All posts by Robyn

House hunt over?

Today Sean and I both decided we were tired of looking for a house. So, we told agreed that we would look at three more houses and then make our decision. We set up the houses with our agent and then headed out after work.

We both liked first home we saw, but agreed that it was really not worth what they were asking for it. If it had been 20-25k less we probably would have put an offer on it… but it had a tiny kitchen and needed new carpet, plus the deck needed work.

After that we looked at two houses which actually turned out to be the same house with reversed floor plans. The first one we looked at was really nice, but at the top of our price range. It had an awesome back yard with a pool, but the kitchen was a little small and the master closet was too small for us. We still really loved it, and were very tempted to put an offer on it. The other house was not nearly as nice, and we immediately turned it down.

After turning down the last house we went back to the one with the awesome yard for another look. We sat around for a while debating it, and eventually told our agent we would think about it and let him know.

We then went to the incredibly convenient shopping center a few minutes from the house and discussed our options over some frozen custard. Eventually we came to the very difficult decision that the house was just not a good financial decision. Even though we could see ourselves happily living there for many years and the location was great, it would have been at the very top of our price range. Plus on top of the mortgage we would have eventually updated the kitchen and bathrooms, and the pool maintenance would have been one more added expense.

So, as our frozen custard turned into melted goop, we called the agent and told him we wanted to buy the new construction home we found on our first day of looking. We were very lucky because the house we liked was already being built… or at least planned. This means that we get to build a home for the same price as the one (already built) they are selling a couple doors down, maybe even less. And, we get to choose all of the fixtures and options in the home! They even agreed to move the garage over for us so we can have a little more yard. Luckily, we like all of the standard stuff… so we don’t have to spend tons of money on upgrades. We do get $10k worth of upgrades included though, which we will definitely be using for floors and counter tops.

We are anxious and excited. This is such a huge commitment, but we eager to own a home. We can’t wait to hear from the property manager and our agent tomorrow… we want to make the property officially ours. I wonder when we get to the fun part of picking out all of our options… I hope the next 5 months pass quickly!

Disclaimer: the house pictured above is not the elevation we have chosen for our home… while our house will have the same floor plan, the front will look more like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What? Another month??

Today I eagerly awaited the start of the WWDC, all day waiting to hear what everyone knew would be announced… the (trumpets) 3G iPhone!

I watched the live report on Engagdet…  impatiently reloading the page every few seconds as I lay on the couch with Jack. I sat through many notes on neat new applications and features and magical clouds until finally, I saw what I was waiting for…

Every little phrase that popped up, every picture, left me more excited. It looks awesome! Every feature that popped up was what I had been waiting for since the first version.  Still I kept hitting the reload button, begging Steve to say it would be released today. I was poised, ready to fly out the door at any moment (well, poised in my mind, I was really on the couch cuddled with the Mac & Jack). But, no, he didn’t say this. Instead, he said July 11?? No! That is more than a month!

So, now I am left to look longingly at specs and photos.. waiting once again. Oh well, maybe it is better this way… paycheck wise anyhow. I refuse to camp out with the other iCrazed people though… hopefully they will have plenty in stock. I kind of think they will, considering they have been sold out of 2G iPhones for weeks now. And it didn’t seem that hard to get them here when they were first released… of course, the first release was much more expensive. I also have a feeling there are already some phones at the store. While waiting impatiently for the announcement I called the Southpoint store and asked if it would be released today. I was told, “I’m not sure, I am still awaiting updates on when it is going to come out” rather than being told they don’t have them yet.

-Robyn

Avenue Q!

Today we bought tickets to see Avenue Q! We missed the Raleigh showing (in May) because of our honeymoon, so looks like we are headed to Charlotte in a few weeks. The tickets went on sale at 10am today, and by the time I realized it was after 11 most of the good seats were already gone. So we ended up choosing the Sunday show in order to get a decent seat. It is always good to get out of town, even if just for the weekend. I’m really looking forward to it! We have wanted to see Ave Q for years.

The only other exciting news to report is that we started our search for a house today. Our lease isn’t up until December though, so seems a little early to really look seriously. We haven’t decided if we should do new construction or a pre-existing home… if we go new construction it will take probably 4-6 months to build though. So, if that is what we choose to do it is better for us to find the home soon.

