Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I talked to my dad. He seems annoyed, but he isn't panicking. He's confident that if he loses his job he can get a job doing something, even if it isn't engineering at the moment.

I'm considerably less sanguine. I also get the feeling he's doing the dad thing and trying to keep me from worrying. Still, panic helps nothing.

It has become imperative that I keep my job, no matter how miserable it often makes me.

Friday will be my mom's last day at the insurance office before she's officially laid off. She's picked up one extra shift per week at the pizzeria. She's also hoping to sub more when people want off, but it may be a while before she can get any more regular hours. That wasn't great news, but it would have been manageable.

Then I instant messaged my brother shortly before he left for his job as a pizza cook. He informed me that my father's job situation will be changing as well. For several years, my father worked fifty hours a week. He was on salary so he didn't get time and a half, but he did get paid for the extra ten hours. Then they cut him back to forty hours a week. That was ok with him, partly because for quite a while they let him work it in four ten hour shifts and take most Fridays off.

There's been instability at my father's company for some months now, with restructuring that resulted in almost everyone else in my father's department getting laid off. This is a pretty terrible time to work for an OEM for the automotive industry. When people don't buy cars, automakers don't need to buy the parts from which cars are built. The situation isn't improving. As a result, my mechanical engineer father will be going from a salaried position to an hourly one and having his hours cut again to thirty hours a week.

He still has a job. That much is good. I haven't called home yet so I don't have the answers to other pressing questions. Does he still get health insurance? Is this the next step before my father's company collapses entirely and everyone is laid off? Are my parents panicking? I certainly am.

It looks like I might be the only person in my immediate family with a normal full-time job with benefits for a while. (I'm not sure whether my brother's hours at the pizza place add up to forty hours a week or not, but I know he doesn't make enough to be totally self-supporting. My parents are paying for health and car insurance, at least.) My parents have savings, but they are relying on those to be there for retirement.

I'm trying to run through survival strategies for the worst case scenarios. I think I'll be offered another annual contract at my school district; recent conversations with my assistant principal indicated that she certainly expects me to be around another year. I don't flatter myself that it's because I'm seen as particularly dedicated or talented. They have a very hard time finding warm bodies with teaching licenses to put in front of the classrooms around here.

If I can get through one more year, I can complete the pedagogy tests and Praxis III observations to move from a provisional license to a standard five-year teaching license. I plan to complete the additional tests to get licensed in mathematics as well so I can leave here licensed to teach any science or math course for students in grades seven through twelve in my state. That would likely enable me to find a position in a district in my parents' part of the state, move in with them, and help pay for their living expenses if they are faced with prolonged unemployment.

Somehow none of that is very comforting. School is getting better gradually overall, but there are still far too many days that push me dangerously close to my breaking point. If I felt confident that I could find a job for the next year that would enable me to be self-supporting, even if it meant being a cashier at Wal-Mart, I might seriously consider it just to get away from the constant stress. However, in this economy, finding employment of any kind isn't a given. I also really don't want to move home and try to take care of my parents; deferring my dreams by delaying graduate school further for the sake of filial duty might be the right thing to do, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't feel deeply disappointed.

I know this is middle class whining. I have it very, very good. I not only have a roof over my head, I have a room of my own. I'm not having to choose between buying medicine and food. I didn't have to go to work full-time at age fourteen to help support my parents and siblings. I have a job, an emergency fund, and no debts. I have no inherent right to find self-fulfillment, to go spend years learning more about E&M and quantum mechanics while trying to unravel the mysteries of life. Whatever happens, I'll have little choice but to find some way to cope. That doesn't mean I'm happy right now.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Because I'm just narcissistic enough to think you might care

School is busy. I'll try to get a more on-topic post together tomorrow. For now, I leave you with a list of random information about me, compiled because my roommate and my closest Institute friend both insisted. (Yes, I'm resorting to repurposing material from Facebook in an effort to assuage my guilt about not posting here lately.)

