Car Problems

One of the ordeals we had to deal with concurrent with the acquisition of Nathalie’s visa was importing our car to the US from Canada.  It was a minor headache compared to the visa problems, but it didn’t help having to deal with both at the same time.  Luckily although both were big problems, they were the only problems encountered during the move.

Earlier last year, a few months before the move, I started doing research on what was necessary to import our car to the US that we had bought in Canada.  As with most things that involve bureaucracy, it was unclear what was necessary.  I searched through the websites on multiple occasions and determined that we would likely need to fill out paperwork and maybe pay some fees when crossing the border with the car.  A letter from the manufacturer stating that the car met safety standards would be necessary.  But it would be up to the border agent whether the paperwork and fees would be necessary.  So I proceeded to contact Hyundai and they sent a letter stating that it meets Canadian safety standards.

In June when I moved the bulk of our stuff to the US, the car stayed in Canada with my wife and kids so they would have transportation.  Since I would be living in the city, I would not need a car much and could take public transportation.  In August when I brought the girls to Chicago, I also brought the remainder of our stuff along with the car.  I was incredibly nervous as we approached the border. The best case scenario in my mind was that they would just wave us through without any paperwork. The worst case scenario was that they would reject our entry of the car into the states and I would be forced to drive all the way back to Montreal and find an alternate way back to Chicago with the girls.  When we pulled up to the customs officer, I stated that I am bringing my daughters, some personal items, and I am importing the car to the US.  He took a bit longer than usual, then waved us through.  I was elated that we made it through without incident.

The next week after returning to the US, I took the car to the department of motor vehicles to transfer the title and get plates.  Since they had never seen the Quebec title registration, they told me to get a letter from my wife stating that I could transfer the vehicle on her behalf and to fill out some forms.  So I sent the forms back to my wife in Montreal by regular mail.  Unfortunately that took over two weeks and she was forced to send back the signed forms by FedEx.  So then I returned to the department of motor vehicles and after looking through the forms, they said that I needed to contact the port authority in order to get a letter stating that the car has officially been imported.  The port authority then suggested that I go through a customs house.  Now given that I had been having so much trouble with the acquisition of the visa, I felt it was no longer worth it to try doing these things myself, so I contacted one of the customs houses. They pointed out that I needed a letter from the Canadian manufacturer stating that the car meets US highway and EPA standards. I tried multiple times contacting both the Canadian and US manufacturers of Hyundai to see how to get this letter. It soon became apparent that the Canadian manufacturer would not issue a letter stating that their car meets US standards and the US manufacturer would not issue a letter stating that the Canadian car meets US standards.

So without the letter needed to import the car, we were left with no choice but to repatriate the car to Canada and sell it there.  Then return to the US and buy a car to replace it. One lucky break was that my wife was still in Montreal and would have two weeks in order to sell the car.  But the ordeal did not end there.  The port authority required that I have a customs officer sign a paper to state that I had re-exported the car to Canada.  I started to research how I could possibly do this. Most of the big border stations like at Detroit do not allow you to pull over to the border station on your side of the border. But since I had worked on some of the smaller stations near the Canadian border with New York and Vermont, I knew that those would allow this to be done.  So that’s what I did.  I pulled up to a station in New York state and asked them to sign a form stating that I was exporting the car.  They thought is was ridiculous since I could cross the border, drive 20 miles over the the next station, and bring it right back in.  Luckily it was during working hours so my contact at the port authority (the guy who required this) was still at work and talked to the agent in order to get what he wanted.  It meant spending over an hour in a house converted into a border station, but I didn’t care if it cleared things up.  But that, again, was still not the end of the ordeal.

