Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No Pets Please

No luck with houses so it's back to apartment hunting. Fortunately two units freed up at two different locations over last weekend. I looked at one of them yesterday after work. Three small bedrooms, two full baths, living room, open kitchen. Pros: all utilities are included in the rent and each apartment comes with its own washer and dryers. Cons: NO garage and it's located just behind the community college. The rent is on par with what I was used to in Rochester but it's considered very high for this community. The lack of parking garage is a big concern.

I've heard of people "plugging in" their cars in the winter time but it wasn't until recently did someone actually explain to me what that meant. Most people in town have block heaters and remote starters for the brutally cold winters here in NW Minnesota. The block heater is plugged into an electrical outlet in the evenings to keep the engine from freezing up in the winter. Occasional cold weather may not prevent a car from starting up normally but persistent 40 below days can really do a number on the engine oil causing poor circulation and vaporization of fuel in the engine. Since not all parking lots have electric outlets many people also program their remote starter to start the car in 4 hours intervals to prevent the engine from cooling down for too long. Having neither one of these two things I'll just have to wait and see how things are going to turn out with my car and really put the German engineering to test.

I was able to get away during my lunch break today to see the other available apartment just a quarter mile down the road from the back entrance of my work place. It's an ideal location with detached parking garages. The apartment is spacious, clean, well lit and cheaper than the other one I looked at. The property manager was friendly and gregarious. She had brought over an application for me in case I want to put down a security deposit. Everything was perfect and then I asked the dreaded question, "what's the pet policy here?" The nice lady firmly said, "no, we don't allow any pets here. I understand how some people really like their pets but I would never have animals living inside the house." And before she could finish her sentences she took the applications away from me. So I guess it's back to the little place without parking garage...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Baudette, MN

I didn't get on the road as early as I had hoped but what's the hurry. The little settlements in this part of the country probably haven't changed for decades. The area immediately outside of the town is covered by flat farm land with rich top soil and very few trees.

The Amazons always comes to mind when people think about deforestation but the whole entire state of Minnesota, Wisconsin and other areas around Lake Superior have no old growth forest dating beyond the late 1800s. All hardwood, except the "Lost 40", was harvest by large timber corporations between 1890 and 1930. It's said that today less than 2 percent of the Minnesota's forested land is considered old growth. The so called "Lost 40" is pretty much the only forest area left untouched by loggers due to a land surveying error in 1882. The 144 acres of forest simply didn't exist on the map and is now home to a variety of old-growth tree species, including over 300-year-old white pine. Here's an interesting article on salvaging old timber from the bottom of Lake Superior. Well, enough talk about the "Lost 40" because that's another day's trip.

Today I'm heading to Baudette, MN, a small town northeast here on the Canadian border, also known as the Walleye capital of the world. Walleye was adopted by Minnesota as the state fish in 1965. I'm heading up to Baudette for a photo opt with Willie Walleye and get a brat and potato pancakes at the Oktoberfest.

The leaves are starting to turn in this region and peak fall colors are just another week or so away. The drive up was pleasant as long as I stayed in Indian reservations where there were very little land developed for mass farming. The only sizable town before reaching Baudette is Warroad, MN. By sizable I mean with population over 1000.

As I drove through the town on Route 11 I saw a very nice building that said something visitor center so I decided to pull over and investigate. The parking lot was completely empty but the door was open. "WM. S. Marvin Training and Visitor Center". The name didn't ring a bell until I walked in and saw "Marvin Windows and Door."

"So this is where it all started?" I asked the receptionist. She was extremely friendly and helpful and got me started on a self guided tour of the expansive visitor center. This is easily THE best visitor center I have ever seen for any company, Smith&Wesson or Bacardi. I walked around took some pictures and purchased a big yellow coffee mug as a souvenir.
We chatted a little about my recent move to the area and the day's plan to go to Baudette, 36 miles east of Warroad. She also told me that her sister in-law works at the same company as me and her last name is Lovely. I think the king penguin in that Happy Feet movie was also named Lovely. Everyone is related to each other around here. On my way out she ran to the office and offered me a bottle of water for the road. I was probably the only visitor she's had all day and I almost felt bad for leaving her there by herself in the huge atrium.

Warroad is on the edge of the Lake of the Woods, the sixth largest freshwater lake in the US after the Great Lakes (the Great Salt Lake in Utah is the 6th largest by size). With 65,000 miles of shoreline and 14,552 islands there's no wonder why it's a popular vacation spot for the locals. However, without a boat it's difficult to appreciate its beauty from the flat shoreline other than feelings evoked from the name "Lake of the Woods" and the adjacent area "Waters of the Dancing Sky."

Perhaps another little known fact is an area on the northern shore of Lake of the Woods, Northwest Angle, is the the only part of the US north of the 49th parallel other than Alaska, making it the northern most point in the 48 contiguous states. According to Wiki "Due to laws restricting fishing, some residents of the Northwest Angle suggested leaving the United States and joining Canada in 1997." I've never seen any bumper sticker that says "Free Northwest Angle"!

The sun had finally burned through the clouds by the time I reached Baudette. The lady back at the visitor center told me to stop by AmericInn for an area map but the hotel people said they had no such thing. Instead one of the they told me the Oktoberfest is just a mile down in "downtown" and I can't miss it from all the cars parked around the big tent. Well, I think I would have easily missed the whole town if I weren't paying attention! And by "all the cars" I think she meant maybe 20 of them. There was music in the tent and lots of "polkateers". I was shocked to find out the admission is $15 and includes nothing but a seat in the tent. Well. despite all the driving the only way I would give up $15 here is if there was a big spread of all-you-can eat German food buffet. I politely declined on the entrance fee and just got some food to go. Because I stopped in between lunch and dinner time the choices were limited. I got a brat and some sauerkraut for $2 and ate it on a bench down the street. The potato pancakes were still in the making and won't be ready for another half hour. I didn't drive all the way to an Oktoberfest without getting a potato pancake!

