Aug 14, 2017

crap

Another long day. Today's focus was cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Despite going to bed late, I'm not sleeping well, and waking up early. I got the coffee going and got in about an hour or two of apartment hunting in Portland before throwing my laptop through the window and declaring "ich bin ein Stuttgarter!!" eating breakfast.

Got a lot accomplished today. Took another load of small household crap to the curb which we're hoping people will take because the city already came and picked up our large crap. We used our last box to box up the leftover crap that didn't get boxed with the other crap, and that set us back 80 euros, but still a lot cheaper than buying replacement crap. The DHL guy came and helped me grab the big boxes of crap out of the basement, and I waved goodbye for now to our nine heavy boxes of crap.

We cleaned and cleaned today. I cleaned windows, inside and out, Saori got on her hands and knees and scrubbed the floors until I took over. She cleaned the bathrooms, I hauled crap around.

At 6pm, we met our current and past landlord, father and son Natter, and the future renter, Maroua. The elder and junior landlord walked through the apartment, taking special note of things they want to change, especially in the kitchen. Maroua is going to get a new ceramic surface stove. We made small talk with the elder Natter while the younger and Maroua went through the rental contract. It was nice to see him again, and strange- when we first met, three years ago, I couldn't understand him at all, but now, we had no problems communicating. Everything was ok, we just need to clean more and clear more out, and our landlord gave Saori and I departing parting gifts: Stuttgart mugs from the local bookstore. It was sweet gesture.

We communicated with them how much we enjoyed the apartment and thanked them for being great landlords, and they replied that it was both ways, and they were sorry to lose us as tenants. (But really clean the place before you go, hey?) I can live with that. We paid no deposit- there's no cleaning crew coming.

The big problems now are trash and paper recycling. Our apartment's recycling bins are already full, and we have serious loads of paper trash, not to mention regular trash. We may be able to sneak in paper waste if we're quick enough wednesday morning after the regular pick up, but we'll see how that works. Worst case, we haul it all to Saori's office by hand, and pitch it there, but that is the least desired option.

And it turns out there's going to be a big eclipse visible in Portland while I'm there, once in a generation event for US West Coasters. So it's a good reminder to stay off the roads. I was joking with Saori that this move back is filled with bad omens: the sun turns to darkness as I look for apartments in Portland, my first day of work in a new job is the 11th of September, etc.

Aug 13, 2017

Transitions

A friend wrote to me and asked how the transition was going.

Transition, I replied, is such a nice word. It suggests an elegant dance move, or the graceful fade of day to night. The only thing which I feel is transitional is my mental state, which shifts between doubts, excitement, sadness, anger, fatigue, and overwhelmed. So far the words describing the move has been Triage and Evacuation.

It's almost 11pm on a sunday night. Rafa helped me move the giant boxes down to the first floor, which was really nice of him, and we made palomas with the last of the good tequila afterwards. All the big shipping boxes are now downstairs. I still need to label some of them, but the shipping has been purchased. What I thought was going to be four large boxes has ballooned to become nine, although not all in the same weight classification.

DHL will ship anything up to 70 pounds to the US for about 100 euros a box. On the one hand, it's easy to justify the shipping cost based on the value of replacing the contents (at least 10 things that cost 10 euro each is a low bar), but on the other hand, do we really need to send these things, as in, would we really need these in the US? Not as clear. Clear is, it costs a lot to ship stuff, period.  So far our tally is around 800-900 euro. Less than half the cost of a traditional shipment to Portland, but still not cheap. Weight wise, we have six boxes which are at that 70 pound limit, and three lighter boxes. For reasons unknown to me, DHL charges nearly the same price online or in the store for all the weights, except for the heaviest class, in which case instead of $150 a box, it's only $105. So as I'm cursing the awful web interface and online payment systems used only in Germany, I'm trying to keep in mind that I'm saving around $300 by doing it this way.

I've been going up and down our six flights of stairs all day carrying heavy and cumbersome items. I cleared out our keller storage, I took down the smaller 70 pound boxes, I took out some more items for the bulky waste collectors. The funny thing is that most of it has already disappeared. I don't know if I can chalk it up to the notoriously frugal and penny pinching Schwabians, but the fact is that broken vaccuum tube TV, which is not light, was taken, as well as the broken microwave. In a matter of hours.

Our suitcases are packed. We have a long table of laptops open with the printer still hooked up. Tomorrow the DHL guy will pick up the boxes. Tomorrow night the landlord comes and we all sign the agreements. Tomorrow all day, we'll clean.

