Elvis Jong Il

March 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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At Uwajimaya the other night we saw this guy who looks like Elvis or Kim Jong Il. He and his lady friend were the only people seated– it was going to close soon — so I had a difficult time getting this photo without attracting attention. I took three or four, but most came out pretty blurry. This shot will have to do.

Elvis Jong Il

 

In other news, one day recently Blake and I went to one of our favorite Hong Kong bakeries in Chinatown. We’ve been going there for months, and Blake visited nearly every day when Amazon was right across the street. He always gets the same thing there — a cream cheese bun — and the girl who works there is always nice to us.

On this particular occasion, the place was super crowded and Blake had to wait in line behind three people to get served. (Waiting at all is extremely unusual.) When he was finally next in line, he overheard the girl in front of him order two cream cheese buns — the same thing he always gets (though he gets only one). So the bakery girl checked her little food-warmer and announced, “Oh, I’m sorry, I only have one left.” Blake, still not yet at the counter, was crestfallen. After all that wait! So he started reviewing the bakery case to find a suitable alternative. When it was finally his turn, he said, “No more cream cheese buns, eh?” But the bakery girl smiled a big smile, leaned over, and whispered, “No, I saved you one! I didn’t want you to wait all that time for nothing!” We like her. =)

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Lunar New Year in Chinatown

March 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A poster for the festivities

Lunar New Year was actually quite the celebration here. Aside from a big festival that occurred a couple blocks from here — albeit in some very cold rain — it was really a neat experience. Uwajimaya was packed, of course — mostly with Asian people buying (what I assume to be) various traditional new-year foods. There were lion dances and dragon dances and fireworks and people throwing cabbages up in the air. (I’m still not really clear on the reasoning behind the cabbage tossing.)

Aside from that, though, I was amazed at how many businesses got into it. The bookstore around the corner had rabbit t-shirts  (since it’s the year of the rabbit), all kinds of stores had rabbit tchotchkes (keychains, figurines, dangly things to attach to cell phones, pens, erasers, mirrors, etc.). And even the Wells Fargo here had a sign on its door offering a new-year-themed rabbit piggybank if you open a new account. Maybe that was a nationwide campaign, but I certainly have never seen anything like that any of the other places I’ve lived.

The dragon/lion dances were fun to watch. After seeing one up close one weekend, we were surprised to be awakened the next weekend by the bang-bang-banging on a gong/drum thing. When I looked out the window, I could see another lion/dragon dance occurring a block away, complete with flags and fireworks and banging. From our third-floor window, I was able to watch them walk up and down each block. They’d stop from time to time at one business or another and then the banging would change tempo and more fireworks would go off. Then, ten minutes later, they’d slowly march down another street, around another corner, to another business. And then more banging, more dancing, more fireworks. It was neat to see.

…for a while. I woke up from it around 11, and by 12:30 the magic had worn off. Then at 1:30 it had really worn off, and by 2:30 I was really ready for them to stop (which occurred around 3). As it turned out, somehow the lunar new year celebrations spanned three whole weekends. You can imagine my surprise when I was awakened the next weekend by still more banging and dancing and fireworks. Fortunately, that was the end of it. An experience I was glad to have, though really I would have been glad if it lasted 1/10th as long.

Anyway, please enjoy these lion/dragon dance photos!

(PS: A lion dance is two guys in a lion suit. A dragon dance is a bunch of guys holding sticks that form the dragon’s body like the legs of a caterpillar.)

Dragon dance in the rain

More dragon

A lion

The procession that occurred for the next two weekends. (This photo taken from our apartment.)

New food: Daifuku

January 7, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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At Uwajimaya this evening, Blake and I picked out some enticing-looking mochi-themed desserts from a big refrigerated case that was filled with them. There seem to be many kinds of mochi-looking things in the store, and many of them have really different names. I’m not sure if they’re all mochi or if they’re something else, but they at least look like mochi. (For those who don’t know, here’s the Wikipedia page on mochi.)

Blake picked the one in the back -- red bean -- and I picked the pineapple and macadamia nut ones in the front.

I decided to try the pineapple first. You can see that it's not very big. (That's a nickel next to it.)

See, the label clearly calls is "daifuku," but it sure looks like mochi to me.

Ahh, here we go:

Daifukumochi (大福餅?), or Daifuku (大福?) (literally “great luck”), is a Japanese confection consisting of a small round mochi (glutinous rice cake) stuffed with sweet filling, most commonly anko, sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans. Daifuku comes in many varieties. The most common is white-, pale green-, or pale pink-colored mochi filled with anko. These come in two sizes, one approximately the diameter of a half-dollar coin, the other palm-sized. Some versions contain whole pieces of fruit, mixtures of fruit and anko, or crushed melon paste. Nearly all daifuku are covered in a fine layer of corn or taro starch to keep them from sticking to each other, or to the fingers. Some are covered with confectioner’s sugar or cocoa powder. Though mochitsuki is the traditional method of making mochi and daifuku, they can also be cooked in the microwave.