We looked at several different locations today, starting in Brier Creek. Since Brier Creek is pretty expensive we were pretty much limited to condos and town homes for new construction, which isn’t ideal, but we were willing to contemplate sacrificing a little in order to live in such a great area.

First, we looked at some new condos, which mercifully had all of the models in one building. That was good, considering we picked a frigging hot day (102!!) to look at houses. The first place we viewed was really nice, but we don’t think it suited us. We then checked out some other town homes, but didn’t care for them either.

After that we headed to Church Rd, off of 54. We were really looking for a neighborhood we had seen online, but the directions given weren’t very good so we first drove around looking at some different neighborhoods, stopping in at one that was very nice… but again not a good fit for us.

After exploring the area we doubled back and found the subdivision we had originally been looking for… or the construction entrance to it anyway. Turns out the main entrance is on Davis Dr, so I guess you could say we took the more adventurous route through the unfinished areas of the subdivision.

The sales lady on duty was very friendly, and much less annoying than the other sales people we dealt with today. We really appreciated the “no pressure” sales approach; unlike the other neighborhoods we visited today she did not tell us constantly about how wonderful every little thing was, nor did she tell us about how much better they were than everywhere else. She simply showed us what we asked for, and answered questions as we asked them.

She showed us four floorplans, leaving out two others because one was much larger than what we needed and she didn’t think I would like the kitchen in the other. The last one with the questionable kitchen was actually the model the sales office was located in, that will be important later in this story.

We had to trudge around in the miserable heat to see the different floorplans, but at least most of them had air conditioning. They didn’t really have models so much as finished houses that were up for sale. This was good to see because the models (with tons of upgrades and “designer features”) are usually not a good example for the price they show you in the pretty brochures.

We immediately fell in love with the first house we saw, so much so that we kept saying “no, we can not choose on the first day!” to each other. So, then we started trying to find faults with what we saw… but all we could really come up with was that the kitchen was a tad small.

The second house we saw just did not compare to the first. It was nice, but did not fit us. So, it was on to the third option. Sean fell in love with the third house from the start I think, more so than the first house. For me, I was torn. The first level was awesome, but I still thought the upstairs of the other was much better. After this third house we were left openly debating the pros and cons of both homes and thought we had a tough decision ahead of us.

From there it was on to the last floor plan, which we liked but agreed it was not for us. To try and solve our debate we then headed back to the first house for another look. After that we thought we had pretty much decided that House #3 was now at the top of our list.

Of course… then we got back to the sales office. And while the sales lady was drawing up some pamphlets and price lists for us we decided we would have a look around the model.

Why did we ever look at any of the others?? The model was perfect! Well, it might cost a little too much… we are still debating that part. But, besides that, we are in love! It is still way too early to make a final decision of course… it is only the first day of our search… but we are smitten. The kitchen was awesome, the bedrooms were perfect, and… the game room!! All of the houses there had a third floor which was basically just a large open area. The others seemed questionable about fitting a pong table because of the position of the stairs, but not this house! The stairs were in a different direction, which left a huge open area.

The only thing we did not like about this house was the lack of a yard… but I think this might be a problem with any new construction. It seems that they build houses as close together as fire code allows these days, which is about 12 feet. This means that if we fenced in the yard for Jack we would be limited to only fencing in one side yard. Depending on the lot this could create a small yard that might work for letting Jack run around a little, but we were hoping for a nice back yard and a deck.

Aside from the yard thing, this house is exactly what we were looking for… we are just debating on the price a bit. It is a little over what we had said we wanted to spend. So for now, the search continues. Although, I think this house has set a pretty high bar for everything we will look at from now on.

Update –

We learned several lessons at Avenue Q:

  1. Is there anyone here it doesn’t suck to be?
  2. If you were gay, it would be okay.
  3. Everyone’s a little bit racist.
  4. The Internet is for porn.
  5. When someone likes you, you get a mix tape.
  6. The more you ruv someone, the more you want to rill them.
  7. Schadenfreude – just look it up.

The Cosmos…

So last week Sean and I went to Tiger Direct with the innocent intention of buying a can of compressed air to clean out his mom’s computer. However, while we were there Sean spotted a computer case that he really liked. We had been talking about building him a new system for ages; the current one is getting pretty old. Since he liked the case so much I told him to go ahead and get it… thinking it would be just the first piece of a computer, and we would buy the rest in a month or so.

