Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Change Pot Tuesday

Saturday - $0.01. Found a penny in the crosswalk near Garfield's restaurant while exiting the Morgantown Mall.

Tuesday - $0.25. Just when I thought I was going to end the week with a single penny found, I went into the Giant Eagle on Greenbag Road in Morgantown to pick up a prescription and found a QUARTER! Yes, and actually QUARTER. We don't find those too often. It was lying on the floor at the backend of a check out lane. Next week we are in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, so hopefully we will have a better week.

Weekly Total: $0.26
YTD Total: $5.77

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More Reese's Pieces

The only thing I have concluded from my study of Reese's® pieces® is that orange is the dominate color, but hey we already knew that. Brown and yellow continue to trade palces for second and third. Three additional boxes, over the past couple of weeks, have resulted in roughly the same findings as the first three boxes. With that, I have decided to conclude this study. Not that anyone really cared anyway. It was always just something to take my mind off the disappointment of my graduate school rejections and the boredom of my job.

If you are interested in the final results, just let me know and I will e-mail them to you.

The Refrigerator's Purpose

This is a Not Me Monday story, only it really truly does not invole me. It involves another member of our family who "dared" me to write about this Not Me event. That individual will remain nameless, but they did not wish to write about it themselves.

On Friday night, I (substitute the real culprit here) did not have a bowl of cereal before going to bed. And on Saturday morning, I (again substitute the real culprit)did not wake up with no milk to have cereal for breakfast. On Saturday afternoon, I (real culprit) did not open the kitchen cabinet for a glass to get a drink and find a 1/4 gallon of milk.

On Saturday, our family went shopping in Clarksburg and had dinner at Ryan's. James was given milk with his free kid's meal. The waitress brought two pint size cartons of milk. James drank one and we brought the other home.

On Sunday, morning I (real culprit again), did not find an unopened pint sized carton of milk in James' diaper bag.

What is really funny about this Not Me incident, is that it appears to run in a certain family. I have heard stories of a grandmother (not mine) who was notorious for doing similar things in the later years of her life.

I am now wondering how much we can get for our old refrigerator since we obviously don't need it anymore. Any offers?

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 12 - To Make a Left, Turn Right: Another Michigan Anomally

When we are young, our parents spend a great deal of time teaching us right between right and wrong, up and down, black and white, and left from right. As parents, we are likely to spend a similar amount of time teaching our own kids the same things. And just when we think we have it down, along comes Michigan to screw things up.

If you have ever driven in Michigan, you know what I am talking about. The "Michigan Left Turn". Making a left turn in Michigan is quite different than making a left turn in any other state - at least the ones I have been in. Although it is not the case in every instance, major intersections in Michigan require a driver making a left turn, to turn right. Yes, that is correct. The driver then must make a U-turn to complete his left turn. I have no idea why Michigan has to be so backwards about this. Do they think it reduces accidents? Maybe it helps the flow of traffic because you can turn right on red, make the U-turn and then proceed through the intersection without any lost time. I really don't know what the rationale is, but what I do know is that if you aren't familar with the process, YOU will be the one to cause an accident. Why can't Michigan be like everyone else?

I had forgotten about this little inconvenience until we were driving back to the hotel from trying to find the Best Buy. As I approached the intersection of Newburgh and Six Mile Roads (in Livonia), I was reminded of this fact. I was in the left lane, anticipating a left turn onto Six Mile Road. I see the sign mapping out the right turn, U-turn process but it did not click. I though the sign was indicating to proceed half-way through the stoplight and turn left after the median. Then as I was about to make the left turn, I see the NO LEFT TURN sign. Lucky for me I had out-of-state plates on the rental car, so no one really paid attention to me. As the law abiding citizen that I am, I did not make the left turn but proceeded completely through the interection. I then turned into a shopping center on the left, whipped around the parking lot and back out onto Newburgh Road in the opposite direction. I completed my left turn by turning right onto Six Mile Road and managed to get back to the hotel at 12:00 noon. This was not boding well because we still had to iron our outfits, get dressed and leave for the church by 12:15 PM. NOT HAPPENING!

Now, I really truly don't see the difference between having a left turn lane and turn light and having to make a right turn and then a U-turn. They both accomplish the same feat, one just does it with less confusion. It would be different if EVERY left turn in Michigan were this way, but they aren't. A few minutes earlier and a few blocks south of the intersection at Newburgh and Six Mile Roads, I made a left turn out of a left turn lane with a left turn signal. So what's the difference? Why make it more confusing to everyone?

Oh, and by the way, the left turn from the left turn lane with the left turn signal, wasn't normal either. When this situation occurs in Michigan, the left turn signal flashes red while the regualr stoplight is green. In some cases, the left turn signal never turns green and the driver sits through the entire light. This is because, once the driver has stopped, if the traffic from the on-coming direction is clear, he may proceed. At least I hope so, because that is what I did and as a law -abiding citizen, I would never have done that if I weren't allowed to. Because sitting through two stoplights waiting for the left turn signal to turn green just isn't acceptable.

Oh, and another thing. Had I had the GPS with us, I am sure that it would have told me to turn right and then make a U-turn. On a drive later that evening, the GPS properly instructed me to do just that.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 11 - The Weekend's Best Buy

We awoke Saturday morning with a few a few things to do before Ashley's wedding. The wedding was at 1:00 PM and it was about fifteen mintues from the hotel. Lori had volunteered to video the wedding for Ashley so she wanted to arrive early to get a good spot to set up. We figured we would need to leave the hotel by 12:15 PM.

