01 November 2014

Halloween 2014

I put together a Halloween party at Hackbright. Here we are at the party:

Hackbright Halloween Party photo 2014-10-31205138_zps6fd3bf85.jpg

Michael couldn't find overalls for a minion costume, so he went for the nerdy approach instead (Error 404: Costume Not Found).


Anita Sarkeesian and Michelle photo Anita_Michelle_zps0a171fe7.jpg
I decided to go for a kick-A feminist Halloween and dressed up as Anita Sarkeesian.

Happy Halloween!

23 October 2014

Update Spill

I haven't blogged for a while so I thought I'd write a little something today.

Let's see, what have I been up to?

Michael and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and though I didn't really enjoy the movie, the music was pretty awesome. Check out the mix here. And now Michael wants a dancing baby Groot for Christmas.

We also went to the Greek Festival just to enjoy the food, and a week later discovered a great Thai place not too far from where we live: Jitlada Thai Cuisine. I've learned to make most of my favorite meals, but I have yet to do some Thai cooking. First three on the list: pad ka prow (spicy basil) with tofu, tau hu tod (fried tofu), and gaeng keaw wan (green curry). Please, people, if you haven't found a dish with tofu that you like, you haven't been looking hard enough. Tofu can be so amazingly delicious, I promise.

I went to Django Barcamp at Eventbrite and met some really great developers, including the awesome authors of Two Scoops of Django. Now I'm reading their book and working on several Django projects. I'm also coming up with step-by-step Django instructions for absolute beginners as well as for my own reference. Technology changes so fast that they may not last long, but while they do, it will be awesome.


Barcamp Django 2014 photo 2014-10-04152339_zps0493f68f.jpg
Hackbright reps Rosette and Michelle at Barcamp Django!


I've been practicing technical interviews with many generous friends and doing a lot of algorithms studying (I finally found a book that has algorithms in Python that I like) on my own. Several other generous friends have spent time just talking jobs or helping me with development issues. I'm pretty ready to dive into real interviews, though some days I feel like there's so much to learn that there's no way I'm ready. I'm committed to finding a company whose product I like and who is committed to my growth as an engineer. I'm definitely hoping to work in a Python shop this time.

My hero Lynn Root put on a Python workshop at her workplace, Spotify. Out of all the things they gave out in a swag drawing, I was most hoping for the socks because new socks are heaven, so I was super happy when I won striped Spotify socks. So comfy.


Spotify Socks photo 2014-09-28123705_zps769ffd2c.jpg


I also got some great new t-shirts from Keen.io and laughed when people at HTML5 DevConf thought I worked at Keen because I was wearing one of the shirts. Then someone else asked me if I was Michelle Wetzler. Heeee.

HTML5 DevConf with KeenIO Shirt photo 2014-10-21111603_zps0798bd45.jpg


By the way—more on Lynn of Spotify. She taught herself to be a developer and now she's an expert (in my book, anyway) and does a lot for the women in tech and Python-in-general communities. She recently spoke about being a fraud (faking being a developer until she makes it) and it was amazing. She and her boyfriend have also been nice to lend me some books and give me very needed interview practice. I think we are kindred spirits because we all love chocolate chip cookies.

I made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies and put it in the freezer so I can snack on them whenever I need them, and then I realized that I've turned into my grandfather (except that he liked nuts in his frozen cookies).

I still love our apartment, but the street outside our apartment is having parts dug up for some project (probably new pipes or something) and it is so loud. And who would have thought that they'd start all the noise at 7 AM in San Francisco? Even before the construction and even after I scraped the paint off of the window latches so they could close more securely, my noise app was showing our average to be between 55 and 70 decibels because of the traffic, and the sirens that go past several times a day make it go up to between 80 and 90 decibels. Some days I re-research how to make our place quieter, hoping I missed something great the first five times I researched. I can only hope that Rudolf Stefanich eventually produces his noise-cancelling project Sono. I've thought of trying to convince the owners of our place to replace the windows or to get custom IndowWindows inserts, but I have little hope that I'll succeed.

At least Michael and I were able to laugh a few weeks ago when someone outside started yelling about Nicolas Cage at 3 AM. But when two people were screaming at each other the other night I wasn't sure if I should do something or not. My friend Hy runs a civic meetup and so I recently got to hear some really interesting stories and facts from a police commander. Ever since I've been even more focused on being an aware and responsible citizen, but I just don't always know when it's appropriate to call the police. Would they have wanted to come talk to me when I just wanted to go to sleep? Would the people have still been there yelling by the time the police arrived? Would it have been worth their time?

It turns out that having Whole Foods be the closest store to us is sometimes frustrating. Just need some eggs? Why walk ten more minutes to another store? Apparently my brother-in-law calls that place Whole Paycheck. :) At least it's good for when we want to make dishes for our vegan friends.

My friend Melanie turned 40 and had a prom-themed birthday party. I wore my Taiwanese wedding dress, only to receive my actual prom dress from my mom a week later. Sounds like we need another party!

Melanie's Birthday photo MelanieBirthday2014_zps6680e4ce.jpg



My mom came to San Francisco and brought a whole bunch of stuff that I'd forgotten belonged to me, including my old rock collection, the clay castle and fountain I built, an enormous origami flower I made, and a desk from my grandparents' cabin! And then we discovered that her grandmother might have lived in the building across the street from me.


We rented a car from some guy on Getaround and drove down to enjoy a hike in Cupertino with Sica, my mom, Amy, and Amy's kids. It was lovely to spend time with them and to get some fresh air.

