Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let's Play Catch Up

I bet you're ready for an update, yes?  I don't think there's been any question that the last half of 2012 has been a blur on the Morton-Wood crazy train.  

Mike's Homecoming

The cats were absolutely thrilled when Mike swapped the 100-degree temperatures of the Middle East for the balmy weather of Iowa.  Several weeks of sleeping in, eating food that isn't reconstituted, and an influx of relaxation time has acclimated this wacky vet to our time zone.  

Mike's next plan is to recommence classes in January and obtain a job, both to keep his time occupied and our finances in good shape.
Teaching Demands

Right as Mike got home, I started two classes back in Waterloo.  Now I've done two classes at a time before, but I split them between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.  I can't say that I regret driving 60 miles away two nights a week, but I have learned that I should avoid such an arrangement in the future.  There's something about that extra two-hour roundtrip that throws off my schedule.

Right now I'm teaching my standard film class and the new-to-me public speaking.  It's only the second time I've taught oral communications and my class is 3x larger than the first round (ok, increase of 6 to 22 students, but still ...).  I'm starting to get a real feel for the class and have gained considerable confidence since this summer.  But it's nonetheless a huge amount of work because it's still experimental for me.  And, much like a writing course, public speaking is a heavy work load between activities and grading. 

I also got offered a temporary editing gig with my university.  All students have to write a 15+ page paper to graduate. Beyond their subject area teacher, another faculty member offers feedback and edits - that's me.  I only had a handful of papers to edit, but they were drafts by students, not finished articles from my magazine colleagues, and accordingly took a lot of time to comb through.  A fantastic challenge for my editing skills though!  

Sometimes I wonder why I teach so much though.  This year I've taught 5 courses (one more than I usually have) and 2 were for the first time.  I suppose it's a teacher sin to say you do it for the money, but let's be honest about adjuncting - like any job, it's to pay the bills.  I love teaching; believe me, I'm very passionate about exposing my students to new ideas.  I just so happen to need an income boost that adjuncting can support - I don't think admitting that devalues what I do in the classroom.

Mike's deployment income has finally wound up.  With some vigilance, we were able to accomplish the following with our windfall: 
  • I can proudly say that we have ZERO credit card debt!  Not a penny is owed to any financial institutional (beyond loans, of course).  That's $7,000 that is no longer hanging over our heads or collecting interest.
  • We paid off our family debt. 'Nuff said. 
  • Our Jamaica vacation of $4,700 was paid for out of pocket.
  • Using my teaching income, we have rent secured through April 2013.
  • Our savings account is the healthiest it's ever been 
I always do a double take when I log into online banking.  Originally we were going to pay off a $9,000 car loan.  But we got to talking about the future and how we're now back to a single-income family.  We agreed we would feel more comfortable stashing that money away while Mike looked for jobs.  Financial advice recommends that you have 3-6 months of expenses available for emergency savings - we're more than covered now.   

I have never had that much money in savings in my life and it frankly scares me.  At least we're both good about keeping money locked up - no crazy plans to buy gizmos and gadget we don't need.  We do know that our 1998 truck will likely need to be replaced in the next 12 months.  Good motivation to leave those funds where they are.  

Salary Increases
Part of that drive comes from our 2013 financial outlook.  I recently earned a cost-of-living pay raise at work amounting to 2%.  While appreciated, an extra $80 a month is nothing to sneeze at.  Sure, that represents two tanks of gas or a workable amount of groceries, but nothing more.

Instead, I'm going to finally open a 401k.  I won't miss that money and it will at least be a start to retirement savings.  Would love to contribute more, but we just aren't there yet.  Can't be taking away from the utility bill to fund the future.  Just need to keep working on reducing our other expenses so I can eventually put in more. 

What's going on with you?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Bad Day for Iowa

My post today has nothing to do with financial advice or tips to improve your life.  It has everything to do with two children who can no longer ride their bikes, go to school, be with their families, or grow into adults.

Earlier this summer, two cousins went missing in Evansdale, IA.  Today, it was confirmed that their remains were found in nearby woods. 

It's not every day that murder rocks your community.  At least not in Iowa.  And most definitely not to children so young (8 and 10).

It's weird to be in Cedar Rapids, 60 miles away, and feel the sadness of this situation.  But I lived in Cedar Falls/Waterloo for 8 years and Evansdale practically merges into Waterloo.  All three cities are in Black Hawk County, a place I called home for a long time. 

My connection to the area is still deep and I return routinely to meet with old friends.  I still teach in Waterloo and my students are all locals.  I can't count how many times I drive past Evansdale on Hwy 20 in a given year. 

I was in Waterloo this summer when this all started.  My students and I talked about it - there was a huge sense of community.  People were concerned, wanted to help.  One of my students was an officer with the Evansdale Police Department.  Naturally they couldn't say anything, but it was clear long nights were being logged. 

The search for the girls remained strong as the weeks marched on.  Fliers are posted at every gas station and grocery store I frequent, even in Cedar Rapids.  Awareness for the case has been everywhere.     

I was in Waterloo last night when the first press conference announced the find.  And  I sit here now, from the safety of my desk, thinking about this morning's confirmation.

I can't shake this intangible feeling I have today.  Is it shock?  Is it a mixture of sadness and anger?  A taste of grief?  I can't tell.  This is the first time I've had even a remote connection with a tragedy like this.  All I can tell is that when something like this happens in your town, the reverberations are profound. 

This isn't a crime happening in a big city far away.  You're not blaming the victims for doing something that led to their demise.  It's not a stranger's kids, someone else's family.  
A community coming together in unity often generates a sense of ownership.  Those are our girls.  And this is what makes everything about this situation feel personal.    

The scarier thought is who is responsible and why?  If there's a concrete suspect, the police haven't said anything and the tip lines are still open.  You shudder to think that someone in your community could have done the deed (assuming it's someone local).  That someone who you could have seen at the grocery store, walked past at the gas station, would do something so terrible. 

It's easy to read a detective novel or watch a crime movie and never feel a connection with the victims - they're just a plot element.  You focus on the police officer, the private investigative, the inner workings of a killer's mind in those stories.

But this isn't a story.  These victims are real.  Someone murdered two kids in a small town and no one knows why. 

I can't help but think how long those two were actually alive after they were kidnapped.  Did they suffer or was it over mercifully?  You don't want to think of the horror anyone, much less children, much less young girls, could experience in a situation like this.  My mind nonetheless is nawing on those possbilities.

Until the full details come to light, it is a crime of randomness.  No obvious rhythm or reason.  Just bad luck, to put it plainly.   I suppose that's what hits people the hardest - there's nothing and no one to blame.  All these negative emotions and no one to take them out on.    

There's no moral of the story here.   No safety tips or preventive measure to pass on.  Only a profound sense of disgust that the lives of two kids were deliberately stolen.