It's all squishy.

Actually, the inside looks pretty squishy too. And smells very pineappley.

Yum. Or something.

Actually, it was only okay. I took a nice big bite and thought, “Hm, this is good but kind of strange.” Then, as I chewed it some more I amended that to, “Actually yeah, this is really strange.” And when it came time to cut a second bite, I couldn’t quite muster up the enthusiasm. And, in fact, two hours later it’s still sitting on the counter on this plate looking exactly as it does in the background of this photo. So not really my favorite thing ever.

Now it was Blake’s turn:

History has shown me that red bean (called "azuki" in Japanese) isn't my favorite flavor. It looks like it's filled with chopped up dead bugs. =(

His expression says it all.

Sarah: Is it good?

Blake: No.

Ah, well, you win some, you lose some.

 

Guess what I got at Uwajimaya – Part 2: The dramatic conclusion

January 4, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Well! The time has finally come. I opened up the mystery box. (If you’d like more background, see part 1.)

Out of the box

The top half was heavy.

Probably because it's filled with little mochis.

Everything that came out of the box. There's one little piece of double-stick tape in the front -- I wonder which two things need to be adhered together?

The mystery item - back

Here are the instructions from the back of the box.

Some detail. I think it's a crane and, um, some big circle things?

Some more detail

The instructions clearly show this paper thing being attached so it hangs out of the box. The question, then, is whether the writing here says "This side in the box" or whether the writing says, "Good luck!" or "Happy new year!" and this end goes outside the box. (I elected to put it inside since the writing isn't in the diagram.)

I guess this is right?

I'm not sure why there's a hole in the bottom. I originally thought it was to retrieve the mochi as it falls out of the top, but (a) there's no place for it to fall through and (b) it's too small for the mochi to pass through.

Ahh, the adhesive is for the fake orange. Of course.

The fan had its own piece of adhesive. Just about done.

Ta-da!

According to the Wikipeda page, we leave this up until January 14 when eat the mochi inside with some soup. (We will probably not do that since we’ll be in Colorado on January 14, but you get the idea.) The end!

 

Guess what I got at Uwajimaya

December 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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No, seriously. Guess. Because I sure don’t know what it is.

The mystery item

The mystery item

Some sort of decorative Japanese bird feeder? This helpful side panel shows the item’s many features:

The mystery item - sideview

At least it's 100%!

Maybe the instructions will help.

The mystery item - back

This looks easy.

Are these instructions also? The price tag at the store had the word “mochi,” on it, and I know I like mochi. Maybe I cook it?

The mystery item - rear instructions

I guess I boil or bake something.

Note that the English nutritional-info sticker has the longest word I’ve ever seen on it: “takayamamochimarumochi.”

Nutritional information

Looks nutritious.

At the store I asked about six Asian employees what it was. Unfortunately, none of the people I asked turned out to be Japanese, and I got answers ranging from “I don’t know” to “Japanese … new year … rice … for good luck” A quick search for all those words in Google eventually led me to the word kagamimochi, which is apparently what this thing is. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in which we open the box!

 

New food: Tonkotsu ramen

December 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Now that we live above Uwajimaya, we’re constantly trying new Asian foods with varying degrees of success and deliciousness. (Even though Uwajimaya was founded by a Japanese family, it has lots of foods from China and other places.) We recently tried kumquat cakes (so-so), smoked plum “soup” (tea?) (not very good), boiled salted duck eggs (so-so), crystal-sugar almond tea (great!) and some assorted mochi ice cream desserts (which I will cover in a future post).

One interesting aisle at Uwajimaya is almost entirely dedicated to noodles and ramen. Both sides are filled to the top with stacks and stacks of single-serving ramen in every color of the rainbow. There are so many, in fact, that it’s impossible to choose just one to try — especially when most of them don’t have any English on the package.

A grocery-store aisle full of ramen

Ramen, ramen everywhere! This photo only shows about 20% of their supply.

Over time I found a few with English translations, and after trying several I’ve finally settled on the most delicious: tonkotsu flavored!

A package of tonkotsu ramen

Yum.

You might be wondering what tonkotsu is, and as far as I can tell it’s “pork bone broth.” I’m not really sure what that means, exactly, but it is SO delicious. Interestingly, unlike the Maruchan ramen sold commonly in the US, all the different bowls I’ve tried from Uwajimaya come with two or sometimes three separate packages of flavor add-ins. Usually some dry powder, dried vegetables, a little pouch of oil, and occasionally some sort of concentrated flavorful paste. This is true across brands and across flavors, so I’m assuming it’s standard with Japanese self-serving ramen.

Ramen instructions

Happily, this particular brand has instructions in English as well.