Michael and I are still taking a while to get the living room put together. I've decided that I'm probably going to paint a rug (I found some great tutorials online). This week we found a desk, some drawers, a chair, and some monitors that were just we wanted and all from the same person, but the guy who was going to sell them to us sold them to the person moving in at the last moment. Argh.

My brother bought my old bishop's business. Though I suggested he modernize it a bit, he's sticking to traditional. Weirdly (for a business of that type), they don't have a graphic designer, so I ended up making his business cards. I also helped my dad learn how to import contacts to his new Gmail account.

Happy Diwali! It's hard to believe that we celebrated Diwali with Gunjan a whole year ago. This year I again celebrated at Hult, where we were required to get a bindi, learn how to say "happy Diwali" in Hindi, and then do some Bollywood dancing before we were allowed to have some of the divine food.

While I was at Hult, a guy approached me and asked where I was from. When I answered, "Here," he said, "America? We three were discussing it and we thought you were from Russia." I'm not sure what gave them that impression. My clothes were pretty darn techie-in-San-Francisco-casual: RocketDog sneakers, not-loose-not-tight jeans, and a company t-shirt (Couple.me). Maybe it was my frazzled-looking hair? Or my nose?

Speaking of hair and nose . . . my hair is currently kind of a mess. It's somehow decided to be really fuzzy and I have to wet it down so there aren't flyaways everywhere. I don't recall having this problem before (except for with my cowlick), so I'm not really sure how to deal with it. My digital perm is growing out and so it probably looks a little weird that I just have waves/curls on the ends of my hair. I'll have to do something about it soon. And as for nose . . . I had a crazy sinus infection for several days a couple of weeks ago, but even before that, I was complaining to Michael about not being able to breathe through one side of my nose and so he opened up my nostril by pulling on the skin to the side of my nose. I was so surprised that I started coughing because suddenly I could breathe and the air felt so new in there. Clearly I can't walk around holding one nostril open all the time, so it seems like it might be time for another sinus surgery. I feel like the last one was pretty pointless. I wonder if I can find someone this time who can make so I can breathe and not totally change/ruin my nose. Add "sinus surgery" to the list of things to do when we have benefited jobs.

I've recently thought about how I really don't do my hair or get dressed up much anymore and it's not just because I prioritize comfort but also because I bike everywhere so it feels like there's no point in being uncomfortable or messing up nice clothes.

It turns out that our upstairs neighbor has a piano! We talked about our favorite musicians and songs for more than an hour before she told me that I'm welcome to come play on her piano. I've gotten my music back from my sister and now I'm pretty dang sure I have at least ten pieces that this neighbor is going to love.

Unfortunately, despite having unpacked all of our boxes and bags, my external hard drive is missing. So much of my last ten years of life is on there, so I sure hope we find it. The only place either of us can imagine it being is buried in Michael's parents' garage somewhere. Argh.

I'm planning a Hackbright Halloween party and it's going to be awesome.

Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook) posted a video of an interview he gave . . . in Mandarin. It was fun to listen to it. I really like his comprehension, confidence, and big vocabulary, and I hope to get to where he is. I was surprised, though, to realize that his tones aren't so great. I'm not saying that because I want to rip on him. I'm saying that because although I think my tones are pretty good, I need to follow his example. Sometimes the fear of getting a tone wrong keeps me from saying anything, and clearly people who just go for it with whatever tones are still understood and make progress, so I need to get over wanting to get things right and just try to communicate, no matter how messy it is.

So there you go. A very thorough and possibly uninteresting update.

20 September 2014

Our Wedding

Nose Kisses photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_500_2_zps3f6641a9.jpg

We decided to marry quickly after several months of uncertainty, and I am so glad that we did. Not only did that keep things simple, we didn't have to go through the stress of planning a wedding for more than several weeks. And I will never forget so many kindnesses during that month.

After a crazy year, things started to pull together, which is what made me feel like I could take the next step in our relationship. My foot healed and I got my cast off, I finally had a new plan for my career, and I'd found a charming 1916 apartment in San Francisco that was a good deal because we could be building managers. Still, that didn't keep me from getting anxious and crying before letting Michael take me to get dessert and pop the question (yeah, I left that part out of the FAQs on the wedding info post).

I deliberate a lot (sometimes too much), so when I decided I was ready for us to get engaged, I had a lot of things ready: a blog post, a guest list spreadsheet, a Facebook post.

Unfortunately it looked like Michael's dad wasn't going to be able to be in Salt Lake, and that nearly made us have the wedding even sooner because I felt it was important to have him there. We were hoping to get some money from the wedding to pay for the training I had the next month, and I'd already told the landlord that we'd both be living there to manage, so scheduling for later was not ideal. Luckily, Michael's dad was willing and able to fly all the way back to the States from Taiwan for us.

It was so wonderful that it was a non-issue with Michael for me not to change my name. I've dated guys in the past who really took issue with my desire to keep my name. I love still having my same name.

We emailed our invitations, which makes me happy, because that is so in line with me and it saved us money. However, I feel embarrassed every time I think about it: I totally ruined our engagement photo. Gosh, I wish I had just left our faces alone. There were some plants in front of us that I wanted to Photoshop out, and in the process, I decided to follow a tutorial to clean up our faces. Ugh. Clearly I went overboard. Some day I will fix that photo and re-post it, but I can never take back all the emailed invitations.

I also wished that my skin looked better for all the wedding festivities. It was in pretty bad shape, but at least makeup was able to do a decent job at hiding that.