While waiting on the pancakes I walked around the "town" a bit, which consisted of one block of Main Street with a hardware store, a Wells Fargo bank, a hotel and two gift shops. I walked right up to the Canadian border but didn't dare to cross it. It was safe to get a couple pictures of Willie Walleye and Baudette Bay. Weighting in 2 tons and measuring 40 feet long, Willie Walleye is the world's largest walleye statue. A quick look at list of "World's Largest" reveals a huge cluster of big statues on this state. I see more day trips in my future.

The potato pancake was definitely worth waiting for. That along with the lady at the visitor center and the lovely scenery made up for all the driving. I took a different route home and luckily it was much more scenic than the one I had taken in the morning. Majority of the drive was lined with rich fall colors contrasted by the pale white birch tree barks. I had driving along Lower Red Lake during my first trip here back in July but it was pitch dark at the time and I couldn't even see anything. The Lake is big enough where one couldn't easily see the outer parameters. 388 miles later I was home again just as it got dark.

Once my cellphone signal picked up again I talked to my parents about my "second" full day in Minnesota. Originally I was going to tell them once I moved here but then I didn't want the news to hit abruptly so I ended up going through the whole process with them which took 3 weeks from my resignation letter to the final move. Mom is terrified of me driving so I had to tell her I flew here and got a rental car to save her some worries.


It's Friday and the walls are coming down at the office...literately. The boss thought it would be a good idea to knock down the wall between two offices and make a bigger office for potentially four people even though there's only three of us in the department so far. I had a hard time getting refocused after moving the office and finding another temporary spot to settle down for next week.

Stopped by the post office during my lunch break to check up on my mail. I've been here for a solid three weeks now but have only gotten a couple pieces of mail here and there. I know I'm missing some packages, bills and statements but they had nothing for me. I've also noticed that regular mail takes an extra week to get here! My final RG&E bill took over a week to go from Rochester to here with the proper address. Just another side effect of living in a rural community.

I ended leaving work an hour early to get my internet fixed by the cable people. The weather improved 100% since this morning. It was windy, cold, raining and miserable. By 4pm it was sunny and warm. The fall colors are really starting to shine in the sunlight. It was a beautiful scene. I felt like doing something or go somewhere but struggled to come up with anything. By the time the cable guys left I was too tired and lazy to do anything but to take a nap! I slept until 8 and now it's almost 3am. Better try to go back bed and get up early for my day trip!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't Judge a Pepper by Its Cover

The lesson of the day: don't judge a pepper by its cover. When I went to Walmart over the weekend there were no hot peppers of any kind. Although the bell peppers were plentiful they were not very fresh. I love spicy food and hot chili peppers are almost as important part of a meal as red meat. The smell of fresh peppers reminds me of the markets near my grandparents house in Hunan where I grew up.

Desperate to find something palatable for dinner I stopped by Hugos on the way home from work. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a big pile of fresh hot chili peppers sitting on the veggie shelf as if they've been waiting for me! They must have been home grown somewhere nearby. I can tell they are probably just under a week old from the firmness and the condition of the stems. These peppers are much bigger than average and more straight which usually means they are probably not as hot. Peppers that are spicy are typically long, skinny and twisted (no pun intended).

Boy was I wrong about these peppers! I sautéed them with thin sliced beef and mushrooms. It was easily one of the hottest meals I've ever made or had! My mouth was on fire as I teared up with running noise and ran for the fridge for a glass of cold milk. Frankly the peppers were just way too spicy to eat so I had to pick them out to finish my dinner. I ended up drinking four glasses of milk and spent the rest of the night in the bathroom. Not good.

On the positive side, the numbness in my mouth gave me a break for the terrible toothache I've been having for the last couple of days. I suspected that one of my upper wisdom tooth has finally grown out enough that now bitting and sinking into my lower jaw. The pain has gotten so intolerable I could barely chew or talk so I was left with no choice but to see the dentist. Skeptical of medical fraud I made a point to get recommendations from coworkers for a reputable dentist in town. Luckily I was able to get an appointment today from another cancellation. My benefits don't kick in at the new job until Nov. 1st so any expenses from the appointment will have to be 100% out of my pocket. I explained my situation to the dentists and told them I need the cheapest possible temporary solution for now and come back for the full treatment in Nov. Everyone there was surprising accommodating and I didn't even have to an x-ray! The problem was exactly the same as I had thought. The indentation on the lower jaw was so severe that I had an exactly imprint of my upper tooth! Ouch! The cheapest quick fix was simple to file down my wisdom tooth so that it doesn't pushes down as much! It only took a couple of minutes in the chair and $50 bucks out of my wallet. This is by far the cheapest, fastest and most painless dental appointment ever! Things are feeling a little better now but I have to wait for a couple of days for things to heal.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Week

I can't believe I'm already into week three of my job. In a few more days I would have had been here for a whole month! I'm practically a local...NOT! I guess time really flies when you're doing nothing!

I'm getting acclimated to the local culture here in northwestern MN. Having traveled quite a bit after college I'm used to accepting new cultures and adjust to new environments, basically make due with what's available. I brought one cooking pot with me and that's all I've got to wipe up some simple meals. The meatloaf I got last week from the store was just terrible like a combination of a solid block of ground meat and spam! I've tried some local bratwursts but I find them too salty. For the last two nights I've been having walleye for dinners. Walleye is the fish of the region which means it's pretty much the only fish sold at the stores around here. It tastes and looks more or less like cod but with a tiny bit more seafood flavor. Couple towns around here are known as the Walleye capitals of the world. I plan to visit soon and take a picture with the big walleye.

Although I'm still in the continental US there are times when I feel like I'm in a different planet. For one thing I'm pretty isolated off work hours. This is no different than when I'm on the road by myself especially in a foreign country where I don't speak the language. I don't mind the solitude but it's really putting a dent on my wallet with all the online shopping I've been doing! Internet and credit card is just a bad combination.

