Monday, April 14, 2014

[TRAVEL] Where NOT to Stay in Portland

Friends - if you're coming to PDX and wondering where to stay, DO NOT book The Nines. Despite it's (supposed) 5-star rating, our stay has been a nightmare. Even with my company's preferred corporate corporate rate, I'll never stay here again. 

Here's a little story ...

We got here on Saturday at 4 p.m. to check in - room's not ready because housekeeping is running late. Check back at 4:45 - nope, not ready, but here's $25 to use at the hotel. Can I apply it to the $30/day parking fee? Check back at 5:20 p.m. - nope, not ready. "Room is clean but hasn't been inspected; give us 15 minutes," they said. Checked back at 5:45 p.m. and the room STILL hasn't been inspected! They send someone to inspect it and tell us they'll give us $50 in hotel credit - because with all of the amazing restaurants within spitting distance of this place, I want to eat here? Um, okay. Finally get to our room to drop off our stuff & freshen up before dinner. Seems like the Golden State Warriors might be staying here. I'm sure they didn't wait for their rooms. 

First night I crash. Great room, I'll give them that. Wake up and Alan asks me if I heard the construction all night. Nope. But I did wake up at 3 a.m. AND CUT MY LIP ON A CHIPPED GLASS WHEN I TRIED TO DRINK SOME WATER. A bloody lip at 3 a.m. is awesome! 

So, yesterday we come back to the room to watch Game of Thrones. Our TV flickers incessently the entire episode. Whatever. Annoying but not dire. At 9:30 p.m. the noise starts - carts and god knows what else being dragged over us. It went on for hours! At 11 p.m. I call the front desk to ask WTF. Turns out we're directly below the kitchens!!! They made us wait 2 hours to give us a room below the kitchen. Is this a joke? She offered to see if there was another room she could move us to. I told her we were already in bed but I'd take her up on that offer tomorrow. 

So, tomorrow ... err, today? My room is directly on the city's garbage route. The garbage trucks start at 5 a.m.; they stay in front of my hotel from 5:35 a.m, until approximately 6:10 a.m. 

This is going to be a very long day.

ETA: I moved from the 7th floor to the 10th floor last night when I got home from work. The room is almost identical to the previous room, but it looks a bit more ... lived in. There is a turquoise throw pillow that if in my house would have been thrown away awhile ago.

This morning, I waited nearly 30 minutes for my car. It's a good thing my 9 a.m. meeting was canceled. All in all, I cannot recommend this hotel for any reason.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

[FOOD] Paleo Lite Not Right For Me Anymore

So ... this quest for optimum health via the food I eat is an interesting one. Veggie + Sea was going well for me, minus the whole inflamed joints thing. Then we went back to eating low carb with meat. Oh goodness. The nausea and the bloating. I seriously feel like my stomach is going to explode Total Recall style. And my GERD is having a field day. I can, quite literally, feel the acid moving around in my upper quadrant, wreaking havoc with my ability to even sit comfortably

So, basically, even though we don't eat processed food, and our diet is commonly referred to as a Real Food diet, neither one of them will work for me 100%. And let's be real, I'm not going to subsist on lettuce alone. I love food - I love the ritual of food, from getting it, to preparing it, to consuming it. So, I think I have to go with the least evil of the bunch, for me. 

I think at this point I have to just accept that I'm not going to be thin no matter what I eat, and just go with the meal plan that hurts the least.  While I had hoped to lose 20 pounds before our Alaska trip no matter how well I eat, or how much or how little I exercise, my weight stays the same. Right now my food intake can't be about weight loss. So that means it's back to pescetarianism.

So ... so long meat! (Incidentally, the three times I've eaten bacon recently have been meh.)

[LOCAL] Scenes from an Oakland Afternoon

Of course I chose the hottest day of the year (so far) to take my fitness "routine" from the treadmill to the great outdoors. While, yes, I was near to melting from the heat (77 degrees according to my phone), at least the scenery was pretty darn good. That is, until I saw a drug deal and several homeless people sleeping in the park. I guess it can't all be beautiful.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

[FOOD] The Diet Experiments Continue

After our trip to New Orleans, we continued to eat vegetarian, but added seafood into the mix. For the most part, this was an incredibly satisfying way to eat. I can only recall a handful of times where I felt stumped by what I should have for lunch or dinner, or disappointed with what was ultimately consumed (and that was mostly when we ate at restaurants). At first, I found eating this way to be great for some of my skin and gastro issues, but the longer we continued with it, the less impressed I was. For the past month, in fact, I've noticed that a lot of my autoimmune issues are wreaking havoc with my body and with my energy levels, in particular. In addition to gaining weight, which is never good for your health, I have experienced extreme exhaustion for weeks at a time, joint pain on the entire right side of my body that had me bed ridden, and a return of some of the gastro issues that at first seemed to be conquered. So while I've really loved being able to eat bread and pasta again, I think I'm going to have to admit that they just aren't good for me and that I need to cut them out to improve my autoimmune health.