Well, it didn’t really turn out that way… the other night I gave in and we went ahead and ordered all of the components. He seems really happy, and I must admit I am a little jealous. We also ordered a couple copies of Age of Conan, a new MMO we want to try out.

I won’t go into the system details of Sean’s new rig, I will leave that for him to post about once he has it up and running. The majority of the components should arrive Monday, hopefully everything will go together without incident and he can have it up and running that night.

My own computer may need some upgrades to run Conan well… we will see how it goes. I am pretty sure it will run the game, but probably at low settings. I can’t really justify upgrading though, unless I really get into Conan or something. I have barely touched my desktop since getting Mr. Mac.

But that is pretty much the only exciting thing going on for us right now. Tonight we will hang out at home and watch some anime with George, the rest of our weekend can be spent happily relaxing at home. This is the first time in months that we will have a free weekend to ourselves (not counting honeymoon of course). I bet it won’t stay that way though…

 

Catching up

Yesterday we had intended to get some things taken care of, like hair cuts, changing my name, and grocery shopping. We ended up lounging around all morning until it was time for our hair appointments… then we got copies of our marriage license, but never went by the social security office. I guess I will try to do that Monday.

After the hair cuts we came back home to grab my diamond wedding band (I have been wearing a more durable plain band while on vacation). I wanted to take the band to Jared’s because I thought it fit too tightly… even though I don’t think Sean believed me. Well, turns out I was right and they had given me a size 4.25 rather than the 5 I had ordered. No wonder I could barely get the thing off my finger! So, looks like I am stuck wearing my plain band until the new one can be made. It makes me a little sad as I really miss my pretty shiny ring.

After that we had our first Moe’s lunch in a month… and then it was off to the theater to catch up on the movies we had missed. There were three movies on our list; Indiana Jones, Speed Racer, and Sex & The City. We headed to Southpoint, and it turned out that our timing aligned with seeing Indiana first… meh. I had expected a so-so movie, but still, I was hoping for a good movie. I never though I would see space ships in Indiana Jones. Even when I saw signs of aliens in the previews I was really hoping it wasn’t true. Overall I guess the movie wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

After that we hopped over to Brier Creek to meet George for Speed Racer. I didn’t have very high hopes for Speed Racer. I was expecting to hate the unrealistic race tracks, bright colors, and pretty much the entire visual style I had seen in the previews. However, I was pleasantly surprised! Speed Racer turned out to be a good movie, one that I actually wouldn’t mind seeing again. They did make a few changes to the story, but I thought it was perfectly acceptable. There was plenty of fan service, but it wasn’t overwhelming or out of place like some of those movies. I was very happy with the movie, and after about 30 minutes I had gotten use to the visual style of the movie and actually began to like it.

It was already 10:30 by the time we got out of Speed Racer, so we will leave Sex & The City for another day. I am really looking forward to that movie, I hope it isn’t disappointing. Sean and I Netflixed the series a few years ago and watched it from start to finish, as neither of us had watched it when it originally aired. I grew surprisingly attached to the characters by the end of the series, and have been needing a little more closure… as I think many fans have. Even Sean is looking forward to the movie. When we first started watching the series he would complain about it, but by season 3 he would sheepishly ask when the next disc was coming in. Maybe we can catch a matinee today!

 

We’re home!

We haven’t been able to post in the last few days. Our last day in Osaka was a little busy. We started out the day by packing and cleaning up the room we had stayed in, and then headed to Umeda one last time for lunch with Hiro. We ate at his restaurant because he had to work all day, and seemed to want to say goodbye to us. We wanted to say goodbye and thank you to him as well, and I think Sean was quite happy to have okonomiyaki one more time.

While eating we chatted about some of the things left undone, and decided to take care of one last gift we had been contemplating. That started a last minute hunt for an item that we had previously had no trouble finding, but of course as soon as we decided to buy it we couldn’t find it. We eventually got our second choice because time was running short.

From there our luck seemed to change for the better though, as the cab we hailed to take us back to the apartment for our luggage turned out to be a stretched version and was a little bit larger than the standard cabs. So, our worries about getting 4 large bags and 4 small bags to fit vanished and we asked the driver to wait so he could take us to the train station. Luckily we had left the apartment with everything ready to go, and all we had to do was grab our bags and drop the key in the mail slot… and with that we bid farewell to the apartment we have spent the last few weeks in.