Lori suggested that we swing by Best Buy to look for the GPS accessory that we had missed the day before. There happened to be a Best Buy about five minutes from the hotel (the same one we passed the previous night because we would have gotten there after they closed - according to the GPS). Lori had also wanted to stop by Target or Wal-Mart to pick up some gifts for some friends that we were meeting for breakfast on Sunday morning. Additionally, we still needed to do some Father's Day shopping, which was also the very next day.

We quickly got ready and arrived at the Best Buy around 9:30 AM. They did not open for another half hour. Instead of waiting, we decided to knock out the other tasks we still needed to complete. We had passed a Meijer store (like a Super Wal-Mart for those that are not familar with them) and went there to do some shopping. We found some great toys for our friends' little boys and bought some Father's Day cards. By the time we returned to Best Buy, it was almost 10:30 AM.

Lori looked around for a gift for her father while I ran back to grab the GPS dash mount. SOLD OUT! This being the second Best Buy Store we had checked (one before we even left town for the wedding) and both being sold out of the item, I inquired about a raincheck. Best Buy's raincheck are good only at the issuing store, not every store within the company. Since I would not be returning to the Detroit area for a while, the raincheck would do me no good. The sale on the item was ending that day. The manager said I could get a raincheck and try to use it at another store, but the other store would not be obligated to honor the raincheck. He offered to check the stock of the surrounding stores. If any had a large amount of stock on hand, he would send me there, but if they only had one or two, he said it probably wouldn't be worth my time. With only one or two in stock, they would either sell out before I got there or their inventory count could be off and they could already be sold out. He found a store about 10 miles away that had nine. And gave me directions to the store. He said it would be near the Meijer Store on Newburgh and Warren Roads. (Meijer by the way is the dominate player in the discount retail business. We only saw 1 Wal-Mart in our entire time in the Detroit area!)

I found Lori, we paid for her Father's Day gift (a CD of Italian music) and set out to find the other Best Buy. I followed the manager's directions to a T, or so I thought. I passed the Meijer at Newburgh and Warren Roads, but I found no other shopping areas. I continued driving until I reached the Ford Plant in Dearborn where Newburgh Road ends. At this point, I turned around and headed back to towards the hotel. We would be lucky to get back there in time to iron clothes, get dressed and get to the church in time for Lori to set up for the video.

Here's the kicker to this whole getting lost on the way to find a Best Buy to purchase and accessory for the GPS - I DID NOT HAVE THE GPS WITH US AND THEREFORE COULD NOT HAVE USED IT! We had taken the GPS into the hotel the night before so that it wouldn't get stolen from the car. Had we had the GPS with us, we could have plugged in the Best Buy and probably found it right away. WHY IS IT THAT THE DAMN THING DOESN'T WORK WHEN YOU WANT IT TO AND IT DOES WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE IT WITH YOU?

We did eventually get to the Best Buy in between the wedding and the reception. Apparently, I was suppose to turn on Warren Road at the Meijer on Newburgh and Warren Roads and it would have been just a few blocks away. We we finally arrived at the Best Buy around 3:00 PM, they only had three left on the shelf. I snatched one up and got the Best Buy of the weekend -- if you don't factor in the time and gas it cost to get the item. With that I probably lost out on the deal. ;-)

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 10 - Late Night Snack

After returning to the hotel from our trip to Frankenmuth, we settled in for the night watching a little TV, checking e-mail, and updating our Facebook pages. OUr hotel was a Residence Inn by Marriott. It cam fully equipped with a small kitchenette including a stove, sink and full size refrigerator/freezer. Shortly after we got settled, a very strong thunderstorm roared through Livonia. The power did not go out, but the TV lost its signal and lightning flashes could be seen every few seconds followed by a loud thunderous boom. The time lapse between the lightning strikes and the thunder indicated that the strikes were very close.

We then decided to turn in for the night, however, before retiring I got up to take my pain medicine (for the pinched nerve in my back/hip). My pain medicine has to be taken with food or it will cause an ulcer. I told Lori that I was going to grab something from the vending machines and asked if she wanted anything. She asked for some bottled water.

Our room was located at one end of the hotel, so I proceeded down the hallway towards the other end. There were no signs directing me to the vending machines on our floor and I could not locate them. I figured that they didn't have vending machines on every floor so I headed down to the 2nd floor (we were on the 3rd floor of 5). I walked the length of the second floor and again found no vending machines. I began to get a little irritated because surely a vending area existed. Every hotel has a vending area. And usually one on each floor for convenience. With that I proceedeed down to the first floor. Once again, I walked the length of the first floor and found no vending. I didn't even find an ice machine on any of these floors. This was extremely odd, but I headed back to our room to see if the hotel directory would say anything about the vending area.

When I returned to our room, I saw a note that said there was no need to go out for ice because you could make your own in the freezer of the refrigerator (thus the reason there were no ice machines). Remember, we are at a Residence Inn, an extended stay hotel with a full size refrigerator and a small kitchenette. Once I found the directory, I read that the vending area was located at the front desk. The front desk was located in the Gatehouse. Yes, as you might expect from the sound of the Gatehouse, the front desk is in a completely different building! How absurd to have a five story hotel with onsite vending located across the parking lot in a spearate building. I am guessing that few people take advantage of this service. Once the realize they have to get dressed, and go outside to another building, many will opt to just do without.

On this particular night, the absurdity of this vending system was highlighted even more. There was a torrential downpour outside and lightning striking all around. What idiot in there right mind would go out in this kind of weather just to buy a snack?

Yes, you guess it...the idiot that need to eat something when they take their medicine. To make matters worse, it was not raining when we arrived at the hotel, so we did not bring in the umbrella. It was still lying on the backseat of our rental car.

With that, I got dressed and headed for the Gatehouse. Yes, I had been in my pajamas while roaming the halls a few mintues earlier. Perfectly acceptable at 11:00 PM because no one else is going to be out roaming the halls at that hour, unless of course they too are looking for the vending machines.

