The Next Chapter

We’ve been busy. I recently had someone comment on our Facebook page, checking in as I’d been quiet for so long. Oops!

Yes, we’re all fine. I’d say things are going a bit smoother than my previous post, but we’re also in this wild season called summer. It’s hard having four kids home all day and trying to work. On top of that, keeping up with the math and English lessons I have planned for Lyuda. Send coffee.

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And… on top of that, we sold our house. And just last week, we found our new one. We’re under contract for both, moving in about 7 weeks.

We bought our current house when we’d been married for about 9 months. We chose our house and went under contract on it shortly before we committed to adopting Reed and Lena, and we moved in shortly after we started the adoption process.

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Reed and Lena’s room, ready for them to come home

It’s been a good house to start… and grow our family in, but it’s time to move on. We tried to sell it unsuccessfully twice before. We even had family pictures taken at our house a few years ago, anticipating a move.
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Almost 3 years later, we’re finally moving! Today was the inspection for our current house, and we’re awaiting to hear what they want us to fix. Wednesday will be the inspection for our new house.

We spent much of our afternoon at the dog park, waiting for the inspection to be done at our house.

3 kids. Big sister didn’t want to join the picture fun.
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Big sister changed her mind and photobombed.26903177564_87c8678ef4

This was a funny moment. I looked up and counted my 4 dogs. Except I don’t have 4 dogs… I only have 3.
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But my brain couldn’t quite process the 4 silver weimaraners in front of me… the kids didn’t even notice something was off. When I did point out the extra dog, they said “That’s Nina!” No guys, that’s not Nina… THAT’S Nina (the one furthest away from the camera).

We all had a good laugh and met this new weimaraner friend. I’ve met many other weimaraners, but I’ve never had one join our pack so seamlessly that I questioned how many dogs I own.

We also had fun playing in the mud.26903188194_ddee33813227512357575_a5272c4f8a

Back to the house talk– our new house will be a big change, but it should be a very positive one. We’re leaving our small, wonderful city, and moving to a tiny town about 45 minutes away. This will shorten Aaron’s commute by about 15 minutes every day. And while we’ll be living in a small, somewhat rural community, we’re on the edge of a city metro, taking just 30 minutes to get downtown. We’ll have a lot of museums, stores and other resources close by. We’ll be in a great school district that I’m confident can handle Lyuda’s English learning needs.

We’re also gaining more indoor and outdoor space– we’ll have a full acre for outdoor fun. And a finished basement for the kids to be loud, crazy and messy inside. And, we’re going from one bathroom to two and a half. We probably could benefit from 6 bathrooms, but I think having 2 more will help with our school mornings considerably!

The bittersweet part is leaving our friends, and the community which we know so well. Not that a 45 minute drive means we won’t see each other ever again, but it does mean fewer impromptu playdates and bumping into friendly faces at local events.

So, if I’m once again quiet, you can find me buried in boxes, wearing packing tape like a bracelet.

Real Life

Of all of our post-adoption adjustment periods, this has been the easiest. I’m guessing this is for many reasons– her age, she has a full understanding of what was going to happen, she agreed to it, she’s visited us before and knows our family well, and of course, this is our third adoption. We have a slightly better picture of when to let go and when to freak out. That being said, there are still hard things, and I like to keep things real around here.

Probably the hardest thing about this adjustment? Me. I am worn out. The months of compartmentalizing and pushing through tasks with a whatever-it-takes attitude are over. Now, I’m fully jumping back into work and parenting my other kids… and being a real, present mom to this new, wonderful kid. I constantly feel like I need a physical and emotional nap!

Another big challenge is finding boundaries and setting expectations for being in a family. We’ve finding a lot of edges that I’ve always thought of as common sense, but not for a kid who has never lived in an American family. I remember being shocked when we experienced this with Reed, as he opened the door of the car himself, tried to play with the stove and once made an attempt at driving as a 4 year old.  This looks very different with a teenager, but there’s a lot of gentle guidance.

Figuring out the best options for school is another exhausting feat. The school district is unresponsive to both my questions about enrolling her for the fall and ESL resources. I’m trying to fill gaps in her knowledge and build her English confidence and competence before August. It’s hard to find math without a lot of word problems, and English which is doable, but not too easy. I’ll do a whole blog post on what we are using at another time.

We went camping this weekend and I really wanted it to be a great family bonding weekend… it was an flop.

