School, Work, and Announcements

Have you ever found yourself on a work kick? It’s one of those incredible, rare weeks when you are completely focused for days. Absolutely nothing phases you. Rather than saying no, you find yourself saying yes. Rather than procrastinating, you find yourself doing more work than necessary.

It’s been one of those weeks.

Unfortunately, that kick is starting to wind down. I’m hoping to reach that point again in the coming week (believe me, I need it), but writers have absolutely no control over kicks. The words either come to you or they don’t.

It seems that my work kicks happen most often during the school year, when learning new things and experimenting with new ideas helps me focus on my writing. It also helps that I spend half of my time avoiding schoolwork by doing freelance work, and the other half of my time avoiding freelance work by doing schoolwork.

They have a tendency to complement one another.

Anyway, with all of that being said, I haven’t had a chance to update my blog in a few days. And that’s not so great – because I have about a million things to share.

This month is shaping up to be my busiest month in the history of my freelance writing career. I’m jugging two major clients and three minor clients, all while taking four high-level college courses. Add four guinea pigs, a fiance, and a workout schedule – and I’m just missing the partridge in a pear tree.

Luckily, with Austin between jobs, I have some assistance in the freelance world – and maybe even another partner. With three of us (Austin, Olivia, and I), we’re going to have some pretty great brainstorming sessions.

Freelancing is a lucrative but lonely career. It’s difficult to socialize from a laptop, especially when you have to work six or seven days a week. But having a partner, or even a team, is about much more than socialization. It’s about building a career.

Usually freelancers experience something called “feast or famine”. Essentially, this phenomenon means we have six clients and tons of expendable income one month. Then, the next month, we have one client and a constant headache.

Having a partner (or a team) gives freelancers the opportunity to utilize excess work during “feast months” that can help create stability during “famine months”.

As writers, we have a limit. There’s only so much we can do. Olivia and I find ourselves turning away multiple clients a week (sometimes a day) during our high months. Having someone else to take those jobs not only increases our client pool and job opportunities during low months, but it gives us the chance to spread the wealth. And it works exponentially.

Right now, I’m working on legal articles, articles about sewing machines, articles for various companies in Georgia, product descriptions, product reviews, and articles about loans. Fun, right?

It sounds boring on a blog, but my work is far more interesting than it seems. And trust me, I’m full of useful information that I’ll probably never, ever use.

Alright. So, that’s work.

School is pretty exciting, too. I’m forcing myself to take handwritten notes (woot). I’m also doing one class per day, four days per week.

One of my classes hasn’t technically started yet. We’re waiting for approval from the school. In the meantime, I’ve ordered my textbooks and started the reading. That class is a journalism seminar about management in the field. It complements my management course.

I’m also taking another media course. This one relates to technology specifics like processing power, memory, and bandwidth. It doesn’t sound too interesting, but it opens the door for media classes about economics and media ethics – which I’d really like to take before I graduate next year.

Finally, I’m taking a course about creativity and entrepreneurship. I’m pretty excited to see what I’m going to learn this semester. For me, learning is one of the best experiences in life. I actually feel disappointed when I think about finishing school next spring.

Fortunately, there are other learning opportunities in Lansing. This semester, I’m planning on attending a few seminars at the Delta Township Library and a few entrepreneurship lectures at MSU. Some are open to the public – some aren’t. But exploring these venues will help me figure out where my community will be once I get my degree.

I think that’s just about everything I have to share right now. I’m going to be writing another post in the next week or so with some movie reviews (we’ve been to see an awful lot of movies lately – I might as well put my knowledge to use somewhere).

Oh! I almost forgot the reason I wanted to make a post so badly this week.

Austin and I are getting married this year.

After some soul searching, we decided moving up the wedding will give us more time to focus on building our savings after graduation next spring. Besides – we’re ready. We’ve been ready.

It’s pretty insane to think that, by this time next year, I’ll be a married woman. If any of my readers have advice about outdoor, low budget, fall weddings – please feel free to share. I’m excited to see what we come up with.

Thanks for reading, as always,

Cassie

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Cavy Tips and Tricks

This was actually part of my previous post – but I know I wrote a little too much.

I want to provide a quick update about Baby, for anyone who has been following along. We separated Baby and Emma five or six days ago. They are both doing extremely well. Baby’s eye is almost completely back to normal, and her sneezing has lessened significantly.

