Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Magic of Tide

Sorry I haven't written anything in awhile. Brian started playing this online game called Evony and now he's on the computer 24-7. Seriously, he doesn't even sleep! I did get the Wii game I wanted so that kept me busy for awhile. I pulled the chaise right in front of the TV, grabbed a blanket and a drink and sat there from morning til night for like 5 days in a row. I did take some breaks to cook dinners, bake cookies and wash dishes. I've been having more energy lately and tons of extra time to try to be a little more domesticated. When I went home at the beginning of the month my dad took us to Sam's Club to get some things for the house. I love shopping with my dad because he knows the meaning of the phrase "you get what you pay for" and he doesn't mind paying for it. It's a nice change from shopping with Brian who goes for the cheapest item every time. He's what I call "frugal." I wouldn't mind being a part of a frugal family if it actually got us anywhere in the end...like somewhere tropical. But since it doesn't seem to help any, I'd rather just have the good stuff! So instead of using a 74 cents bottle of regular Dawn dish soap, I'm now using Dawn Hand Renewel with Olay in Pomegranate Splash scent. It works better, it goes farther and by golly does it ever smell fab! I'm not saying it makes me like doing dishes but it definitely makes it suck a little less!

I remember when Brian first moved in with me he came home from the store with Xtra laundry detergent and I actually screamed out loud in horror. I took him to the bedroom, pulled a hoodie out of the closet that hadn't been worn in 2 years (you don't need hoodies in the south) and showed him how incredible it still smelled. That's the magic of Tide. We agreed that we would do what we had to do to afford Tide; order from the dollar menu instead of getting a value meal, cut coupons, stock up on sale items, and I hate to admit this, but we actually bought tubed hamburger meat a few times. I might have felt a little queasy while making spaghetti but at least our clothes always smelled good. I guess the fact that we still have Tide in the laundry room is a sign that we're doing alright. I mean, we could be far worse. When I was home for the holiday weekend I saw a tent city set up on the side of 75. They even had a clothesline! It was really, really cold, too. So we are doing ok. Actually, we are way better than ok compared to people living in tents. There was a time when I thought using Xtra was as bad as it could get but now that just makes me sound incredibly superficial and spoiled. I guess you could say that I've learned a little this last month about what's really important in life and it's not laundry detergent. Not that I won't be ready to be spoiled again when this mess with UA is over! LOL

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I need a hobby

*SIGH* I seriously need a hobby! I slept until 1pm today because what reason did I really have to get out of bed? It's now almost 3 and I'm ready for a nap.

I remember when I got Animal Crossing for the Wii a few Christmases ago. (Have you ever seen the word "Christmas" as a plural? Is that even right?) I was obsessed with this game. On my days off I would be up by 9am to play and I would play until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore, at around 2 or 3am. While I was at work I would count the seconds until I could play Animal Crossing again. I would take pics of the TV screen with my cell phone and show all my friends the cute outfit I bought or the fish I caught at the fishing tournament. We had Wii speak hooked up and my BFF, Lisa, and her daughter, Faith, would "come over" to my house and we'd play together. They were in MI, I was in NC but we were all in the same room playing a game! And then something else came along to take me away from AC. It's called Facebook. I sold my copy of AC and the manual at a yard sale....probably for money to buy Brownie Points on Sorority Life. It was wrong what I did. I don't know what I was thinking! Now I miss AC so much. I have to have her back!

We just called Game Stop in Petoskey. They have a used copy for $17. We are going to go trade in the games we don't play anymore and I'll have something to do once again. I'm on my way, AC!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happier-than-a-pig-in-shit Monday

This just in: The lienholder on our car has a special program for people who are temporarily struggling and we were approved!!!!!! We don't have to make a car payment until February!! And it doesn't go on our credit report as being late! Whoo-Hoo! I'm so happy I'm going to jump on the bed! And then maybe I'll even get out of it for a little bit.

Sometimes I'm kind of glad I have a husband. If this had happened to me when I was single I wouldn't have seen any way out besides driving back and forth across the bridge on windy days and staying really close to the edge. But he knows all kinds of loopholes and secrets to survival.

Then again, if I was single I'd probably still be on the beach pouring sweet tea for pennies a day which doesn't sound so bad right now. But I wouldn't have someone telling me everyday that I deserve better. And I'd be too scared to try anything new without him pushing me. So yeah, I guess he's a good one to have around.