We started it off with swimming, but the lake was a bit cold and the beach was busy with college students celebrating the end of the year. I just wanted to either a)listen to an audiobook as the kids played in the water or b)read a library book as they played on the beach. I didn’t make much progress with either.
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On the plus side, we found a nice campsite, secluded with a great view. On the menu was s’mores and hotdogs and other food we wouldn’t call dinner at home.
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Josie is really hoping that someone will drop something worth eating.
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Chilling by a campfire is one of my favorite things.
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Reed made a total of 7 s’mores and ate 5 of them.
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The night sky was full of clouds. A disappointment for someone who loves the stars like I do.
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With 4 kids, 3 dogs, one husband and me sharing a tent, I didn’t sleep very much. I woke up to 3 dogs ready to go out, and I decided to take them out and see how the sky looked. The sunrise was starting to show, just a bit. At the top, with the break in the clouds, you can see the Milky Way, just a bit.
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Aaron went for an early morning hike with the dogs, while the kids and I slept and played around the campsite. Here he is, returning to an excited Gus.
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Happy Mother’s Day, from my four crazies.
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Week One

We are home.

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last photo of Lyuda in Ukraine

We arrived in the US on Friday afternoon. We spent the evening with my family.

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My littlest nephew. Lyuda enjoyed holding him a lot more than this photo shows, once we tied her hair back so he couldn’t pull it.

We left early Saturday morning to go home.
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These photos were all taken by my wonderful friend Danae.
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Reed said “it took us a long time to get to the airport. it’s far away.” We live about an hour away from the airport. I asked when the next plane to China was leaving, so he could see what a long trip really is! After 4 plane rides, I had a very different concept of far away.

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This is by far the easiest transition after adoption that we’ve had. Perhaps there will be other challenges as months go by and school starts, but for now, it’s pretty smooth.

Reed, Lena, and Gus have had school this week. After we take them all to school and go to the grocery store, Lyuda gets her own to-dos for the day. She took two math placement quizzes, and we could see where she has some holes in her knowledge. With math, it’s mostly been a few missing concepts here and there, as well as the language barrier. Now I have her doing a small math lesson each day with videos and worksheets. So far, we’ve covered place value, simple fractions and American money. She also has some English and reading work to do each day. At the suggestion of another adoptive family, we tried Reading Eggs, and I also introduced her to Lingua Leo today. She will also be doing one-on-one English lessons. The main goal of those is to boost her confidence with speaking, as grammar and vocabulary will come with time. It only adds up to a couple of hours each morning, and then she has lots of free time for the rest of the day. She has been spending this time doing embroidery, reading, and cleaning up around the house (without being asked).

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Teaching Gus embroidery.

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I brought this jersey back for Reed. I was very excited to give it to him. He loves soccer. Orange is his favorite color. And this jersey is from the soccer team of the region where Reed was born. He loved it, just as I anticipated.
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In summary, we’re all having a great time together and getting used to the new normal.
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One last thing, I will be making the rest of my blog posts from when we traveled public soon, in case you missed them.:)

Going Home

We did it– we have her visa!!!

Rewind 14 hours.

We took the metro one stop to meet Oksana early this morning. She escorted us to the embassy. We took the metro some distance, and then we walked through a park. It was a chilly, windy morning, but the park made for a very nice walk.
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We arrived at the embassy, and we got in for our interview pretty quickly. Since Lyuda is only 13, I said the oath for her and signed a bunch of papers. Done. Then we just needed to wait for her visa. While we waited, we met another host family who was finishing their daughter’s adoption. We waited for over an hour, but we got it!

When we walked out of the embassy, Oksana had a little surprise for Lyuda… balloons!! Oksana is just so sweet and thoughtful… she told Lyuda that it was her day and the balloons would let everyone know that she had something to celebrate.
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We walked back to the metro, and I asked Oksana to join us for lunch. We went to a restaurant called Star Burger. I would highly recommend it for Americans looking for some yummy food like home.
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We sat and talked with Oksana for a long time. Although she is young, she is so wise. She can pass wisdom onto Lyuda so loving, like recently when she told her that she is beautiful and doesn’t need to wear makeup. Lyuda stopped wearing makeup that day. No kidding.

When it was finally time to go, there were tears. The first time Lyuda has cried when saying goodbye to anyone. Oksana is wonderful, and our adoption was so much better having her help.

We headed back to our apartment for a little bit, but not for too long, as Lyuda’s godmother wanted to meet up with us.
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We first walked around a bit. I wanted to see if the festival of the eggs (pysanky) was set up yet. Not entirely, but we saw a bit.
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We decided to take the metro to do a bit of shopping. We went back to Petrivka, where there are many markets and stands to shop at. I was hoping to find one last gift.
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Lyuda’s godparents bought her some new shoes, as well as a couple of other gifts. They were so sweet– they insisted on paying for the metro and buying us all dinner. We were glad for the opportunity to meet them. Her godmother said “thank you for adopting her. I am so happy!”

