Moving complete!

October 31, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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The Space Needle in silhouette at sunset

I'll miss the view of the Space Needle from our old apartment, but the view from the new place isn't too shabby either.

I’m writing this post from our comfy new apartment over Uwajimaya, and it’s pretty delightful. Last week was such a blur, but now it seems things have finally settled down. There was some unexpected drama during the move, though, which I’ll describe in this post. I’m not sure how interesting it’ll be, but I hope it won’t be boring.

Blake and I signed the lease here to move in this past Tuesday, but we didn’t have to be out of the Taylor 28 (the corporate housing) til Thursday. We thought this would give us a nice comfortable amount of time to move out, and so beginning Tuesday we’d take a carload of stuff down to Uwajimaya every so often when we had the time. On Thursday we had planned for me to ferry the many non-heavy objects over during the day while Blake was at work, and then when he was free we’d get the last few heavy things in just a couple of trips before we dropped off our keys for good. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us we were supposed to be out of Taylor by 11 a.m., which I discovered around 10:30 a.m. that same morning! (This was due to a miscommunication with our corporate-housing contact that really wasn’t anyone’s fault.) Anyway, I found out accidentally when I was asking about what time in the evening to drop off the key, and you can imagine how thrilled I was to find that I had 25 minutes to get to Taylor, move everything down to the car, make a few trips between the two apartments, and clean up. To make matters worse, 11 a.m. wasn’t just an arbitrary checkout time — there were cleaning and furniture crews set to arrive at that time to make the apartment ready for the next corporate tenants!

Well, the corporate housing guy from Aboda has been absolutely fantastic through every interaction since we arrived in Seattle, and he didn’t disappoint this time either. He was able to defer the crew til 3, which meant that with a lot of hurrying we just might be able to get out in time. So I spent about 45 minutes packing all our stuff into bags and suitcases and then I drove down to Amazon to pick up Blake from work at his lunch hour. So instead of eating, he spent two hours carrying heavy boxes up and down stairs in the middle of his workday.

Nano with a tiny bear

Aw, she's cute. I might have turned the bear so it faced the camera and looked a bit more picturesque, though.

As if this wasn’t already unpleasant enough, it was raining pretty solidly. Which I prefer in general, but it was not my favorite thing on this particular occasion as we trooped out to the car and got wetter each time. Eventually we decided to start filling up Blake’s Honda instead of my VW, so we agreed that Blake would start ferrying boxes down to the curb and I’d retrieve his car from the garage and bring it up to the loading zone. When I got down there, though, his car wouldn’t start! It hadn’t been driven since we got to Seattle, and its battery had died. So Blake brought all the boxes back inside, one by one, and we left them by the leasing office while we drove my car around to jump start it. Fortunately there was nobody parked next to him when I got there, so that simplified matters a little bit.

After we got his car started we went back to the loading area, and after about an hour his car was full. So I sent him on his way down to Uwajimaya where he parked in the garage and then went back to work having eaten no lunch at all. Meanwhile, I stayed up at the apartment and continued loading my car as quickly as possible, and after about 90 more minutes I finally finished.

At this point you may be wondering why we had so much stuff that it took us so long to move. It’s a valid question, and there are several answers:

  1. When we came from Austin, there were certain belongings that we just didn’t want to keep in storage for months. Either because they were fragile, valuable, or had extreme sentimental value. So we brought a lot of extra things we didn’t really need for life in Seattle.
  2. When we left Texas, we didn’t have many details about what would be available in the corporate housing, so we brought a lot of things that we ended up not needing.
  3. There were many things we needed that the corporate housing didn’t provide, so even though we already owned them, we couldn’t access our stuff in storage and had to just buy more. Lots of kitchen utensils, some housewares, toiletries, etc.
  4. We don’t own many winter clothes — me especially — so we’ve bought a lot of clothing since we got here.
  5. We acquired a whole kitchen full of food.
  6. Finally, we didn’t really have such a large quantity of stuff — it was more that there wasn’t a very good way to move it all. We thought there was less than there actually was, so instead of boxes we had some Whole Foods bags and suitcases. It took a lot more trips per volume than your typical moving job.
  7. We had to take the stairs because the freight elevator was being used for something else. Since there were two flights of stairs, this really reduced the amount of things we could take per trip.