Once the car was back in Canada, my wife began the process of selling it.  We tried a dealer, but he offer half of what we eventually got.  She got a good offer and had me sign the necessary paperwork for her to sell it on her own.  But once they got to the department of motor vehicle, the agent found out that I had missed a signature.  Fortunately the buyer did not walk away and could wait until my return to Canada the following weekend.  So we return to the department of motor vehicles the following weekend, we had a minor panic since I forgot my Quebec drivers license at home, but in the end the title is transferred.  But once again the ordeal is not over.  We asked the buyer to come with us to the bank to be sure that the check clears and given our luck, our bank found that the cashier’s check was never signed by the bank.  So we drove back to the buyers bank, they issued another cashier’s check, we return to our bank, and finally the ordeal was over.  This was resolved around the same time as the visa issues so it made for a time of great relief.

Given this ordeal, I will never buy a Hyundai again.  At one point I talked with someone at the EPA and they told me that Hyundai, Kia, and Chrysler are the only companies that do not issue letters of compliance between the US and Canada.  He was surprised since every other manufacturer seems to have no problem issuing these. Since Honda was always a brand that I had admired and since we have a relative working at a dealership, we bought a similar model from the same year (6 years old).  We don’t need a new car since our driving needs have greatly diminished since moving to the city.  It was difficult to have this happen concurrently with the visa problems, but it made it all the more sweeter when they were resolved at almost the same time.

Gordon Tech and DePaul

I’m taking a small break from the current string of posts on this blog to talk about a current issue regarding my alma mater, Gordon Tech.  Tonight a public forum was held to discuss the possibility of changing the name of the school in an effort to increase enrollment.  In order to inform my fellow alums and to document what happened, I thought I’d write down what happened.

First, the chairperson of the rebranding task force, Mary Dempsey, addressed misinformation circulated both in the press and social media.  Contrary to what was quoted by Adrian Cazares in the Sun Times about the school, they had not painted the school DePaul blue and taken down all Gordon Tech related items.  Also the principal is not in the process of being replaced. Sadly this negative information is hurting the reputation of the school and it was irresponsible that the paper published that information.  The head of the task force then stated that the name change was a consideration and that they have been holding these forums with local principals, current and prospective parents, and teachers to understand what steps could be taken to improve the school and increase enrollment.

Second, another member of the task force (sorry, I didn’t take down the name) relayed the results of two studies. One undertaken  in 2011 around the low point of an enrollment of about 350 students and the other over the past few months.  Note that the current enrollment is at 540 students with the increase attributed to the addition of DePaul as a partner and the addition of a well-regarded principal and president.  The results of the first survey was that the impression and reputation of Gordon Tech has dropped.  According to those surveyed, it is not considered a first or second tier school.  The second survey asked participants what hindered them from feeling that Gordon was ranked higher.  Academic performance was the top point, lackluster facilities was another reason and the name Gordon Tech was also given as a reason.  My personal take is that the reputation of the name Gordon Tech has taken a heavy hit over these recent lackluster years and it will take a fair amount of effort to overcome that.

The mike was then opened up for the alums to help provide solutions and thoughts on how to bring the school out of this tough period.  As with any open forum, there were some personal attacks, misdirected attacks at those trying to help the school, pleas against changing the name, and personal stories of time at Gordon and their subsequent achievements.  But the best speakers where those with perspectives on what has gone wrong and what could be done to improve the school.  One point that caught hold and was repeated often was that if there is a total name change at Gordon, the alumni support will dry up. Who would support a school with which they have no name recognition?  Another point was the lack of communication with the alumni.  Many pointed out that by improving alumni relations, many will be more willing to offer financial support. I know that that communication with alumni over the last ten years has dried up. I was very disappointed at my 20 year reunion because out of a class of 450, we barely had enough to fill two tables. Part of that had to do with the economy at the time, but I know I basically had to run after the school to find out about it and get signed up.  Many of the alumni said that if the school would be in better contact, they would eagerly donate their time, skills, and money to support the school.

Although the survey news was disappointing, I came away with strong feeling that things will turn around soon at the school.  There is a principal, president, and board of directors who are engaged in improving the school.  This happened recently at both the Bell Elementary School and Coonley Elementary School and both are now sought out by parents.  It was nice to see the enthusiasm by the alumni and their interest in being active at the school.  Hopefully the school will improve their communication with the alums along with the surrounding community.  The addition of DePaul as a partner is a big step toward improving the school.  Either no change in name or a hybrid name change like Gordon DePaul Academy should be considered.