Emma is still sneezing more often than I’d like, but we’ve got her on protective antibiotics to keep her healthy.

We’re hoping to have them back in the same cage by next Monday.

In this post, I want to provide some tips for anyone considering getting a guinea pig. In my next post (which will come later this week), I have a pretty big announcement and I’ll tell you about my spring semester classes.

Alright. Let’s get started!

(1) While cavies don’t need regular vet appointments, you should always pay close attention to their health – ESPECIALLY when they are younger or older cavies. The first six months are critical. Once they reach eight inches in length and their hair has completely changed from glossy to furry (you’ll notice because they shed a lot more), they’ve reached a more stable point in their health.

(2) Guinea pigs are extremely social creatures. And, despite what people say, they are insanely smart. Eevee knows when we go into the kitchen, when she is getting lettuce, which closet door means she is getting hay, and what the bedding bag sounds like. You’ll know because guinea pigs like to make noise. Eevee has the loudest voice, but we have a feeling Emma will rival her when she grows up.

(3) Some guinea pigs are louder than others. Eevee wheeks (the proper term for guinea pig noises) loudly five or six times a day, mostly when she wants something. Bella wheeks when she’s happy or when she gets floor time. Baby doesn’t wheek at all (in fact, we heard her voice for the first time a few days ago when she got a shot.) And Emma wheeks quietly pretty much all the time.

(4) Grown guinea pigs need floor time. This could be in an open room with no electrical cords or crevices. They could be in a large cage. This could be in a fenced in yard – if that’s your style. Guinea pigs enjoy the outdoors. We’ve let the bigger girls get used to our living room and dining room area. That way, they can spend half an hour every night running around and getting exercise. Guinea pigs are prone to obesity. They can’t live in their cage permanently.

(5) Apartments almost never charge for guinea pigs – even if you let them live outside of their cage part-time. We won’t be doing this with our guinea pigs – but it is possible to litter train them and keep them out like cats.

Eevee and I. Add two inches and that's where the big girls are right now.
Eevee and I. Add two inches and that’s where the big girls are right now.

(6) Guinea pigs can be litter trained but it isn’t easy. In our experience, most guinea pigs come potty trained. They just somehow know not to go to the bathroom outside of a box or their cage. Don’t ask me how. We’ve almost never had the big girls go to the bathroom on the carpet. And not a single pig has peed on the carpet since we’ve had them. But getting the pigs to use a litter box was rough – and sticking to it was even harder. We prefer to put them out for small periods of time instead.

(7) Guinea pigs love to purr as you pet them, just like cats. Eevee and Emma purr most often, but Bella purrs too. You can hear Baby purr, but she’s very quiet. You know a guinea pig is happy when it purrs while you hold it. But cavies never purr at each other. They only rumble. If you hear a guinea pig “purring” at another guinea pig, you are likely hearing a rumbling session. This mean the pigs are basically fighting over who gets to be queen of the cage.

(8) Rumbling is normal. Our big girls rumble once or twice at day. This is probably because they’ve both gotten huge in the past six months and Bella is now bigger than Eevee. It’s funny – we actually thought she was the runt of the litter when we bought her. Now she’s a giant. Anyway – once the pigs figure out their natural order, the rumbling should die down. If you notice pigs biting each other, running at each other, or attacking each other, separate them immediately. This isn’t normal behavior.

(9) You’ll notice far more fighting between male pigs than female pigs. Also – never cage a male and female pig together unless you plan on breeding. And, if you do, know the dangers. A large percentage of female guinea pigs die during birth.

(10) Guinea pigs do not have natural vitamin c in their system. It needs to be provided through droplets of the vitamin in their water. Don’t skip this step.

(11) Cavies are anything but cheap. Good bedding (recycled paper) is anywhere from $15 to $20 a bag – and you will likely need two or three per month. Food and hay should last a month or two. This can be anywhere from $10-$20 – depending entirely on your budget and preferred shopping center. Guinea pigs also need lettuce and/or carrots introduced into their diet, among other fruits and veggies. You’ll need bowls and containers for all of these things. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting recycled paper bedding (or using fleece). Guinea pigs are prone to upper respiratory infections. Most wood shavings will cause allergic reactions and other problems. The main point? Don’t cheap out on bedding. It’s less than vet bills.