Pico in a box

All in all, it was a pretty unpleasant afternoon. And once Blake got off work we still had a lot of effort in front of us because both our cars were jammed full of stuff. Blake helped with that, though, by borrowing a few shopping carts from Uwajimaya which we could fill up and then ferry upstairs three at a time. That made things move much faster, and we emptied both cars in about 45 minutes.

The next day I spent the morning and afternoon overseeing the delivery of our stuff from corporate storage into the Public Storage unit we’re renting in Kent. It took a surprisingly long time, but the guys doing it were just excellent and I couldn’t believe how wonderful and helpful they were. Then I drove home around 3:30, and at 5 we met with one of Blake’s coworkers and his wife. They had offered to help if we needed to move any furniture, so we rented a Uhaul and with their help we got our bed, piano, desk, vacuum, and a few other items we didn’t want to re-buy. Later in the evening Blake and I returned the Uhaul truck, and then at long last we got back to our new place — thoroughly drained and sore — and slept the wonderful sleep of the truly exhausted.

But now we’re done! Yay!

We’ve been straightening and unpacking throughout the weekend, and things are starting to get neater in here. I’m planning to do a lot of that while Blake’s at work tomorrow. It’s so wonderful to be settled again, and especially to have so much of our stuff with us. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to go to sleep in my bed Friday night.

So that’s why last week was a blur. But it’s finally over and we’re very glad. Tomorrow I shall post something much less complainy and much more happy.

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Good news and bad

October 24, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Blake and the dogsWell, things have been pretty busy around here. And not really in a good way, either. Let’s jump right into the bad news: we’re not getting the house. Our beautiful, wonderful house that we had been hoping for and planning on for quite a while now. It turns out that due to some recent changes in the government guidelines for FHA loans, Blake has to have this job and salary for six months before we’re eligible for a home loan. The thing that’s made it so unpleasant is that we didn’t find out until very late in the financing process — after we had turned in all the forms and paperwork and the lender spoke to his underwriter and said we were good to go.

I’m pretty devastated about it to say the least. After our lender told us, we talked to a couple other lenders who confirmed that this wasn’t a judgment call but instead something mandated by the laws pertaining to FHA loans. Unfortunately, for each of these other lenders we couldn’t find out immediately — the guys selling the loans assured us everything would be fine each time, then we’d turn in our paperwork with much hurried emails and faxes and optimism only to be told several days later that the FHA guidelines had recently changed and gee, they were sorry. So for the last three weeks we’ve been yo-yo-ing between sadness and then hopeful optimism as each new lender initially sounded positive and then later dashed our hopes upon the rocks. Also I had a terrible cold for about half of October, and generally speaking this wasn’t my favorite month ever.

It’s not like it’s the end of the world, I know. I mean, if our biggest problem in life is that we can’t get this beautiful house right now, then life is very good indeed. But all that work! Ever since we got to Seattle I’ve been working 40-50 hours per week on home-buying — searching for houses online, spending days and days checking each one out with the realtor, dealing with the lender, tracking down all the documentation, etc. It’s been a huge undertaking and all that work is now effectively wasted. Not all of it, I guess — I think I’ll be much more efficient now in the upcoming round of househunting and lender-hunting — but it’s still a tremendous loss for that reason alone. (Needless to say, we won’t be going with that lender again. If they had told us this before several weeks had passed, I wouldn’t be nearly so sad.)

To make matters worse, we didn’t really know that there were no other options until this past Thursday. (Til then we thought another lender would work out fine.) And on this coming Thursday, our free corporate housing from Amazon expires! (We were originally supposed to close on the house on 10/27.) So Thursday night I was pretty sad indeed — faced with the prospect of finding an apartment and new storage for our stuff in less than a week. But we’re working on it.

