magic cupboard in the corner. He made an L-shaped desk with my old desk and his desk put together.

That’s it for now. Enjoy the 2000 word post.