(12) Guinea pigs also need hidey homes. These are small (or large) wooden structures within their cages. Pigs are social, but they sometimes need time away from the world.  A hidey home makes a guinea pig more comfortable and less afraid of its surroundings. And, if they eat their hidey home, you’ll have to buy a new one. Our girls destroyed their first one.

(13) Some cavies like to hang in nets. This can be a really adorable way of adding hidey home space, if your pigs like it.

(14) Guinea pigs crave attention. Eevee and Bella whine just to get pet every once in a while.

(15) Guinea pigs like to make race tracks in their cages and in your rooms. They will literally pick one or two obstacles and run in circles around those obstacles (in the exact same way) dozens of times until they get exhausted. They will make figure-eights, curves, straight lines, and turn-arounds. It can get pretty intricate – and it’s definitely fun to watch.

(16) Cavies also like to play “follow the pig” – especially when they are exploring new places. Don’t be surprised if they walk around nose-to-butt.

(17) Not all cage mates are close enough to cuddle. Bella and Eevee have been together since birth, and they co-exist without really interacting. Baby and Emma are months apart and met two weeks ago – yet the two are inseparable. It all depends on personality. And every pig has its own personality.

Don’t be afraid if you get overly attached. You will. And that’s okay. Guinea pigs are far more skilled, adorable, and playful than most people imagine. One of my favorite parts of this experience (among many things) has been hearing “I want a guinea pig!” after family members and friends meet our girls.

They are truly a hidden wonder. And they are a convenient, incredible pet for young couples who aren’t ready for a dog or cat. Guinea pigs can be left alone (easily) for 12-24 hours. They will actually teach themselves how to ration food and water while you’re away. They can be left alone for 36-48 hours in more drastic situations – though I don’t think we could ever bring ourselves to do that.

But this leaves you the ability to drop everything and go. Just stock them up and they’ll be fine.

My next post will be a shorter update on life in general.

Talk soon!

Cassie

The Guinea Pig Chronicles

Emma. A great example of a baby guinea pig. Probably two or three months old.
Emma. A great example of a baby guinea pig. Probably two or three months old.

It all started in June of 2016.

My family’s nine-year-old dog (Mitzi) had passed away unexpectedly. I was extremely broken up about it.  I began to think more and more about buying a pair of female rats. I figured the company would help me get through the grieving process.

It was Austin who talked me out of it.

“I have an idea. Why not look at pair of guinea pigs? I had one when I was a kid.”

At first, I was completely against it.

“Aren’t guinea pigs supposed to be fat and lazy?”

Austin shook his head.

“Come see one. I have a feeling you’ll change your mind.”

And he was right. I did.

I learned that guinea pigs are actually the perfect “first apartment” pet. Not only are they soft, friendly, vocal, and cuddly – but they live anywhere from 6-8 years. Unlike rats,  guinea pigs are a long-term pet commitment.

Guinea pigs aren’t technically rodents. They are actually known as cavies – something larger and differently built than a rodent. At their peak, guinea pigs can be the size of a small cat (think bunny rabbits – but shorter and longer.) At their smallest, they can be the size of a hamster.

I held my first guinea pig in a West Lansing PetSmart. I made the commitment two weeks later, by complete chance, when Austin and I visited the PetSmart in Brighton with our friend Olivia.

Eevee and Austin. Another good example of a baby guinea pig.
Eevee and Austin. Another good example of a baby guinea pig.

We walked toward the guinea pig cages, just for fun. And I saw a little orange puff ball drinking from a water bottle. She was solid orange – except for a tiny white streak in her hair.

The streak was too small for most people to notice. But, believe it or not, it matches a white streak in Austin’s hair. Same side and everything.

On a whim, I asked to hold her.

On the same whim, Austin asked to hold one of her cage mates – a white, black, and brown girl who was even smaller than her sister. They were just babies at the time. Maybe two months old.

We fell in love.

We didn’t expect to purchase our guinea pigs in Brighton. We weren’t even sure we wanted to purchase them from a PetSmart.

But we were hooked. We named them – then and there.

The orange puff ball was Eevee. The black and white, rambunctious baby was Bella.

Bella. A good example of a growing guinea pig. About four or five months old.
Bella. A good example of a growing guinea pig. About four or five months old.

Four days later, we were forced to take them back.

We’d been reading up on guinea pig health – and we quickly learned baby pigs are susceptible to upper respiratory infections, which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Bella sneezed for the first four days, sometimes multiple times each hour. One morning, when we woke up, she had crust around her eyes. This is usually an important warning sign that something is wrong with your cavy.