Happy Monday!

When you're unemployed it's easy to lose track of what day of the week it is. I know it's Monday because Brian watched football ALLLLLLLL day yesterday *rolling my eyes*. The only reason I might leave the house today is to walk to the mailbox to see if a Netflix DVD came in. Our house sits back a ways from the road so the walk to the mailbox is a little trek, especially when it's 36 degrees out with 13mph winds blowing in your face and you don't have a winter coat. Lucky for me Brian beat me to it.

Speaking of Netflix, I've noticed that movies are available on PPV and Redbox waaaaay before Netflix gets them. I did some research and found out that Netflix made agreements with Universal, Fox and Warner Bros to withhold the release of their DVDs for a month so that people would be more likely to buy the DVDs and in return Netflix will be allowed to have more of their titles available to "watch now." So I can watch all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer instantly through my Wii but I have to wait a couple of weeks before I can see Sex in the City 2. Whatever. I have nothing but time right now. Besides, Netflix is a GREAT deal! $8.99 a month to watch unlimited movies on the TV and rent one at a time on DVD! If our cable gets shut off, Netflix will be our lifesaver. If only they rented Wii games, too. P.S. No, Netflix is not paying me for the endorsement.

So the reason why this is a happy Monday is because the automated phone line for unemployment (marvin) has said my claim was finally approved on Friday, right at the 6 week mark. Brian is suspicious because when he called and spoke to a real person on Friday they said it was still under review but I'm trying to think positive. If it was approved then that's awesome for so many reasons! Not only will we have money coming in again but if mine was approved in 6 weeks instead of 8 then Brian's might be too and we could possibly have all of this taken care of in time to have a good Christmas with our families! Yay!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We Didn't See This Coming!

Since my hours were supposed to be cut I went ahead and started my unemployment claim on October 1st. You can actually claim "under"employment if you're working less hours than you're used to and we wanted it started ASAP so that my checks would start coming by the time I was laid off.

Bummer #1 - They don't count the money you made in the last 3 months, they count the money you made in the year before that. Remember....$2 a table? So I'm not getting anywhere near the amount of money I thought I would. But it's still enough to pay our bills. Maybe we can have our winter stuff shipped to us? Priority Mail Flat Rate maybe?

Bummer #2 - We get a letter in the mail about a week later saying that because I had voluntarily left a job in the last 16 months, my case would be need to be reviewed before they could approve my claim. Ok. And how long does that take? 6-8 WEEKS!!!!! Ok...so this teeny amount of money might be here before Thanksgiving? That certainly sucks.

Bummer #3 - Since Brian also left a job voluntarily, this applies to his claim as well. But his hours didn't get cut so he couln't file until he was laid off. His checks (the big ones!) won't be here until after Christmas.

So what does this all mean? It means we have absolutely no income in the month of November. It means we'll get a little bit of money (like electric bill kind of money) in December. It means we won't have money for the big stuff (like rent and car!) until JANUARY!!!! It means we have no winter clothes, blankets or Christmas decorations and it means I'm going to have the worst holiday season of my life. It also means I may be moving in with one of my parents when I'm in my 30s!!!! It means Brian and I need to find the paddle that's going to get us out of shit's creek - and fast!

Lessons We Learned

Before we knew it, it was Labor Day - the biggest weekend of the season. A coworker told me we wouldn't make hundreds...we'd make thousands! Of course this was the same coworker who told me the Zoo-De-Mac bike race started in Kalamazoo instead of The Zoo Bar in Harbor Springs....and I was the same person who believed him both times.

So Labor Day wasn't a jackpot...it was actually kind of slow. But we still have 2 months left...or so I thought. The day after Labor Day the head servers started making cuts. They said business was going to drop right away. Some were cut for the season. Some (like me) would have their hours cut but basically the money-making part of the season was over.

Now we were in a bit of a panic. Yes we had been able to save a little during the last few weeks but it wasn't even enough to cover our bills for a whole month. It certainly wasn't enough for Barbados, St Lucia, the Keys, Mardi Gras and a whole new warbrobe. There were no jets of any kind in our near future.

It was a bummer. I worked HARD and made tons of money so where was it? What happened? Where did it all go wrong? This was when we had to learn some very important lessons. It's just a shame we learned them too late.