With about a month between now and when we go to Alaska, I really need to get healthy, including increasing my overall energy level, which will in turn hopefully up my activity level, and find a way to eat such that I feel healthier and my body hurts less. I don't want to say I'm going to eat Paleo again, because there is such a stigma attached to it, and I don't really follow all of the rules laid out by the Paleo evangelists, but I will be eating far less breads, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates in an effort to reduce the swelling and hopefully lose a bit of weight in the process.

Monday, March 31, 2014

[TRAVEL] Lake Tahoe for Non-Skiers

Y'all have heard about the drought conditions that California is currently suffering through, right? During our winter months I can only recall four times that it rained for the entirety of the season. Many of the weekends, if you hadn't looked closely at the calendar, you would have thought fell smack dab in the middle of June. Using the unseasonably warm and dry weather as our guide, we booked an overnight camping trip to Yosemite for the end of March. I kept my eye on the weather forecast all last week, especially as the news predicted large spring storms coming our way. Sure enough, it looked like Yosemite Valley was destined for an early spring storm that would dump buckets of water. In a nutshell, not exactly great camping conditions.

Because I had it in my head that we were going away for the weekend, and I had been looking forward to the getaway, I convinced Alan that we should head up to Lake Tahoe instead. We haven't stayed on in South Lake for many years, typically preferring the North Shore, Squaw Valley, and Incline Village. In looking at last minute deals, I found one for the Hyatt but when I went to pay, between taxes and resort fees, the total price was almost $100 more than I had been quoted. Instead, I booked the Marriott Timber Lodge, next to the Heavenly Ski Resort gondola in South Lake and hoped for the best. The TripAdvisor reviews were universally good, so that wasn't going to be a problem. The hard part is the fact that neither of us are skiers, and with a location literally at the gondola at the base of the mountain I wasn't sure how we would spend our time. I need not have worried.

Before leaving, I checked the weather report and it was inconclusive. Depending on what site you reviewed, it was either going to rain, or it was going to be the snowstorm of the century. One site even called for 19 inches! Knowing that we could likely hit a lot of traffic due to the weather, we woke up bright and early (well, not exactly bright since it was still dark outside), and drove the three hours up to South Lake, hitting no traffic whatsoever. As we made our way up the mountain, we didn't encounter any snow until we reached the area around Strawberry. Looking toward the top of the mountain you could see that there had been a recent sprinkling of snow on the tallest of the treetops. At around Echo Summit, we encountered flurries. Hooray!

Reaching the resort around 10:30 a.m., we were thrilled when the great receptionist was able to check us into a room early. And best of all, we were upgraded from a basic room to a one bedroom suite overlooking the pool! Getting a room at all for early check in pretty much made the day. We were able to get to our room and take a nap since we'd been up since before sunrise. An hour later we threw on a ton of cold weather gear (we used this opportunity to test out some of the stuff we'd bought for our upcoming trip to Alaska), and made our way down to the gondola to ride it up to the tubing park. As we walked out of the hotel we noticed, however, that the gondola wasn't moving. As we got to the ticket counter, a concierge told us that the gondola was closed due to extreme weather and that there were two shuttles taking skiers up the mountain but that the tubing park was closed. (We later overheard a woman telling her boyfriend that it was so hard to ski up on the mountain because the winds were blowing snow so hard and fast that she couldn't see two feet in front of her.)

Undeterred, we picked up our car from the valet and drove back to Echo Summit to try our luck at Adventure Mountain, a cute little hill that had a few sledding and tubing options. When we got there, it started snowing pretty good, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Unfortunately, at 7280 feet above see level, my giddiness could also be attributed to a decided lack of oxygen. I have some trouble at altitude, including an inability to get enough oxygen into my lungs, and a habit of falling over dizzy. When you had hiking up a hillside to the mix, it wasn't the best of conditions for me. Still, it was mighty fun for an hour or so.

On our way out of Adventure Mountain, Alan wanted to test the Subaru's driving capability by going back to Echo Lake. As a kid his family spent time here during the summer and it holds a special place in his heart. When we told his dad that we were buying a Subaru, he mentioned that everyone that lived on Echo Lake owned Subarus for the winter months as they were the only cars that could legitimately handle the weather. To quote Barney Stinson, "Challenge Accepted!" The road had been plowed up to the snow park, but from that point on, it was mainly still snowed over with the exception of tire tracks. My guess is there was maybe 3-4 inches of snow on the road back to the lodge, before it was completely closed to all traffic down to the Lake. The car handled perfectly. In fact, it was a breeze. Because it was snowing and there was a lot of cloud cover we couldn't really see the lake, but the scenery was still pretty lovely. Oh, I almost forgot ... before going down the road to the Lodge, we turned off on another road that hadn't been plowed. It looked like almost a foot of snow was there. We drove down to test the car, and again, it performed admirably. We decided to turn around, only to see a new BMW X5 coming down the same narrow lane. Want to guess who got caught in the snow and was just spinning their tires? It wasn't us. Subaru 1, BMW 0. (Yes, I'm super competitive, even in this.)