The trash is a problem. We have some big bags of it and we need to figure out how.

Taxing times

It's been a bit chaotic, but the fog of boxes is beginning to lift and we can actually see the floor again.

Thursday morning I jumped out early and Saori was quick to follow me as we went to the Burger Buro. Burger Buros, sadly, are not restaurants, but handle official services like parking permits, various registrations, etc. It's a bit like going to the DMV but a DMV which handles all kinds of public services offered by the government. You take a number and a seat. At least the people at the Burger Buro are nicer. And they actually get whatever it is done quickly, and correctly. Anyway the office opened at 8:30 so we were there at 8:00 to beat some of the crowd. Even then we were still #21, and ended up waiting about an hour in total. Once we were at the counter, it was all of five minutes before we were on our way again. This time to the tax office.

It's astounding, when I compare even to bureaucracy-loving countries, how god-awful the tax system is in the US. For a brief comparison:
Due date:
US- Filing taxes annually is compulsory, with jail time and other penalties for people who don't file
Germany- Filing taxes is voluntary, with the idea that you file to get money back. You can file up to three and a half years late.
Complexity:
US- So god-awful, unclear, and complicated that even native speakers have to go to their local tax help professional advisers to file
Germany- The paperwork for three years of taxes, in German, took me about two hours.
Professional Help:
US- you pay professionals employed by companies whose lobbyists push congress to make taxes more complicated, or at least keep them as complicated as they are.
Germany- you can take your partially filled out taxes directly to a member of the government at the financial office of the city and they will answer your questions and help you fill them out. For free (or paid for with taxes).

After tax filing, we went back home and rested and packed a bit before heading out east to the countryside. One last dinner with my coworkers at the Ochsen restaurant for which I did all of the drawings. Rafa's girlfriend Wiebke picked us up in Bad Canstatt and we drove together to the village where I worked for the past nearly two years.

There, we joined Rafa, and Magda and her family, for one last dinner together at zum Ochsen. This was the old guesthouse/restaurant bought by my former boss, and renovated according to his designs and my drawings. I probably should have proposed someplace less expensive to eat, but the food was good, and I'm a bit of a romantic when it comes to this sort of thing. A last Schwabsich dinner in Germany, in the very building I drew and renovated. I ate spatzle and roast beef with mushrooms and gooseberries, and it was all very good. We brought small gifts for everyone and we got some sweet gifts in return. Magda's daughter is very bright and she especially enjoyed playing with me between plates of food. It was sad to leave them in the end, especially knowing that little S didn't really understand we were leaving. We gave everyone two rounds of hugs on a cold summer night, and Rafa and Wiebke drove us back home in Stuttgart.

Aug 9, 2017

Wednesday

Today was pretty productive, but then it really needed to be given that we're leaving in ten days. 

I bought plane tickets from Portland to St.Louis, and St.Louis to Phoenix. They were both one way, and more expensive than the $150 I had budgeted for the flights. But it will work, and mercifully, direct. When I have the option of spending an extra $30 to skip a twelve hour layover in Denver, you bet it's worth it. 

I worked out lodging in Portland, staying with a friend from graduate school and watching his cat while he's gone with his family. He also graciously offered me the use of their car, although I may try to stick to Uber and mass transit to stay closer to the experience of what my daily commute will be like as I jump from apartment to apartment.

Sunday, Saori gave away a book for free, an exhibition catalogue and study of the artist Gego to the Serbian architect. But she had severe sellers remorse, and really began to regret letting it go. I didn't have the guy's name either, so I had no way to get in touch. So I went back to the facebook forum where I posted the original ad for the yard sale, and asked the group if the Serbian architect who lived in Japan would get in contact with me, we would like to buy the book back from him. 

He contacted me, and said he would be happy to return the book, and I met him today as he took some time out of his lunch to meet on a street corner near his office. I offered to pay him again for the trouble and the book, but he refused. He did accept the bottle of wine I brought as a thank you, however. On the way back home, I stopped into a grocery store and bought more ginger-lemon haribo gummies, packing tape, paper plates, plastic cups, and a few beers. 

Today we packed away most of the books in one box, which taped up, constituted the first shipment box and tipping the scales at 28 kg. Second box is also almost ready to go, with our Eames rocker, and a lot of winter clothes and posters we never put up. Saori has been very busy sorting clothes. We have bags and bags and bags of clothes, mostly Saori's which we are going to donate. 