After playing phone tag with PetSmart, we were told they could have the guinea pigs treated at their in-house hospital. They wanted to take both of them – just in case. The process would last about two weeks.

So, four days after buying our little girls, we had to take them back. We weren’t told until we arrived (both of us closer to tears than we’re probably willing to admit) that PetSmart would be refunding our money and technically taking ownership of the girls until treatment was over. We had no control or say-so in their treatment whatsoever.

This was a horrible experience for us. I think, after the horror stories we read online, we were convinced that both girls were going to get seriously sick and die before we would ever see them again. We were also afraid that we’d miss two weeks of serious bonding time. And what if they weren’t with one another? They were sisters, after all.

But the fear passed. Bella had a crusty eye infection that needed to be treated. Eevee was treated too. I went on vacation with my family. When I got back home, the girls were waiting for me – bigger than I remembered them.

From there, we were finally able to start bonding with our guinea pigs. And I can’t believe how much I’ve fallen in love with them.

But wait. There’s more.

Baby. Another good example of a growing guinea pig. Four or five months old.
Baby. Another good example of a growing guinea pig. Four or five months old.

About two months after the girls came home, I told Austin something was missing. Maybe it was the “mom” in me. Maybe it was because we’d been watching too much Charmed lately. But I became convinced that the girls needed a third cage mate. One who would play with Bella, but relax with Eevee.

Austin worried the two older girls wouldn’t be nice to a younger cavy, but I talked him into it (like I do most things).

So, that day, we brought home Baby.

It was clear from the beginning that something wasn’t right – but we couldn’t put our finger on it. We fell in love with Baby, just like the other two girls. She grew, but far more slowly than the others.

By December, it was clear that Bella and Eevee weren’t very nice to Baby (I was wrong). After speaking with a vet, we worried she was being bullied away from her food and water.

We decided to separate her. By this time, we’d purchased a much larger cage for the big girls (a rabbit hutch / chicken coop) and had the small cage to spare. Baby was thrilled to have her own space to run around and her own food to eat.

Still, it wasn’t right.

On Christmas Eve, as we drove home from a family get-together, Austin had another idea.

“I think Baby needs a sister. She shouldn’t be alone like this.”

I had to agree.

Not two hours later, we’d brought home our fourth (and final) guinea pig. We named her Emma.

Eevee. A good example of a  growing guinea pig. Seven or eight months old.
Eevee. A good example of a growing guinea pig. Seven or eight months old.

It became immediately clear that Baby and Emma were going to be far closer than Bella and Eevee. They spent hours chasing each other around the cage, then cuddled with one another at night.

Once again, though, we were faced with difficult decisions. On New Years Day, after several weeks of sneezing from Baby, we discovered that one of her eyes was seriously irritated and red. We took her to the vet and were given antibiotics and eye cream to treat her.

But we were also told to keep her away from Emma.

And that’s where we are now.

Emma and Baby are allowed to share a wall – but they aren’t allowed to be together.

Since Emma is still going through her adjustment period (where occasional sneezing is fairly common) we aren’t too concerned. But we’ve made the decision to separate them altogether. We don’t want to take any risks.

Taking care of guinea pigs is really great preparation for being a parent. When they need medicine, you shell out money for it. When they look sad and lonely, you feel miserable. You have nightmares about bad things happening to them. You don’t like leaving them alone – even though they are independent creatures.

Seeing Baby this sick has been incredibly difficult. It brings back memories of Mitzi, Finn, Eevee, and Bella. It makes me worry that something will go wrong – or that she won’t get better. It makes me worry that, somehow, Emma will get sick too. And then we’ll be inundated with sick guinea pigs.

In reality, this is my anxiety talking. Baby has been running around and eating and drinking and acting normal all day long. These are not signs of a dying guinea pig. Her eye is slowly getting better (though she hates her eye cream) and her sneezing has definitely lightened up. And we’re only two days into the healing process. She has two weeks before her follow-up appointment.

Baby and Emma interacting.
Baby and Emma interacting.

As for Emma, I’ll feel better once we separate them tomorrow. Right now, we’re letting them share a wall. But I don’t want to be paranoid about Emma getting sick. Making their cages completely separate will help that paranoia go away.

In my next post about guinea pigs, I’ll give you some tips we’ve learned over the past six months. I’ll also update you on little Baby.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Cassie