Lucky for me by the time I got to the first floor and ready to exit the building, the rain had slackened quite a bit. I ran across the parking lot to the Gatehouse dodging most of the raindrops. When I saw the "vending" area, I could not believe what I saw. The vending area had 3 kinds of soda and 3 types of candy bars. There may have been a bag of chips, I don't remember, but the point was that if you are going to make people leave there building and walk across the parking lot to the vending area, you had better have something there to make it worth the trip. I bought two sodas and a candy bar and headed back to the room to take my medicine. As I left the front desk, I mumbled something to the clerk about the absurdity of the whole vending thing. He stated that the hotel was a franchise and that the layout of the vending was the common practice at the time that this hotel was built. AND ARE WE NOT SUCH AN ADVANCED RACE THAT SINCE THE TIME THE HOTEL HAS BEEN OPEN SOMEONE COULD NOT HAVE FIGURED OUT SOMETHING MORE SENSIBLE??????

Here's your sign!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Very Sad Day

For those that read James' scrapbook, this posting is similar to the one posted there this evening. If you don't, then please please join the Risk family in prayer for the loss of a very dear friend.

At 8:10 PM, Ms. Ellen Gatian, James' very first daycare provider, lost her longtime battle with cancer. Ellen was more than a babysitter. She taught James many things and started him on the right path to learning. She was like a Grandmother to him and to James' friend Morgan. Above all else, Ellen was an angel, and although we are saddened by her passing, as an angel, God needed her to come home. We are thankful that God has taken away her pain and that he has provided a home like no other for her to spend the rest of eternity. Her time on earth may be complete, but we are sure that she will continue to watch over both James and Morgan. An angel's work is never done.

We have not told James, and probably will not. He is too young to fully comprehend what has happened. Our thoughts, prayers, and hearts go out to Ellen's husband Ron and the rest of her family. We ask that you include the Gatian family in your own thoughts and prayers.

In Memory:
Ellen Gatian 1943 - 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 9 - The GPS Strikes Again....Or Does It?

On the way back from Frankenmuth, we decided to stop by Best Buy and purchase an accessory for our GPS system. The accessory was a dashboard friction mount that was on sale until Saturday. This being Friday, we hoped to get one before they were all sold out. The sale price was $14.99 - normally $41.99, so it was a really good deal. Beyond that, don't ask me why we would even consider buying something else for our GPS. We have had nothing but trouble with it. Well, sort of. More like we have had nothing but trouble with the lighthouse custom points of interest file we downloaded for it.

As we were heading back to the hotel in Livonia and decided to visit the local Best Buy store, we had to use the GPS to find the nearest one. The GPS comes with thousands upon thousands of preloaded points of interest such as gas stations, hotels, shopping, etc. Since we did not know the area, we plugged in Best Buy to see what came up. There were three or four Best Buy stores in the area so we chose the closest one. It was about 30 miles away when we first decided to go there.

As we were drawing nearer the location of the first Best Buy (about 4-5 miles away), Lori informs me that the arrival time will be 9:05 PM. I looked at the clock in the car which said 8:41 PM. It didn't sound right that we would only be five miles away, but that it would take almost 25 minutes to get there. We were on the interstate and I suspect that the Best Buy was right of the interstate. Never-the-less, I took the GPS's arrival time as accurate and chose not to stop. The store would close at 9:00 PM and we would arrive five minutes too late.

With that, we opted for the second Besy Buy. The GPS said that it would be 15 miles away. Great, I thought. I can get there just as they are closing, grab the item and checkout in a flash. Lori then informs me that the GPS arrival time is 9:40 PM. WHAT????!!!! Fifteen miles is going to take us an hour????? Something was very wrong.

As we began pondering what a worthless piece of crap the GPS was turning out to be, Lori asked me - Is the arrival time for this destination, or the final destination. We had programmed our hotel as the final destination and the Best Buy was simply a stop along the way.

For those of you that don't know, the arrival time IS to the final destination, meaning that we would have arrived at the original Best Buy (now long past) before they closed and would have had plenty of time to spare. (Passing the original Best Buy on the interstate prompted Lori's question.) At this point, it was now almost 9:00 PM and we would definitely not make it to the second Best Buy before they closed. With that we returned to the hotel intent on trying again another day - excpet the sales would end tomorrow.

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 8 - A Bavarian Adventure

After leaving Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, we decided to find something to eat. Bronner's is located in Frankenmuth and we decided to see what restaurants were available in town. Frankenmuth is a tourist area that is built on the theme of a Bavarian village. While the town is much larger, the tourist area is about 3 - 4 blocks along the main drag through town. There are several specialty shops and a couple of really nice restaurants ($20 and up).

We found a parking spot and set out on foot to find our meal. Along the way we stopped in several of the specialty shops looking for some possibilities for Father's Day gifts. Frankenmuth has several candy stores in which they make the candy and fudge right in front of the customers. And like most other tourist places they had the usual deals - buy three slices (1/2 lb each) of fudge and get the fourth one free. Each slice of fudge is $6.50, and despite the various names, all the candy/fudge stores seem to actually be one in the same. If you checkout the website www.frankenmuth.org all of the links for the candy stores go to the same page. We did not get to go through the River Place shops, but we did check out Zak's Kandy Haus, the Bavarian Inn Castle Shops, Rau's Country Store, and Zehnder's Marketplace. There were many interesting things to see in the shops, but we refrained from buying anything, especially the chocolate for fear that it would melt in the heat. In several of the little shops, the employees wore traditional Barvarian outfits. Aside from the costumes, the building architecture and some of the dishes served at the restuarants, there was really nothing Bavarian about the place. The did not sell traditional German/Barvarian gifts. Most of the stuff was made in China, like everything everywhere else.

