Five

moiI didn’t note the day or the month, or even the year, for that matter. We say “when we were twelve” because that’s our best guess (though she probably remembers better than I).

It doesn’t really matter, the specific date, or even the year. What matters is that we met, and talked for a while one random, long-forgotten night. And then again another night, and another.

It was lost for a while, changes in life, adjustments in time zone, we didn’t connect at all and eventually lost touch completely. Until another random, long-forgotten night, when I decided to clean out my contacts list. She happened to be online, so I asked who she was. We talked some more, and eventually made a connection to an event we both remembered (something about underwear and pyromania).

Even for this, it doesn’t really matter, the specific date or time that we found each other again. What matters is that we did, and that we talked again, and again, and again, and then some more.

312570_10150300651507539_1218378609_nTime went by, and the story evolved in the way so many do. Boy meets girl, boy decides he likes girl and girl decides she likes boy, they get together and make the best of it. But that’s where we are a little different, because we are so far separated. Not in a Romeo/Juliet kind of way, our families didn’t hate each other – they didn’t even know each other. We faced a different challenge: isolation. I lived in Wellington, New Zealand, she lived in a small town somewhere in Virginia.

Somehow, though, we made it work. Through plane tickets and immigration paperwork and moving and money and more immigration paperwork, we made it work. And so here we are. Today marks five years since we committed to what we had in front of friends and family, what we had essentially committed to a few months before that by beginning the application process to USCIS, what we had almost committed to just by stepping foot on the planes the very first time, flying to meet the other, meeting the friends and family, seeing the home towns and environs.

Kelly, I love you. Here is to another five years, and then another five, and another five after that, until how long it has been doesn’t really matter anymore, until what matters is that we met that random, long forgotten night, so many years ago. You were, are, and maybe always will be the best decision I ever made – to ask who you were, and not to just hit “Delete.”

556623_551722792429_474591033_n

Field Trip!

It’s been about a month since the last writing, and much has happened since.

The trip to Boston went flawlessly, the trip back almost as much. One interstate on-ramp that didn’t look nearly as sharp as it was at the top, and a couple of instructions either from the GPS or the ones I had written down the night before that were interpreted too late and meant we had to detour a little. I was loathe to use the GPS entirely as I had mapped the route from our hotel room and found that the quickest way home had 3 tolls to pay. I changed a couple of things and found that by adding a few minutes (pocket change on our 10 hour journey) we would only pay 1. I feared if we used the GPS too much then it would lead us through the other two as well.

We had initially planned for Kelly and I to share driving, once we got out of New York (she wasn’t excited about driving through New England – I didn’t care), however we left later than we intended to and were into New Jersey right around dinner time when it was getting dark. I did get a 20 minute break right before Harrisburg, PA, before Kelly decided it was too dark and simply unsafe for her to be driving, so I took the wheel again right after Harrisburg. We eventually arrived home at around 1-1:30am.

The next week we headed for Mississippi to a friends wedding in Jackson. Another long drive! We ran into several large storms on the way down. The first happened while Kelly was driving and inspired a panic attack. We, like several others, pulled off to the side of the interstate to let it pass. At the earliest opportunity we switched seats again and I think I drove the remainder of the trip from there. As we were entering the city limits of Chattanooga, TN, the CD I had in started playing a track I had forgotten – Chattanooga Choo Choo. It was too awesome to not mention! The trip to Jackson went well, at least as well as a trip can go when you’re relying entirely on other people to decide when and where you need to be, and usually not providing good directions to get there 😉 I enjoyed myself, at least.

After Jackson we headed south to New Orleans where we spent a Sunday afternoon in the French Quarter. Staci, who had been there before, was more than happy to lead us around and show us things. I discovered trains (having correctly deduced that of the three rail lines, two were right for the trolleys going up and down but the third didn’t look right) and was able to photograph a New Orleans Public Belt maneuver going by. NOPB has to be one of the only shortline railroads to do business with 7 Class I railroads. The only that gets missed is Canadian Pacific (who don’t come nearly that far South). We had a good time walking around the area before eating (at IHOP of all places!), parting ways with Staci who caught a cab back to her hotel and driving back to our hostel for the night.