More of Saori's coworkers came over tonight. Saori is quite beloved at the office to the point that everyone wants to get together before we take off, even though we have already had the goodbye party at the office, a second goodbye party at the apartment, and a goodbye lunch date. In the end, Daphne, Georg, Kiara, Martin, and Angie organized something and came over with a bunch of really really good pizza and I popped some good champagne and wine, and we enjoyed dinner together in the partially packed apartment. 

We found some great people in Stuttgart.

Aug 7, 2017

Yard Sale

If we were sensible about it, and my brother were in charge, we would have photographed every item worth more than 20 euros, and posted it everywhere online, and tossed the rest of the junk on the street while we waited for buyers to arrive with money.

But where's the fun in that?

Saturday was the friends and colleagues day of the sale. I posted downstairs "Rooftop Flohmarkt (flea market) Fiesta" to also spread word through the building what was afoot. And it was a bit of both. Michael and his family came early and they took a bunch of stuff back with them, and then it was a steady stream of people who came.  As the night crept on, the balance of drinking and buying shifted more and more towards the former, although I must say that it definitely helped sales.

At one point we were all on the roof, Fabio cradling his new ukelele (8 euros, good condition) for photographs. Actually, probably a good many people were probably there also to say goodbye to rooftop wine parties as much as to us.

The party chowed through samosas, and scooped through a half-gallon of salsa I'd made the day before. My idea of consuming our alcohol via this party/sale was a dismal failure. Although we did finish off the bad tequila, we ended up with a net gain in bottles of wine.

We cleared maybe a quarter to a third of the stuff we had originally set out to sell. Sunday, with everything more or less still ready for sales, I posted the sale on the international forums, starting: immediately. Saori was really not happy with this since she was barely rolled out of bed, but I reasoned with her, look, nobody is going to see this sale and immediately head over- when I was interrupted by the doorbell ringing. Saori dashed to the bedroom while I turned off the fire on the eggs I was cooking for breakfast.

Our first customer of the day was waiting to surprise us. In rough order, here were the customers we had on sunday and monday.

Kostas- a middle-aged Greek cousin of Apo's whom met about two years ago who came to Stuttgart to look for work as a civil engineer, a devoted father who brought his family as well, but struggled to find work with his German skill. When I met him, he could barely say anything in German, but he threw himself into learning, paying for evening classes at IFA in addition to working full time at backbreaking work as a tile layer and general constructor. He is really frustrated with Germany, and although his German is now even better than mine, he feels the same impediment to gaining meaningful and profitable employment and is actually considering returning to Greece. We sold him a bunch of tools and plants.

Ram- a heavyset university student from India studying traffic engineering and transit infrastructure. Asked for a moment outside our door to catch his breath. Took a lot of plants and some books.

Phil- and his wife, American from Guam, a serviceman, I'm guessing from one of the giant bases around town. Big guy. Tattoos. He came for the old clock which was broken, and we also sold them some housewares and plants. Apparently he was the one with the green thumb. His wife didn't want the banana tree. "Every time I smell bananas," she told us, "I get too homesick." Surprisingly, an U of Arizona alum, although his brother went ASU.

???- Serbian, some kind of building engineer. Married to a half-Japanese woman, and they once lived together in a super-hip area of Tokyo by the university. He took some of the architecture books and we also nudged him to take the Japanese history books in Japanese.

Jochen - brought his wife and son. Actually, I know him: he's the accountant/lawyer from my old office. He was mostly there to chat and take in the views, but he did also take a wooden African giraffe, and a few things his son wanted, like an LED band with a remote control that I never got around the putting anywhere.

Sara - Young Syrian woman who came to Stuttgart by way of Italy, interested in the arts. Originally she was just interested in a 5 euro bag of acrylic paints, but spent at least an hour here, and took a bunch of clothes, a lamp, some housewares, shoes, and we ended up with nearly 50 euros from her. Hard bargainer. Even after we were pricing things absurdly low.

Analyn and husband, who she woke up from a nap and directed him here from their home in Boblingen. Another military couple. She was originally Philipino, and maybe he might have been too, but they had come to Stuttgart from Miami, Florida, where apparently it's hard to get a job as a construction contractor. I though Miami was hopping, but according to him, it depends which industry you're looking at. If building contractors are having hard time finding work, could be a slowdown in construction- canary for the economy. Anyway, he's a building maintenance guy for the base, and despite living in Stuttgart area for the past six months, has never actually been to, you know, Stuttgart. They drove here in their car, had a devil of a time finding our apartment building even after I gave them the address and directions, and it sounded like they didn't know Stuttgart had a public transit system.