Two other techie things we did: we signed up for a service that creates an online album for wedding guests to upload their photos to in lieu of posting on Facebook (which I didn't want). Unfortunately, we didn't get many photos from that, but at least people refrained from posting on Facebook as requested. We also did an online registry for people who were really set on giving us actual gifts so they could pick items to donate money towards.

I wasn't sure if I should add coral to the wedding colors since I really love that color, but I decided that two colors were enough and we stuck with light green and lavender. I was able to find fun minty-green Wayfarer sunglasses for the wedding party.

Ever since I went on a cruise with the Glauser family in 2007, I've wanted a ring like the one I saw on that cruise ship. Apparently the cruise company can't share the information about its vendors, so I couldn't get any help there. However, Michael's aunt works at a jewelry warehouse in San Francisco, so she lined us up with a new vendor, who agreed to make my ring. It wasn't perfect, but he got it done quickly and gave us a good price that Michael's aunt's subsequent donation took care of.

Kind friends hosted a preception for California friends in Fremont, and I was really touched by some of the people who made an effort to be there, including my parents. My friend Lisz helped me do my makeup for that and when I saw the pictures, I laughed, because we were a bit dramatic; oh well! Our friend Becca agreed to take pictures for us as her gift to us.

A few months earlier, my mom had offered to buy me a dress and a blouse at a store that we stopped at on the way to her dropping me off at the airport. Little did she know . . . After I started thinking about getting married soon, I realized that the dress would work as a wedding dress. It was made of off-white Swiss dot cotton and cost all of $10. The only thing was that I would need a lining for the dress. I emailed the Relief Society and Amber, a friend who lived nearby, volunteered to help me make one. When I brought the dress to her, I mentioned that in some ways I wondered if I would regret not having my one fancy dress, and how I'd considered ordering the expensive dress I'd been crushing on for a while. She said, "Let's make this dress special for you." She met me at Britex, a fancy fabric store, where I picked out some vintage lace and ribbon. Lovely Amber did a fabulous job. She added some layers, lace, and a ruffle to the bottom of the dress, sewed lace to the sleeves and bodice, and put in holders for a ribbon at the waist. She was right that I loved my dress even more because it was unique to me. In the end, I used my sister's old slip instead of making a lining, and the whole thing cost about $110.

Altering Dress photo IMG_0791_zps0bf24192.jpg


I bought some off-white, cotton lace flats from American Eagle. No high heels for this short gal. Also, I planned on only wearing some simple white pearl earrings that Michael had gotten me in Danville. Hurray for simplicity!

I was feeling frustrated that our place wasn't more set up and we were running late when we picked up the dress and headed to the airport. To our dismay and with a wedding shower the next morning, we missed the check-in to our flight. A magical airline employee did some frantic typing and changed us onto a flight that would actually get us to Salt Lake before the other one would have because it was direct. Still, all the stress caught up to me on the plane, and when I realized I'd forgotten some stuff, I cried. Luckily I had a very caring fiancé who took me to replace said stuff in Salt Lake the next day.

An aunt and a dear friend organized wedding showers for us and were very kind about communicating our request for money that we really needed rather than gifts that we'd have to ship back. It was great to see so many people who wished us well.

After we paid for a wedding license the following Monday, we had to go shopping because Michael had yet to find a suit (two days before the wedding). We drove around to several places in the Salt Lake Valley, to no avail (the prices and the time constraint were quite prohibitive), and because my feet were still having some issues, I got very worn out. Somehow we randomly stopped by H+M and found that they had a formal section, where Michael got a nice grey suit for under $100. We also picked up some crocheted ribbon that my mom dyed lavender for me to wear in my hair, but I didn't end up wearing it.

Wedding photography is so expensive. I was that horrible person who was hoping to get someone to take photos for very cheap or free (so sorry to the person I asked!). A photographer I knew from college agreed to give us a discount and met with us. She even took my list of cheesy wedding photos I didn't want (like jumping or dipping) in stride, though she had me try out just a couple poses that she thought I might want and like later. Her confidence and experience was reassuring.

My mom was just generally amazing. She dealt with the people who were being über-picky (and I thought I was picky) about how our setup had to be for our preception, and did a million little things to make everything better. She dyed dresses and found ties, she scheduled a place and a caterer for our luncheon, she cut Michael's hair, she found the best eclairs, and she added lights to the Bartons' backyard to make the atmosphere a little more romantic.

Really, people were so generous. Our close family friends Charla and Ray let us use their yard for our preception and helped with setting up. My brother handled music, my other brother helped Michael figure out rental cars, and my aunt put together some lovely lavender bunches for us—and even though I'd said I didn't need a bouquet, she made one just in case, and the photographer was right about it looking good in the pictures. Another aunt canceled a flight to be there, my sister and her husband flew to Utah from California with their kids for their third wedding in two months, people brought refreshments for our preception, my cousins gave us a ring for Michael, and my brother's girlfriend gave me some makeup tips. My wonderful friend Tanya flew all the way from New York to be there and volunteered to do whatever I needed—which turned out to be ironing my dress.

Also, my friend's sister kindly scheduled a last-minute hair appointment to tint my hair (I will forever feel bad that I had no idea how to tip and I don't think I did it right), and a nice woman at the Lancome counter did a great (and free) job on my makeup and fake eyelashes for the preception.

Two of my sisters and I went and got inexpensive spray-on tans. I think it looked pretty natural—I still look like my pale self in the pictures, so you can imagine just how pale I was before that.