Before coming here I've never heard or seen a fish house. That'll likely to change this winter. Ice fishing is huge around here. That and hunting and snowmobiling. I saw my first hedge balls last week at the Super One grocery store with big sign in front that says "DO NOT EAT!" According to Wiki it's also referred to as "Osage-orange, Horse-apple, Bois D'Arc, or Bodark (Maclura pomifera)." Supposedly the locals use it to keep the spiders away...with the weather cooling down I doubt they are still around anyways. People refer to garage sales and rummage sales, one level ranch houses are known as Ramblers and roofs are always shingles.

People often have their own ways of referring to things and at times they can be difficult for a new person to get use to. For example some people at work condense the word "regulations" to "regs". It took me a while to figure out what they were talking about. What really drives me off the walls is individuals who refer to the Export Administration Regulations or E-A-R as "ears" like two ears on the sides of your head. This is just unheard of! I literally cringe every time I hear someone say that. Also it should be abbreviated as "EAR" not "EARs"!!! I actually went into the system today and took the "s" off "EARs" on some of the official documents...of course, I didn't tell anyone or they'll think I'm crazy. They probably think I'm crazy anyways. Calling "E-A-R" "ears" is like having an emergency responder refer to 9-1-1 as 9-11 (nine eleven). It's just not right! No emergency responder would ever say that and if you said that to a responder they'll probably cringe and correct you!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Woke up with a splitting headache this morning. After failing to fall back to sleep for a couple of hours I finally rolled out of bed before noon. Keeping my expectations low for the day I had four things to get done: laundry, hair cut, dishes and grocery shopping.

The hair cut went better than expected. Although there was no line at the House of Hair the appointment seemed to have gone on forever. The hair dresser really took her time as if she's cutting each hair individually. It turned out that she works at the same company as I do during the day and had heard people talking about me in recent conversations. She told me the others said I was very "nice" and now that she has met me she can tell that I AM very nice. It's a everyone knows everyone kind of place and I am the talk of the town for this month. Well I'm both flattered and worried at the same time. One false move can really leave a bad impression on people I haven't even met yet. I wanted to make an appointment for a massage before I left but the masseuse only works from 10 to 3 M to F. What kind of schedule is that???

Fortunately by the time I left the salon the sky had cleared up and so did my headache. I went for a walk in the neighborhood and along the river. Autumn colors are make its way through the sleepy little town. I put the top down on my car probably for the last time this year. I thought, what a beautiful day!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've been getting into the habit of starting work before 8am every day. It's surprising how much motivation overtime brings. Usually it takes me longer to walk from the parking lot to the office than it is to drive from the apartment to work. The cold west wind is making that walk more and more unpleasant each day. The rabbit fur heavy duty Manchurian hat I ordered online came in the mail yesterday. I look forward to wearing it soon however ridiculous it may look. I've got no one to impress here other than keeping myself warm and make it through the winter.

It's Saturday but being accustomed to get up in the morning I couldn't get back to sleep after 8. Instead I got up and thought it could be a good day to make another attempt to drive to Winnipeg. First I need to get an oil change. And little did I know my day pretty much started and stopped there! GRRRR!

I rolled into the service stall at Oil Boyz just down the street about 500ft from my apartment at 8:30. I worked on my coffee and the local newspaper as the guys got to work on my car. Always full synthetic to save the number of trips I need to make to the shop. Half hour later one of the guys came up to the window and told me they don't have the right tools to take my car apart to do the oil change. I've heard about this before at other oil changes. For some reason VW has 6 unique screws holding a plate at the bottom of the car which doesn't seem to come off very easily. I was already overdue for an oil change and I didn't feel like make the trip to Winnipeg without one.

So instead I went to a real estate auction in town. It was so frigid this morning I wish I had wore gloves. The house is very cute indeed. The owner had lived there for 45 years and recently passed away. Tomorrow is her birthday. I was just there to observe. Technically I have an open offer out until Monday at 5pm so my hands are tied. The house has two bedrooms, one bath, eat in kitchen, half finished basement and a single car garage. It's got a lot of charm packed into a small space. It also needs all new carpet, paint, windows, bathroom remodeling and new kitchen appliances. But knowing how cheap I am if I moved in there I'd probably try to get through the winter without a refrigerator and just put everything in the garage. By the time I left the house was going for 57K which is still a pretty good deal considering it's 5 houses down from the river and in a very nice neighborhood.

I then came back home to call the cable company because my wireless router hasn't been working for the last two days. Despite countless attempts I couldn't get the router to rest to default setting so now it's stuck with the Ben&Jerry as the name with limited connectivity. GRRR! I spent an hour on the phone with the tech people trying to fix the problem remote but nothing worked. GRRRR! Instead they have to call me back on Monday to send someone over to check it out. Luckily I can latch onto another open network in the meantime.

So then oil change attempt #2 to Walmart. There was no line so I was optimistic to get it down relatively quickly. And being Walmart they probably have seen lots of cars including WV bugs. Well, the oil changes seemed to have taken forever. My heart just dropped when one of the guys told me they've never worked on a bug before. I watched on as he struggled to take my car apart to check my air filters. I had no intention to get new ones but luckily he wasn't even able to take them out so there's no way to change them even if I wanted to! Walmart had exactly the same problem as Oil Boyz. No one seem to have the right tool to take off these VW screws! So instead they told me they can do the oil change without taking things apart. How? I have no idea. By then I was getting really concerned that my car might fall apart as soon as I leave the store. The whole thing took almost 2 hours! I ended up getting fried chicken at Walmart for lunch and was thirsty for the rest of the day. By the time they were finally done with my car I was thoroughly frustrated.