Anyway, typical American blindspot. We are moving back to the US to be closer to family, to pay off our debts, and chart a better career track. But the price we pay is to live in a developing nation which has successfully branded itself as developed.

Anyway, anyway, we've made about 300 euros so far selling stuff. I was sad to let go of my professional juicer, but not nearly as sad as Saori selling off the cacti and succulents. They really were a product of her hard work, eye for pot-plant combinations, and plant knowledge.


Aug 4, 2017

yard sale in the sky

We've been working today towards the yard sale in the sky party, a kind of hybrid garage-sale going away party. We're selling stuff cheap, and clearing out the wine rack and liquor cabinet. Actually, we've done a pretty good job. What's left of the hard booze at any rate is a few inches of premium gin, a half bottle of premium tequila, a half bottle cheap tequila, and two half bottles of standard Irish whiskey. I'm going to pick up some grapefruit juice and limes tomorrow, so at least we can make some margaritas and palomas from the tequila. Heck if I know what to do with the whiskey. Maybe some ginger ale cocktails. Anyway.

Today we divided the contents of our kitchen into three piles: ship, M, and sell-toss. We are shipping back the small, expensive, really useful things, or things with really strong sentimental value. Sell-toss items we sell for a euro or two, and if they don't sell, we can put it on the curb with a "zu verschenken" (free stuff) sign, and it usually goes away. M is the woman who will be taking over our lease, and we're leaving the rest of the stuff for her- a collection of basic useful things we're not bringing back.

At first, I thought we had to keep our moving a secret because of the people beating a path to our door when they heard we are leaving our apartment. Then, as more and more people from Saori's office bailed because of this or that, I began to sweat a bit as we drew closer to our moving time. I'd given our landlord the requisite three months notice, but we were still on the hook until the end of September, and I was imagining the worst case scenario: we pay the rent for september, and we haul down everything in the apartment, which would have been catastrophic. 

In the end, however, everything tied together nicely. M, a coworker of Saori's, said she would take the apartment. We met our landlord and M monday evening at our apartment to talk everything over, and both the landlord and M seemed to be competing for who can be most genial and flexible. M had agreed to buy all the furniture from us when we left, which is fantastic. She also offered to pay part of August rent while we were gone, the landlord offered to buy the washing machine from us so she wouldn't have to pay for it, and we wouldn't have to do any repairs or paint walls etc. when we leave. We just drop the keys off on the way out. The landlord didn't even raise the rent. 

He told us that he lived a few floors below us when he was younger (his father originally owned the building before giving it to him) and that he really hated the way gentrification pushed people out of neighborhoods. It was a social priority to him to fight to keep the neighborhood affordable, and he was willing to forfeit higher rent for it. I might also add that he took a very dim view of the age and fixtures in the apartment, and was unconvinced and perplexed by my love of the very 1970's yellow-beige tile all over the kitchen and guest bath. He is also a judge, which surprised me. 

Actually its a bit too smooth. I'm sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing in Germany happens this easily. When I wanted to get rid of some bulky waste, I had to go to the city website, fill out a form, and list exactly what I was going to be getting rid of. Then they sent me a postcard confirming the pickup date, and I had to hunt around online to figure out that officially, you can only take stuff out the day before although I have seen firsthand people putting stuff out a week in advance.

Aug 3, 2017

Birthday girl

Yesterday was Saori's birthday. It's odd to think that our birthdays are a month apart, but we will be celebrating mine in very different conditions.

It was a fun day- we started the day with late breakfast of waffles and scrambled eggs at Metzgerei, a trendy cafe on the corner. We sat outside on picnic tables under the big tree at the edge of the square and watched all the other non-working people go about their days.

After breakfast, we swung by the apartment and Saori was able to call her grandma, who shares a birthday with her, and they had a really great long chat. She commended my patience for waiting ten years to marry Saori, which I'm happy to hear but I think every other family member on both sides of our families has more of the "what took so fucking long?!" mentality. But I'm happy to hear she is doing well- she was joking with Saori that she was disappointed her scores in cognizance have been so high: it means she only goes to a clinic once a week, which means she's bored more often.