…which brings us to the good news. After spending all day Friday and most of Saturday looking at apartments, I was able to get us into a spacious 665-square-foot apartment in downtown Seattle: Uwajimaya Village Apartments. The reason that this news is particularly good is its location — it is about 50 feet from the building where Blake works! Not only that, Uwajimaya Village Apartments is named for a very interesting Asian market called Uwajimaya which is right downstairs from the apartments themselves. Uwajimaya is so interesting, in fact, that it deserves a post all its own which I’ll probably do once we’re all moved in over there and I’ve taken some photos.

So what’s our plan for a house? Well, we can’t get a home loan until Blake’s six-month anniversary of February 2. So in January or so I’ll start house-hunting again and see what’s available. Maybe, just maybe, this home will still be on the market. It doesn’t seem likely. Nor does it seem likely that its sellers will be too inclined to give us a good deal, since we’d have to go through making a whole new offer, negotiations, and etc. Although this situation was not of our making at all, I get the impression the seller’s realtor doesn’t think too highly of us. (Just as we were waiting to hear back from the final lender we spoke with last week, the seller’s realtor was getting antsy and threatened to put the house back on the market anyway. She also called us on the phone — which is apparently considered inappropriate and unprofessional since she should instead have been calling our realtor — and whined to us for a while about how time was getting short and she was concerned. We assured her that we were concerned too because we wanted the house and we’d be glad to let her know when we heard something.) So it’s possible we’d still get this house, but I am in no way planning on it.

So we have a nine-month lease at Uwajimaya that won’t be too hard to break when we find a house we like. And if we decide we want to build, we’ll have from February til July for that to happen. And if we start shopping in January, we can have all our ducks in a row for February to get the home loan and make things happen.

So things are good. Everything’s fine. It’s been kind of a sucky month, but not really. Not in the grand scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things we’re fine and happy. To end this on a high note, please enjoy this video of Nano:

Aki Matsuri (Japanese autumn festival)

October 5, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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A few weeks ago — while my laptop was filled with coffee — Blake and I went to the Aki Matsuri festival which was being given by the Eastside Nihon Matsuri Association. It was held at a nearby college and I got tons of photos, but since my laptop was out of commission I couldn’t post them. Please enjoy them here now, though, better late than never.

It was a really neat festival. It was well attended and the people putting it together obviously knew what they were doing. There were a bunch of booths selling food, koi, interesting Japanese gifts and souvenirs, kimonos, frogs, more koi, sushi, tea, koi-pond equipment, and a number of other things. And all day long there were various cultural performances on several different stages: music, dancing, martial arts, tea ceremonies, whatever. About half the attendees were obviously Asian, and I was surprised at how many kids under eighteen were there seemingly without parents. There were oodles of girls walking around in kimonos who didn’t seem to have any real festival-related purpose — maybe they were attendees who owned kimonos and thought it would be fun to wear them. According to Wikipedia, Seattle is 13.2% Asian, so it probably isn’t surprising that there were as many visitors as there were.

Anyway, it was really fun. Our friends Hilton and Jocelyn met us there with their kids, and all in all it was a nice day. On to the photos!

Tiny kimono girl looking at koi

This little girl was checking out the koi.

Happy taiko drummers

This taiko drumming performance had primarily high-school-age (I think?) performers. Although they performed for about 35 minutes, they were the happiest drummers I'd ever seen! They just kept breaking into grins. It was pretty cute.

Young taiko drumming spectators

These kids lasted about fifteen minutes before they got bored and were led out by their teacher in an unquiet exodus. It was a good performance, though, and we stayed for the whole thing.

Old Japanese women writing something

You know as much as I do about this photo. I guess they were writing... something. In Japanese.

Japanese chalk or something

For some reason there was all kinds of chalking going on. Maybe that's part of the traditional festival or Japanese or something? I don't know. Amazingly, though this area was covered with teenagers all day, nobody chalked anything obscene or vulgar.

