Wednesday, August 27, 2008

today I celebrate two anniversaries...

My 5 year wedding anniversary and my 17th year working on a Chrysler program anniversary (prior to August 2006, the anniversary was celebrated as my “years with Chrysler”).

So, as the Mirena commercial says; a lot can happen in 5 years. Actually, all I can currently remember from that commercial is: buy a house, learn French and move to Memphis. I’ll have to really listen the next time it’s on. Well, in the past 5 years many things have happened, we bought a house and moved to Romeo (18 miles west of Memphis, MI) and I haven’t really learned to speak French (although, I know one person who wishes that I had).

Marriage is a hard thing to make successful. Mundane everyday issues, sensitivities, stubbornness and pride get in the way of complete happiness. You really DO have to work on it – both people do. Some days it’s as easy as pie – other days you’d like to cut up the other person like a pie :)

We have now and have had in the past a lot of things going on since we’ve been together (officially November 2000). It seems we are always so busy, never a dull moment. If it isn’t social events, it’s work around the house. I’m sure we're not the only people who experience this.

We are celebrating our anniversary the same way we do every year; by throwing a big party at the house. We will have it this coming Saturday, August 30. We currently have 88 people that say they will come. Close to the same amount we had last year. We are ramping up the preparations as we speak.

All in all, marriage is a good thing and there are a lot of memorable things to reminisce about.

Regarding my other anniversary; I’ve changed jobs three times in the past 5 years.

Just a mere one week prior to getting married, I was laid off from a job I had with Chrysler working in the Chassis department for Jeep. Within a few minutes of getting my 2 week notice, I was able to use my networking abilities (by then I had been with Chrysler for 12 years), and landed myself a job with my old department; Truck Interior. I stayed with them for 2 years but was looking for someplace to pay me more money. Chrysler had stopped handing out raises to people who were contracted. I found a job with a Chrysler supplier EDAG, Inc. working on the Minivan Body-In-White and Exterior Systems department (more on that at a later date). That job lasted just over a year. One of the four vehicles I was working on was cancelled, so they laid me off. Within two weeks, I was able to find this job at FEV, Inc. Again, I am working for a supplier to Chrysler, this time on engines for FWD Powertrain.

For all of these positions, my title has been VPM Coordinator. VPM is an acronym for Virtual Product Modeler. This is a database that was created by Dassault Systems and handcrafted to meet Chryslers CAD file management needs.

When I was working in the Truck Interior group, I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of work that I had managing their CAD data. Never in two years did I have “down time”. Since I’ve moved on, I can’t say that I’m an expert any longer. I have not been given nearly as much work. I’ve been stripped of my powerful roles and have been told that I cannot do the things that I used to do. It’s very frustrating since I was the “go-to” person for Product Data Management for Interiors. In fact, the last job I had (Minivan BIW & Ext Sys), they were starting to finally get the idea that I really could be useful to them…then bam! LAY OFF! That one I still fail to understand, but how can you question the judgment of management?

Monday, August 25, 2008

renting again...

Well, after nearly 2 years of unsuccessfully trying to sell our house in Clinton Township, we have accepted another renter.

She seems very nice and her children and dog seem very well behaved. We are hoping this will be a positive experience for all.

The selling process turned out to be much more difficult than what I had expected it to be. I figured our very cute house would be snatched up quickly. All the work had been done on it and there was really nothing more for someone to do other than move in.

But when we first put it on the market, the market started to go on a downturn for housing. It has a lot to do with those loans that were being advertised for the past 5 or so years; 0% down, only interest loans, 4 year ARMS. People who couldn’t normally afford to buy a house started buying houses and quickly went into foreclosure. Other people who thought that they could only afford a small house, after visiting a mortgage lender would be misinformed about what they could afford and would try for the McMansions, only later to realize that not only do they have to pay the high mortgage, but all the utilities to heat/cool that size of a house and continue to afford the lifestyle in which they were accustomed, like a cottage up North, 2 SUVs, a boat, some off road vehicles and snowmobiles, etc.

