Even before I got laid off, Lisa had been wondering about the possibility of escaping Wisconsin and its winters, even though I did most of the winter driving and all of the shoveling. Maybe because I’ve done all of the shoveling, I have at least listened in the last two years. But now it’s here, and we have a real decision to make. Do we stay in Wisconsin, where we have friends and family but no real prospects, or do we venture to Oregon or Kansas City, where Lisa has job offers? Here’s your chance to chime in, since we will be deciding by the time your taxes are due.
Right Here, Wisconsin
Yes, we have friends and family. A lot more acquaintances, actually. Living in a large city and not maintaining our cliques from high school means that we’re not as tied to the area because of friends as others. And since we don’t live on the same block as our family members, even that strong tie is only occasional. With Act 10 in Wisconsin, in fact, I’ve often felt that roughly 50% of my friends and family were just fine with me getting laid off in the first place, or at least they had to be in theory. I do have more prospects for website design here in Wisconsin, but most of the people I contact won’t even know if I’m living in another state, so that’s kind of a wash. While I applied to about 50 non-teaching jobs in the state, Lisa also was passed over for maybe a dozen jobs, as well, so it’s either suck it up and go back to teaching for me, or something else, somewhere else. While we love our neighborhood and the kids' school, that's not enough if we don't have decent income.
Wisconsin also has winters. Real winters, at least compared to where we’re looking. I don’t mind them too much, but I don’t love winter at all. I know every climate, except Southern California, has its challenges, but maybe forty winters have proven to be enough, so let’s take a look at the options:
Home of Oregon State University, Corvallis is mostly a progressive college town with very expensive home prices. Lisa would be teaching in Corvallis, but we would not be able to afford a run-down student rental, so we’d have to live 20 minutes away. While she’d rather walk to work, it just cannot happen here. The assignment itself is workable, just like the one in Shawnee, Kansas, so we won’t get into the job too much. However, pay in Corvallis would be lower, and health insurance would be higher. This would have to be offset by me trying to get a semi-real job outside of web design. The houses we can initially afford would be around 1500 square feet without a basement, so basically we’d be living on the first floor of our current house.
The biggest draw to Corvallis is, in theory, the weather. It never freezes, there are no thunderstorms or tornadoes, and everything closes if it snows: once a year, and an inch. Even though it rains a lot, the air is actually dry, so it’s comfortable in the 80s in summer, but it could probably get a little old in the 50s and 60s throughout the other 8-ish months. No mosquitos or snakes or natural disasters sounds good.
Other perks in favor of Oregon include being close to Portland, wineries, micro-brewers, the coast, the mountains, and beautiful scenery all the time. Oregon also does not have sales tax, so some aspects of the cost of living end up being lower, even if the income tax is basically twice as high as most states. We liked the laid-back vibe we got while out there, and it’s kind of a cooler (weatherwise) version of California (the place of Lisa’s dreams).
On the down side, we drove once to Oregon from Wisconsin, and we do not intend to do it again. This means we’d have to save up for flights back to Wisconsin, or we’d have to convince our friends and family to come visit our beautiful state, but we would not have a lot of room to put them up in our affordable house. Maybe that’s the real reason everyone in Oregon owns an RV on an RV pad for Grandma. Besides that, we also would only be part-time residents of Corvallis itself, spending most of our lives at home in a town that's nearly a mirror of the Kansas City suburb and our next option.
Housing is the biggest draw for us to Shawnee. Based on Lisa’s salary alone (mine as a self-employed person with less than two years in business does not count), we can afford a fully-updated 2000 square foot home with a basement. Shawnee is also a lot like a suburb of Milwaukee, and the scenery is also very similar. In fact, as you drive past Oak Park Mall, you could just as easily be driving past Brookfield Square. Except the Brookfield-style houses cost about half as much. Lisa could find a house in a nice area within a 20-minute walk of work, but everything in Kansas City is within 20 minutes of driving, since it has more freeway lanes than any other city in the nation. But that’s also kind of its biggest drawback: we’d be living in the geography of nowhere, with every big box retailer waiting for us.
The church itself is like a version of our church from a decade ago, so it’s familiar, which can be good. The state is like Wisconsin a half-decade ago, considering a vote to provide funding for vouchers that would save the school Lisa would be working at but also further depreciate their current public schools and teachers. However, since Lisa’s salary would be enough to afford very adequate housing, I could concentrate on selling websites to the local churches and businesses in greater Kansas City, so maybe I would not have to live through Act 10 all over again.
The climate in KC is what you’d expect from Milwaukee South: cold winters with a little snow, nice springs with a lot of storms, sweltering summers for a few months (with all the humidity), and beautiful falls. We’d also be close enough to drive home OCCASIONALLY. 10 hours through Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois/Wisconsin is not at all fun, but it’s not 33 hours. And KC is not located in the Great Plains, though there was some real wind alongside the rolling, green hills and tree-lined streets. The biggest necessary expense will be getting the AC fixed on my SAAB or selling it in WI.
Conventional wisdom in working for church, I assume, is to take the best offer monetarily, since church jobs can all be martyr positions. Maybe conventional wisdom would really tell us to just stay here and accept whatever it is the people of this state think I deserve as an educator. However, I think we’ve gotten past that premise, at least, which means we’ll be deciding between Kansas and Oregon. One older gentleman in Shawnee told James, “You don’t want to live in Oregon. They’re a bunch of wussies out there.” In some ways, that’s exactly what makes it so hard. We met some great people in both places, and I could honestly see myself living with the wussies in Oregon or driving the freeway with manly men in KC, but I’m probably done playing in Wisconsin’s snow.
The kids are kind of torn, as our son likes KC a little better (for no real reason) and our daughter prefers Corvallis (again, without much evidence). I just looked it up, and both Lawrence, KS and Corvallis, OR have German Saturday schools for the kids. Lisa and I actually alternately decided on one and then the other on the way home from Kansas. We left it as undecided and went to bed. Now, I'm seeing if others want to weigh in. Keep in mind that this is the very simplified version that skips over a lot of what we'll be considering and that you do not need to vote or anything, but if you have an opinion about one or both places (or the distance-from-family situation), we'd love to hear about it.