On a side note, the task force reiterated many times that the effort to improve the school is not to change it to an elitist school.  Their goal is a balanced school which they will work hard toward achieving. I feel that academics must be improved, but it must remain in tandem with technical aspects of the school. The one reason I chose Gordon over St Bens was due to the technical aspect. I could take high level classes and take drafting or wood shop if I wanted.  I was not relegated to only college prep.  It is why after graduating I chose the path of architecture and was able to transition into engineering.  Having those options along with a strong sports program are what will make a well rounded school that stands apart.

Physical Move Completed

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything, but once our family was reunited in Chicago, we spent time getting settled and more organized.  So blog writing took a back seat. Now that things have slowed down a bit and I have a resolution to complete return to blogging, I am finally recounting those final days in Montreal.

As I said in the last post, we finally got approval for my wife’s visa.  The light was at the end of the tunnel.  Fortunately we had already booked a flight to Montreal to visit my wife.  But instead of just returning without her this time, we booked a one-way ticket for her to join us.  It was an emotional weekend as you could expect.  We had some business to finish with our car. I will address that in another post since it is quite a long story.  For the four of us there was some electricity in the air. After a long hard delay it was finally going to happen.  Our former neighbor and friend let us stay at her place since she was going to be away. That added a bit of surrealism to the weekend since we were next door to our former home and we were still in our old neighborhood. We had a goodbye get together that got a bit emotional.  I met up with friends but unfortunately did not feel well and did not stay as long as I would have liked. Then we finally boarded the plane as a family.

I had pictured us arriving by car with all our stuff watching the skyline grow in front of us, so arriving by plane was not a momentous, but at that point I didn’t care. We were incredibly nervous for that final pass through customs, but that was thankfully unmomentous.  That evening was spent presenting our new apartment to my wife.  She had only seen the place through pictures, videos, and a Skype walk-through, so thankfully she approved of the place.  The next day was spent showing her the neighborhood and our routine before she arrived.  It was so nice to be back together again and to be fully functioning.  We could finally start to see what our new life would be.

Approved!

So Nathalie had her visa interview last Friday morning. As could be expected we were all a bit nervous about it as we would have been normally, but maybe a bit more given the difficulties to date.  We prepared ourselves, drove into town, parked the car, and arrived at the consulate.  At the door we were informed that the kids could not accompany us into the consulate, so since I was the only one available to watch them, my wife had to go to the interview alone.  Normally, this would not be a big deal, but I have been the only one handling the file and the only one who knew everything about the file.  Granted, we had all the necessary papers in a folder, but it would be easier if I was present.  So that added a huge level of stress for Nathalie.  Luckily, she ended up waiting about an hour for the interview, so she had the time to get familiar with the file.  After about two hours of waiting, I finally got the call that her visa had been approved.  The interview went very well.

But she will not get the visa for another 7 to 10 days while they finish processing the file.  While we were a bit disappointed that she would not be coming home with us again, it does allow all of us to take care of some things in the interim.  Plus we already have tickets to visit Montreal over the Columbus Day weekend, so we just bought a one-way ticket for her to come with us on the return trip.  We are just happy to have an end date.

The other order of business during our visit to Montreal was to sell the car.  We went to a used car dealer our first night there and they offered us half of what we have been seeing the same make/model/year going for on the internet.  We did kinda expect that, but we still hoped they would offer a bit more.  Since my wife will be in Montreal for the next couple weeks, she will try to sell it for more.  Nathalie will also spend the time to finish her portfolio and make some money on jewelry that she has been selling to a fashion designer.

One concern of mine was finding a rental car to return to Chicago. My internet searches were not showing any cars available before Monday which would mean taking off a couple more days.  Luckily that was not the case and we were able to get a car when we needed it to return by Sunday evening.  We brought back the remainder of our things, so now there is only Nathalie and a suitcase with her clothes left over there.