The trip home was also mostly uneventful. No storms to drive through, and all was well. Until Radford. We had stopped a few miles south in Wytheville, and in hindsight I vaguely recall noticing the vibration at 70mph had increased a little just before that point. Thinking nothing of it, we got back in the car and continued on. Just a few miles later I noticed loud noises and heavy vibration coming from the car. Thinking it was a flat tire I pulled over, put on hazards and walked around the car with a flashlight. All 4 tires were fine. “Weird,” I thought, and we got back in the car and started driving again. Less than a tenth of a mile and the noise was too much, I pulled over to give the wheels a closer look. I pulled in closer to the grass, just a few extra feet from the traffic going by at more than 100 feet per second. Starting with the front left (a lucky guess, apparently) I put my foot on the top, and shoved. You know, the wheels on a car aren’t supposed to have that much horizontal motion, and the first thought that went through my head was “Oh s**t, I hope it isn’t a wheel bearing..”

At this point I decided we were not going anywhere. I had taken a quick look and noticed we were missing two (out of 5) lug nuts. A closer inspection later would reveal that they hadn’t just fallen off, but the studs/bolts had been sheared off. We called the insurance company who kindly informed us that we had reimbursable roadside assistance coverage (great!) and worked with a nearby towing company to get us home. The cost to get us home was $800. And they wouldn’t take a check (Oh, dear). In all of this the lifesaver and the reason to be home that night was in the back seat – our friend Doreen volunteered the use of some of her savings (knowing it would be reimbursed) and worked with the parties concerned to get us to where we needed to be.

Long story short, we got home in one piece. After talking with the tow truck driver at the rest area near Roanoke (both Kelly and Doreen needed to use the facilities) it was determined it was my fault, having borked the tire rotation done 3 days and 2,000 miles earlier. The upside being I now know how to get it right? The repair to the car itself was only $80, including a brief overview of what will be needed for inspection later in a couple of months. The receipt for the towing has been forwarded to the insurance company for review.

And this weekend we traveled again, not nearly as far. Our friend (who was in Boston) was moved to Winchester for intensive rehabilitation and a van full went up to visit (Her husband invited us if we took him, and so me, Kelly, Kelly’s brother Matt and his girlfriend Anna, and their parents Randy and Tammy elected to take the trip). While there is certainly some ways to go, she is doing so much better in just a few weeks. We had been in talking to her, and the nurses came and kicked us out to prepare her for dinner. Stepping outside all I could think was “Wow!” – me, the ever under-estimating, was surprised at how well she is doing. Her vision in her right eye is working (though not perfect, she was able to see things better than before), she seems to have either more energy or more willpower to use it (or both), and she is actually interacting in a way that is much more like a ‘normal’ person. I know when family and friends visit, there is a tendency to sugarcoat the responses fed back to the masses who are watching for news and hoping and praying based on it. One thing that I’ve noticed is that when she has a bad day, it is also fed back to the group. But it’s one thing to read the reports, it’s another to actually see the results for yourself. I can imagine how disturbing it might be if someone is expecting to see their bubbly energetic friend laying down and not seeming quite themselves, but having seen her just a week after her stroke I can only say the improvement over the 4 weeks since is amazing, uplifting and very optimistic.

In other news, I am waiting to hear about two job applications I have in within Rosetta Stone for full time, day shift positions. Expecting announcements early this week, but family and Facebook will likely be the first to know, posted here shortly afterwards. Today I am inspecting, double checking, looking again and triple checking an envelope to be sent to the USCIS processing center in Vermont which will contain my paperwork for becoming an unconditional Permanent Resident of the United States. Initially, when I came I was a non-immigrant (the K-1 fiance visa is considered non-immigrant). After filing the paperwork correctly (we took long enough!) I was issued a work permit pending processing of my residency application. Once that came through I was granted Permanent Residence, conditional on marriage to Kelly. That card expires next month and so the next step is filing to remove the conditional status. No, I’m not going to be a citizen, I’m not even eligible for citizenship yet. I suspect I will take it at some point when it is possible, so long as I can retain my New Zealand citizenship. We’ll need to review our options before that time depending on various factors, but that is still a year or few away.

2010 Self Review

With the dawn of 2011, many people are making resolutions, as they always do. I believe in looking forward, but not forgetting to check behind occasionally, and having just completed an employment-based self review it seemed fitting to perform one on a more personal level. Am I happy with my life? If not, why not, and either way, how can I make it better – or at least not get worse? What significant things have I achieved in the last 365 days? What do I hope to succeed in doing in the next 52 weeks? Anything? Nothing? I tried (albeit briefly) to find a form to follow, but couldn’t find anything suitable, so I’m making it up. Seems to be something I’m not bad at..