Two weeks to the day before we leave Stuttgart, we took an open top sightseeing tour on one of those double decker busses. We wore our cheap paper fedoras and cameras, tourists all the way. It was nice. I smuggled on a beer, and we took a leisurely drive over an hour and a half, hitting the highlights of the city. I still learned a few new facts about Stuttgart, and was amused to see that while "Japanese" was not on the language dial for the recorded tour, "Schwäbisch" was. (local German dialect, comparable to the standard German like British English differs from Deep South). I tuned into that channel for awhile. I may even miss it- it was the language of my office and the local villagers.

After the tour, we took a short stroll for a sandwich in the city center, and watched the final preparations for Sommerfest, another giant festival filling the greenspaces of the city center. For the next four days, there will be music, stands selling food, tents for dining, and tons of booths for a wide array of wine, beer, and cocktails. It is something we will miss in the US.

We went back home after stopping for some gelato, and then I disappeared back to the city center to buy Saori a birthday cake. Breuningers is a local, very large department store- sort of Macy's and Sak's 5th Avenue together, and in addition to its jewellery shops, plant shops, news stand, cafes, champagne bar, etc. They also have a confiserie, which is a chocolate and pastry shop. They sell the best macarons in town and also cakes and torts. The macarons are really expensive but the cakes are relatively cheap given the freshness, quality of ingredients, presentation, etc. I bought Saori a kind of fruit tart cake- glazed fresh sliced local kiwi, pineapple, strawberry, fig, pear, and berry on a vanilla cream filled shortbread crust. Absolutely hit the spot on a muggy summer night.

After much consideration, I booked a table at an Italian restaurant not far from where we live for dinner. Neither of us will miss German food much, but with a large local Italian population and access to great fresh ingredients, the Italian food here is the closest you can get (literally) to Italy without actually being there. Our reserved table was a small collapsible wooden one with two small chairs on the sidewalk, packed with all the other diners. The restaurant was hopping, even on a midweek night. I'm glad we made reservations. The interior was nearly empty- without air conditioning, everyone wants to eat outside.

Dinner was great- antipasta plate with tomatoes, fresh bread, buffalo milk mozzarella, olives, cured meats, etc. Saori and I both got pasta- Saori had a linguine with small mushrooms in a mushroom cream sauce and I got some homemade spiral pasta with cherry tomatoes and spicy sausage. Dinner took awhile- we were seated at 8, and didn't get the main until 9:15, but it's just how dinner life is here. We took a leisurely stroll back home, had some very thin slices of the cake/torte, and ended in bed watching Kirk, Spock, and McCoy save the galaxy from a giant space amoeba. It was a good day.

Jul 29, 2017

Unemployment

Today was Saori and my last day at work. It may be Saori's day for awhile. It will be mine for over a month.

My normal routine is to wake up at 6:30, throw on some work-ish clothes, grab some museli with milk or toast a slice of bread with butter, brush my teeth, and out the door at 7:00 to 7:10. I walk less than five minutes to the Schwab/Bebelstrasse U bahn and wait about three to five minutes for the Ubahn. The Ubahn takes me to the Hauptbahnhof where I join the masses and change to the S-bahn subway trains. I take it one stop, across the Neckar river, to Bad Canstatt, where I meet Rafa nominally at 7:30, but more often 7:45. I'll often buy a coffee from the cosy Turkish coffee shop Glora and one extra for Rafa. Sometimes, I buy a sandwich there too or a pastry for breakfast.

I did all that today. Today's special at the Turkish coffee shop was a large cappuccino. Definitely with some chocolate shaved on it today. Intellectually I know its my last day. Emotionally, I felt nothing. It felt like a totally normal day, nothing to get excited about, nothing to get sad or nostalgic about. It wasn't until I saw the tents going up for Oktoberfest, and realizing that I was not going to be in Germany when Oktoberfest kicked off, that I felt that twinge of something different, of loss and change.

My last day at the office felt quite normal. Friday's are short anyway. Moll from the construction administration side came up and said we needed to give construction details for the stairs because the structural engineer didn't provide a plan, so I just modified my stair details to include structural information like welds, bolt types, etc. I cleaned out my desk, sorted the loose pile of papers, cleared out the downloads folder in my workstation, set a "That's All Folks!" showcard as my desktop, and  emptied the trash. I wrote an email to my boss, and the two people working on this project all the of the issues, questions, and unresolved items that I knew about, no matter how small they were. I left a note at a coworkers desk who had left earlier in the week for vacation, and who mailed me a card at the office wishing me the best. The office has a pretty rigorous system of file management so everything was already in the right place, and with both my projects in Revit, all the drawings are in one location, so there wasn't much organizing to do apart from clearing out old invalid files.