While looking through the papers I saw an advertisement for animal adoption at the Humane society. There was a picture of a orange tabby with "deformed"" ears. I thought the cat looked like an American Curl, which is a breed characterized by curly ears. Not have seen one in person before I decided to pay him a visit. The people there where very nice and the cats were plentiful. Although seemed a little crowded, the animals seem like they were being well taken care off. There were a dozen dogs for adoption as well. They had a large fenced field to run in. Most of them were labs or collies, all big dogs. The kitties were so cute! Maybe once I get settled with my kitties here I can adopt the orange cat with the funny ears. There was also a black one with too many toes! I want to take them all home. I miss my Teddy and Ernie. :(

By early afternoon the temperature warmed up to the 50s. With fall foliage in town I decided to go for a river walk. Even though I have already seen every house on the market in my price range I still drove around town like a made person looking for any house I might have missed somehow. Nothing turned up.

Determined to get another productive thing in before the sun goes down I stopped by the House of Hair. Not sure if it's somewhere I would go in Rochester. I walked in half hour before their closing time but they told me it was too late to start a hair cut. Hum, really, why don't they just have their closing time set a half hour early then! I was a bit annoyed. On the way home I stopped by a second hand store and picked up the ugliest jacket ever with every shade of puking green. I had to get something to make the stop worthwhile and the jacket probably had the best quality out of everything there. It's heavy and ornate. For $12 I would wear it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Real Estate Drama

As the weather cools down I'm starting to get pretty anxious to move into my own place. Most of the homes in my price range are built in the early 1900s. Older homes even with a somewhat nice exterior still need lots of work inside from floor treatment, new energy efficient windows to bathroom and kitchen remodeling. I'm up for some work myself but with financial constraints I have to be realistic with what projects I can take on. The benefit for being in such a small place is that I can qualify for a state subsidized program called the rural development loan for purchasing a property in an community with less than 20,000 population. The program currently offers first time home buyers with zero down payment and 3.75% 30-yr fix interest rate.

On my way home yesterday I drove by the yellow house near to take a second look. I had seen the house last week and really like the brand new interior. The location is less than ideal for being directly across the street from the municipal lot where the snow plows are and only one block away from the railroad. It just happens that there was an open house there when I drove by. One more walk through inside of the house convinced me to put in an offer this morning. I called it in to the real estate agent on my way to work around 7:30 and signed all the paperworks during my lunch break. Houses here are a bit overpriced for a small town and many sellers and Realtors prey on people like myself who are new in town and desperately in need of a place to live. My offer was considerably lower than the listing price but much higher than what any locals would pay for. I mentioned it to two people at work and they were both appalled by the listing price.

I was nervous about the offer all morning. A permanent decision kind like marriage is nothing to take lightly of and I've already learned my lesson the hard way with one of those. Once I delivered the signed check for earnest money the clock started to ticking. I thought it was going to be a long weekend ahead but an unexpected call came through my work phone just half hour later for the counter offer. I thought about it carefully for exactly 5 minutes. Even until now I'm not completely sold on the location or the price. I held my ground and told the agent that the seller has until Monday at 5pm to either accept or decline my original offer.

Although the company feels very corporate and stuck to its ways my boss is completely different. She is personal, supportive and caring almost like a mom. I respect and look up to her on a professional level and truly like her as a genuine person. In this day and age that's a rare thing in a manager. It's a dog eat dog world. Most people are driven by self interest and will do whatever it takes to get ahead even in other people's expenses. I think she really cares about the people around her regardless of the nature of the relationships. We chatted for a little while over the phone just before I clocked out at 5. She was concerned about my real estate situation and reassured me that she'll do everything she can to help.

After work I had a very interesting encounter during a house viewing. Couple of weeks ago I drove by a small house not far from my temporary apartment at 123 Spruce Ave. the lawn was completely torn up and the garage was yet to be built. There was a hand written for sale sign in the front with a phone number. I casually asked the real estate agent about it but since it wasn't his listing he had nothing nice to say about it. Curious to see it for myself I finally called up the owner.

Denis was happy to show me the house and his plans to finish up the interior and the oversize 28X28ft garage. Denis is a man of few words and when he did speak he spoke very slowly. The showing started in the basement which was completely full of tools and materials. The walls were freshly painted and the ceiling is just tall enough for me to move around freely. There is a small built-in sauna room in one corner of the basement which Denis referred to it also as the tornado room. A bit claustrophobic for me but it sure looked like a safe spot if there is ever a tornado ripping through town. The ceiling is like nothing I've seen before with symmetrically cut out 1ft cubes and recess lighting. The upstairs is just out of the world. Denis had doubled the original wall to make the house super insulated which made the windows at least a foot into the walls. It was like looking outside from a thick stone walled castle. The master suite has a custom built closet organizer with heated floor tiles in the bathroom and a heat blower on the ceiling that one can just turn on and use as a hair dryer! All the fixtures are of great quality. On one side of the master bedroom also has a built in space for a stackable washer and dryer. The floor in the main living area is sold oak hardwood. The tiles in the kitchen has beautiful decorative inlays. There's another half bathroom off the living area but unfortunately that's about all there is! The house has only one bedroom, possibly even smaller than some one-bedroom apartments. For the amount of work and material that went into the house there's no way Denis would ever be able to break even. He had original built the house for himself but as his mom's healthy deteriorated last year he has to take her to the nursing home and stay at her house instead. Denis had a earnest quality about him that's a rarely find nowadays.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lunch or Dinner

A week into my new job and I'm starting to get to know my coworkers. Due to space constraints I am sharing a small office with one of my coworkers. In order to limit the amount of time we actually spend together and eventually get on each others nerves I try to time my breaks and lunch breaks out of sync from hers. On my second day at work she went on break at noon and told me she was going to dinner. I said "you mean lunch?" She walked out of the office without responding. Ever since that incident she reminded me every day at the exact same time, noon, that she is going to dinner! I am completely baffled. After a busy morning I looked up the clock and saw it was already 11:30 so I started to say "oh, it's almost time to go to lunch" but had to stop in mid sentence and change to "time to go eat" so I'm not offending anyone by calling lunch lunch! This is completely ridiculous I thought.