As you can expect it was such a relief to complete this milestone and have an end date.  We could now freely talk about future plans without any sadness due to not knowing when it would happen.  In some ways, it is now starting to really feel real.  It was our final hurdle and we will soon be able to enjoy the results of all our efforts during the move and enjoy our new environs as a family.

The End is Near

I was not planning on posting this until after the fact, but the news is just too good to keep to ourselves.

At the end of last week we received the date of Nathalie’s interview.  Now I had read that the normal anticipated date for the interview would be about 7 weeks after the Consulate receives the file from the Visa Center.  That would have meant an interview in early to mid-November. Two weeks ago when we received notice from the Visa Center, they noted that the Consulate had accepted to expedite the file.  Despite that glimmer of hope, we were still blown away to receive an interview date in only one week (this Friday).  Now I have heard that sometimes they hand over the visa at the completion of the interview, but I’m not holding my breath. Indications on the website suggest that it could be a week and a half before Nathalie actually receives it.  That still puts this at a completion date before Columbus day.  In an odd twist, the kids and I have plane tickets to visit Montreal that weekend, so if it drags out that long, we may be coming back with Nathalie.

But of course there has been an odd twist unrelated to our visa difficulties.  After a month of trying to import our car, we have been refused. Part of that month long ordeal was due to misdirection by the department of motor vehicles who initially indicated that completing some forms would be sufficient.  The problem is that Hyundai refuses to give a letter stating that the car meets US standards.  Apparently they are one of the only three (Kia and Chrysler being the others) who do not provide these letters.  Needless to say, I will never buy another or recommend a Hyundai. The car was decent, but their service while we were in Quebec was lackluster.  We could work with an importer to have the car verified to meet US standards, but that could cost $2000.  So we are driving the car back to Canada to sell it, then come back and buy another car.  In the end, we will still be losing $2000 or more doing it this way.

There is also some logistics of actually selling it during our time in Montreal and renting a car to come back. So this trip has many different tasks that could make it challenging if any one of them don’t go well.  We should have a better indication of everything come Friday night.

In honesty, I just want it all to be done and over, even if we lose some money in the process.  I’m tired of spending hours on the phone chasing down answers to questions. Or dealing with the uncertainty of when everything will be resolved.  I’m tired of basically treading water waiting for the return to a fully functional family.

But at least it is starting to feel good to see that the end is near.

Being a Single Parent

So as mentioned in the previous post, we had planned to move the kids from Montreal to Chicago in early August and that is what we did.  I flew to Montreal where my wife was waiting with the kids and the car packed with their stuff along with other items.  We had supper together then with the kids I started the journey back to Chicago.  As usual, the kids were great. They have become so accustomed to our long road trips, that this was like any other and they knew the routine.  They have always been quite good at keeping themselves occupied between DVD players, iPods, toys, and occasionally looking out the window.

My big concern was crossing the border with our car.  I’ve really become a worry wart during this whole ordeal, so I spent the hours and days before the crossing worried of what could go wrong.  Would they prohibit us from crossing the border with the car? Would they for some reason confiscate it?  Would they keep us for hours at the border in order to process the vehicle?  Many of these were ludicrous worries, but I’ve become paranoid about bizarre things happening.  When luck hasn’t been going your way, you expect the worst.  In the end, it turned out to be like any other crossing except that I showed them a letter from my wife authorizing me to travel alone with the kids.  I was ecstatic that we passed without any problems, but I would find out later that life would have been a little easier if they filled out certain forms clearing the vehicle when we crossed.  We are now in the process of trying to complete that through a local customs house.

But it was then that I began my temporary stint as a single parent.  I have some support from my family here, but that can only go so far.  One aspect of it has been that it has forced me to be more organized with my time.  Since I am almost the only one picking them up and dropping them off, it has put a serious crunch on my hours at the office.  I am forced to work hours in the evening or on the weekends to make up time.  On top of that, there are school meetings, doctors appointments, and the occasional sick kid that force more time away from the office.  Luckily my position allows me to work from home when absolutely necessary.  I have also had to become more regimented about meals, homework, and sleep times.  All of these are easier when you share them with your partner, but when the buck stops with you, you need to keep order or you will go crazy.