In the end, as I started to make my rounds to say goodbye, everyone who wasn't already gone or on vacation came out, okay, so six people in total including the boss and his wife, and they all wished me the best and shook my hand, and gave me a wrapped book as a parting gift. I left on good terms, and people I think are really sorry to see me leave. It was gloriously beautiful outside when Rafa and I stepped in the electric car to head back to the city. He dropped me off at the Bad Canstatt station as usual, and I thanked him for the nearly two years we carpooled together. It will not be the last time I see him before I leave, but it was the last time we were to be coworkers.

I've got mixed feelings leaving the office. On the one hand, I was a project architect with the entire scope of the building in my hand, and responsible for all of the drawings. The bosses never draw, they just redline a bit, or make a quick sketch, or make lists of things to check or reference. It's a rare thing for an architect to have complete responsibility for all of the drawings in a project. I will miss that opportunity. I liked my coworkers and we got along really well. We were all friends and we always stepped up to help each other with projects or for advice or resources.

My relationship with the bosses was a bit challenging- one has a really aggressive attitude and the fact we had such hard times communicating meant there was an added level of frustration between us. He sounds angry all the time and not because he's speaking German. It wasn't until I realized that he talks to everyone in that particularly harsh tone that I stopped taking it personally. Boss 2 I got to know a bit better since he spoke English pretty well, and we had a lot of drives on the road back and forth from meetings.

Anyway, in the city center after I was off work, I grabbed a slice of pizza at the main square since I was famished and also to have something to cushion the blow of all the booze I imagined would be thrust at me at Saori's abschied party.

It's a tradition at her office for departing architects and even interns to have lengthy abschied (departure) parties. Depending on the number of people leaving that particular week (there's a revolving door of interns) and the length of time the people had been at the office, these parties range from a few hours to the better part of a day. Invariably, the people leaving cook something from their home country or bring in some food, along with several cases of beer and whatever the local spirit from their country happens to be. In return, the office gifts them the latest monograph of the office's  work, a small gift, and always a giant card made from scratch featuring the a photoshopped scene with the heads of all the project team members on various animals and other people in the scene. There is a short speech usually made by the team leader, and the departing employee also says a few words.  This happens early on, and then the drinking, singing, and chatting usually continues at least until midnight. It helps that the office has a massive kitchen with a beer refrigerator and an electric stove range, which opens out into a terraced garden with lots of seating. The only thing missing are lights strung between the trees, which according to one landscape architect, aren't used because they don't look professional.

Uzi, Saori's current team leader, spoke for her while I took a lot of photos. Her coworkers really loved her, and there were quite a few tears. She was presented with the monograph, a bunch of money pooled from the office, an Adidas backpack, and a penguin rain poncho, which she struggled into and fought her way though thanking the office, even though her voice shook with the emotion of holding back her tears. After she spoke, there was a lone voice from the back, who asked, "Saori, are you really leaving?" I knew it was Constantine, and it is hard to explain here why it was so particularly wrenching. Someday, I hope Saori writes about her experience at the office, where so many exceptional, bright, warm, and eccentric people from all over the world come together to punish themselves in a kind of prison where even the jailers don't know why it's a jail. A strange sort of place where extroverts can thrive on the continual parties and outings in and out of the office, and introverts quickly thaw and feel comfortable unfolding whatever delightful personalities they were holding back.

There are great, warm-hearted, and sparkling people all over the world, and I speak from experience when I say this. And I know we will make new friends and aquaintances in Portland. But more than the lifestyle, access to Europe, benefits, and vacation time, it is absolutely wrenching to leave behind a lot of people who really love Saori and I and are willing to do so much for us.

In addition to my four types of salsa, Saori also preperared Japanese Okonomiyaki, a kind of vegetable savory pancake with potato starch, and that went quickly. People hovered on the salsa, and everyone seemed to like different ones. I took shots of some delicious vodka, had a few beers, tried to convince Olena to stop singing the "Macarena", and played with Ella, one of Louisianan Micheal's daughters who is seven and apparently indefatigable when it comes to parties.  I chatted with a lot of people and talked about our future plans, and our upcoming "yard sale in the sky." I've come to know a lot of Saori's coworkers, and I'm sad to leave them too.

We said our last goodbyes and disentangled ourselves from the party, taking part in a surprisingly large and efficient kitchen cleaning before we went. We got home late, totally drained.

crap

Another long day. Today's focus was cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Despite going to bed late, I'm not sleeping well, and waking up ea...