Michael picked up his family at the airport and then picked me up from the makeup place. The Bartons' yard was so verdantly beautiful—the perfect setting. I'd picked out a book covered in red silk in Chinatown for people to sign on their way in. The whole wedding party looked great in their garb. It was really awesome to introduce Michael and his family to so many dear friends who came to show their support. We should have arranged our time a little differently so that our photographer could take pictures outside of the time when visitors came. Some older people left because they were sick of waiting for our photo shoot to be over, oops! We picked up on our photographer's patterns quickly: "Look at me. Look at each other. Kiss."

After a few hours, my face was sore from smiling and promises from others that they would clean up, Michael and I went to dinner at The Dodo Restaurant with his parents and sister.

The next morning, a friend of a friend did my hair. I probably should have had her do makeup while I did my hair, because she didn't quite understand just how quickly thin hair like mine can quickly lose its shape in the warm September sun even though I'd stressed that, and she didn't end up having time to do my makeup, meaning I had to do it and hope that it was okay. However, when we didn't have enough cash to pay her then, she told us to have a happy wedding day and accepted what we had.

A man from my parents' neighborhood did the actual ceremony. I mostly remember thinking that having a specific side to sit on seemed kind of silly and that he went on for quite a while—long enough for people to be dozing off. Also, he paused during the official part that I was supposed to respond to, so I said "yes" a bit too early and made everyone laugh.

I was so glad that I could just change into my dress and touch up my makeup on my own after the wedding ceremony, even though a woman at the preception the night before had criticized me for wanting to do it that way. I was ready before even Michael was, ha! We forgot to put on our rings until later, which is obvious in the pictures. Whoops. The sunglasses were a hit during picture-taking. I think.

The weather was amazing. It was sunny, clear, and warm—just perfect for our luncheon in Sugarhouse Park, where close friends and family joined us for hummus and cucumber sandwiches and eclairs. This, to me, felt like the pinnacle, like the real thing: we were in a beautiful and simple place, surrounded by loved ones regardless of their religion, where we could share our love for and commitment to each other. My friend Betsy gave a great talk about marriage and Michael's dad bravely gave a speech in English and did a fine job. I only realized later that it would have been nice to ask if my parents or anyone else wanted to say something, too. A wonderful friend arranged to have a log and a saw there for us so we could cut a log together as I'd seen newly-married couples do in Germany to symbolize working together. I improvised my wedding vows from notes on my iPhone and got a little choked up. Michael said some wonderful things in return. Everything was really so simple and lovely, just as I wanted it to be.

When it was over, everything felt so normal and comfortable, as if we'd been married for ages. We weren't in a big hurry to get to the airport, so we had some time to pack and plan while Michael's family went up the canyon with my family before taking them to the airport. Of course, we still received some physical gifts, most of which Michael's sister Claire was able to nicely take back to California with her. We stopped by to apologize to the guests we'd missed the night before and to thank them for coming.

On the airplane, we typed up what every single card we'd received said, and once we got to the airport, I hesitated for just a second, but then we put all of those cards into the recycle bin. Hurray for recycling and less clutter! Then we were able to scan all of the checks we'd received into our bank account. Hurray for banking apps!

When our photos from both the California and Utah festivities arrived, I saw that some of the pictures had cut-off feet, which bugged me a little, but most of them turned out really well. I took out the plethora of kissing pictures just for you. It is so great to re-live those beautiful moments every time I see the pictures. Enjoy!


California Wedding Preception with Parents photo bmikeampmichelle-3716_zpsa3310bdd.jpg


California Wedding Preception photo bmikeampmichelle-3701_zps21ddfbaa.jpg


California Wedding Preception Guys' Ties photo bmikeampmichelle-3842_zpsc518b2d4.jpg


The Whole Family in Charla's Backyard photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_022_zps36ebb0c1.jpg


Giving My Vows from my iPhone photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_654_2_zps145ba085.jpg


Happy Couple in Charla's Backyard photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_136_2_zpse093334d.jpg


Coming Out of the Temple photo Comingoutofthetemple_zps04a30c23.jpg


Goofy at the Temple Doors photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_478_2_zps785aceb8.jpg


Sunglasses with Sisters photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_387_2_zps243e4912.jpg



Thumbs up to mint sunglasses photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_365_zpsece6c479.jpg


Joined Sunglasses Lips at Wedding photo JoinedSunglassesLips_zps908a46bb.jpg


Walk in the Park During Wedding Luncheon photo emilybrownphotography_MichelleampMike_576_zps374eb22b.jpg

 Click here to read about our Taiwanese wedding celebration.

18 September 2014

My Wedding Ring

In 2007, I went on a cruise with the extended Glauser family. There was a jewelry store on board the ship, and I fell in love with a ring there. I debated and debated about buying it for my some-day wedding ring since it was a good deal (I think it cost a few hundred?), but at the time I didn't have much money and I was getting ready to move to Germany, so I opted for just taking a picture, thinking I'd forget about it eventually. I didn't forget.


Michelle's Dream Wedding Ring photo Ring_zps2b95f99d.jpg
This is the amazingly beautiful pave filgree ring.

I've spent a lot of time over the years trying to find that ring, but the dang cruise company wouldn't hand over any information about the vendor, and pages and pages of Google images using different search terms were unsuccessful.

So when Michael and I decided to get married in 2012, I talked to some companies about making the ring. In short, I should have bought the ring on the cruise ship. Having it custom-made was pricey and a bit of a challenge.


