Monday, May 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Growing up, leaving for summer camp was never an issue because I knew I'd be back in a week or two.

When I had the opportunity to study in Germany for a year, saying goodbye wasn't difficult for me because I knew I'd be back in a year.

This move isn't hitting me too hard because I know we'll be returning to visit periodically. Besides, my immediate family is coming with me.

Leaving for the next two weeks or so to start my job on my own until we can have the family moved out there is by far the most difficult departure I've ever faced. I am going to miss my two boys terribly. Never wish such a time apart from his kids on a father. I don't know how foreigners leave their families for months to work in the US and send money home. Fortunately, we'll have a happy Father's Day reunion.

Let the countdown begin.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Statistics vs Divine Message: Which Would You Choose?

There has been plenty of stress and trepidation surrounding our upcoming move to Kentucky. Even just yesterday I wrote about some of the concerns I have going forward. This morning, however, something either amazing or silly happened to soothe my nerves some.

Back in college, Chanel and I were involved in the Catholic organization on campus at Rowan University. Although I felt like I was always there, Chanel regularly surprises me with an event I have no memory of, thanks to the rigid schedule engineers were held to. If there were 6 courses in a semester, 5 had one session and the other had 2, at least one of which would occur during gathering times of the club, meaning I missed out on special events, free food, or both on a regular basis.

But there was always Mass on Sundays and it was at Mass that I started something that sounds silly to confess. If you're at all familiar with the Eucharist, you know that the priest breaks a larger piece of wafer during the ceremony and includes it with the smaller wafers that are handed out to the congregation. The pieces of the larger wafer always seemed to me more significant, more meaningful. Eventually I found myself assigning greater significance to the rather random chance of receiving one of them versus receiving the standard wafer.

It basically broke down that if I would ask for guidance one way or another, the form of the wafer I'd receive at communion would be God's way of speaking to me. Yes, I'm an engineer and have a scientific mind and I accept that this belief is ridiculous to similar minded people. However, I am also a person of faith and I believe there is more than is known about the layers of the universe.

Through the many years since graduating college, I hadn't thought much about this old superstition of mine. At Easter, at a time when there was no job offer, several job prospects, and nothing set in stone in the least, in a flash an idea came to me that if I'd receive a fragment we were bound for Kentucky. I laughed at myself at the time for even thinking it, but a few moments later, there it was.

Weeks have gone by and I've dismissed the Easter fragment as coincidence, as I did around the end of college when I stopped thinking them signs from God. As you've read, my mind is on concerns following the move and, once again in a flash at this morning's Mass, the idea came to me that a fragment would confirm that this move is right for us. Before the altar, I approached the Eucharistic Minister who proceeded to fish around, chasing a particular host despite many more easily retrievable round wafers right on top and gave me another fragment.

Call me a conflicted individual, but while I am willing to dismiss plenty of things as coincidences when we cannot determine a cause or purpose, deep down I believe there are none and that everything happens for a reason. The philosophy that there is some, perhaps unknown, causality in all things is reflected in my approach to engineering and my management style in that I root around searching for the underlying causes of problems. Logically, I know that assigning significance to what kind of wafer I receive is foolishness, yet my faith allows me to believe that there is a greater power at work and it needs us in Kentucky for the foreseeable future. Certainly time will tell what that purpose is.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Crisis Averted? Concerns Abound

Even before I lost my job back in February, our family's finances were not in the best of shape. We had committed ourselves to being a single income family so Chanel could stay home with the kids and we had been doing everything to realize that reality. From incurring debt to try our hands at a vending business, to being caught buying a house at the peak of the housing bubble, my losing my job brought us to the point of starting to consider bankruptcy.

My early job search reached for higher paying positions, but I always ran into an issue with their wanting more experience. Then I lost my job and we decided to broaden our horizons and consider a potential move, and be relocated somewhere with a lower cost of living (which was pretty much anywhere outside of New Jersey).

When this offer came through for Kentucky, initially I was very excited (and truly, I still am) even though the salary was a little lower than we were asking. Kentucky, after all, is dirt cheap. We'll be short selling our house, eliminating a great amount of the debt we've taken on. Beyond that, the outdoor lifestyle enjoyed down there you could say is an answer to a yearning of my soul. Certainly, we no longer need to explore bankruptcy.

For the most part, I'm concerned with cash flow. With our housing costs being $1400 less per month, our healthcare $650 less, I still feel the need to be cautious. We're planning on setting aside $250 per month for flights back east to see family on a regular basis. There are always additional expenses immediately following any move, plus there's the temptation to take on other conveniences like movie services, ordering out, etc. Not to mention the cost of sending kids to preschool. The big mystery for me is the effect of losing the mortgage interest deduction on my tax withholdings. Even a small percentage swing can make the difference of living comfortably and continuing our spartan lifestyle.