Lesson #1 - DO NOT SMOKE!
We paid $3.50 for a pack of cigarettes in NC. We were used to it and it was just a normal part of our budget. Up here they cost $7 a pack so that's $7 more a day than we were used to spending. $7 a day times 30 is $210 a month MORE than in NC. Over a span of 6 months thats $1300 EXTRA on cigarettes and over $2500 total spent. I have not smoked in over 5 weeks now. I just wish I had quit a long time ago. $2500 is definitely enough money for an awesome time in the Southern Caribbean.

It cost $3.60 every time Brian crossed that bridge. Sometimes he would come home for lunch or to pick me up for work. 6 days a week that's almost $100 a month. We spent about $700 on bridge fare during the season. I had no idea $3.60 added up so fast!

The closest grocery store is 35 miles away (unless you count the way-overpriced tourist trap mom & pop place that sells cans of soup for $5). Since we each had only 1 day off a week and hardly ever the same day, we never made it to the grocery store. Not that I really felt like cooking anyway after busting my ass until midnight. So we bought sodas at the gas station everyday for $1.60 each (we have well water at home - it's awful even with a filter). For dinner we would do Burger King, take-out from work or even worse....junk from the gas station. I can't even begin to total the amount of money we wasted this way. Next summer we will go grocery shopping! We will be richer and healthier!

So we decided all the ways that next year would be better. It was too late in the game to change anything this time around. Yes, it sure sucked that we couldn't take a vacation but at least our unemployment will be enough to cover our bills each month and the little bit of savings we had would get us to NC to pick up our winter gear and take us home for the holidays as well. Even though we knew it could be worse, we didn't actually think it would get worse. But it did...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's Gonna Be a Lot Better, Man

July and August are the busiest months of the season. If I get one day off a week anymore it's a blessing. I'm working really hard but it's finally paying off and we are making enough to start a savings account. In an effort to take my mind off LO (little one), I'm spending all my spare time planning our fall vacations. Instead of a 7-day cruise, let's do 10! Instead of the same old Eastern and Western Caribbean, we'll do the exotic Southern islands instead. We're going all out this time because we deserve it! I made a spreadsheet of every island, what shore excursion we were doing and even what outfit I was going to wear (outfits that I didn't own yet but were on my wish list at Victoria's Secret)! I went ahead and planned a trip to Mardi Gras as well since I have a friend in Baton Rouge. And since we have to go to Miami to catch the ship, why don't we take a road trip to the Keys. Oh, and don't forget we still need to go down to NC to get our winter stuff! We're gonna be busy this off-season. We have struggled long enough and it's time for our windfall!

My BFF and her family came to visit in mid-August and I was lucky enough to spend some time with them and show them around. I took them to the most beautiful crystal-clear beach in the UP (on Rte 2). As I floated in the water and the sun shined down on me, I looked around at some of the most beautiful parts of the Earth that most people will never see and I felt lucky to be alive. I had family, friends, a well-paying job and a savings account! Life was good!

And Bad News

If you want to understand how we ended up in the awful place we're in now, you need to hear about all the things that went wrong with our plan and losing the baby was one of those things. Since this isn't a pregnancy or pregnancy loss blog I will spare you the details but I will say that it sucked!!!!! It hurt emotionally (the first time I ever saw my husband cry). It hurt physically (screaming like a wild animal? check). And just like everything else these days, it hurt us financially. I tried to go back to work too soon and hurt myself even worse and ended up missing 4 days of work during the busiest week of the season (Fourth of July!). Brian also missed some work. It was a crappy crappy time and even though I swore someone had placed a curse on me, I still thought things would get better.

Our Good News

We had company for Memorial Day weekend and it felt great to show off my new house! We had a fire in the backyard and looked at the stars...there are SOOOOOO many stars up here! It's so quiet and peaceful and it's hard to worry about money when you're around people who love you. So we had a good weekend!

Business picked up in June and I was working 5 0r 6 nights a week and some lunches, too. We got so behind with bills in May, though, that we were still playing catch-up. On June 12th we got a huge suprise - a BFP. For those of you who don't know pregnancy acronyms that means BIG FAT PLUS! I was pregnant!