Michelle's Dream Pave Floral Wedding Ring Design photo MichelleRing1_zps40603694.jpg
One company came up with these models for me. I only felt somewhat guilty when I then gave these models to someone who would give us a better price.

Since Michael's aunt works at a huge jewelry wholesale place in San Francisco, she was able to connect us with a new jeweler. He gave us a good estimate and said he could get it done quickly enough for us to have it at our wedding in less than a month.

I had done research about precious metals and found that the reason some cheap rings turned my finger green and made my ears infected was because they had nickel in them. Apparently nickel is often used to make gold white, so I asked him to make my ring with palladium instead, which seemed like a good substitute according to everything I'd read online.

Unfortunately, he'd never worked with palladium before, and apparently it is a really brittle metal; he had to redo the ring a couple of times. Also, his English sometimes made it difficult for us to communicate well, and either he didn't understand or he didn't agree that the leaves or flowers in the pattern were rounded, so they came out flat. When I asked that he at least give them the same matted finish that I could see in the picture of the ring from the cruise ship, he did some polishing thing that then exposed lines in the metal. Also, somehow the metal looked more like sterling silver, which put a damper on things; nevertheless, it is a beautiful ring.

Floral Pave Palladium Ring photo WeddingRing_zpsd839faad.jpg



Michelle's Pave Floral Wedding Ring photo 2013-06-21161300_zps7d36b491.jpg
I was so scared about having the ring be too tight at some future date (I'd read that it's harder to get off wide rings) that I asked for him to make it bigger, but then it was pretty loose on my finger. Wearing it was weird at first because it's so heavy.



Michelle's Pave Floral Wedding Ring photo 2014-01-24152548_zps0ea23930.jpg
Sorry it's so difficult to get a good picture of such a tiny object.

Sadly, the ring has cracked multiple times since we got married and some of the tiny diamonds along the edge have fallen out, so I've stopped wearing it. The jeweler promised he would fix it for us for the rest of time, but we've asked him to try re-doing the whole thing. Michael's aunt gave me a tiny white gold band to wear to see if my skin would be okay, and it's been fine, so here's to hoping that a re-do in white gold will be better.

29 August 2014

Michael's Hult MBA Graduation

Last Friday marked the one-year point since we moved from San Francisco to Shanghai. It was also the day that Michael had his Hult MBA graduation (back in San Francisco), so we're about ready for the next phase of life. Hurray!

Hult MBA Graduation 2014 photo HultMBAGraduation2014_zps8436a429.jpg
We keep joking about how we should hold up a sign in every photo like people do for engagements and first-day-of-school pictures, so here you go.

Now that Michael is finished with his MBA program, this is how he likes to dress every day:

Michael's Post-Grad Casual photo 2014-08-12185742_zpsfa8dd03c.jpg
I'm guessing the ultra-comfy, Hult paraphernalia look will fade away with time. :)

I can't say enough about how proud I am of Michael. He worked so hard during the last year, and much of what he did was for other people: he was a Hult ambassador, he was on the student council, he helped people get phones/packages/bank accounts/food in Shanghai, he worked on a huge project to improve diagnosis in India, he went out of his way to help when Mandarin was needed, he spent long hours making videos for others, etc. And he is a good leader, for many reasons. For example, he:

  • likes helping others
  • is dedicated and willing
  • is always friendly, optimistic, and energetic
  • takes the time to get to know people personally
  • learned how to confront people about difficult subjects
  • likes to finely polish projects
In the next few weeks, Michael will be completing some Salesforce training, helping Hult with Asian cultural welcomes, working with Hult's career services as an alumni ambassador, and taking a project management certification test before looking for a job. He's interested in big data and sustainability, so it'll be interesting to see where he ends up.

Good work, sweetie!

28 August 2014

San Francisco Apartment Hunt 2014

View from Pine Apartment photo 2014-08-28140921_zpsde14dbcf.jpg

Before even moving away, we knew that finding an apartment in San Francisco again was going to be a chore, and that prices would make us gasp because a one-bedroom is about three times the cost of my parents' monthly mortgage payment, but that didn't prevent us from getting to the absolutely-discouraged state during the process. A lot of that had to do with the drama of dealing with our quirky old landlord.

Since our previous landlord had been so sad to see us go/loved us so much, and we had loved his building, we wrote him an email very ahead of time saying that we were coming back and asking if he had a place available. It turned out that the apartment we loved the most was to be available about the time we would be back, so we said we were interested. He, however, was un-budge-able on the price, which was higher than we were expecting. His reasoning? He'd just had the building repainted and had put a laundry room in the basement (which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't cleaned out the basement for him), as if he wanted us to single-handedly pay for those things.

We finally told him that we'd go for it, but every exchange had us feeling very condescended upon. First he said that he didn't like that Michael was still in school and that at least I needed a local job first. It seemed absolutely crazy to me to ask me to quit my job to rent from him. Clearly landlords in San Francisco are feeling high and mighty with the ridiculous market. He also asked us how he could trust that we would stay for the entire term of the lease, since last time we left early. I checked, and we left just ten days early. Never once had he mentioned that us leaving early was a problem; if he had, I would have just stayed another ten days and sent Michael off to Shanghai. I felt like he'd forgotten how pleased he was with us when we left. We went more than the extra mile for him and it felt so horrible for him to have forgotten that. After seething for a few hours, we offered to pay six months of rent upfront. After Michael arrived in San Francisco and went to meet with this landlord, not only was I majorly disappointed to find out that the garden I'd worked so hard on had fallen into disrepair, but the monthly rent was being raised another $195 from the price we had already struggled with and finally agreed to! Michael and I spent several hours chatting that night, I in St. Petersburg, and he in San Francisco. We had the hardest time making a decision, and a few days later we finally emailed the landlord to tell him so. His response? "A studio would probably be better for you until you both have jobs." I wanted to write him and say, "We will still be looking for a one bedroom, thank you very much." Once he told us that the apartment was rented, there were some moments of regret, but mostly we said, "Well, at least we don't have to deal with him anymore."