Until we are reimbursed for a variety of expenses to move there, we remain on the brink. Maybe this stint of unemployment was something we needed to teach us how to be tight fisted with our money. It's going to be difficult these next few weeks, especially, working as a divided family so I can get an early start on getting paychecks. I still remain confident this is the best move we could have made for ourselves; I just hope we can reap the full benefit of making it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

First Impressions of Kentucky

We returned on Saturday from our week-long stay in western Kentucky. Everybody warned us that it'd be so slow-paced and "country" there but you know what? I felt very comfortable and thoroughly enjoyed my stay. Slowing down a little from the ridiculously fast-paced lifestyle of the East Coast can do a body good. :)

Our hotel was THE cutest place I've ever stayed. Go to the website and check out the lobby. :) It made me feel right at home upon walking in. Since we'd been on a plane for several hours as well as a two-hour drive from Nashville in a rental car, we decided to take it easy our first night there. In fact, I think Rob and I were in bed by 9 PM! We knew we needed to rest up for a busy week of house hunting. Our goal: find a house in a week or bust!

Because we are not familiar with western Kentucky, we decided our best option would be to rent. That way we could spend a year or so getting to know the area, assessing schools for our boys, and figuring out where we wanted to permanently settle down. I would hate to jump into a mortgage blind, you know? Renting is a safe bet. If we end up not loving the rented house/town, we're not stuck there forever.

The first house we went to look at was in the ghetto of Paducah. Wow. Rob looked at the dilapidated house and saw potential; I saw disaster. No way were we raising our kids in that section of town. End of discussion. The next place on our list was an apartment complex. We need a 3-bedroom and it just so happened that one was going to be available in the next few weeks. Perfect! The man took down our number and told us he'd call that afternoon to arrange a walk-through...and never called. When I called him, I got the answering machine. Several times. Oh well, moving on.

The next house on our list was beautiful! Pearly white interior, spacious rooms, and in a gorgeous section of town. Oh, did we mention it was out of our price range? Hmmm....yeah.

Driving around all morning was starting to wear on poor David so we headed back to the hotel for naptime. Rob and I scoured Craig's list and all of the local listing for houses and apartments. Why weren't there very many for rent??? We called a local real estate agent and gave him our information. He provided us with the addresses of two houses in a town called Murray. The houses were next to a college we'd never heard of called Murray State University. Ok...worth checking out, right?

Did you ever walk into a house and nearly pass out from the smell? Ugh...that was the first house. The odor was a combination of dog dander, cigarettes, and month-old garbage. I wanted to turn around and race out right then and there but we'd made an appointment and the least we could do was keep it. I dry-heaved several times but somehow made it through the showing. The kicker was the dog that almost bit my son. After smiling at the family and thanking them for their time, I made a beeline for the door. I couldn't believe that when back in the car, Rob actually had to ask what I thought of the place!

The second house was a 3 bedroom brick ranch with a garage and a good sized front and back yard. The back yard was enclosed with tall, beautiful bushes instead of a fence. I had never seen anything quite like that and was impressed. I've never been one for fences but I do like my privacy. Three college students had lived in the house for three years and while they did take care of it, it was obvious that they hadn't made any significant improvements. They didn't do much besides mow the lawn so several of the tree branches were overgrown and hanging over the house. There was plenty of room for a vegetable garden or flower bed both in front and in back and my mind started to race thinking of all of the ways we could improve the overall appearance of the house. It was a cute house but with a little TLC, it could definitely be transformed into something wonderful!

We walked through the house several times. Our son ran around the backyard while we hemmed and hawed over minute details. Yes, the appliances were old. Yes, the garage would have to be used for storage instead of for holding the car (no basement). Yes, the gutter would probably need to be replaced. Yes, our china cabinet might not fit in the dining room. At the same time, yes, being near a college has many benefits (including my taking night classes and possibly adjuncting a few courses). Yes, the neighborhood is safe and our kids will be able to play with the other kids. Yes, the rent is WAY cheaper than we'd ever pay in NJ so we'd be able to save money. Yes, the layout of the house is perfect. Yes, with our finishing touches, this house could scream "Rob and Chanel" and we could be very happy here.

After discussing the pros and cons with family and friends, we decided to listen to what our hearts were telling us and put in our application for the house. We await their decision, not knowing how many other applicants are in the running. If we don't get the house, it won't be the end of the world...but we would be terribly disappointed. We would also have to live in a hotel until we find something else, which would not be fun. The reason there are so few rentals in the area is because the recent floods have displaced so many people from their homes. They have taken 99% of the rental properties available, which leaves little to no choices left for people like us.

Here's hoping something comes through soon...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Ballad of a Job Search

(If you need the tune:

Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Rob
Poor Jersey engineer put out of a job,
Then one day he was surfin' on the 'net,
And back through the wires come the best news yet.
(A Job that is, steady employ, paycheck)

Cost of livin' diff'rence lets'm live like millionaires,
Coworkers had said, "Jersey? Move away from there!"
Said Appalachia is the place you oughta be
So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Kentucky.
(Derby that is, distilleries, NASCAR)

Well now it's time to say goodbye to Rob and all his kin
They would like to invite you folks to kindly drop in,
You're all invited out to visit this locality
To have a heaping helping of their hospitality
(Western Kentucky, that's where they're livin' now, 
Paducah. Y'all come 'round now, ya hear?)