The next bit of luck was that the cab driver dropped us at the perfect entrance to the train station. We were relieved to find that the train lay just beyond the gate, with no need to drag our bags through the maze of underground passageways and stairs we have come to expect. Thanks to the taxi all we had was a short walk and one escalator to deal with, and our timing was perfect as we only had to wait 15 minutes for the next train to arrive.

40 minutes later we arrived at Hotel Nikko at the Kansai International Airport. We were looking forward to our stay a little, as we have become accustomed to excellent food and service from Japanese hotels. However, we were very disappointed by this hotel. It is a shame that it is the only hotel at the airport. I wish we had chosen a less convenient hotel back on the mainland (the airport is a manmade island 3 miles offshore).

Seeing the prices for the hotel food we decided to try a little eatery instead… but the food was so awful we just ate the better bits and then went back to the hotel for room service… which was worse. We also had breakfast from the hotel room service, which was another “American breakfast” only this one was not nearly as good… and it cost $80 for the both of us! The fruit was not very good, and the meat was pretty much ham cold cuts. The eggs were good though, and the toast was good… but they didn’t give enough butter. It was a disappointing end to our Japanese food experience.

After a night of fitful sleep on the most uncomfortable mattress we had ever slept on, we boarded another sold out plane back to America. We were already tired from a night of little sleep, but it was still hard to sleep on the plane somehow. At least the return flight is a bit shorter, and seemed a little easier.

When we landed in Detroit we both felt so glad to be home, and were eager to step off the plane and be in our own country again. Not that we didn’t love Japan, we just missed the simplicity of being in a culture that you are familiar with and being able to speak and read fluently.

Detroit was a bit of a pain. We had to wait for what felt like forever to get permission to offload the plane, but I guess it was only about 10 minutes of everyone standing crammed in the aisles. Then we had another huge line to stand in for immigration. After that it was waiting for our luggage… which they put on two different baggage carousels, so Sean had to watch one while I watched the other for our luggage… then we had to lug it all through customs. Customs is such a joke in my opinion. It seems you can just make up some reasonable amount for your purchases and you are stamped and let go. I don’t think I have ever given a customs agent a real price for what we have spent… it is hard to keep up with it. After that we had to recheck our bags and wait in another long line to go through yet another security screening.

After all that we only had time to grab a quick bite to eat before boarding our next flight. Which of course ended up sitting on the runway long enough to make our flight go from an early arrival to a late arrival. Evidently DTW has closed down some runways for maintenance or something.

But, yesterday, at 3:40 we finally arrived at RDU. That was a great feeling to be back at a familiar place, and know that home was only a few minutes away. Although… we knew it would take us longer than that to get there of course. First up was baggage claim, then we went to Sean’s mom’s to retrieve the car and spend a little time chatting with her before coming home.

It was great to walk through our own front door for the first time in nearly a month. Our exhaustion seemed to lift at the sight of it. We then shared some of our toys with Wendell like excited kids. It wasn’t long before we had a surprise visit from George, who brought us a digital picture frame loaded with wedding photos as a wedding gift. That was awesome! I had been wanting one of those for a while now, and planned to get one very soon for wedding and honeymoon photos.

Not long after that we all met Marie and Tim at Petco to pick up a freshly bathed Jack. He was so excited to see us! Our first sight of Jack was a little head bouncing up and down behind the counter at the PetCo grooming salon. We could hardly get his collar back on him. He was so excited to see four people he hasn’t seen in what must be forever to a dog.

We then went back home to enjoy some take out Carino’s food and the company of George and Wendell for a while before finally sleeping in our own bed. We missed our bed so much! After a month of sleeping on futons and hard Japanese beds, our pillow top bed was wonderful. We happily called Jack up to cuddle with us, and we were soon sound asleep.

Today we ease back into the real world… we are getting ready to go get hair cuts and do mundane things like grocery shopping for the next week. It is hard to believe that we have to go back to work Monday. It still feels a little surreal that yesterday we were in Japan. I miss it already.

 

Day 18: Itsukushima

Today we woke up earlier than we really wanted to… the sun comes up so damned early here (4:30ish). And it seemed to aim directly at our hotel window. There are thick curtains that block out the light… but that made it hard to get up yesterday. So, last night I left them open just a little. That was enough to fill the room with light though, and wake us up at 5. So much for that 7:30 alarm!