Goals I had for 2010:

  • Find a permanent, full time job.
    • Between February and June I had a full-time temporary position working as a Testing Analyst for Rosetta Stone, in their test lab. Working many hours of overtime had it’s ups and downs, and in August I was offered a permanent, part-time position doing the same thing on the night shift working core hours of 5pm to midnight.
  • Pay off debts.
    • While this was only partially achieved, we are well on track to paying off several debts to zero. The initial goal was to utilize overtime money while working as a temporary employee to pay off debt, however there were several other events that required our attention. The car needed some work done on it, in addition to Crash needing veterinary visits. We were able to pay large amounts on one of Kelly’s student loans, which has brought our monthly outgoing amount down somewhat.
  • Purchase a second vehicle.
    • This was achieved late in the game. In September a second car was procured, which meets it’s requirements and it’s desirements. A ’97 Outback, it is a year older than the car we had, it’s a stick shift (so I’m happy!) and it seems to run well. It does have some work needing to be done, which will hopefully not be major.

Goals for 2011:

  • Find a way to full time, dayshift employment, ideally within Rosetta Stone, and ideally within the IT department.
  • Pay off more loans and other debt.
  • Move out of Kelly’s parents house.
  • Spend more time with friends in various formats. EG continuing/restarting “Thursday Night Office/30 Rock/etc,” game nights (board game and video game), day or (maybe?) weekend trips to nearby places, etc.
  • Find a church that Kelly and I can both agree with and attend regularly. Become involved where possible.

Comments:

This year has been a good year. A vast improvement over 2009 in terms of finance especially, we have been able to take a much-needed trip over 300 miles away (which we have just returned from) and have no fear regarding the ongoing payment of bills. Additionally, we have a basic plan laid out for paying off several loans in the next 3 to 4 months, to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

I am also realizing the impact that working in the evenings, combined with living in Broadway, is having on my social life and thus my overall happiness. I had forgotten how much of a social creature I am, and while introversion may be a part of my personality I am finding it difficult surviving without people. An important feature in any house we look at, for me at least, is that it be in or very close to Harrisonburg. The actual rent may be higher (although I doubt it would be by a whole lot), but being closer (or more central) to an increased number of friends would make up for it. That is certainly not to say that friends in Broadway/Timberville are less important, simply that there are less of you and it has to be factored in.

This coming year holds several challenges that are not listed as goals. To name just a few, there is another USCIS related cost coming up, as my green card expires in July and will require some more forms completed and some more money paid 90 days before that happens. Secondly we have a wedding to attend (one of Kelly’s old school friends, Sarah) is getting married in May, around the same time as our anniversary. This will involve a drive to Mississippi, with a side-trip to New Orleans (since we’ll be so close!).

A high priority on my list is a trip to visit New Zealand. This year will mark 3 years since I left, and a third year of wishing I could visit and see the many friends and family members I left behind to miss me. While the inability to return is entirely related to our financial situation and said financial situation is finally improving, I have minimal hope that the situation will be sufficiently rectified any time soon, unless both Kelly and I have significant pay increases. Chances are also good that to receive the pay increases needed will require us both to find new positions – mine may or may not be within RS, Kelly’s most certainly won’t be with the day care.

I have high hopes for 2011. Expectations are lagging slightly behind, but also high. I believe my goals are reasonable and achievable, while still being challenging. I wish everyone else the best with their goals for the coming year, and a happy new year to all.

Hapless, Helpless, Hopeless

WARNING: This blog entry is long and has a high “Boredom Potential.” You begin reading at your own risk.

hap·less

/ˈhæp lɪs/ [hap-lis] –adjective
unlucky; luckless; unfortunate.
Origin:
1560–70; hap1 + -less
—Related forms
hap·less·ly, adverb
hap·less·ness, noun

—Can be confused:  hapless, haply, happily.
—Synonyms
miserable, woebegone, wretched, forlorn; pathetic, pitiable.

help·less

/ˈhɛlp lɪs/ [help-lis] –adjective
1. unable to help oneself; weak or dependent: a helpless invalid.
2. deprived of strength or power; powerless; incapacitated: They were helpless with laughter.
3. affording no help.

Origin:
1125–75; ME; see help, -less
—Related forms
help·less·ly, adverb
help·less·ness, noun

hope·less

/ˈhoʊp lɪs/ [hohp-lis] –adjective
1. providing no hope; beyond optimism or hope; desperate: a hopeless case of cancer.
2. without hope; despairing: hopeless grief.
3. impossible to accomplish, solve, resolve, etc.: Balancing my budget is hopeless.
4. not able to learn or act, perform, or work as desired; inadequate for the purpose: As a bridge player, you’re hopeless.