The other thing that wasn’t working for us was that, when it comes to jobs in Michigan and more specifically the Detroit area, everything touches on the auto industry. When the market is down for automobiles, this area is hit hard. When gas prices rise, and the auto companies are still only manufacturing SUV-type vehicles that get about 8 miles to the gallon, this area is highly affected.

So a lot of people not only lost their jobs, but then lost their homes.

We started asking $164,900 for our place at the end of 2006. It was clear early on that we were overpriced, but we were in competition with other homes in the area that were selling at nearly the same price. We came down several times, but it always seemed like we were playing catch-up – in which we never caught up. In April, we came down to $129,900, which was less than what the house was estimated for back in 2003. This estimate was prior to adding the deck, the privacy fence, fixing the bathroom and replacing the entire kitchen. But we are now competing with bank-owned homes.

We had 21 seperate showings of the house over the course of the year and a half that it was on the market with a real estate company. We had one offer that was a low-ball offer which we countered and obviously scared them away.

Reasons given as to why someone wouldn't purchase the house; no basement and small rooms.

Since our last renter moved out in January 2007, we have had to maintain the house, the cost of two mortgages, the utilities to keep the house going and anything else that might come up. Fortunately we have been able to do this and still live the way we are accustomed to.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

so the visiting is over...

My sister and family flew out yesterday and Jerome’s sister, brother and families fly out tonight. Now it will be time to get everything settled and back to normal; straightening the house & figuring out our bills. Sparky will be able to move about the house freely and come in and out at his leisure. He won’t know what to do.

All in all, it was a good visit – a lot of time spent around the dining room or picnic tables. The recycle guys must think we’re winos, because the whole bin was filled with wine bottles when I took it to the curb last night. We even had to set more bottles around the bin because there was no more room in the bin.

I’m wondering how much money Jerome’s family spent – they sure did buy a lot of stuff. It was remarkable how generous they are with their kids. I know I have never and would not ever have purchased as much stuff for Justin on any sort of vacation or trip. Not that I think that not buying him gifts is a good thing. I guess I'm just cheap. Seems like the kids really enjoyed and will continue to remember their trip partially due to what was purchased.

My sister and I were only able to spend a little time together amongst the ciaos. We only had about an hour at the end to have some time to talk, just the two of us. That’s too bad, but hopefully she’ll be moving back to the states shortly and potentially I will be able to see her more often.

Well, time to go meet Jerome and the Frenchies at Jerome’s work and to take them to the airport.

Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

DAY 8 (Saturday, August 9):

The next day we took our time waking up and leaving. It was our last day and we would be home that evening. Luckily we had a pool at the hotel and some took advantage of that. Before heading home, we stopped at Sam’s Club and Best Buy in order to purchase Laurence a new camera. We drove all the way home and got home at 5:30pm…not long after taking our last "RA" picture of the big bull in Almont, MI.

We were greeted by Bill, Terry, Nick and Erin. The house looked welcoming and the garden looked taken care of. Terry (and family) had spent the day cleaning the house, Bill had made lasagna for us. We spent the rest of the night talking and drinking and resting.

Thank you Terry (and family) for taking care of Sparky & Smokey, the house and the garden while we were gone. It’s very much appreciated!

DAY 7 (Friday, August 8):

Today was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tour which included the Hall of Fame Museum and a bus ride and tour of the race track itself. It was a nice, small museum with a lot of old race cars. The weather was perfect and allowed us a pleasant visit of the race track. The temperature was very mild and welcomed by everyone that had to deal with the heavy humidity in the south.

After the race track we decided that we would return to the Children’s Museum. We passed (by accident) Mr. Bendo the Muffler Man – Pascal got a quick pic. We ate at the museum and toured for a couple of hours. We were nearly done, maybe 15 minutes left before they closed their doors when Anthony ran by and said that his father lost his camera. Apparently, Laurence had handed the camera to Laurent and he promptly lost it. Over a thousand pictures – gone! Pictures of Beale Street, Elvis & Graceland, the paddle boat ride, the motorcycles, Mud Island & of course the Children’s Museum…all gone. Laurence was devastated. She cried. She thought of all the worst case scenarios.