We ended up dining at Zehnder's Z-Chef's Cafe. This was a more affordable option than the more touristy restaurants and yet it had some of the same foods as the regular Zehnder's Restaurant. Lori and I ate for around $20 total including our drinks. We both had the fried chicken and brat combo meal which included a piece of fried chicken, a brat with kraut, two sides and a roll for about $8.50. The food was really good. I would recommend it to anyone. The chicken was not greasy. The breading was very light and had a hint of cornmeal taste to it. With this combo, you have your choice of brat - smoked or traditional. Lori got the smoked and I had the traditional. Both were very tasty. Zehnder's Z-Chef Cafe is on the side of Zehnder's and in the lower level. Well worth the price we paid. They also have salads, sandwiches, pizzas and deli style sides in addition to their hot plate cafeteria style dinners.

After dinner we headed back to the car and drove back to our hotel. It was a very pleasant afternoon visitng Bronner's and Frankenmuth and it is something that we will definitely do again, should we find ourselves in the area again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 7 - Christmas in June

Our visit to Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland was one of the highlights of our trip. Bronner's claims to be the world's largest Christmas store with over 6,000 different ornaments, 350 decorated Christmas trees and one and a half football fields of Christmas merchandise. I had been to Bronner's more than a decade ago and thought that Lori might like it, so we decided to go. The store had changed a bit since I was there last, but it still is an experience that I recommend to anyone.

In addition to the many ornaments, visitors will find Department 56 villages, Hummel figurines, Precious Moments, Pipka & Possible Dreams Santas, Kurt S. Adler, Fontanini nativities and many other high quality Christmas items. In fact, I did not notice a single "cheap" item. Everything Bronner's carries is of the highest quality. No dollar store imitations.

In their auditorium, Bronner's has several display cases with nativities from various parts of the world. It was interesting to see how the Christian culture varies with the cultures of the world. For instance, in America, Jesus is primarily depicted as a Caucasian, but in the Italian nativity, the holy family were more accurately represented as Middle Eastern. In Kenya, the nativity showed Jesus and the holy family wearing tribal masks.

I was disappointed that the store did not carry the one item I was looking for. Pipka Santas are a very nice resin collectible. They come in three sizes and for space and price purposes, I like the miniature Pipka Santas the best. Bronner's carried the two larger sizes of Pipka, but not the miniatures. They did not offer to try to get them, so I guess it is not something they could special order.

The vast majority of their merchandise is dedicated to ornaments. They carry every possible style of ornament that one could ever want. Many of them can be personalized. Bronner's sells so many ornaments that they work with the manufacturers on creating ornaments exclusively from Bronners. Ornaments are not the only exclusive. Department 56 has created a replica of the original Bronners store for its Snow Village series. The piece is sold exclusively at Bronners.

If you ever get the chance to visit Michigan, Bronners is a must see. You won't be disappointed.

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 6 - Here's Your Sign

Every summer people begin telling road consturction jokes and talk about how bad their state is when it comes to detours and orange pylons. Michigan is no different - excpet they have one joke that no other state can match.

After checking into our hotel, we decided to take a little drive to visit "The World's Largest Christmas Store. The store is known as Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland and is located in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Frankenmuth, a Barvarian village, is about an hour and twenty minutes from Livonia.

To get to Frankenmuth, we had to travel north on I-96 and then on US 23. It was on US 23 that we encountered the best road construction joke of all time - a sign alerting us to "Rough Road Next 5 Miles". Usually when you see these signs, it is because the road has been grated in preparation for laying new asphalt. Not so in Michigan. Apparently, Michigan felt they could save little money by NOT repairing the road and simply telling drivers about the chuckholes! Let me tell you, after that five mile stretch, our rental car, a brand new 2009 Ford Escape with less than 1000 miles on it, needed an alignment! It was bad enough that the Ford Escape rides so poorly anyway, but for Michigan not to repair their roads is absurd. Especially when it is a federal highway and the state is receiving federal funds to maintain the road. What is this state doing with the Obama economic stimulus money that is suppose to repair the highway infrastructure?

To Michigan's defense, they did have lots of road construction on the interstates, but this was still unacceptable. Some might try to argue that Michigan had harsher winter than usual, but in other areas like downtown Detroit, the ruts and potholes showed signs of being patched several times. The city's streets will only fall further into disrepair with the crisis in the auto industry. I am sure the city is losing major tax dollars from the fallout.

So, back to US 23 and the five miles of "Rough Road". Maybe they should put a sign up that says "Drive at Your Own Risk - Alignments NOT Covered by the State". That way they could protect themselves from getting sued by drivers for failing to do their job. Whatever the case, it sure is a good way to cut several million dollars out of the budget. A sign only costs a couple hundred dollars. Actually reapiring the road costs several hundreds of thousands depending on how much is needed to make the repair.

So Michigan DOT, here's your sign! Be sure to place it where all the drivers can see it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Change Pot Tuesday

Thursday - $0.01. A penny on the floor in the middle of Best Buy at the Pointe in Robinson (Pittsburgh area).

Friday /Saturday / Sunday - $0.00. Why am I reporting this if I didn't find anything? Because we were in Detroit for these three days. In a city the size of Detroit, we should have found something more than nothing. It is a sure sign of the economic troubles that have hit this region when you can't even find a single penny on the ground. Especially when you consider all of the public places we were in over the course of these three days.

Sunday (outside of Detroit) - $0.05 total. Four pennies, including one Canadian, in separate locations at the Sheetz in Streetsboro, OH. The fifth penny was found in the Walgreen's in Moon Township, PA.