A little girl meeting Hello Kitty

A little girl meeting Hello Kitty.

Some less-little girls meeting Hello Kitty.

Some less-little girls meeting Hello Kitty.

Woman with weird finger puppets

This woman had on these weird animal finger-puppet gloves. Frankly, they were kind of creepy, but the kids seemed to like them and the woman was friendly.

Paper sign

Puget Area Paperfolding Enthusiasts Roundtable. It spells "paper." Get it?

The PAPER members showing people how to fold paper

The PAPER members showing people how to fold paper.

Hilton and Blake playing that ball-cup game.

Hilton and Blake playing that ball-cup game. You can see the much-expanded sea of chalk drawings behind them.

Some kimono girls.

Some kimono girls.

Kimono girls love Lillian!

When the kimono girls saw Lillian, they cooed over her and then stood next to her to pose for a photo. We thought they were posing so *we* could take a photo with *them*, but it soon became apparent that they wanted a photo with Lillian, the tiny celebrity! They spent about five minutes making sure each one of them got a picture with her. It was cute and hilarious.

Little girl kimono photo shoot

For a small fee you could get your photo taken all kimonoed up! It was pretty cute to see the little girls doing this.

Kimonos

Kimonos

All dolled up

This girl wasn't wearing a kimono, but I still felt exposed to Japanese culture. When I asked to take her photo she seemed kind of sheepish but was still happy to pose.

A cute kid

A cute kid.

Hilton drawing a Japanese character

Hilton paid $1 to be shown how to draw a character. (I think this one was "beauty.") After a few tries, we picked the best one and the woman mounted it on construction paper with pretty ribbon like the ones in the background.

Ukulele band

I was really eager to see this group which was listed as "ukulele band" on the program. Although they were good, I was hoping for energetic upbeat strumming and this was more... sedate. Slow repetitive Don Ho stuff with simple chord progressions. There were about fifteen people on stage, and they all seemed really happy to be there. After a few songs we sneaked out and tried not to look like jerks.

Authentic Japanese flea market

This room was billed as an "authentic Japanese flea market," though it looked pretty much like a regular flea market to me. I did pick up a spiffy blanket for $6 and duck-shaped hygrometer/thermometer for $2. The duck is cute, but he only tells the temp in celsius. =(

Seattle Japanese princesses

These girls' sashes all said "Seattle Japanese Princess" on the front. I'm not sure what lineage that implies, but they certainly had a crowd of young men around them.

Japanese princess #1

One of the princesses. She certainly looks regal!

AmazonTote: a spiffy free service for Seattleites

October 4, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Yesterday as I was making a purchase on Amazon, I noticed this little box for the first time:

AmazonTote boxI’m not sure how long it has been there, but I certainly hadn’t seen it before. I asked Blake about it — since he’s usually pretty up-to-date on Amazon’s many, many services — but he’d never heard of it. So I clicked the Learn More link and here’s what I found:

Amazon Tote explanationApparently this nifty service is available in only twenty-one Seattle zip codes (and nowhere else in the world), and we’re among them! Upon further reading, I learned that AmazonTote operates via the same infrastructure as AmazonFresh. Here’s how it works: rather than me paying for shipping, our zip code has a weekly delivery day when there will be an AmazonFresh truck in our area already. As long as I’m willing to wait until that day to receive my items, I can add items to my tote bag and they’ll all be delivered to my doorstep. (Though at the moment we have a lobby and door where we buzz people in instead of a doorstep.) Not only that, then I get a cute AmazonTote tote bag for free. =)

Since we would like a tote bag and this service isn’t offered in our new house’s zip code, we decided that this was the time to try out AmazonTote. So I ordered a paperback I’ve been wanting and it will be delivered for free on Saturday. Neat.

Death and taxes

October 3, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A pretty manhole cover

A pretty manhole cover I saw on the way to dinner one night.