Michael tore up the town looking for an apartment, but it didn't help him that I have no tangible ways to spot an apartment that is "charming" by my definition. After we lost one place due to the quickness of the market and another because we were waiting for my boss to send some documentation, we were very frustrated. By this time, I was back in California with him and we were staying at his parents' house 45 minutes away from San Francisco. We spent our mornings and evenings driving to and from San Francisco in Michael's mom's car. While Michael attended classes and meetings, I worked on my laptop at Hult and re-parked the car every two hours. We went to a lot of apartment viewings, but there was always enough wrong with the place that we weren't all that excited about taking it. We were finally happily surprised to be approved for a place that, as Michael put it, "Was really a studio with a wall installed in the middle to make it into a one bedroom." The price was great, but I asked if we could see it one more time before deciding. The manager told us that we could, but we'd have to sign immediately after or she'd contact the next person. We were supposed to meet her that evening, so we felt the pressure of needing to decide before then.

And then something unexpected happened. Michael found a new posting on Craigslist, and as we looked at the pictures, we both said, "We have to get this one." It was in Pacific Heights, which is known for being one of the nicest places in the city, the rent was lower than a lot of places we had seen in Lower Nob Hill (which is usually cheaper), it had calming green walls, the kitchen was big enough for a table and it had a large, new oven, there were lovely windows (twelve of them!) that let in a lot of light, and wood floors. To make things unbelievably good, there was parking included! (Even though we don't have car, that was an amazing plus that few in the city ever get.) Michael immediately wrote a very nice email introducing us and asking if we could see the place early. Unfortunately, we couldn't see the place until the following weekend, which was a whopping four days away, so we had to take a leap of faith and let go of the studio-with-a-wall-one-bedroom.

During the following days, we filled out the application for the place and printed it out, collected multiple supporting documents, cut Michael's hair, and nervously twiddled our thumbs. The day of the showing, we got dressed up, found a nice folder for our application and documents, and headed into the city. There was a Hult barbecue that morning, and though we left the barbecue thirty minutes early, the combination of dropping off a friend and trying to find parking made us a few minutes late. I was so worried that we'd missed our chance to make a good impression, especially when we found that the door was locked and no one was answering the doorbell. After many frantic minutes of trying to reach someone at the management company, someone left the showing and let us into the building.

The place was packed, but we could still see that we loved it, so we found the man taking applications. Someone was monopolizing his time, so we went and stood right in front of him. Finally, I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Michelle." Michael forgot to introduce himself, but the man seemed to remember us from our email and accepted our application. There wasn't much more to say after that, so we headed downstairs to take a look at the laundry room and garage. It seemed so anti-climactic, like we hadn't had a chance to stick out among the crowd. So we went back upstairs to ask some questions. This time, we seemed to connect with the man from the property management company a little more. Just at the point when we thought the conversation was over, Michael realized that the man had jerked his head to the side to say, "Follow me." We met him in the hallway and he said, "Right now it's basically between you and one other person." I have no idea how he could already know that. I put my hands together and asked, "If I tell you a joke, will you give it to us?" At least that got a laugh out of him. Even though I had warned Michael not to ask, he threw out there, "Why is the place so cheap? Is there something wrong with it?" I winced, but the man just kindly said that he'd looked at the market (I thought, "Maybe a year ago") and it seemed fair and that he didn't want to rip people off. We sent him a thank you email with an Uncle Al joke included.

The next day, we received an email asking for a copy of another pay stub. Since I was already in San Francisco, I couldn't pull out my folder with such documents until late that evening, and when I did, I saw that I only had one pay stub; the others must have been packed away somewhere. I frantically emailed my boss, but he didn't answer the next day, so I contacted his partner, who said he'd get on it, and I sent a very firm message saying that I absolutely had to have it or I would lose another apartment. That whole night, I was sick to my stomach with worry. I tossed and turned and checked my phone more times than I can count. In the morning, there was still nothing from my boss or his partner. Michael and I drove into the city, very disappointed and quiet. After his class, Michael came and sat by me and though we were both really down, he held my hand and offered up a pleading, last-hope prayer. We decided we both just needed to look for local jobs as quickly as possible and then maybe we'd be able to find a place. We sat there, dejected. Finally, at some point, I checked my phone and realized I'd missed a call from the real estate company. I nervously called back, and the man we'd met at the showing said, "Yes, I thought I should call you, because there's a lease here with your name on it." WHAT?!? He went on to tell me that he'd convinced the company that we were a "cool couple" (his words, not mine) and that they could wait to get the other pay stub from us.

And that is how we ended up in this place:

Pine Apartment Bedroom photo 2014-08-28134448_zpsbdfba0fa.jpg


Of course, no place is perfect. We realized after we moved in that the apartment is right on the corner of two busy streets (one of which is the street that my mom's grandparents lived on and is the surname of good friends), and because the windows are old and because those two streets seem to be on the ambulance and fire truck route, it's pretty loud. (I'm hoping to make it a little quieter using sound-absorbing furnishings.) After a week of parking Michael's mom's car in the garage (while she was out of the country), we found out that there's a building-wide waiting list, and the spot vacated by the previous tenant of our place actually goes to the next person on the list. Fortunately, the rental company then lowered our rent $150 per month to amend the mistake. Also, for some reason the place is plagued with mosquitoes, so I often have to conduct a mosquito hunt before I can sleep. The location is really close to a clean, nice park, and I love to walk around looking at beautiful Victorian houses, but it's six blocks farther away from downtown than our old place was and biking up the last hill is a killer no matter which direction you come from.