The instructions are about what you’d expect, and this particular kind has a dry flavor packet and some oil that, as far as I can tell, is totally tasteless. I’m not really sure why it’s there or what it adds, but I put it in every time anyway.

Dry on the left, oil on the right

But even the flavor packets are different than the paltry homogeneous powder that comes with the Maruchan (though it should be noted that I really love Maruchan ramen also). They’re filled with freeze-dried bits of garlic and green onions and sesame seeds and other things that I haven’t been able to identify.

Before adding water

After adding the water it looks about how you’d expect, but it’s a million times more delicious.

After adding the water, covering, and waiting for four minutes, this is how it looks.

As an aside, I have finally found a food that is easier to eat with chopsticks than with a fork! Up til now in life I have always used a spoon to cut up my noodles so they can be easily spooned into my mouth. Recently, however, I got some noodles at a restaurant with no forks on the table and no waitress convenient, so I persevered and felt pretty uncoordinated. In fact, I was sure the two Asian guys at the next table were discussing my technique derogatorily and laughing at the silly white girl pretending she knows how to use chopsticks. Later, though, I ran my process past our Chinese friends Terry and Eva and they said it was perfectly typical! So, armed with new confidence, I began eating my ramen that way every time. (Admittedly, in the photo below it was pretty tricky holding them in my left hand while I took the picture with my right.)

Ramen in a bowl held up by chopsticks

Double yum.

Ka Hale Na Ke Kai

November 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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A package of Mango oreos

If you have any doubt that they're mango flavored, you can see the fruit on the right side of the package as well as the price tag behind it on the left side. Also, they're $5.59. Ouch!

A few days ago I headed down to Uwajimaya for the express purpose of buying a bunch of things I’ve never tasted before. Between me finding the cherimoya (a fruit) and the mango oreos (yes, really), I saw something decidedly more familiar: scone mix. However, this was “island” scone mix, and although I wasn’t sure what that was I was pretty sure I wanted some. The graphics on the box had a small-company feel and the brand was Ka Hale Na Ke Kai, which their website tells me means “the home by the sea” in Hawaiian. So I dropped it in my cart along with some pineapple-starfruit jelly by the same company.

This morning I made them for breakfast, and boy were they ever spectacular! The mix came with a little bag of dried tropical fruit, which I added to the dough (as per the  instructions on the box) before noticing that the fruit bag had a sticker on the back which said, “chop fruits before adding to mix.” Oh, well, they turned out fantastic anyway even with the non-chopped fruit. I had half my scone with butter and half with the jelly, and it’s hard to say which was more delicious. But the scones themselves were moist and delicious and I really can’t recommend them too highly. Not only that, you can actually buy them online for pretty reasonable prices. I can’t seem to link directly to the scones page, but if you choose the scone category from their online store, the one I purchased is at the bottom of the list.

Yum.

In other news, all the cups and plates we have here are things I purchased from the Japanese dollar store around the corner. (Since all of our kitchen stuff is packed and inaccessible in storage.) We have two big plates, two little plates (you can see one in the scone photo), two bowls, two cups, and four each of the following: little spoons and forks, big spoons and forks, and knives. I also got a few mugs and a very select few pieces of cookware. As an aside, it’s amazing how much stuff it takes to have the minimum kitchenware necessary for regular life! At first you get the items I listed above, and you think, “there, all my basic needs are met.” Then all your other needs slowly trickle in… a can opener… a corkscrew… Then, oops, you need a sharper knife than a regular butter knife. So you buy a big shiny sharp cooking knife. And then you try to cook something and realize you need a whisk. And then you cook some scones and realize you need a bowl big enough for mixing dough in. And then you cook something else and realize you need measuring spoons. And then you want to make some vegetables and you realize you need a cutting board. And oh, yeah, a strainer. And a measuring cup. And maybe you can get away with not buying a cookie sheet if you just buy a casserole dish. It doesn’t feel like that much until you actually start making all those purchases yourself from scratch.

I’ve tried pretty hard to buy things that aren’t total duplicates of things we already own, though that’s pretty much what I had to do for a casserole dish, skillet, and a pot. And boy, I didn’t want to buy a third coffee maker, so I finally bought a French press that I can use instead. Of course, that led to a coffee grinder purchase because the ground coffee I was buying was too small to get filtered out effectively by the press. (I think at this point it would have been cheaper to buy another coffee maker and just give it to someone when we’re back with our stuff again. Oh, well.)

It is fun, though, to buy all this pretty new stuff. The Japanese dollar store (which is called Daiso) is the coolest darn place and I’m sure stuff that looks cheap to Japanese people just looks interesting to me because nearly everything there is something I’ve never seen before. Also, they seem to have a website and an online store for Americans, so check them out. =)

And finally, if you haven’t checked out our new blog yet, I encourage you to head on over there and take a look. It’s a fun little side project for me right now (and I hope it’s worthwhile for my readers as well). Here you go: Our Our Window

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.

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:

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