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Lastly, back to the apartment to pack. Lyuda has gotten a lot of phone calls tonight to say goodbye. There was a particularly adorable moment between her biological grandmother and my mom where they were saying “hi” to each other on the phone. What a special family that Lyuda brings together.

One Step Closer

We got one step, or more like one giant leap closer to coming home today. But, let me rewind and tell you about it.

We left our apartment before 7am to drive up to a small town, to “unregister” Lyuda. We arrived at the office at 8:30. They didn’t open until 9am. We walked around and took some photos.

The office where we needed to go.
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The library up the road.
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Inside the library.
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The polyclinic (doctor’s office).
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Once our facilitators could get in, we waited some more. When they finally came out, they looked frustrated. “We can’t unregister her because she’s not registered!” Aiyiyi. After making a few phone calls, they discovered that we needed a piece of paper that a family member had picked up yesterday.

This instantly made me nervous, because Lyuda and this family member don’t have the best relationship (no fault of Lyuda’s). Fortunately, we were able to get ahold of this person after a couple of calls to other family members. I could tell Lyuda wasn’t thrilled to call this person, but she sucked it up and demanded that they give us this paper. Oksana even commented on how Lyuda knew how to talk to them forcefully to get what we needed.

They agreed, but we had to drive an hour to go pick it up. Typical Ukrainian village road that we drove on today for a few hours. I don’t recommend Ukraine for the easily carsick.
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While waiting for this person to meet us, we saw a bunch of goats go for a walk.
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Once we had what we needed, we headed back to the registration office. Here are Oksana and Lyuda waiting for the good news that we got what we needed there.
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Then, we had to drive an hour to the passport office. It was 11:30am, and they closed at 1pm. Fortunately, it was just an hour away. Once we arrived, we waited some more, and with just about 2o minutes left in their working day, we were called into the office. I could see the passport on the desk, as I listened to Olya and the director of this office speaking. I so badly wanted to just grab it off the desk and get out of there. Fortunately, a few signatures later and it was ours.

Everyone, Lyuda especially, was thrilled to finally have our hands on this important document. It’s the key to going home. Lyuda could not stop smiling.
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Lastly, we had to drive back to Kyiv to get her medical exam file. We needed her passport before we could do this.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the drive back to Kyiv. This is true rural Ukraine.

A potato stand along the side of the highway.
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The massive deforestation happening everywhere we visited.
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A pair of storks, in their nest on top of a street light. One also flew over our van as we were driving down the highway.
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Entering back into Kyiv oblast.
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Taken for Reed, of course.
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We were able to pick up her medical file in Kyiv, and then we are done, until tomorrow when we will go to the embassy again. If we can get her visa tomorrow, as we should be able to do, we will be ready to go home!!

We walked around in the mall and stands under the Maidan tonight. We have seen this man with his impressive attire, mustache and hair. We gave him some money and took a photo. He really wanted us to be in the photo with him!
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Hopefully just two more sleeps in our apartment beds, and home we go!

More Walking

We didn’t have anything that we needed to do today, just another day of waiting for Lyuda’s passport.

We spent the morning waiting around for the building inspector to come do a test of the sewage system, and then another guy to come fix the TV. Once we could finally leave, we grabbed lunch at a very busy Puzata Hata.

From there, I had a little walk in mind.

Lyuda sitting down and sharing a drink with a statue.
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Back up Institutka, past the National Bank again.
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Director Lyuda.
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My mom wanted to see Mariyinsky Palace, the ceremonial residence of the President. Unfortunately, it was all under construction. However, we did see tons of soldiers boarding buses.
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We walked down another street, past many well-guarded government buildings.
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I wanted to go by the Dynamo Soccer stadium. For Reed.
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A memorial to Serhiy Nigoyan. He was the first protester shot and killed during the revolution in 2013/14. Have I told you to go watch the documentary Winter on Fire yet? It is a must see, although not kid friendly. Available on Netflix.
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Next we walked to the Friendship of Nations Arch, originally built during the USSR times, and now apparently a symbol of the friendship between Ukraine and Russia. It’s lit up in a rainbow at night, perfect for the anti-religion USSR and/or the homophobic Russia. Take your pick.
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The Friendship of Nations Arch is right along the Dnieper River, which you can zipline across. No thank you.
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Some cool graffiti found on our way back to our apartment. It says “United Colors of Ukraine”. On the left side is a coal mining hat, which represents the Donbas region, where Reed and Lena are from, an area which is currently the warzone. If you like these, you can see more here, use the arrows at the bottom to scroll through them.
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We only went back to our apartment for a few minutes for I made them go out again.