There are two huge cafeterias at work. One so big it could easily hold a couple hundreds of people at the same time. There are also lots of smaller kitchenettes scattered all over the office building each with coffee makers and 5 to 10 microwaves. At the old job I often did errands on my lunch break with everything so close in Henrietta, post office, Wegmans, Walmart, etc. Now with nowhere to go except for maybe the post office in "downtown", I use all of my 30 minutes heating up and eating my lunch at the big cafeteria by myself just like how it was in high school. During busy lunch hour it's actually difficult to get a table all to myself. Kind of intimidating.

People here are pretty nice but I really don't see myself spending much time with them outside of work. One of the coworkers suggested that she get a couple of her girlfriends together and take me out for one of the evenings. I told her I'm accustomed to being very independent. I guess what I'm really saying is that I'm kind of a loner. Today we had lunch together and I learned two new things from her.
1. The big blue-heron-like birds I occasionally see on the side of country roads are actually sandhill cranes.
2. Two sandhill cranes were shot in her backyard last night and went through the "debreaster"!!! A "debreaster" or "debreaser" is a device to extract breasts off of game birds. I don't think it's something readily available to be ordered on Amazon or even ebay but her boyfriend somehow found a drawing of it and had it made by one of the engineers from Arti Cat (yes, that's how the locals say it).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hoarder Diet

With limited dinning choices around town I have been making my own meals everyday and have enough leftovers to take to work for lunch. Tonight is no different. Once dinner is ready I plopped down on the couch right in front of the TV. I think there was a study out there that says it's not good to watch TV and eat at the same time because people tends to eat more in oblivion. Tonight I've noticed that eating while watching programs like Hoarders can actually be a really good way for a diet. All the houses in the show are disgusting but tonight there was one old lady living in a house overflown with 5 ft of garbage cumulated over 10 years and a bathroom with no pluming and completely filled with plastic bags with excrements! There were also like three dead cats and other dead animals. YUCK!!! So if you're on a diet, make sure to tap the episode and watch it whenever you're eating!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mission Impossible II

Another sunny day here in the northwest corner of Viking land. I've gotten word that there are couple of Asian grocery stores in Grand Forks, ND. so I decided to go for a drive. Besides, I've been meaning to check out Gordman's and the Super Target. It was my first trip to a Gordman. It's like a cross between Kolns and TJ Maxx. I picked up two coffee mugs printed with Beethoven 1st piano sonata in f minor and the master's signature on the inside. Very nice pieces. The Super Target is no different than a regular Target with a small grocery section on one end. Nothing to write home about but I had to buy something to make the trip worthwhile. Four boxes of Puffs with Lotion and a bag of Starbucks Cinnamon coffee, then it's onto the Toucan International. I drove back and forth on S. Washington for a good half hour and couldn't find the store for the life of me. When I almost collided with another for overlooking a stop sign I knew it was time to call off the search. No Asian food or tofu for the next week. In the end, I spent more money on gas than the stuff I actually bought. A bit disappointed with the shopping trip but happy to come home and get some ingredients for dinner at Walmart.

The wind wasn't has bad for the drive today but still nothing to take lightly. Now I'm not sure how much driving I'll really be doing around here when the weather worsens. More house hunting for next week. Would be nice to find a place of my own since I'll be spending so much time being a home body/couch potato. I've been watching just about everything on basic cable: all sorts of food challenges, house hunter international, discover channel, history channel but unfortunately, no travel channel. Another week of work is coming up. The only thing I'm looking forward to is the paycheck at end of the week.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mission Impossible

The weekend is a much needed relief from the reality of office work. Situated directly on the distribution floor at times I wished I was walking around packaging boxes. There's no doubt that I switch jobs if the pay was the same. One week in, another week of work before my first paycheck. Nothing boosts more enthusiasm than good old US funds. I'm completed glued to the TV or occupied by internet shopping for just about every night after work. A total couch potato. There's nothing to do, nowhere to go. In most part I'm perfectly content to just stay at home.

However, it is the weekend and Saturday morning started with bright sunshine after days of heavy rain so I decided to take a drive to Winnipeg. The 6th largest city in Canada is suppose to be 2 hours away but my GPS showed over 3 hours. It also took me twice the time to drive to Fargo compare to what locals tell me. Staying optimistic I hoped to get to the city around lunch time. On the way out of town on HWY59 I drove by a farmer's market/craft sale in the park. I was able to find some fresh hot peppers, a rare treat nowadays even in Wegmans. For some reason grocery stores rarely carry fresh peppers of any kind these days. The peppers were 25 cents a piece, well worth the price.

As I got further outside of the town my cell signal dropped and the wind picked up. I've heard from the locals that the winters here are especially brutal because of the wind. Although the snowfall may not be much more than what we get in Upstate New York, lack of natural barrier and snow drift makes it impossible to drive on these country roads. Driving due north towards Winnipeg I was constantly trying to combat the wind by steering to the left. I could hear the wind hitting my soft car top as if it's going to fly off anytime. It didn't take long before I started to get second thoughts on going to Winnipeg. The wind was relentless, bending over trees and long grass moved like ocean waves in the flat fields. Finally I decided to abandon the mission 30 miles from where I started at Strandquist, population 88. I didn't get very far but I'm sure there will be other opportunities. My biggest concern is that this may not be anything out of the ordinary.

The real estate market in town is slim pickings and a bit over priced compare to other area towns (or settlements since they are so small). Until now I had been thinking about expanding my search but today proves that there is just no way I could handle daily commute from outside of town. This winter is going to be a true testament of my will and German engineering.