Pine Apartment Kitchen photo 2014-08-28143201_zpsa1f2cddf.jpg


I love the calming greens and all the light (I've even thought I needed to turn off a light only to find that it wasn't on). I love the crystal doorknobs and French doors. It's great that I've been able to fill the place with air-purifying plants and that the rental company sent out a repairman to put new seals on the windows. It's so nice to have laundry in the building, and the kitchen and bedroom have more storage than we need.


Pine Apartment Kitchen Table photo 2014-08-28142637_zpsb3c52562.jpg
You can't really see the plant on the table, but I thought it was some kind of lavender when I saw it and am now so happy to know about Russian sage. Its colors make me so happy.


Pine Apartment Bathroom photo 2014-08-28140758_zps40661e8a.jpg
(Apparently English ivy absorbs fecal matter from the air so of course I put it in the bathroom.)


Pine Bedroom Details photo P1150188_zps63e4943a.jpg
This gorgeous succulent (an Echeveria "Tippy") matches the wall perfectly, and the tasteful shelf built over the heater is nice.

Quite honestly, though, I have NO IDEA what to do with a whole extra room! It seems so luxurious and it's still quite empty. Filling it up has been a slow process as I've tried to use Freecycle and Craigslist for everything and we've needed to rent cars on Getaround to pick up furniture. We still need some rugs (which are shockingly expensive!), a desk, a sofa cover that matches the color scheme, and some kind of seating, and then maybe it won't feel so empty and overwhelming. Here it is empty:

New SF Apartment photo 
1805Pine_zps254d9c49.jpg Once I figure out what to do with the living room, I'll post another picture.

Hurray for a lovely new home!

25 July 2014

Russia Part II: St. Petersburg

Russia Part I: Moscow is here.


Starbucks photo 2014-07-05194639_zps7734d589.jpg
Though I could recognize places like Starbucks because of the brand, I decided to spend our flight to St. Petersburg learning all of the Russian characters. It was so fun to start recognizing words that are cognates of English words, like "townhouse" and "smart phone."

I really liked St. Petersburg. It has a lot of pretty canals (many of which were sadly built by labor camp detainees), I like that it has one main street (Nevsky Prospekt), and there are a lot of beautiful buildings.

One night, we met with some of Jeff's friends and went on a boat tour of some canals at midnight. Eventually we waited with a bunch of other boats and were able to watch two bridges open up to let in bigger ships. Paul liked it so much that he went on another boat tour a few nights later.

Another night, Sica, Amy, Paul, and I went to Prokoviev's "Alexander Nevsky" with the Roanoke Symphony. We agreed that the guy who banged on the drum clearly had the best job of anyone there—he only had to get up a few times to really make some noise and get out some stress, and then he could sit and enjoy the music.


Dve Palochki Hamburger Menu in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-08212429_zps7f056c82.jpg
We ate at Dve Palochki three times, which had this cool burger menu.



St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-102_zps0467bf6e.jpg
St. Isaac's Cathedral is now a museum of religion and atheism. Going all the way to the top was incredible.



St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-10120418_zps559ada1f.jpg
This is what we saw when we looked down on St. Petersburg.



Alexander Nevsky Monastery Bread photo 2014-07-092_zpsf476639c.jpg
We went to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. The monks there make bread to raise money, so we followed the signs to buy this loaf. Yum.



Alexander Nevsky Monastery Cemetery photo 2014-07-093_zpsd77f4476.jpg
The cemetery at the monastery has obviously seen some years of neglect, but it was fascinating to see really old graves.



Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg
 photo 2014-07-09_zpsa75a0160.jpg
This is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Alexander II was killed at this spot and this church was built to honor him. Interestingly, it's never actually been used as a church, and the architect purposely tried to make the church look like St. Basil's in Moscow.



Amy, Jeff, and Lindsey at Church of the Savior on 
Spilled Blood photo 2014-07-09114811_zps614dd60e.jpg
Amy was really dedicated to taking a good picture for Jeff and Lindsey.



Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-103_zpsda800690.jpg
The inside of this church was my favorite. The brightly-colored religious mosaics with blue backgrounds reminded me of Giotto.



Traditional Matrushka Dolls photo 2014-07-10155027_zpsd620abc3.jpg
Traditional stacking matrushka dolls are matte and they hold things like chickens, pots, and scythes. Amy got some for her kids to paint themselves.



I  photo 2014-07-10154653_zpsd3b71728.jpg
One night, I stayed up the whole night talking to Michael about potential apartments in San Francisco. We had some frustrations trying to get an apartment from our old landlord whose name is Peter, so I took this picture for Michael the next day to make him smile.



Amy at the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-114_zps73e6c4ba.jpg
Another highlight of St. Petersburg was the State Hermitage Museum. It's at the Winter Palace of Catherine the Great and hosts a great deal of art work from around the world leading up to about Picasso's time. The volunteers at the door told us in English that we couldn't bring in food, and even without the nametags we soon realized the volunteers were Mormon missionaries. They told us they volunteer there once a week.