Monday - $0.10. A dime in the checkout lane of the Giant Eagel grocery store on Greenbag Road in Morgantown.

Weekly Total: $0.16
YTD Total: $5.51

Monday, June 22, 2009

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 5 - Motor City USA

As we entered the outskirts of Detroit, it became very apparent why the city has earned the name "Motor City USA". Even in these tough economic times, Detroit is a city in which the car is king. Not just any car. The American car.

American cars have gotten a bad rap concerning quality. Yes, there was a time when the Big Three didn't care about quality because they dominated the market and had nothing to fear from their foreign competitors, but that quickly changed. And although the Big Three may have been slow to react, they are now producing cars of equal quality to their foreign counterparts.

Maybe it's because everyone who lives in the Detroit area is connected to the Big Three in one way or another, but the city has no problems showing their pride for the American car industry and the American manufacturing worker. In Detroit, American automobiles outnumber foreign cars by at least a 3:1 margin. No where else in America, can that be said. At one point, I counted nine American automobiles before I found the first foreign car. Ford seemed to have the slight advantage, but it may have been because of the area we were in. We were closest to Dearborn, which is the headquarters for Ford.

It was nice to see the pride in American made goods. It made you proud to be an American. And I was glad that we were driving an American car. Unfortunately, when we returned home, we would be returning to our foreign automobiles. For now, I will keep my Honda and Lori will keep her Subaru, both made in America with American workers and American made parts. I will consider a Ford in the future, but I am done with Chrysler. I will never own another after having owned several in the past. The jury is still out on GM. I may or may not seriously consider a GM vehicle in the future.

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 4 - The Bubble Gum Machines

Throughout this story, our readers will be treated to list of anomallies that will poke fun at the state of Michigan. Don't get me wrong, I like the state of Michigan. It is a very beautiful state with lots of wonderful things to do. I have always enjoyed visiting the coasts of the great lakes and seeing the different lighthouses. In fact, Michigan is really where my love of lighthouses began. But enough about that, just know that no matter how much I poke fun at the state of Michigan, I really do like the state.

The rest of our trip through Ohio was relatively uneventful. We stopped for lunch on the northside of Toledo and shortly thereafter entered Michigan. It was Lori's first visit to Michigan. I had been here several times, but it had been more than ten years since my last visit and I had never been to the Detroit area.

Shortly after entering Michigan, I saw the first of many "Bubble Gum Machines". It made me laugh. I had completely forgotten about the "Bubble Gum Machines" until that time. They had changed a bit in the last ten years, but I think the name still fits. I say that because the "Bubble Gum Machines" are not actually bubble gum machines. You probably figured that out already. In fact, the "Bubble Gum Machines" don't even refer to candy machines. The name refers to the single red light that sits atop Michigan's State Police cruisers. Yes, when it comes to their cars, the Michigan State Police are unmistakable. Their cars are equipped with a single dome shaped red light like the one on Sheriff Andy Taylor's patrol car in Mayberry. This first one had a car pulled over for the purposes of issuing a citation.

We called them "Bubble Gum Machines" because the light's dome shape reminded us of a bubble gum machine. Michigan has to be the last state to continue to use these outdated sirens and for the life of me, I don't know why. I am not sure if I should feel sorry for the humiliated officers driving those patrol cars or if I should laugh at how funny and stupid the lights look on top of the cars. Today, the lights don't appear to be domed. The ones that I saw this time were flattops. Never the less, the single red light will always be a "Bubble Gum Machine".

Dairy of a Wedding Guest: Part 3 - The Fifty Cent Gift

No, this post is not about the gift that Lori and I gave the bride and groom, nor is it about any gift that the bride and groom gave their guests. This short story is not about the wedding at all, but about a promotional offer we redeemed on our way to Detroit.

On Friday morning, we left for our day of travel. We had plans to make a few stops including one to the Step2 Factory Store in Streetsboro, Ohio. I had been to the store about a month and a half ago when Lori was asked to present at a conference. The Step2 Factory Store is located on the grounds of the Step2 factory and sells the company's products at a discount. When I had been there in April, I signed up for their e-mail list. About two weeks before this trip started, we received a coupon in our e-mail for a free gift with a $20 purchase. The e-mail also stated that many items in the store were on sale - $20 off. Lori and I had decided that we would buy James a wagon. Normally, $79.99, it was now on sale for $59.99. This wagon was the main reason we opted for a small SUV on this trip.

The Step2 company makes children's toys, outdoor storage, mailboxes and garden accessories (benches, carts, etc.) using a high density plastic. Rubbermaid has a division that directly competes with Step2. Rubbermaid's division produces mailboxes, trash cans, and outdoor storage, but Step2 seems to have the edge on children's toys.

When we arrived at the store, we found the wagon that we had wanted to buy and a motorcycle that we thought James would really love. The motorcycle was $24.99. In addition, we found a cute little toy for James' friend Morgan who will turn three years old in just a few days. We bought the toy for James to give to Morgan as a birthday present.

When we got to the counter and paid for our three items, the bill came to $109 and some change. We were then shown a basket full of miniature stuffed animals to choose one from as our free gift. The stuffed animals were no more than three inches in height. In a store they would probably retail for about $2.49 ($0.99 at Walgreens), but realisitcally, they cost less than $0.50 to manufacture - thus the fifty cent gift. I am not sure which animal Lori chose, possibly the lion, but it will probably end up in the Goodwill box without every having been played with. It was a big disappointment and a good thing we didn't stop here just to use the coupon.

Personally, if you are going to give away a free gift and only give it away the one company store which requires most people to travel more than 100 miles, you should make the gift worth while. For that matter, give away some of the items you have on clearance. The three foam dinosaur puzzles which normally sell as a set for $14.99 and were on clearance for $2.00 would have been an excellent gift. You get rid of merchandise you are trying to move out and customers feel like they got a worthwhile present.