Luckily the drive didn't go wasted. On the way back I noticed some spectators lined up on the main street in Newfolden so I decided to stop and investigate. It turned out that I was just in time for the parade. No idea what was for but it sure was an eye opener. You know you're at a country parade when there are farm animals walking and more tractors than fire trucks. Even with the piercing wind I was able to get a little enjoyment out of it. Sometimes I wish there was some type of support group for newbies to get acclimated to the local culture.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Deep Breath

Like first day of school, there was orientation, gathering of supplies, meet and greet and IT computer login problems. No traffic in the morning but there was a mass exit at 5pm. By the time I got back to my apartment I was utterly exhausted. Luckily I spent all yesterday cooking, cleaning and doing laundry so the only thing I had to do this evening was to gather enough energy to heat up some leftovers and pass out on the couch watching a documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright. What a difficult man he was!

Having gotten into a bit of trouble before for mentioning my ex-company name on this blog I will refrain from specifying the name of my current employer, individuals I work with and any specifics relating to my work. However, I will say that large corporation can be stiffing and a whole day preaching of HR policies and procedures didn't help. Two things I learned today: 1, the "cafeteria plan" had nothing to do with food but rather it's what they call a Flex Spending Account (how disappointing!) and 2, there's is a lactation room in the building (and that's all I need to say about that!).

New job, new beginning. If it's not apparent by now that I'm ambitious I don't know what will. Moving here wasn't really all that big of a deal but it was a big step nevertheless. Working is just what everyone has to do to pay the bills and go on vacation. The key for me is to keep things in perspective. I may not have a nice office or even a desirable working environment but the paycheck will surely make everything better. George Eastman had it right. What you do for work determines what you have and what you do on your free time determines who you are.

What's there to do now is to keep my head down and work. Having moved to a new school every year from 1st to 5th grade, I'm not afraid to start from scratch in a new environment. I want to stay for a while but there's always some hesitation. For a free spirit holding a corporate job is like trying to hold your breathe under water. Time for a deep breath.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fargo, ND

With Grand Forks under my belt the next stop is Fargo, ND. Feeling a bit under the weather these couple of days I slept in until 11 this morning. I absolutely had to clean my car before I got on the road. The shopping trip with the 3-year-old yesterday really did a number on my car, cookie crumbs, bubble gum and hand prints everywhere. I vacuumed everything and wiped the seats down twice, once with leather cleaner and then damp clothe to get rid of the marks. Finally by 1pm I was ready to hit the road.

Fargo is about 2 hours south west of here. The GSP doesn't always find the shortest or fastest road but I followed it anyways. I had no particular destination in mind but did look up the address for an Asian grocery store before I left. Long and open roads. Flat and monotonous. Fields of sun flowers past their prime. I suppose it was a solitaire drive. I was really excited to see the 75mph speed limit on highway 29!

Despite the stories that I've heard from the neighbor about transplants who couldn't make it through I remain hopeful and determined to be here for a while. My Realtor told me about how land was assigned on a first-come-first serve bases way back in the days. 250 acres with 5 years of residency. The times were tough but the rewards were generous. The land here is fertile. After the first five years some sold their land and made a good profit. Others acquired more land to expand their business. In someways I feel like one of the earlier residents. It won't always be easy but hopefully it will all be worthwhile at the end. There's only one goal in mind: be grateful and make the best out of everything.

Fargo was smaller than I thought with just over 200,000 population according to the US census, similar to the city of Rochester. Majority of the shopping is concentrated on 13th Ave. just like Jefferson Rd. in Henrietta. Here you'll find Red Lobster, Oliver Garden, Hooters, the Mall, Office Max, Bad, Bath and Beyond. Of course, I had to stop in my favorite store, TJ Maxx, for a pair of gloves that I'll likely have to start wearing soon.

The Asian & American Market located on 1015 Main Avenue was about the same size as the Asian market on Brighton-Henrietta Town-line. I got some Indian curry sauce, coconut milk, hot sauce, frozen dumplings and tofu. The tofu selection was pretty limited and prices were at least 25% higher than what I was used to but that'll have to do for now. I have to work with what I've got. Afterwards I got a quick meal at the Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant. The Mongolian Beef was so-so but I wolfed it down anyways since it was the only meal I've had all day. Now I know there's really nothing I'm missing out on in Grand Forks or Fargo. Still three more things I want to do before snow fall: go kayaking on Lake Itasca, visit Chinatown in Winnipeg and tango in Minneapolis. I have a feeling I'm going to be putting on lots of miles on the bug.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


People, like everything else, is best in moderation. The friendly neighbor have quickly turned into a nuisance to a point where I have officially decided to distance myself to save my sanity. This is starting to turn out to be a culture shock like Paris Hilton and the Simple Life except different...

Late last night I was alarmed by the sound of a moewing kitten just outside of my window. Having two kitties of my own I had to go check on it. He was a cute little guy with long soft dark gray fur. I gave him some leftover rice from dinner. Being a softy as I am I can't stand the sight of stray animals especially little cute babies. He looked like he was in good health but cold and hungry. I took him into my apartment and looked up the number for the nearby animal shelter but they were closed. Later the neighbors told me the shelter doesn't take cats since they're already at full capacity and the police would just come and shot the cat. Welcome to rural MN.

Then I was invited to hangout with with the neighbor since she had just put her 3-year-old daughter to sleep. It was a good way to take my mind off of the cat but it didn't take long before my mind went totally numb. The night stretched well pass 2am with talking, talking and more talking. Just as I thought I was finally able to get back to my place I was asked to bring my laptop over to look for kids power rides online. It was a nightmare as I knew I had to rinse and repeat for today's shopping date!

The shopping trip to Grand Forks was dreadful. I even contemplated on sneaking out before she come knocking on my door but I didn't have the heart to dismiss the appointment especially since she's been looking forward to it.