After a few hours of walking around, we started getting really hungry. Fortunately, Jeff used his Russian schmoozing skills to get an older woman to let him grab some crackers from his bag. Lindsey was determined to see at least five artworks by artists she's heard of, and I think she made it to about eight, so that was fun.


The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-116_zpsf50f32ab.jpg
Here's the brood in front of the Hermitage.



Peterhof Near St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-12122401_zps5666075b.jpg
We also went to Peterhof, which is Peter the Great's attempt at building palaces better than Versailles. I can't really say if the palaces are better because try as we might, we couldn't figure out how to get tickets to get in. Everywhere we went, we were told to go to a different line, so we finally gave up. At least I can say that I liked the grounds better than the ones in Versailles. Amy was so full of interesting information: she told us that Peter the Great wanted to show off with Peterhof, but he only liked living in his smaller houses.



Kazan Cathedral Sunday Service photo 2014-07-13110711_zpse52f3ae2.jpg
Paul, Amy, and I went to the Sunday service at the Kazan Cathedral. The singing/chanting was really beautiful and I felt almost a physical feeling that the music was floating up towards God. I had a scarf on and I was trying to act respectfully, but I still felt very conspicuous because I wasn't bowing and making the sign of the cross.

The first time we went to Kazan Cathedral, there was a funeral going on and many tourists were walking around taking pictures. Amy and I talked about how it might be a better idea to only allow tourists in to look at the building during specific times. I wondered why Mormons don't open the temple during certain hours for visitors. I guess most members would think that allowing others in would desecrate the temple, even though it's believed that it's the ordinances that are sacred, not exactly the space.



Peter and Paul Fortress Thrones photo 2014-07-13173615_zps01157443.jpg
We toured the prison at the Peter and Paul Fortress, where a lot of political prisoners were held. The grounds outside were lovely, and besides these thrones and some statues, they held the church where the Romanovs and many other royal family members are buried. I've never seen the movie Anastasia, but I was fascinated by the story of the last Romanovs in power. Amy told me that she read about how as the family was held hostage in their own home, the women sewed diamonds into their clothing to take with them in preparation for escaping. Unfortunately, that meant that when they were taken into the basement and shot, it took their assassins a long time to kill them because their clothes were bullet-proof and the killers didn't want to shoot them in the head! Isn't that horrible?



Teremok Crepes photo 2014-07-13185053_zps0ee2f715.jpg
We discovered the crepes at this Teremok place and ate a lot there twice. Paul ate about twenty salads, and Lindsey fell in love with the sweetened and condensed milk crepes. Poor Sica wasn't as enthusiastic about it as the rest of us after she received a crepe with raw salmon in it.

Paul was able to book our hotel through his Google connections, and it had a really great location by Nevsky Prospekt. On our last morning, we discovered that the second person in each room had racked up an additional charge of $30 per day for breakfast (the first breakfast was included). Even though we fought and fought with the concierge about how no one had told us about this charge and we would have eaten elsewhere if we'd known about it, we didn't get anywhere. I'm at least glad that I took a bit of food with me to hold me over each day.

Something else I found funny about our Novotel hotel was that they had several signs about how to save water and electricity and labor by hanging up towels and indicating that we didn't want our sheets changed and such, but every day, Sica and I received a new bar of soap. I would have been perfectly happy with the same bar of soap every day and it seemed paradoxical to keep replacing that but to leave all the other things.



View from Google in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-13201606_zpsf062ba2a.jpg
This is the view from Google. The round building on the left is where we stayed. Paul brought us all into Google twice, where we enjoyed chocolate, drinks, ice cream, ping pong, foosball, and pool.



Googlaxing photo 2014-07-13194657_zps2d00dbeb.jpg
It's funny to me that we were in Russia and chose to chillax at Google. What better place though, right? I know my sore feet appreciated the rest.

I spent some time by myself trying to find one of those lovely, long floral dresses I saw so many women wearing, but the best ones in St. Petersburg were around $300. Eek.


French Dog in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-14130310_zpsafe237cd.jpg
Jeff told me that I had to try one of these street "French Dogs." One lady took my money but then tried to give me something else. Luckily, Jeff interceded and made her give me back my money. Unfortunately, the young woman at the next place was a lot nicer, but my bun was stale and there was barely any sauce inside. Jeff was nice and gave me a bite of his later so I could see what it should really be like. The bun has a hole in the middle that is filled with cheese sauce, mustard, and ketchup before a hot dog is shoved inside.



Beautiful Fence in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-14130848_zps32e9853a.jpg
I loved the gates of the park near the Church of the Savor on Spilled Blood.



Most Expensive Ice Cream Ever in St. Petersburg ($14) photo 2014-07-14150055_zps65e28ed0.jpg
Yes, since China, I've accepted the brilliance of wearing a backpack in the front—you can more easily get to your stuff, it forces you to stand straighter, and you don't have to worry about people behind you stealing your stuff.

On our last full day in St. Petersburg, Paul mentioned that he wanted some ice cream since it was so hot, and since I had some rubles I still needed to spend, I decided to get some, too. I asked a woman at an ice cream cart in the park if I could try two flavors to compare, but she wouldn't let me. I had Jeff ask her which of the two flavors was better and got the one she liked. She handed me the cone and then told me the total and my eyes about popped out of my head. It was around $14! I guess I got my own version of the expensive lemonade in Moscow. Amy said she hoped it was the best ice cream I'd ever had.

Overall, our trip was really great. I loved seeing cool new places with my family and I'm really appreciative of everything each person contributed. After Michael and I get settled somewhere, where are we headed next?

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