We drove downtown to walk around, but it wasn’t the humidity that was heavy now, it was the tension in the air. She no longer had a camera to hold and to take the many pictures that she does. It was a bad night. She couldn’t eat. She was not enjoying anything anymore.

But we trudged on. We walked around the city – and those that could take pictures, did. We stopped at Starbucks to let some in our group go to the bathroom, lost Pascal and Sabine for a time and ate at Qdoba.

We got in the car and started making the long drive home. We rejected 2 hotels before stopping at a third in Fort Wayne, IN.

DAY 6 (Thursday, August 7):

Started our day driving to see the Statue of Liberty Holding a Cross and then headed out to Indianapolis, IN. This was going to be a long drive and I started out by sleeping for a couple of hours.

We wanted to get to Indy before 8pm because The Children’s Museum had free admission from 5-8pm on Thursdays. We got there around 7:45pm - too late. We found the three dinosaurs that are breaking out of the museum and took some pictures. Turns out the biggest one is named “Yvonne”.

We had dinner at Denny’s that evening and afterward they wanted to drive to see downtown Indy, but I asked to stay back at the hotel – I was tired.

DAY 5 (Wednesday, August 6):

The BIG DAY; ELVIS and Graceland!!!
We got there just as it opened, we could choose our parking spot – so we parked under a tree where it would be cooler. Memphis is so hot and humid!

The house was not nearly what everyone was thinking. It was a nice house, a typical large colonial. Walk through the front door and you are met with the staircase going up to the second floor, with a living room off to the right and a dining room off to the left. Behind the staircase is the entrance to the kitchen to the left and a guest bedroom to the right. At the rear of the house, the den (jungle room). The décor is 70’s, but not too God awful. However, the den did have that olive green shag carpeting on the floor and the ceiling. There was a running waterfall on the left den wall.

The basement rec room was decorated in Blue, Yellow and White. It had 3 TVs and mirrors on the ceiling. He had a nice pool table in another room.

The property was large and he had horses, a built in pool, a family cemetery and some out-buildings.

Lots of pictures were taken – however, at the beginning, Laurent had to return the video camera to the car, because you are not allowed to video tape. I was singled out by the bus driver with my camera, since she recognized that it could be used as a video camera – but these days, all digital cameras can take movies – at some point they will have to change their policy along with all the new technology. I think I took 7 pictures. I didn’t want to upset the staff.

We spent a good long time visiting all the Elvis museums where he had his costumes, awards, movie posters, motor vehicles and planes.

We then jumped into the car and headed back downtown to take a ride on the Riverboat Queen. We bought our tickets and tried to find a quick restaurant to eat (Rio Loco) and then catch the boat. It was suffocatingly hot while we were in Memphis – so heavy. We took our tour of the Mississippi River and had a really interesting tour guide. He pointed out many things including Mud Island River Park where they have a ½ mile long model of the Mississippi River that you can walk thru from Cairo, IL, to New Orleans, LA.

Later that evening after swimming in the pool at the hotel, we went back down to Beale Street to get a glimpse of Harley Night with all the motorcycles lining up and down Beale Street. We shopped, took pictures and ate at a restaurant called Café 61. Nice interior; we sat on benches with tons of pillows which allowed the children to lie down and fall asleep. The waitress seemed a little clueless – our table was so unsteady and at one point the table tipped and beer was spilled all over me. I mentioned this to the waitress and she shrugged her shoulders! I was upset and said with a sarcastic voice "yeah, it’s really not all that big of a deal"…then she finally stepped to and tried half-heartedly to fix the table. She was continually saying she was new and she was so tired. We heard about how she has a baby at home who keeps her up all night and she’s worked for the last 13 hours…etc. Several minutes after ordering, she came to tell me that they were out of the fish that I had ordered. I just ended up with the soup.
Later, my husbands’ sister pointed out that our waitress was dancing on the floor above so he turned to look and she lifted her skirt and not knowingly showed the unsuspecting people below her panties! So, there was a good laugh and when she returned, she slipped (on the spilled beer) and fell into the seat next to me. Jerome said “oh, we almost saw your underwear…oh, wait, we DID see your underwear!”. We explained what we saw and she didn’t seem too upset, she was more worried that her boss would overhear. This was possibly Jerome’s favorite time on the trip.