The horror started at 11 and lasted for 7 hours. There was no escape from her voice. I struggled to stay focus on the road and nodding my head to whatever was said...everything from relationships, difficult pregnancy, 3 days of labor, raising kids and all the details in between that's probably better left untold. The day got worse as it went on. Having lived here all her life we somehow got lost between here and Grand Forks. Luckily I had my GPS handy. The 45 minutes of driving easily turned into an hour and half of unrelenting talking. As soon as we got to the mall it was back to school shopping time for the three-year-old cutie.

I couldn't decide which one was worse, the talking or the shopping. I sat and waited patiently as little Gracie tried on all the shoes at JCPenny's. We then shopped for backpack, socks, underwear and things for the mom. I was not in the mood for anything. Lunch was borderline tolerable. I was left taking care of the kid as the mom borrowed my cellphone to make calls outside. She had offered to pick up lunch the day before since I had paid for both of their dinners at the buffet. Of course, we got separate checks and I covered my own meal. No big deal. We left the restaurant table in a complete mess and I don't think she even left a tip for her half of the bill. I give up.

Grand Forks is like the only mega shopping center in a 60-mile radius and with that comes the traffic. By now everything is getting on my nerves. After driving around the shopping plazas for a while we finally got to TJ Maxx. I found a nice cardigan, a polish pottery coffee mug like bunch of other ones I already have but didn't pack for this trip and a lovely scented Yankee candle. To give some credit to the kid, she was very well behaved for a three-year-old and extra adorable with blond curls. Just as when I thought it couldn't get any worse the mom asked to borrow some money for shopping. Even though it was only $10 that I'll never see again I was still really annoyed not with the day but the fact I have a hard time saying no to people.

The drive home was just as painful with conversations like do Chinese people eat a lot of sushi? Are Japanese people from Japan? Do they talk like Chinese people? Oh, maybe more like the Russians? How do you lease a car? What's a VW? etc. I understand not everyone have had all the privileges or opportunities as I had while growing up. Still, it was intolerable! The only nice thing of the day was hearing Gracie trying to sing along with my Pink Martini CD.
By the time we got back I was completely exhausted physically and mentally. Accustomed on doing things as my own paste I don't think I can stand another trip like this again! For the rest of the nice I crawled up on the couch with my fleece blanket and stared blankly into the TV.

Two Tables and No Bungalow

Well, still no luck with house hunting. With no appointments scheduled for today I took it easy and stayed in all morning to watch Regis. By 11am I was finally ready to step outside for some fresh air. It's windy here even on a good day, kind reminds me of Patagonia. I bet the winter here will be just as harsh. Somehow I'll have to get through it. Being stubborn as I am I see this as a testament of my will and adaptability.

My temporary apartment is right on the shopping strip like the Magnificent Mile of Chicago (only different). I've got Super One (grocery store), K-Mart, Walmart, O'Reilly's Auto, Dollar Tree and MacDonald all across the street from me. Right down the street is also a furniture store called Slumberlands. Today I decided to pay them a visit to see what my options are in case my gigantic sectional won't fit into anything I move into. Luckily I've already got two buyers lined up for my sectional! Nothing really caught my eyes at the furniture store except a solid oak coffee table with matching end table in Arts and Craft style with stain glass top. What's even better is that they were on clearance! Having just visited the Roycrofters and obsessed with everything Arts and Craft I just had to get these tables. For $240 I got them delivered to my place this afternoon. They look great! Now I just need a bungalow to go with them!!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

World Traveler in Training

17 houses and 4 mosquito bites later I still haven't found what I'm looking for. The bungalow I was interested in got sold late yesterday. Going forward it's going to be a test of my patience and tenacity. I'm ok for now as long as I can stay in the temporary housing. The meeting with Wells Fargo went well and gave me couple options for mortgage and numbers to keep in mind. Houses are like cars unless it's a collector item it's money down the drain. Having seen all of the available houses in my price range I'm a bit disappointed with what I have see here but I'm not giving up just yet.

On the bright side, I got connected with basic cable and wifi at my apartment. Gives me something to do in the evenings. I also made two friends in my apartment building, a young single mom and her 3-year-old Gracie. Both of them are extremely friendly. We went out to dinner together at the Chinese buffet in town. Although I would have opted for pizza the little girl insisted on Chinese food. As soon as we sat down at the table Gracie was absorbed by the large wall-size display of the Temple of Heaven and insisted that she go visit there. Kate told me she liked Chinese food as well so I offered to cook them a spicy meal one of those days. She was pretty disappointed when I told her I can't make the fried cream puffs. I didn't have the heart to tell her that's not Chinese food...either is any of the stuff at the buffet. Bad food was compensated by good company. The little girl was happy to get a ride in the lady bug. We plan to go for a road trip to the big city on Saturday: Grand Forks, ND. Another neighbor gave me two cucumbers and my Realtor gave me three tomatoes. Things are going well.

As the weekend gets closer so is my first day of employment. Time to get my mind back on work again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

House Hunting Day #1

First full day in my new home town and I got right to down to business. My Realtor and I started our 13-house tour at 9:30. Going by just on a cup of coffee in the morning I was famished by the time we got done just after 2pm. Ever since I got the job offer letter I've been checking on the two local real estate website on a daily basis so by now I have memorized pretty much all of the information listed online for each of the houses.
Some of the criteria I'm looking for are: 3 bedrooms, one and half bath, relatively new siding and roof, small lot, move-in condition preferably with appliances, no carpet and a 2 car garage. Although many of the houses looked great online I quickly realized it's almost impossible to find what I'm looking for with what I'm willing to pay. Most of the properties we saw were very dated inside with humid and cluttered basements. Even though I know the clutter won't come with the house it is nevertheless a big turn off for any buyer.

At end of the day I was exhausted and a bit concerned on whether or not I will be able to find a house I like before the snow falls. Two houses perked my interest: 1, a blue bungalow built in 1910 with lots of charm but a web basement and 2, a small ranch built in 1978 in move-in condition but a bit above my price range. Neither house is perfect but the bungalow really got the curb appeal and is just over a mile from work. Being as obsessive as I am I went there just now and drove back and forth between the house and work for three times...trying to picture my morning drive in a blizzard!