Luckily for me, the kids have taken the transition in stride with the exception of stress-induced sickness for one of them the first day of school. I was very concerned about their first day at day camp, but when they got home they said they talked to all the other kids in English and played with everyone.  We we arrived the first evening, they immediately made friends with the kids across the street.  The transition into the new school has not been easy, but it has been going much better than I was expecting.  Although they are both at a disadvantage in English, they have been embracing learning the language and actively trying to get better.  Their teachers have been understanding and the school is actively working to make the transition easier to the extent of even bringing in specialists to tailor a program for them.  That said, the homework assignments require more work than usual and we’ve been getting some help from the after school program.  I’ve been trying to add some other elements to improve their English, but it has been hard given their homework and all the other things that need to be done.

But this has all been bittersweet.  The kids are very happy with their new city and all they have been experiencing.  But we are still not complete.  It will still be likely another 6 to 8 weeks before my wife arrives.  We had another delay (the fault of the visa center this time), but it has finally cleared their office and is now in the hands of the Consulate.  I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I will be when this is finally resolved and she is here with us.  I don’t feel this will be truly real until she is here.

Further Delayed

It happened again.  Toward the end of last week were getting close to the time when we could expect an answer from the visa center regarding their review of our paperwork.  On Thursday evening my office had organized a boat ride on the lake for our summer outing.  It would be an opportunity to start to get acquainted with my new co-workers.  But just as had happened four weeks earlier, I received an email from the visa center just before leaving the office.  And the news was the same.  Further paperwork was required meaning at least another four weeks of waiting for a decision once the paperwork was submitted.  Again it put a damper on the night, but I did my best to make the most of the night.

The next day I was to fly to Montreal to see the family who I had not seen in three weeks. I did my best to get a decent night of sleep, but I was still exhausted.  I woke up early, packed my bags, and went into work to assemble the paperwork and send it off.  Most of the rest of the day was spent on planes or in airports trying to catch up on some rest.  That night I broke the news to my wife and we started to think of our next step.  This delay meant that if we waited until it played out (assuming all went well), that the girls would have very little time if any to get adjusted before starting school.  We discussed what to do and decided that I would bring the girls to Chicago in early August so they would have three weeks before school to meet other kids, practice their English, and get acclimated.    It would mean that I would juggle taking care of them with working full time, but it would be the best for them despite my hardship.  Despite the bad news, we had a wonderful time together camping that weekend.

In order to avoid any more surprises and to ensure the remainder of the process proceed as quickly as possible, I met with an immigration lawyer the following Tuesday.  While he pointed out that our forms are correct and we are in the home stretch, he still had difficult news.  More paperwork is required.  It would take some time to acquire that paperwork (possibly between a week to four weeks).  Then it would take their standard four weeks to process that paperwork.  But he also told us that usually the interview is scheduled four to six weeks after the paperwork is approved.  Before this, I had been told it would be soon after, but nobody gave me an estimated time.  I had assumed only a week. So with all these times considered, the process may finish anywhere from late September to mid-October.  So instead of caring for the girls for two to three weeks, it will be more like two to three months.

It has been difficult to accept that this part of the move equation has slipped due to mistakes I have made.  And maybe we were too concentrated on the other items that items were missed on this one.  But all we can do now is move forward with what is before us and make the most of it.  The end game is the same.  We will all be here together eventually and this is short-term hardship for the long-term.  It continues the bittersweet mood that has surrounded my first weeks here.  It has been exciting to be here, but sad that it is just me.  Next, I will be excited to share it with the girls, but sad that my wife is not here yet.  Thankfully technology (Skype) will help with it to a degree, and it has helped thus far.  And hopefully the time will pass quickly.

An early sign that it will be shorter than longer is that the paperwork we need to acquire to send may be here next week.  Also the immigration lawyer pointed out avenues to request expedition of our file.  I’ll just be happy to finally get some good news.