1. I think math is probably my weakest subject, which makes my desire to get a Ph.D. in physics slightly odd, no?
2. For a while in preschool, I was the only girl in my class.
3. I pretty much refuse to wear high heels; I hate the way they force you to shorten your stride.
4. Red Baron four cheese pizzas are the ultimate comfort food.
5. I put off getting my driver's license until I was 18 and my parents insisted.
6. I was once interviewed by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal.
7. I don't generally like to buy clothes, but I do like pajamas. Thus I have far more pajamas than one person actually needs.
8. I go through ridiculous amounts of chewing gum when I have to write papers.
9. Three times in the past week my students have asked me if I'm a virgin.
10. I'm very keen on dogs, German Shepards and German Shepard mixes especially.
11. The longest I've ever gone without biting my nails is three weeks.
12. I used to sneak discarded copies of The New Yorker home from the library when I was in junior high since I wasn't sure it would be parentally approved reading material.
13. Very dark chocolate is my drug of choice.
14. The song "NRRRD GRRRL" by MC Chris always makes me smile.
15. I still feel bad about how often I skipped Thermal, even though I was writing a thesis and the prof spent most of the time reading us the textbook.
16. I love the smell of used bookstores.
17. I've had a crush on Richard Feynman since I was 13 or so.
18. Last winter I tried to save on my heating bill by not turning on the heat unless I absolutely had to. This often necessitated going to bed wearing three layers of long underwear under my pajamas, a couple of pairs of socks, and a hat and still shivering under a pile of blankets. In retrospect, it was a dumb decision.
19. I'd gladly live in [small town where I grew up] or [nearby college town] for the rest of my life if I had the chance to be a professor at [my university].
20. I once spent the last night of a family vacation trying to sleep in the car in a gas station parking lot in Little Rock while my dad changed the water pump.
21. I've also been on a trip on which my dad banned talking during the entire drive to Virginia. He claims to have no recollection of this.
22. The most recent movie to make me cry is I Am Legend.
23. I have no middle name.
24. I'm already worrying about how I'll ever afford to retire.
25. Soft, clean sheets are one of life's great sensual pleasures.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Exciting news on the car front.

No, I haven't bought a new car. I'm getting my old one back at spring break. My mom has been driving it since the start of December and is finally convinced it isn't going to fall apart. The transmission occasionally makes a loud clunk, but it's been doing that since we got it. It looks fairly cruddy, but if I can get a couple more years of reliable use from it and let my car fund keep accruing interest in the meantime, I'll be happy indeed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Very stimulating

I still haven't filed my taxes, in part because I only got my 1099-MISC for the Amgen Fellowship on Saturday and I haven't yet been able to track down the people within TFA I need to talk to about getting a receipt for the $900 in graduate tuition I had to pay through them. (Come to think of it, I haven't seen a transcript either, grr.) I have, however, been reading all of the forms and worksheets so I'll be able to just plug in the numbers once I finally get all of my documents in order. The IRS website is a trove of interesting information.

You know that big stimulus program where the government mailed out checks to taxpayers last year in the hopes we'd resume our wanton spending and save the economy from collapse, I didn't get to be a part of that because I was my parents' dependent in 2007. Instead, I can get the money added to my tax refund for 2008 through the recovery rebate credit. Basically, I'm looking at an unexpected $300 (albeit from a program I believe to be of dubious merit and efficacy). So now I have to figure out what to do with the money. I could:

Lend it back to the government.
If the government really wants to increase the national debt by sending out money to yahoos like me, I could use it to buy I Bonds, earn a little interest, and boost my emergency fund in the process.

Plonk it into my Roth IRA.
This isn't a bad option, except I already have a plan for maxing out my Roth in 2009 so I'd end up with an extra $300 lying around later on.

Increase my financial emergency preparedness: toss it into my savings account and forget about it.
This would be a fine option, but it's boring.

Increase my physical emergency preparedness: buy supplies.
It sure wouldn't hurt to get those last few things I've been wanting for my emergency kit and then start making some progress on food storage.