Well, things have been pretty busy around here lately — as you may have inferred from my little hiatus from posting. Blake’s mostly been busy with a work project, and I’ve mostly been busy with house related stuff. Uncharacteristically, he worked from home for all of last weekend as well as most of today (Sunday), but not to worry: there’s absolutely no reason to suspect that this is developing into a norm.

I, on the other hand, have been slogging through a mire of paperwork and red tape and bureaucracy related to getting a home loan. There’s no reason to worry about that, either — it’s just that underwriters demand an inordinate amount of paperwork — W-2s, tax returns, a multitude of information about former employers, residences, bank statements, etc. — and all our paperwork is effectively inaccessible in our file cabinet because it’s being stored, with the rest of our belongings, until we get the house. It doesn’t sound like it would be that difficult to gather all that stuff anew, but we’re fraught with special cases. For example, Blake’s former employer never gave him a W-2 for 2009. And the company (since it was a startup) was run out of some guy’s apartment and we don’t know his address or if he’s still there. And the company is out of business (maybe?) so there are no HR reps to verify Blake’s old salary or to confirm that he worked there or anything. Also, his old laptop with his tax returns had a hard drive crash, so we have no way to get them. You can order a copy from the IRS — for $57 — and in just 60 short days you’ll have your certified copy! (We hope to close by October 27 and the tax return is necessary to start the process of getting a home loan.)

Oh, Seattle, you live up to the stereotype.

Oh, Seattle, you live up to the stereotype. (In case the text isn't large enough, that one in the middle says "Hemp milk.")

But, the underwriters themselves order a copy and then compare your return to that copy (to make sure you’re telling the truth), so us providing a certified copy won’t work. (Since they’d be comparing two duplicate documents.) One might ask oneself why we have to bother providing a copy if they’re going to get the real info from the government anyway. It’s a mystery… But we have to get it. I’ve basically been tracking down these documents for 40 hours this past week, and boy is it a headache. A happy fun headache, because looming in the distance is our beautiful new home, but a headache nonetheless.

Amidst all the phone trees and being on hold and developing an intense hatred of Bank of America, I got some surprising news last week: a guy I knew from NI, Scott Savage, died suddenly in his sleep. He was younger than Blake is, played soccer and tennis regularly, and wasn’t overweight. He was also a really nice guy, and it’s terribly sad. I met him when I did my internship with NI in 2004, and then he went on to work there after he graduated (as I did). He was one of those guys who always had boundless energy and worked hard and always seemed on top of the world. I’ve gotten my news on his death through the grapevine, but so far as I know the cause of death isn’t known. He was on a business trip in Germany, I’m told, and so information hasn’t been as accessible as it would have been if he’d died in the  states. Whatever happened, it’s really tragic.

Shiner Bock in Washington

At a gas station the other day I saw this Shiner Bock truck. At first it seemed normal, until I realized that Shiner, which is a beer made around Austin, is probably pretty uncommon here.

So as I was wading through the amorphous bureaucratic mess last week and feeling frustrated at, well, most of the involved organizations, the news of Scott’s death really helped me to put things in perspective. Everything’s going our way, we’re happy, we’re healthy, and we’re just taking our first steps down the path to the traditional American dream: house, family, dogs, kids, etc. (But there are NO KIDS now or in the next nine months! Don’t infer anything from that American-dream statement, folks!) We’ve really got nothing to complain about.

And while we’re talking about happy things, here’s something else to make you smile: as I’m typing this, Blake’s playing fetch with Nano and Pico. Whenever Nano comes prancing back with the squeaky bone, we always have to pull it out of her mouth quickly so she won’t get the idea that a tug-of-war with us is acceptable. (This is important in case she ever picks up something we don’t want her to — either because it’s ours or because it’s dangerous for her.) Well, Blake just discovered that if you pick Nano up in the air, she drops the bone immediately! It’s pretty cute, and I took a video:

(Her dropping the bone under normal conditions really isn’t a problem. This is just a way cuter solution!)

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