Statue with a migraine? I feel you, man.
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I wanted to go back to St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery.
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Painting the trees. Wondering why? Read here. I’ve asked many Ukrainians and gotten the same answer.
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I wanted to take some pictures. She is eating sunflower seeds and staring me down.
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I had this picture in my head two weeks before I actually snapped it. The monk dressed in black, up against the bright blue walls. Some of the monks are older, with long hair and heavy beards. But there are many like this one, who are very young. In case you are also curious why the monks wear black.
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A motorcycle, parked inside the belltower.
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We went back down the sculpture alley that we visited last week, but I was more into the murals than the sculptures today. Except that these guys needed to be photographed.
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Literally, the mural on the right depicts St. George slaying a dragon. However, but I think there’s a lot of symbolism here, as George is displayed as a Cossack, killing the greedy hands trying to take his land.
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We visited a famous little hedgehog.
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We wrapped up the night with pizza and ice cream.
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To everyone knows that my mom doesn’t eat sugar or much dairy, that is bean cream (like ice cream but made from beans) in a dried papaya cone.😉
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Apparently Lyuda’s passport is ready. However, we need to go to another town to do some additional paperwork before we can pick it up. We have an early morning planned, and a very busy day. Please pray that we can get it all done tomorrow, so that we can head home on Friday!
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Today is Sunshine Day

There’s usually at least one trip of any trip that I just don’t handle well. All of the exhaust, the little stresses, etc. suddenly hit me. That day was today.

I sent my alarm for 8am, after being up late trying to publish my blog post (internet problems). We didn’t have anywhere to be, but we were expecting to hear about Lyuda’s passport. I didn’t really want to answer a phone call half asleep.

After 10am, Oksana informed me that Lyuda’s passport wouldn’t be ready today. Maybe Wednesday. Not even maybe tomorrow, but maybe Wednesday. Ugh. None of us were pleased with this. My mom is ready to go home. Lyuda is ready to be an American. And I need to jump back into real life, before my inbox and laundry pile grows much more.

I decided to cheer us all up by going to get lunch at the Very Well Cafe. A good meal can make a big difference for a bad mood, right? Once again, we got a table at this busy restaurant without a problem. However, when I went to order, they were out of the delicious Pesto ravioli. Being a vegetarian in Ukraine is often difficult, and the menu options were limited. Potatoes it was.

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We decided to walk up Institutka Street, and make our way towards Pecherska Lavra, to check out the caves. It has interesting architecture, and this walk takes us by the WWII memorial and the Holodomor memorial.

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We finally reached Pecherska Lavra, and we all needed to buy scarves. Mine was the most expensive, at about $5, and Lyuda and my mom each found one for $3. Then we headed down to the caves. This is a popular place for Orthodox pilgrimages. There is no entrance fee for the caves. We did also pay about 35 cents for 3 candles to take down into the caves, which are only lit by small candles. Women are required to wear knee-length skirts in addition to the scarves, but they have little apron type of things that you can wear for free. The monks will yell at you if you don’t have one. If visiting, you should also be aware that certain passages are only open to pilgrims, not for just walking through. There are signs letting you know if it is exclusively for prayer. Also be aware that being so bundled up can be quite warm, and with the tight passages and many stairs, I’m not sure I’d recommend it for a hot day. This article has a picture taken inside the caves, although it was darker than that.

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The cave passages are very tight— I think anyone over five and a half feet would need to duck, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you are wider than average. The caves are dark, one-way passages that you wide through to see bodies wrapped in ornate shrouds inside of coffins. The pilgrims kiss the glass of the coffins and/or the icons pictured.

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This entire experience left chills up my spine— the tight passage, the dark space, wearing the scarf, and the tall, darkly dressed figures of the monks. I had to remind myself that for most this was a sacred place, not something intended to be scary.

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I was glad that we went and had the unique experience of visiting this special place. At the same time, I was quite glad to leave, uncover my head and stretch my arms.

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After this, we grabbed a quick ice cream cone (you must try the soft serve ice cream stands that are everywhere) and headed to the metro stop, the deepest in the world, Arsenalna. We wanted to go to a supermarket, but the nearest location wasn’t coming up on my phone. We decided to take the metro to a different location. We made it through the chaos of the metro, and went to the biggest grocery store I’ve found in the Kyiv city center (it’s near the Palats Sportu Metro stop, in the Gulliver mall basement).

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Back at our apartment, we encounter lots of internet troubles. I think I fixed them now (I was too impatient to wait until tomorrow afternoon for the landlord to fix it), by following the wise tech advice of the IT Crowd, “have you tried turning it off and on again?”.

We ventured out once again for dinner, to Sushiya, a sushi/Japanese chain restaurant. Their fried rice is delicious! Lyuda read the place mat out loud, “Today is Sunshine Day”. I glanced over, “Today is Sushiya Day”. “Oh. Not Sunshine?” No, Sushiya. The name of the restaurant.