Give the money to charity.
I've been bad about that in the past. I give in dribs and drabs when I think about it, but until this year I've never been systematic. Last fall I felt like it was something I needed to start doing now that I am fully employed, but I kept shelling out so much money for my classroom that it felt like that was a contribution in itself. January 1st I finally quit making excuses and automated a monthly donation to Doctors without Borders, but I'm only giving $50 a month right now. I feel like I really ought to be tithing despite being one of those heathen agnostics so this would be a small step in the right direction.

Stimulate the economy in the developing world.
Lending the money through Kiva would help entrepreneurs create jobs for themselves and their communities, plus later on I can decide whether to lend the money again or take it out to do something else.

Stimulate the economy in my family.
My little brother is scraping by working six nights a week at a pizzeria, an experience that is definitely helping convince him he needs to go back to college in the fall. Right now, he isn't saving much at all, which is entirely understandable, but it seems like a shame to miss this opportunity to start saving for retirement early. Even though $300 isn't much, I could set up a Roth savings account at ING for him to get him started. Perhaps I might instead offer to match retirement savings of $25 a month to encourage him to save himself as well, but is that a little too paternalistic for a sibling relationship?

Go play.
Frivolous spending can be fun. $300 would buy a lot of nights of all you can eat crab legs and shrimp, a bunch of used paperbacks, a nice weekend trip, or cable television. It wouldn't be the most practical use of the money, but sometimes I get tired of being practical.

What would you recommend?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big exciting plans for the 14th.

No, I won't be heading to the AAPT conference this weekend, although I'll probably be going to the summer one since my favorite professors/surrogate family keep urging me to come to Michigan with them. Instead, I'll be enjoying the wonders of the three day weekend back in my college town/ hometown.

There will be lunch out. I'm hoping we'll head to my favorite Mexican place, and not just because I can borrow a discount card from my mother to get one meal at half off when we buy another at full price. Odds are, we'll curl up on the couch in front of either The Wrath of Khan or something rented through Netflix. Then, we're going to do our taxes together.

Yep, last weekend we were discussing filing our tax returns and how we really ought to get to that sometime soon. He's never done his own since his lawyer mother has always volunteered in the past, but he's eager to do them himself on paper this year. I've done my parents' before, but I'm somewhat strangely happy to finally have my own W-2. Doing the taxes should be quite simple since neither of us has a financially complicated life yet.

Monday, February 9, 2009

One very expensive phone call.

Today my roommate called to switch her student loans to the extended repayment plan since she can't afford the payments for the standard ten year schedule. This will cost her an extra $22,000 in interest payments if she pays only the new minimum, more if she follows through on her plan of going back to school for a doctorate and putting her (mostly unsubsidized) loans into deferral. She's currently all but thesis on a masters in music theory, and her career options in that field are pretty limited unless she does ultimately go for the Ph.D.

I can't quite imagine taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans that will be with you for life and not even bothering to calculate what your payments will be until they start coming due, but I'm trying very hard not to be judgmental. Students in the arts just aren't funded like students in the hard sciences, and I'd probably still plan on a Ph.D. even if it meant taking on debt. (I miss the lab.) Still, between my roommate's student loans and credit card debt that she may finally kill off sometime this summer if all goes according to plan, which I sort of suspect it won't, I sometimes feel like I'm living with a cautionary tale. It's nice to have compound interest working for me rather than against me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My posting frequency drops precipitously whenever I find myself seriously considering quitting my job. I know leaving mid-year might well result in my kids learning nothing for the rest of the year so I need to find a way to make it through May. However, I suspect I won't be returning for a second year. My roommate keeps reminding me that these are my thoughts two days after getting caught in the middle of a fight that turned into a campus wide brawl and things might look brighter once we have new administrators. (Note: attempting to keep your student from getting jumped again by walking her to her mother's car at the end of the day is ineffective if the girl's mother and aunt are there ready to try to fight teenage girls themselves. It took lots of police to finally bring order. I'm slowly losing faith in humanity.)