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part 2 - The Rental Car and its Company

For our trip to Livonia, we decided to rent a car. We often do this to save the miles on our own vehicles. The cost of renting a car as compared to the wear and tear on our cars is a no-brainer for us. This trip would result in over 1,000 miles in just three days. At $150.00 for the weekend, that's just $0.15 per mile. Plus, renting a vehicle gives us the opportunity to check out potential replacements for our Subaru next summer. Our Subaru is 10 years old and has over 170K. We plan on replacing it when the Honda is paid off in June of 2010. Renting a car also gives you piece of mind about having your car break down in an unfamiliar place.

For this trip, we planned to stop by the Step 2 factory store and buy James a wagon. That would require a larger vehicle, so we decided to rent a small SUV. We figured the small SUV would sit a little different than a car and should therefore be a little more comfortable. SUVs, even the smaller ones, run much more expensive than the mid-size cars we typically rent, but we found one at Dollar Rent A Car for less than $40 day. With taxes, that came to just over $150 for the weekend. I had rented from Dollar on other occasions and didn't have any major problems (their cars tend to have more "dings" and "scratchers" than other rental companies), so we decided to book the SUV.

I arrived an hour early to pick up the SUV and I was given the a brand new 2009 Ford Escape. It only had 641 total miles on it. Having rented several "damaged" and "wrecked" cars from Dollar in the past, this was a pleasant surprise. As the rental agent completed the paperwork and handed me the agreement, I noticed the price was not the same as the reservation estimate. I asked the agent about it and he explained that he did not change the return time even though I picked up an hour earlier. I was charged $10.00 plus taxes for the additional hour. He assured me that as long as I returned by 6 PM on Sunday, the additional hour would not be charged. If you know anything about renting cars, especially at an airport, you know that the taxes are based on the total. The taxes on the $10.00 charge for the additional hour amounted to over $7.00! This was partially because the extra hour would put me into the next 24 hour interval and thus I was charged an extra $2.00/per day for each of the PA state rental car tax and the local Allegheny County rental car tax. In addition to state sales tax, their is now an "Energy Recovery Fee" which is a percentage of the total and the usual "Concession Recovery Fee", also a percentage of the total.

As I walked away from the counter I verified that Lori, my spouse, would be allowed to drive. No, with Dollar Rent A Car, spouses are considered an additional driver. Another $10.00 PER DAY plus taxes! I would either be driving the whole trip, or we would have to stop by the next morning to add Lori as an additional driver. Since she had dropped me off and continued on to her parents house, I did not have her driver's license and she wouldn't be able to sign the paperwork. When I told Lori about it, she opted to stop by on Friday on our way out of town an be added as an additional driver. The SUV would now be more expensive than the same vehicle at Avis, where spouses are allowed to drive without the additional driver fee. Now I know why they car it Dollar Rent A Car. They don't nickle and dime you to death with fees, they DOLLAR you to death with them.

The SUV we were given was a 2009 Ford Escape and right away I could tell that we would be pleased with the space. It was fully loaded with satellite radio, a sunroof, and leather seats. It was also much more functional than similar GM vehicles that we had driven. Despite all of these positives, we will not be buying a Ford Escape - sorry, Escape owners. The two biggest issues with the Escape are the gas mileage and the ride. I refuse to own a vehicle that costs $60 to fill the tank and that gets less mileage from a larger tank of gas than our current cars get from smaller tanks. Even as old as our Subaru is, we can still get 400 miles to a tank of gas. The Escape - about 350 miles, and the Escape's gas tank is larger than our Subaru's. If gas mileage weren't an issue, the ride definitely was. The Escape rode like a truck. Not a pickup truck - an actual truck with the big white box on the back. It was probably the worst riding vehicle we have driven. Unlike other small SUVs that are built on car chasises offering a smoother ride, the Escape is built on a chasis designed specifically for it. Additionally, the Escape has a major blind spot in the right rear. Twice, I almost took out a car when changing lanes because I could not see the other vehicle. Other minor nuisances included the console between the front seats being too bulky and hard to get into and out of when sitting in the front seat and the coat hooks in the back seats that could only hold a single coat hanger. If you have three dress shirts to hang up, you're out of luck.

Lori said that I had to say something nice for every negative, so here are the positives. Dollar Rent A Car has great customer service (at least those at the Pittsburgh Airport) and the Ford Escape seems to be very well built with a high standard of quality.

Diary of a Wedding Guest: Part I - The Departure

On Saturday, June 20, our friend Ashley got married. She had invited us to the wedding, which was to be held in her hometown of Livonia, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. Since Livonia was a six hour drive from Morgantown, we took Friday off work to make the drive. James was not going to go with us because he is still too young to go to a wedding without upstaging the bride and groom or having Mommy and Daddy chase after him the whole evening. No surprise, Grandma and Grandpa offered to watch James for the weekend. On Thursday afternoon, we left work a little early to pick up James from daycare and then pick up our rental car in Pittsburgh. We decided to stay with Grandma and Grandpa on Thursday night and leave early the next morning. Leaving from Pittsburgh shortened our drive time for Friday by an hour and a half. And so with this plan, we departed for our weekend to Michigan. Lori drove this stretch so that I could easily hop out at the airport to pick up the rental car.