At least it meant we were ready for breakfast when it was delivered at 8 by room service. We had ordered two “American Breakfasts” which consisted of our choice of eggs, meat, bread, juice, a salad, and coffee or tea. I also ordered “assorted fruits in season” which were pretty tasty. It was a great way to start the day. Of course, it wasn’t exactly American. Whoever heard of a salad at breakfast? And the bacon was more like slices of ham. It was good though!

We then packed up and headed down to the lobby to check out so that we could make it to Miyajima (an island) before high tide. Luckily the hotel held our bags for us so we didn’t have to deal with it for the rest of the day. We had packed lightly just in case, but we still didn’t want to lug around a full backpack and a laptop all day if we didn’t have to.

Anyhow, the goal for today was simply to see the famed Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima. Everyone has probably seen a picture of this even if they don’t know it… it is one of the most popular icons of Japan. If you have ever seen a big red torii (shrine gate) out in the water, then you have seen what I am talking about. This shrine is built so that when the tide comes in the buildings look like they are floating on the water, and one of the main features of this shrine is a huge torii positioned out in the water. When the tide is out, however, it is just sitting on some stinky sand. Although Sean says it isn’t stinky, it just smells like the ocean.

I am not sure if the time we found for the tide was incorrect, or if it just doesn’t come in very far this time of year. I have now been there twice and have yet to see it with the water high enough that it reaches the bottom of the buildings. It is still a pretty neat place though.

We were very fortunate to have picked a day during which a wedding ceremony was being held. It was very interesting to see an traditional Shinto ceremony. Although, we tried not to gawk too much because it wasn’t so long ago we were getting married in a public place ourselves and we would have been irritated if people just started standing around watching us.

The ceremony was beautifully simple and had an air of ancient tradition. It seemed to consist of a main officiant that chanted and performed other ceremonial rites; a few others dressed in traditional robes that looked like they were from the Heian period, these people mainly seemed to bow and play music; there were also two women dressed in traditional robes that took part in the ceremony by bringing a ritual drink to the bride and groom several times among other things; and then of course there were the bride and groom with what appeared to be their immediate family… only 2 or 3 people on each side. The bride and groom, and their families, each sat in a line opposite each other. I was a little surprised at the distance between them. It looked more like a ritual transaction than of what we think of a happy marriage ceremony in the west. Maybe that is why it is popular for couples to have two ceremonies here… a traditional one and then a stereotypical western wedding that is more of a show than a real wedding.

The ceremony seemed to culminate with a performance of a traditional Shinto dance. It was very interesting to watch. The dancer wore a bright orange costume, and his head was covered with an intricate mask. The dance was slow and deliberate, lasting for at least ten minutes. While the dance was performed, the bride and groom (now seated beside one another) watched with their family members seated beside them.

Once the dance was finished we left the shrine. We didn’t stick around to see if there was more to the ceremony, as we still didn’t want to intrude… plus we were getting hot from standing in the sun so long. We next did a brief tour of some less exciting minor shrines before wandering back towards the station, stopping in at several of the little shops along the way.

The shops mostly had the same stuff over and over, but there were a few with unique items. These were very interesting to browse through, but we have been trying to curb our purchasing because we have accumulated too much stuff to easily pack. I did find a cool manekineko (lucky cat) bank though, and a few more small gifts. We also stopped in at one shop that sold flavored honey concoctions that can be used for various things. They offered us some samples, and immediately Sean wanted some. I liked it too so we bought a box of six varieties. Although, after we realized how heavy it was we weren’t quite sure it was a wise idea! I can’t wait to get home and try it out though.

We also stopped in at a cool little pottery place. There was a little old man sitting in a side room spinning away at his pottery wheel. We were afraid to buy much though, as the nice pieces are not cheap and we would have a long way to travel with it.

That was pretty much our day so far. After that we had some unexciting sushi, so we decided it was just a snack. Then we grabbed a couple more snacks to tide us over until dinner (cheaper than mediocre sushi) and headed for the shinkansen.

We just got back to Osaka and are currently debating what we should do. We will probably end up at Joypolis again, as we have lots of tokens stored there and it seems a good easy and fun way to end a long day.

Will work on pictures a little later…