Origin:
1560–70; hope + -less

—Related forms
hope·less·ly, adverb
hope·less·ness, noun
—Synonyms
1. irremediable, remediless, incurable. 2. forlorn, disconsolate, dejected. Hopeless, despairing, despondent, desperate all describe an absence of hope. Hopeless is used of a feeling of futility and passive abandonment of oneself to fate: Hopeless and grim, he still clung to the cliff. Despairing refers to the loss of hope in regard to a particular situation, whether important or trivial; it suggests an intellectual judgment concerning probabilities: despairing of victory; despairing of finding his gloves. Despondent always suggests melancholy and depression; it refers to an emotional state rather than to an intellectual judgment: Despondent over ill health, he killed himself. She became despondent and suspicious. Desperate conveys a suggestion of recklessness resulting from loss of hope: As the time grew shorter, he became desperate. It may also refer to something arising from extreme need or danger: a desperate remedy; a desperate situation. Despairing and despondent may apply only to feelings.

Three distinct feelings that can be felt despite the conditions being the opposite. Sometimes they are sitting in the background, waving politely to remind you they are there, other times they are in your face yelling and screaming and occasionally kicking you in the shin. At this point, despite my emotional feelings of haplessness, helplessness and hopelessness, let me explain how I am well aware that this is not the case.

The start of this problem goes back a long time, to the beginning, even. It is no one persons fault, and blame cannot easily be placed on any individuals or groups, with few exceptions, and for the most part I suspect they may be ourselves. It probably starts with leaving New Zealand for the US, with high hopes and expectations a little beyond reality, and throughout it is plagued by circumstances far beyond our control. The economic problems play a large part, but it is also compounded by the area we live in and what industry is available, as well as the long and boring game of waiting for someone to do something – like USCIS.

When I left NZ I had a well-paying job, and had high hopes of that experience being useful in my hunt for work, here in the US. More than once after arriving I wondered why I left it. That said, with the economic issues being a global problem there is little guarantee I would have still been employed by the same company, although as with so many decisions in life I have no way of knowing what the outcome of staying (with Kelly moving to NZ) might have been.

Part of our problem was the way we dealt with USCIS. We weren’t 100% on the ball – if we’d gotten it right the first time, I would have had a work permit a lot earlier. If we’d gotten it right the second time, work permits would have been arriving not as early, but not as late. By the time I had an employment authorization card it was February of 2009, and very few places were hiring. We had also had to move out of our apartment (end of Nov, beginning of Dec 08) at this point, because Kelly’s college loans had come due for payments, and we couldn’t afford to pay loans as well as rent. See the next paragraph, but even having had a work permit in October or November (2008) probably wouldn’t have helped unless I had taken a job doing retail or something (I did always say I would work at Walmart if I had to). Kelly quit her job as a barista early in 2009, as the work environment was horrible and causing all kinds of emotional problems, and had begun to cause physical problems as a result. Kelly’s mom had offered to help us with the loans in return for cleaning the house.

Anyway, back to my employment (or lack thereof). It took until May of ’09 to get my first interview, and they turned me down. My first job in the USA was working as a camp counselor at a summer camp. Great job, great times, didn’t pay very well. Kelly had been cleaning her parents house (where we had been living), but was offered a summer job as a babysitter for two awesome kids. All this time we were trying to keep a lid on our debt – not necessarily bringing it down, but paying the minimums so that it wouldn’t hurt us too badly. Summer of 2009 was lived very much on a week by week basis.

The end of summer came, and Kelly had found a more permanent job working for the Harrisonburg Rockingham Child Day Care Center, where she still is! I worked for a couple of months for the Boys and Girls Club in Timberville, but they had issues with me, I had issues with them, and we decided the best course of action was for me to resign. Winter of 2009/2010 was bleak, to say the least. Kelly’s job paid the bills, but it was right around December that benefits began, and the impact on the paycheck was greater than we anticipated. Many nights were spent wondering if it would ever get better. Several weeks were spent with one or two dollars in the bank at the end.