I called my parents and brothers immediately and they had told the rest of the family within hours. After work I posted my good news on Facebook. I know it's a superstition that you're not supposed to tell anyone until after the first trimester but we were way too excited to keep it a secret. I ordered baby books from Borders the next morning and my friends all had a baby name list to vote on by that afternoon! I started looking at nursery themes and researching pain management options amd making a pros and cons list on finding out the sex before the birth (we decided not to). Walking past the baby area of Walmart didn't make us sad for the first time ever and it was great to look at all the little onsies and socks and hats. We decided on names within a week. Annabelle or Oliver.

What perfect timing for a baby! I would be laid off in October before I got super fat and then I'd have 2 months to spend with the baby before I returned to work in May. My life is awesome!!!!

A Whole New World

It took every penny we had from our last paychecks plus some money borrowed from Mom and Dad to get us here. 1200 miles with 2 cats and a litterbox in the car! For the last 300 miles my mother was also in the car and I had a TV leaning on my head in the back. But we made it! The house was nice even though it didn't have a dishwasher, fireplace, cathedral ceilings, skylight, AC, swimming pool or a washer and dryer. It was a billion times better than the other places for rent - trust me! It was charming and the kitchen was orange and there were flowers planted everywhere and they were going to start blooming and we were starting work in a few days and that's when the money would start rolling in (insert sound of slot machine winning jackpot here).

We ran into some bad luck just 2 days later when our family dog, Snoopy, died. I'd just seen him when we stayed at my dad's on the way up and he was fine. Then he woke up unable to walk and we found out he had cancer on his spleen and was bleeding internally. My dad had to put him to sleep. He was only 9 and we weren't expecting to lose him so soon. I still you miss you, Snooperooni!!!
Then it started snowing. IN MAY! All I had were tanks and tube tops and it was snowing! Thankfully my aunt bought us each a hoodie, hat and gloves. More handouts from people. One day I'd be able to pay them all back...but it didn't look like it would happen this month.
May was a slow month for tourists and I only got 2 or 3 shifts a week. The first thing I had to buy was work clothes. Black pants, white button-up shirts and black shoes. A server HAS to have comfy shoes so I couldn't be cheap on those. Brian also had to buy uniforms and the money was taken out of his check. Also, Brian worked on the other side of the bridge and had to pay $3.60 a day to get across, double if he needed to come home for lunch or to take me to work. So yeah, May was crappy but we had faith that things would turn around.

Let's Bust a Move

In March we took a week off work (unpaid) to come up to MC and apply for jobs. I found one at a restaurant where the average plate was $20 and the average tip was 20%!!! YES! I would finally have enough money for the Kenta flat iron I'd wanted for years!

Brian got a job for a ferry company that scheduled (and paid!) overtime and even offered health insurance. Not anything glamorous but something to give him a little more self-esteem than saying he fries oysters for a living.

We also won the housing jackpot and found a 3 bedroom 2 bath house on 8 acres for $82 less a month than our 1 bedroom condo! Jobs that paid more money + Bills that cost less = Singing Gwen Stefani's Luxurious as I use my Black American Express card to buy a new Marc Jacob bag on my way to the airport where a private jet is taking us to Cannes for the film festival. P.S. I do tend to exaggerate, even in my own head.

But seriously, it seemed like everything was in our favor. We were to start our new jobs the first week of May. That gave us a month to pack up our stuff and bust a move.

Now I don't want it to seem like we were poor down there. We had enough money to pay our bills, eat out once a week, shop whenever we wanted and go on one exotic vacation a year. The trouble was, though, that we had no savings. And I don't know when was the last time any of you moved 1200 miles away, but it's expensive!!! And we just took a week off work unpaid so a moving van was absolutely out of the question which meant if it didn't fit in the car, it didn't make the trip. So we sold what we could, donated what we didn't need and put all of our winter stuff (clothes, hats, mittens, boots, blankets, holiday decorations....) into his mom's storage unit. We would come back for it when we were laid off in the fall.

Oh, I didn't mention that this is seasonal work? No big deal. Since everything except the gas station closes down for the winter, everybody gets unemployment and since we would make so much money during the summer we would probably get the max amount of unemployment...and if not, we'd have so much in savings that it wouldn't matter....right? RIGHT?

From Beach Bum To Frozen Troll

Hi there! My name is Jodie and my husband, Brian, and I live in northern northern Michigan. If you hold your right hand up, palm facing you, and look at the very tip of your middle finger - that's where I live (i do find the irony in that, btw). Mackinaw City is the last stop before you cross the Mackinac Bridge, also called the Big Mac. Since we live "under the bridge" we are called Trolls, a nickname I love! The Big Mac is what connects the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan and now that the leaves have fallen from the trees we can actually see the bridge from our house!