DAY 4 (Tuesday, August 5):

Started making our way to Memphis. Made a “drive-thru” sort of stop in Nashville, TN, Music Row to find the “Naked Dancers” statue and the “Snowball Throwing Polar Bears” statue. We found the bears by accident – we followed the directions that are listed on "RA", but they had the wrong streets, so while we were trying to find our way back to Music Row, we drove right next to them. Ah-ha! Photo op.

Got into Memphis and dropped our luggage at the hotel, took a swim in the pool and then headed to downtown Memphis. When we parked, Laurence said that her good camera had fallen and that it was broken. This was a bummer, but she decided that she would use her sons camera for the rest of the trip. Went on Beale Street and wherever there was a picture of Elvis, Laurence wanted her picture taken with it.

That evening we went to Big Foot Lodge for dinner. We all wanted Camille to try the Sasquatch Burger, which is a 4 lbs. burger that if you eat the whole thing within 60 minutes, it’s free and you get your picture up on the Wall of Fame. Turned out that we split it between 6 of us; and we were stuffed!

DAY 3 (Monday, August 4):

The next day was canoeing day. There was no way that I could join on this trip because I had just started my period and I would have had to use the restroom every hour and this was a 4 hour canoe trip. I told them that today was my day to be a party-pooper. Prior to canoeing, they decided that they wanted to go for a little hike on some trails in the park. That was nice, although it was very hot and humid. We all sweat like crazy.

While walking on the trail, we came to an area that had a chill. This was the original entrance into one of the caves. It was blowing the cold air from the earth below. It was about 30 degrees cooler and it felt like we were under a fan blowing the AC. A little further down the path we saw a deer on the edge of a cliff eating some vegetation.

Later when they went on the river, I was commissioned to do the grocery shopping for that evenings BBQ. I was told by the lady at the Canoe rental place that there is a Walmart about 15 minutes down the main road, and if I wanted to do some Antiquing, there were several stores in Cave City. I decided that the first thing I wanted to do was check out the Wigwam Village Motel that was on the "RA" website. I drove over to it and went in the main Teepee. It had a sour smell; like very old and damp – they had a bunch of really kitschy items to buy. I asked if they would have any “rooms” available for that evening for 10, and she was sorry to tell me that they didn’t. I was not sorry, we were already in the cabins, but I just wanted to have a reason to go in to the office and check it out.

After that, I went into some Antique shops. The first one was in the garage of someone’s home. I felt a moment of doom when I walked into this very crowded garage and the man that owned the home came in after me. All I could think of was that this was probably not a smart thing to do on my own, when no one knows where I am. But everything turned out fine and I went to two other antique shops and then headed for Walmart.

I noticed that I missed a call from my sister Terry and tried to call her back. Couldn’t contact her so I called my parents. My mom was out of breath when she answered and told me the sad news that Bill and Erin had been in an accident with my MINI! I was told the damage was not bad and no one was hurt. Anyway, it was a bummer to hear that in the middle of your vacation.

I shopped till I dropped and got a bunch of fun things for the BBQ and beyond. I drove back to the cabins and unpacked. Went back to the Canoe place just in time to pick them up. Made BBQ in the complete darkness…very late. We seem to ALWAYS eat so late.

DAY 2 (Sunday, August 3):

We started our day by eating at the Waffle House.

For me personally, the best side stop was in Louisville, KY. I had listed many things that were supposed to be just down the street from each other; World’s Largest Baseball Bat, the World’s Largest Vampire Bat, a plaque commemorating the creation of the “Happy Birthday to You” song and a water tower that was in the shape of a large bottle of booze…etc.