Our weekend, however, almost ended before it began. Actually our lives almost ended before the weekend began. About 45 minutes into our drive to Pittsburgh, we had a heart-stopping experience. We were approaching the intersection of I-79 and I-70 near Washington, PA. If you know this intersection, you know that as you approach, you are climbing a small hill at a speed limit of 65 MPH (most vehicales are traveling much faster). At the top of the hill, the speed limit drops to 45 MPH. This is designed to help slow vehicles down for the sharp cloverleaf on ramp at the bottom of the hill. Most drivers don't adhere to this drop in the speed limit and as the approach the cloverleaf they are slamming on their brakes to avoid hitting the wall. For truckers, the speed limit through the cloverleaf is 25 MPH, but realistically, even small cars have to take the turn at 15 MPH. PenDOT has done everything they can to slow driver's down including three sets of rumble strips in the middle of the road. Still, there have been numerous accidents in this area from vehicles traveling too fast.

Thursday afternoon was no exception. Driver's were flying down the hill and traffic starting backing up quickly because of the cloverleaf, which is a left lane exit. As we started slowing down, Lori and I both were paying close attention to the Semi that was right behind us. Luckily he seemed to be in control and we had nothing to worry about -- at least that's what we thought. As we proceeded down the hill, we turned our attention to the cars in front of us and safely stopped our vehicle. Within a few mintues we hear the engine of a braking semi that sounds a little closer than it should be and I hear James say "truck". I turned to my left to look back and make sure everything was ok. Imagine my surprise when I see a semi squeezing itself between our car and the guardrail on the left to avoid hitting us. The NOSE of the SEMI was HALFWAY UP THE SIDE OF OUR CAR! Because this is the left lane, typically a high speed passing lane on interstates, there is NO SHOULDER!

But that's not all. After we were relieved to see the driver had maintained control of his truck and we were lucky to be alive, we realized it was not the semi that had been directly behind us. That semi was in fact, still directly behind us! The truck that almost hit us had also squeezed between the semi behind us and the guardrail on the left and drove the length of the first semi before reaching us. How he managed not to hit something is beyond me. For those that know this area, you know incidents like this do not usually turn out good. Luckily for us, someone was watching over us and the rest of our drive to Pittsburgh was uneventful.

James, by the way was oblivious to the danger. He was smiling like nothing had happened.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Diary of a Wedding Guest

This weekend, Lori and I were invited to the wedding of a friend and co-worker in the suburbs of Detroit. We are enjoying our trip, but we have had many things to write about. To give each item its due, we will write this post as a series of short stories. We hope that you will enjoy them. Below are the individual chapters of this story. As each one is completed, we will make the chapter heading a link to the actual posting of that chapter, so check back to this post often until we have finished the story.

We look forward to hearing your comments once we have the story finished.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Change Pot Tuesday

Saturday - $0.01. Found a penny lying under one of the candy racks near the lottery counter of Sheetz on Route 7 in Morgantown.

Sunday - $0.01. Found a penny lying in the checkout lane of Kroger on Route 7 in Morgantown while picking up some milk and the newspapers.

Monday - $0.48 total. Found two pennies lying on the floor near the checkout counter at Sheetz on Route 7 in Morgantown. Later I found a single penny at the customer service desk of Lowe's after returning a couple of unneeded items. Lori then found $0.45 in the recliner. A quarter and two dimes that most likely belonged to my father who was visitng this weekend.

Tuesday - $0.10. A dime in the parking lot of the All-Star/Diary Mart in Westover (Morgantown).

Weekly Total: $0.60
YTD Total; $5.35

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Weekly Mailbag

Over the past two months or so, our mailbag has brought much disappointment. This week, however, amid all the usual bills, reimbursement checks and junk mail, I received to very interesting pieces of mail.

The first one comes from Mrs. Yvonne Paulley of Lebanon Junction, KY. Mrs. Paulley's envelope was marked "Do Not Bend!". Inside the envelope was a single photograph of one Katherine Lois Humes taken about 1980. Mrs. Humes was approximately 84 years old at the time. She was the daughter of George Hume. All of this information was handwritten on the back of the photo, and no other information (letter, etc.) was enclosed. Mrs. Humes is my biological great grandmother. I never knew her, because I never knew my biological mother. This was the first photograph I had ever seen of Mrs. Humes. Mrs. Humes supposedly died within a few years of the picture being taken. The picture was taken by Alvis Hall Hume, Mrs. Paulley's father. My great-great-great grandfather James Peter Hume was Mrs. Paulley's great uncle.

Katherine Lois Humes, abt 1980

The second piece of mail comes from Ms. Susan Rogers of Zionsville, IN. Ms. Rogers is a paper conservator and was returning a historical document that I had sent to her. The document was a Original Indiana Land Grant dated 1838. It was made out to one Gideon Crooks of Parke County, Indiana for land purchased in Crawfordsville, Indiana. In the lower right corner in blue inked handwriting is the signature "MVan Buren". Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States. Unfortunately, research has proven that the signature is not by the hand of the president himself, but rather by one of his secretaries. Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, ended the practice of the president personally signing land grants because they simply became too numerous and time consuming. Never the less the document is quite interesting and Ms. Rogers did an excellent job of restoring the document. The land grant was part of my grandfather's amatuer collection of history. I also have newspapers from 1795 and 1809 that once belonged to him. The land grant is 16 x 10 and would not fit on the scanner to upload here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Change Pot Tuesday

Wednesday - $0.01. A penny found at the end of a checkout counter at Lowe's Home Improvement Store at Glenmark in Morgantown.

Sunday - $0.01. A penny on the floor near the coffee service at Sheetz on Route 7 in Morgantown.

Tuesday - $0.03 total. First was a penny in the checkout lane of Family Dollar on Route 7 in Morgantown. I subsequently used the penny when my own purchase came to $2.01, so I will donate a penny to the change pot. The second penny was found at the Morgantown Target near the Customer Service desk. Lori found the final penny on her way to the car after eating dinner at Eat & Park.