The turnaround came in February, and financially it couldn’t have been a better time. Rosetta Stone offered me a temporary position (with a small hope of continuing permanently) in the test lab, as a Software Testing Analyst. From the middle of February 2010 to early June, I worked 40-50+ hours a week to make as much money as I possibly could, and thus began the debt-blitz of early 2010. We had a number of things that had piled up that we needed to get dealt with – Crash had been with us nearly a year and he needed some things attended to, I think the car needed something done, and beyond that the goal was to pay off as much debt as we could. This was primarily successful – we brought our monthly budget down a little, and survived to tell the tale. But sure enough, June came (having had the contract extended twice), and Rosetta Stone said “We don’t need you, but we might soon.” Insert large amounts of hopelessness, and begin looking for work again.

I went back to camp for a couple of weeks over summer, and at the end of August I had a call from Rosetta Stone asking for an interview. If there is one thing I can say for RS it is that their communication skills have some things to be desired, but long story short on August 31, 2010 I started as a permanent, part time employee on the test lab’s second shift (5pm-12am, Monday to Friday, limited to 35 hours a week).

And so here we are – it is the middle of December 2010. We have lived with Kelly’s parents for two years (and about two weeks), and the hope of regaining our independence is slowly, slowly rising again. It isn’t that we haven’t enjoyed living with the rest of the family, I know I have. It isn’t that we don’t appreciate the support provided, I know I do. For the most part we all get along, and we seem happy and comfortable. But we don’t want to abuse the privilege. Already we’ve stayed a lot longer than we had initially hoped or expected – and the way we are set up to a large degree reflects that. Our various boxes of ‘stuff’ were haphazardly packed with little regard for what was going where, and this has resulted in several hours of looking for things that were possibly in a box with something else that we have no idea on the location of.

At this stage, the goal I think is for around May next year, if not before. Realistically, we have several thousand dollars allocated (between now and then) to pay off some of the loans that are really hurting our monthly bank balances and preventing us from moving, and then we can find somewhere to move to. Additionally, May seems like an ideal month to move – aside from a trip to the deep south for a wedding it will be warm, and friends will be more available to help.

We certainly aren’t ‘unlucky’ or entirely ‘unfortunate.’ We are finally at a point where we fail to meet the criteria for ‘unable to help oneself’ or ‘powerless.’ And while it will take time, the task ahead is certainly not ‘impossible to accomplish’

The hard part now is waiting. Every day that goes by I wish I could have done something to help us dig ourselves out faster, but I think I’ve done everything I can. From planning when we pay bills to constantly calculating our budget over a month, over a fortnight and for other special events (like Christmas). Our financial life is about as organized as it could possibly be, and the struggle is remembering why we shouldn’t be mindlessly spending money (a temptation that I constantly fight, and sometimes lose). Keeping our mind on the prize, we must keep our eye on the road, for it is rocky and there are monsters.

How People Find Me

I’m intrigued, when I look at my statistics, as to how people come to my blog, what they see, etc.

There are 3 groups. Naturally there is a miscellaneous group, they tend to just fall in here either by the next-blog function in the wordpress toolbar, or by an automated link being clicked. There are my friends on facebook and twitter who click my links, and I also get a small amount of traffic from a few friends blogs.

But the biggest group, and this actually surprises me, is the group searching for information on USCIS Form I-797C, Notice of Action. In fact, on a test-search for “i 797c notice of action” my post about receiving it is on the first page (about #6). I intended to write a summary of when things happened, and how my immigration to the United States worked out in reality, but obviously that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe next week.. (though I doubt it!)

Form I-797C, Notice of Action

This is to notify you that your application for permanent residence has been approved. It is with great pleasure that we welcome you to permanent resident status in the United States.

I received this notice yesterday by mail, and according to emails my card was sent July 14th, so I should have it early this week.

In other news camp is going well, not too many problem campers. One of my campers went to hospital for a broken finger (playing tetherball) and was covered by camp for it, the rest have been mostly fine. We’re implementing a few new rules regarding hygiene and such to prevent the spread of disease, particularly swine flu.

Screw You, Nature

Saturday was the day of arrival for my work permit, and today we had planned to go and get social security numbers sorted etc. That would allow Kelly to file her taxes and I start working on a driving permit, as well as getting the bank out of trouble (they were told last month that they had 12 months to get a SSN from me, which was difficult since I don’t have one!)

We probably would have also stopped in at some of the thrift stores and looked at what cameras they had available. But no! It snowed last night. Great news for school kids because it takes less than an inch to get them out for the day, but not so great since most government buildings are closed! Oh well, try again tomorrow I guess 😉