While there, we saw this strangely decorated car. It had a bunch of metal objects all over it. We walked over to it and the choir of clicks from the cameras taking pictures was in the air. Jerome’s family is “picture happy” and over the course of the trip took over 5000 pictures!

This car was an “Art Car” and the artists name is Jim Shore. Apparently there was an art show over the weekend and he was one of maybe three cars that were the last to leave the area. I asked if I could purchase one of his art pieces which were license plates cut into fish shapes. I thought they were cool. Apparently the Frenchies found them interesting too because by the end, we had purchased 5 fish shaped license plates and he gave us a 6th for free. Then he told us about the hotel/restaurant across the street; Proof on Main. It is an art museum within a hotel/restaurant. VERY COOL. I highly recommend stopping on Louisville if you find yourself in this part of the country on a road trip.

On to the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. We spent two days at the Woodland Cottages in the Mammoth Cave National Park. Our first day, we took a tour of one of the caves. Prior to going on our tour, we needed to eat and this was the first of a couple of stops at Pizza Hut. They really enjoyed the buffet and the price. We made it out in just enough time and were put on the bus to go to the entrance of one of the caves. We took the New Entrance Tour. As we were descending into the cave, Emmanuelle and Pascal decided that it was not for them, so they immediately turned around and went back up to the opening where they needed to wait for a bus to take them back to the visitor’s center. Later, when the rest of us got all the way to the bottom and were in this large spacious area, one in our group was crying. Laurence wanted to go back out. She was hyperventilating and making her children upset. Unfortunately for her, they were already too far into the cave to be able to walk back. They had to continue all the way through. She survived, but was very upset the whole time.

Later that evening we played Mini-Golf and stopped at the Subway in Cave City to have a sandwich. They also did some grocery shopping at the gas station for breakfast items for the morning.

DAY 1 (Saturday, August 2):

Stopped at Meijer’s in Ohio to pick up some groceries to make sandwiches which we ate at a rest area along the highway.

Our first real stop was in Lima, OH - the Allen County Museum where “RA” said there would be “Noah’s Ark, Dillinger’s Jail Cell and Things Swallowed”. At first glance, this building or surrounding neighborhood didn’t seem promising, but it turned out to be quite nice for the kids. They also had a 100 year old collection of albino animals, an iron lung, covered wagons, Indian artifacts, old school room and many other things. It was nice enough and it broke up the car trip.

We drove by “Touchdown Jesus” and the “Cowboy Muffler Man”.

Next was Cincinnati. We walked around downtown Cincinnati and ate dinner at the Cadillac Ranch. We continued driving and spent the night in Florence, KY, just at the exit where you can see the “Y’all” Water Tower.

road tripin'...

Took a trip with my husband’s family this past week; Sabine, Pascal, Camille, Emmanuelle & Laurent, Laurence, Anthony & Justine.

The idea was to go to Memphis to visit Elvises Graceland. Along the way we made many stops.

I had figured out our route and researched some cool stuff that we would or could be passing by from Roadside America. I had a large booklet of possibilities and created a smaller booklet from that for the children. This smaller booklet had things that they could possibly see from the highway while we were driving. I kept the larger booklet and if we decided to make some stops off the highway, I had a bunch of stuff we could occupy our time with.

Since the kids would be in the car for hours at a time, which is something that they are not used to being from France, I decided to make a few games. One game was the Alphabet game; I had only typed the letters A->Z and they were to find words on signs that began with the letters. They would start with A and then move on to the next letter once a word with A was found.

Another game was the license plate game. I found a website that had pictures of every license plate in the US. I put the pictures in a PowerPoint and as they saw the license plates, they would circle the corresponding license plate on the paper.

Finally the last game; Dead or Alive. I had pictures of several common animals that you would see while driving in a car – and now that I’m thinking about it, I should have had horse, cow, goat and sheep, but anyway I guess I was more focused on the "dead" - once they saw one of the animals, they were to put a tick mark and whether it was dead or alive. We have a lot of road kill – they probably have seen more wild animal’s dead in the US than they have seen living in France.