Weekly Total: $0.05
YTD Total: $4.75

Monday, June 8, 2009

Recipe Disaster

This coming Saturday, we are hosting our monthly game night. Since it is likely to be our last, we are having a special game based on the Food Network's "Chopped". The game requires players to use mystery ingredients in preparing a three course meal. Each course gets new mystery ingredients. Our variation was to have each person prepare one course (an appetizer) using four ingredients determined by the players themselves. Four players submitted one ingredient each. The four players did not know the other three ingredients until after all four had been chosen. The "mystery" ingredients were then given out to everyone two weeks prior to our game night.

The four ingredients were honey, corn, garlic, and chicken. No too bad of a mix considering what the show "Chopped" usually dishes out.

Tonight, I decided to practice my recipe or recipes to see if any of them would be worthy of the competition. I can safely say that the competition has nothing to worry about from me. I will also tell you what I WILL NOT be fixing for game night.

I WILL NOT serve the following:

Honey Garlic Chicken Cornbread muffins - cornbread muffins with chicken, sweet kernel corn, honey and garlic mixed into the batter. This was the best of the group, but it lacked the punch to take home the trophy.

Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Honey Garlic Cornbread Muffins - This was a big disappointment. I "stole" our friend Jennifer's recipe for Buffalo Chicken Dip and I baked some inside of the corn bread muffins. The batter for these muffins had honey, garlic and sweet kernel corn, but no chicken since the muffins were to be stuffed with the Buffalo Chicken Dip. I really thought this would turn out better than it did. The flavors did not go together quite the way I had hoped.

BBQ Chicken and Corn Dip - I found this recipe online and thought I would give it a try. The original recipe had all of the ingredients except honey, but adding a little honey to barbeque sauce is no big deal. The recipe however did not turn out as a dip like it was suppose to. It seemed more like a chicken and corn stew with BBQ sauce as the broth/gravy. Go ahead and say it -- it's exactly what I am thinking. (I can't even finish writing this because of the tears from laughing so hard.) You really had to see this. It more pitiful than disgusting, but I wouldn't even feed it to the dogs, it looked so bad. The closest I can come to describing it is to think of baked beans, only with corn instead of beans. You couldn't even see the chicken.

I won't reveal my backup recipe, but I am expecting it to turn out a little bit better. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Reader - A Movie Review

This week we rented the movie The Reader after Lori had indicated she wanted to see it and I had heard that it had won or had been nominated for several awards. For those of you who have not seen it, here is my review.

The Reader
starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes

The movie is set in two different times and at first comes across as a bit confusing. Michael (played by Ralph Fiennes in adulthood) is a judge looking back on the events of his youth and the impact they had on his life. Unfortunately, this is not clear at the beginning and one begins to wonder what the role of Ralph Fiennes' character is in relation to the rest of the movie. Once that is established, the somber tone of the movie begins to set in. It is the somber tone that makes the movie as great as it is.

The movie is set in Germany. Michael's youth (adolescent years) occurs in the 1960s. His adulthood takes place in the mid to late 1990s. As a youth, Michael has a friendship with a lady named Hannah (played by Kate Winslet). Hannah teaches Michael many things and in return Michael reads to Hannah. Their friendship lasts only a year, as Hannah unexpectedly leaves, never revealing much about herself. The impact of the friendship is witnessed later when Michael attends law school and follows the trial of several former Nazi concentration camp guards.

Aside from the early confusion over the elder Michael reflecting back upon his youth, the only other aspect of this film that may turn people off is the lack of a wardrobe budget in the early parts of the film. (The should be read as the lack of a wardrobe!) Although it is artistically done, nothing is left to the imagination in the film's early going. This was quite a shock for us and I question whether or not the quantity of these early scenes were truly necessary. Nevertheless, the early scenes create the overall necessary effect and tone for the remainder of the movie. The somber tone is elevated by one twist and cemented by a second. The first will leave the viewer questioning Michael. The second will leave the viewer questioning Hannah.

In all, one of the best movies we have seen in a long time.

Grade: A-

Ongoing Reese's® pieces® study

The third installment of the Reese's® pieces® study had a couple of interesting notes. Brown once again outpaced yellow for the number two spot disproving my theory a second time. Yellow fell 4½ pieces short of brown. Yes, 4½! One of the yellow pieces turned out to be only a ½ of a piece. Orange still dominated. The breakdown of this box:

Orange - 72 pieces (45.7%)
Brown - 45 pieces (28.6%)
Yellow - 40½ pieces (25.7%)

And so the scientific study continues - at least until I find a more interesting and worthwhile job. Hopefully, I won't gain a hundred pounds between now and then.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Change Pot Tuesday

Last week's Change Pot paled in comparison to the previous week's until the final hours on Tuesday. At that time, the Change Pot had it's most interesting find and one of the largest individual finds. Leading up to Tuesday, we had only found a single dime on Sunday while doing our grocery shopping at Giant Eagle. The dime was on the floor near the end of a check out aisle. We had to walk right past it to get to the produce section and so we collected it.

On Tuesday, however, we found $0.35 in the form of a quarter and a dime. What is interesting about this find is that it was money WE LOST!!!! Yes, I found the $0.35 in our own home in the cushions of our couch. Normally this would be that big of a deal, except that our couch is fairly new and that I was actually looking for something else when I found the change. We had been watching the movie "The Reader" with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes and I was lying comfortably on the couch. We had been snacking on buttered flavored popcorn Jelly Belly® jelly beans and I thought I had dropped some. Being that the couch is fairly new and we don't typically eat on it, I wanted to make sure that I had not lost any of the jelly beans to the couch and began running my hand between the cushions. Not only did I find $0.35, I also found a AA battery!

Weekly Total: $0.45
YTD Total: $4.70