Since we're so close to Lake Michigan it gets very windy here. This is helpful on those sticky dog-days of summer when it's like 95 degrees out, but on the other 362 days a year, it's just an annoyance. Between the flag pole out front, the windchimes out back, our patio set being dragged across the cement and the garbage can banging into the side of the house it's like a damn tropical storm out there every single night! Am I seriously supposed to sleep during all this ruckus? Last night, while lying in bed wondering if we would make it to Oz in time to meet Elphaba, I decided to start this blog, to tell the world what it's like up here in what's been referred to as "the armpit of the universe."

Everyone knows how great northern Michigan is during the summer thanks to Kid Rock. It really is as beautiful and laid back and fun as it seems in his song. There's a body of water pretty much everywhere you look. Some are such rich shades of blues and greens its hard to believe you're not staring at an enhanced photo in a nature blog. Others are so clean and crystal clear one might think they're in the Caribbean. Oh, and the fall is just as gorgeous. Those trees produce colors so incredible it's like living in one of those HD Sunglasses infomercials! The colors seem to get more vibrant and bright with each passing tree and it's just phenomenal, really. So yes, northern Michigan is a great place to take your family for a summer vacation. But what's it like for the people who live here? And what's it like the other six months of the year? That's the story I'm about to tell. But I should probably start by telling you how I got here.
At the beginning of 2010 we were living in a perfect condo. It was spacious and had everything I wanted and needed: cathedral ceilings, skylight, fireplace, dishwasher, central heat and air, ceiling fans, washer and dryer, and a gigantic bedroom that overlooked the pool in the courtyard. We were in a 3rd floor walk-up which was a pain in the butt (literally), especially when we were bringing in groceries, but we only had to go up and down a few times a day and I figured it was saving us money on gym memberships. The only bad thing about the condo was that it was a one bedroom and since we were actively trying to conceive we were hoping that we weren't going to live there forever. But at the time I was content. More than content. That condo was a dream come true.

This perfect condo was located in Wilmington, NC. Wilmington was pretty darn perfect, too, except for a few months in the summer when it's over 100 degrees everyday and everything is soaked with sweat, even my purse and cell phone, and a person can't be outside more than like 5 minutes before they stop breathing. But other than that - perfect. Ten minutes in one direction took you right to the ocean where you could play in the waves or sit on the sand and watch dolphins swim up and down the shore. Ten minutes in another direction took you to the Cape Fear River and the hip boutique-y downtown area lined with fun clubs, unique shops, sidewalks made of bricks and policemen on horseback. Coming from Detroit in the spring of 2007, I described Wilmington as a place where the grass really is greener! The flowers are brighter, the sun is warmer and I was happy there.
The only thing we didn't like about Wilmington was our jobs. We both worked at the same small family-owned restaurant. He was a cook. I was a server. It wasn't really the job itself that we hated, it was the customers. There were some really, really great people that came in there, but unfortunately, they weren't the majority. The restaurant was kind of located on the "wrong side of the tracks" and attracted a lot of not-so-nice people who didn't like to tip and that's putting it mildly. On average we would get $1 per person at the table regardless of how much food they ordered or how many damn times I refilled their mother-effing sweet tea and hushpuppies (see, it's been 6 months and I still have so much anger inside of me). So therefore, waiting on a 2-top earned me $2, a 4-top - $4 and so on. At least once per shift I would get stiffed for no reason at all. I once got stiffed 5 times in one night! And every time was like the first time for me. I would take it personally. I would get so hurt and angry. My face would get hot and red and smoke would rise from the tips of my ears and I left work everyday pounding my fists on the dashboard.
Brian had his own anger issues to deal with in the kitchen, you know, being expected to work harder than others who were getting paid more, that kind of thing. And because we made such little money we needed to work 6 days a week. So 6 days a week we were pissed off. And that one day a week of saltwater and sunshine just wasn't enough to cheer us up anymore. So we thought about moving.
I really didn't want to leave NC yet. I thought getting a different job was all I needed. But there weren't any. Brian had been wanting to move to Detroit to be near my family ever since he first met them. Of course I would love to be there, too. But there aren't any jobs there either. Was there anywhere in the world where they were doing enough hiring that we could both get new jobs? Yes. Mackinaw City, MI.