Now I'm reading about wet basements and home buying tips for single women online. Interesting stuff. An article on Women Home Buyer's Safety Tips suggested to look up registered sex offenders in the I did. Luckily none registered in this area code. Kind amusing I guess.

Without the internet at my place I have to park in front of a hotel just down the street to catch their wifi. For the first time I can't wait to get cable TV! Something to keep me occupied in the evenings. Also I looking forward to take advantage of the company's subsidized gym membership once I start working. Eating a lot of no exercise is really starting to show around my belly. Yuck. At least no one is here to see it!

I have Arrived!

The scenery pretty much stopped after the border crossing. The town of Ranier, MN is only 5 miles away and I made a point to stop by for a picture of the Paul Bunyan statue (the same one that appeared in the movie Fargo, I think). Then I went to Menard's, a popular chain in the Midwest like a cross between Walmart and Home Depot. Getting ready for a single life here I got the Easy Mover and Strong Grip. According to the package I will be able to easily move any furniture myself and open any jars. Who needs a man when all you've got these helpful tools?

As I headed towards my final destination I couldn't help but to replay what happened at the US customs over and over again in my head. The whole thing is almost comical. Did they think I was trying to sneak over in a stolen car that looks like a lady bug with a NYS plate with cocain inside and bombs underneath? Sure the border cross is just one incident but it really got me worried about the rest of my trip and my move. What if this is the kind of thing I'm going to encounter everywhere in northern MN or the heartlands? There's no question I'm a minority here. I haven't seen a single person of any color outside of Toronto. Finally, somewhere between International Falls and my new hometown it hit me. I am moving to northern Minnesota. And suddenly I got a terrible feeling inside. Everyone here is out to get me!

I passed by a Super Chinese Buffet near Bemidji and decided to go for a quick lunch. I love buffets. It really amazes me that somehow all the Chinese buffets have reached an unparalleled level of consistency one would only expect from a US corporate fast food chain as if they are all cooking according to the Chinese Buffet Recipe Book. The inside of the restaurant was quite nice, much better than one would expect out here. Just as I was getting ready to leave I said thank you in Chinese to one of the waitresses. She was older and had a bit of a local accent but I couldn't quite tell which province she's from, maybe south of Shanghai. Every city in China has a very distinct accent. Even though only standard dialogue is taught in schools most people from the older generation speaks with an acute accent. The woman was extremely excited that she found a new Chinese person as if she just rediscovered a long lost relative. We chatted for a couple of minutes. I asked her if there are many Chinese people around. She said no, just the Chinese people who work at the restaurant. There are no Chinese grocery stores around but she told me I could talk to the restaurant owner and buy things from them when they get new shipments. That would have been very nice except for this place is almost two hours away from where I'll be living! Oh well, when the craving gets really bad at least now I know where I can get some hot and sour soup. Besides, there's suppose to be a Chinese restaurant in TRF.

80 miles outside of TRF I got a call from someone at the company asking me to check in with my manager rather than going directly to the transitional apartment arranged by the company. For some reason that got me pretty nervous. Two things came to mind: they could un-hire me or an immigration officer is waiting to deport me back to China. Frankly neither one is all that bad.

In the mist of all the stress a small miracle happened. As soon as I saw the sight of familiar billboards just outside of the town all of my worries went away. Even though I've only been here once before this feels like home. Lately people have been advising me to take things slowly and test the water first before I commit to staying here and buying a house. Knowing me I dive into just about every situation head first. Now that I'm here I know this is where I'm suppose to be. I drove by lots of little towns on the way and this is by far the best one. Neat little houses, clean streets, picturesque rivers...the only thing better would be to have a Wegmans! To make a slightly better presentation I got a car wash on the way to the company and threw on some makeup. However, my manager was swamped with meetings. Even though I didn't get to see her in person I got the feeling that everyone was expecting me and wondering if my trip went smoothly. It's kind made me feel warm and fuzzy inside like one of those feel-good-movies.

The temporary housing is amazing! Two bedrooms, one bath, eat in kitchen, microwave, coffee maker, TV, DVD player, tastefully decorated with furniture I would have picked out myself. How is this going to be an incentive for me to move out? Well, I think the workaholic and control freak in me will get things done on schedule. I instantly unloaded everything in my car, placed everything on the storage shelf and only took inside the things I need to use right away. Within an half hour I was settled! As soon as I sat down on the comfy couch in the living room my soon-to-be-manager called to check up on me and gave me her cell and home number to call anytime if I need something. She said I was a speed demon when I told her I'm already settled into my apartment. I also told her how nice the apartment is and thanked her for everything. I think we'll get along great. A little bit of gratefulness makes everything exponentially better.

The last three days of driving went by like a breeze. I haven't felt this energetic in a long time. Not sure if it's the excitement of new job, relief of the moving or the one bottle of diet coke per day. Whatever it is I feel good! Other than a little fatigue on Saturday night I never once felt tired during the whole drive. Even at night after all day of driving I feel completely lively and awake! Now everything I need to do today is done by 6pm I got in the car and went for a drive around town. I checked out the little house on the river I liked and couple other houses of interest nearby. Tomorrow morning I will meet with a realtor to see bunch of houses. A bit later I went to Walmart to pick up few essentials, cooking oil, coffee filter, groceries and light bulbs (the lamps are so new there are no light bulbs installed in any of them!). Is it me or has the price of salt went down? I haven't bought salt in a long time but was shocked to see them at Walmart for 54 cents a bottle. Really? I think just the container itself is worth that much money. Anyways, I never thought I'd say this but I love Walmart (still not sure if that's me speaking of the diet coke acting up)! It is truly a blessing in a small town like this one. Here I can find everything I need and it feels just like Rochester!