We drove back in the snow and when we got to Tahoe there was a mandatory stop for all vehicles to put on chains (4WD vehicles are exempt from this rule). I had a feeling this meant that the storm was going to be gearing up for some craziness. Back down at the hotel (South Lake is about 1000 feet below Echo Summit) we hung out at the hot tub for awhile before going back to the room for a nap. Thank goodness we hit the hot tub up when we did because about 30 minutes after we got out, the place was packed!

The hot tubs at the Marriott are pretty darn nice! You can't see, but to the left is a pretty big pool as well. A while later we made our way out to The Brewery at Lake Tahoe. Now, if you haven't figured it out by now, we like beer. No, scratch that. We love beer. If there is a brew pub on our travels, we will find it. Stepping out of our building toward the valet, the snow was COMING DOWN. I'm talking giant, fat flakes of snow. And it was accumulating fast! It was like a winter wonderland out there.

Since there were a number of families in the restaurant portion of The Brewery, we sat in the bar. It made for some interesting people watching. It also made for some good beer drinking and food eating. I stuffed myself on fish & chips to the point where I thought I'd have to be rolled out of there. Unfortunately, we were seated at a table near the door, and a bunch of families with kids took this to be the waiting area so our meal was disturbed to say the least (at one point there was a lady so close to me that she was actually touching me - she didn't seem to mind, but I did). Rather than getting more beer, we ordered a growler and went back to the room. And that's when the food coma hit me. I couldn't keep my eyes open. I ended up taking ANOTHER nap. When I woke up, we cuddled up in bed and watched a few hours of stand up comedy on Comedy Central. Hannibal Buress has a pretty hilarious stand up routine on New Orleans that was especially funny to us having just visited, and having just eaten at the place that is a center point to the routine.

The next morning we got up before dawn again and hung around the room a bit. We didn't really have anything to do so we decided to hop in the car and drive home. Wow, SO MUCH SNOW. It was beautiful. On the way out of Tahoe we got to pass straight through the chain check because of our Subaru. Hooray! I'm already loving this car so much. At Echo Summit, we decided to test the car again since a new foot of snow had fallen. We drove straight back to the Lodge and while it was a noticeably different drive than the day before, the Subaru still went right through it, totally un-phased.  We almost got to the Lodge when there was a Honda Accord spinning its tires, and a bunch of people trying to get it out of the way. We wanted to go around it and drive on to the Lodge, but the guy that was there - not sure if he was affiliated with the Lodge, but he spoke authoritatively - was kind of rude to us and basically told us to go away. Not having anywhere to turn around (because the Honda was blocking our path to do so), Alan had to drive backwards for about 1/2 mile in over a foot of fresh snow. Again, not a problem. You know how you see something on the internet and you think it can't possibly be like that in real life? Well, we had watched plenty of videos of Subarus in the snow but until you see how this car performs for yourself, you can't possibly understand how well this vehicle is made for inclimate weather. 

All in all, it was a great 30 hours away from home. It wasn't a huge trip by any stretch of the imagination, but I really appreciated being able to take what amounted to a staycation on pretty short notice. I want to see if we can manage to fit in even more trips like this throughout the rest of the year. I definitely want to get to Yosemite at some point - I'm thinking June.

Friday, March 28, 2014

[LIFE] Can You Be A Writer If You Don't Ever Finish Writing Anything?

When people ask me what my hobbies are, I have a pretty straight forward answer. I read, I write, I drink, I cook, I travel (not necessarily in that order). I've done a fairly good job on the reading front, amassing more than 200 books in the past three years. Now, before you go and become super impressed, I have to admit that these aren't necessarily great works of literary fiction. No, my book of choice is Historical Romance, preferably those taking place in Regency England. Of the 70 books I read last year, I'd say 95% were from that period. I say this only so that you can understand just how much I love these stories, and how well I know the genre.

But what's this about a hobby, you ask? Well, I fancy myself a writer. Unfortunately, I haven't actually done much writing these many years. In 2009, I started writing a contemporary paranormal romance novel set in Ireland that I was very keen on. Unfortunately, it seems that I am a better editor than I am a writer and every time I opened the document I'd find myself completely re-writing the first four chapters. I'd never veer from the story in my head, but I'd tighten language, add dialogue, enrich the setting. Right now, I'd say I have four perfect chapters, and about 15 others that I haven't ever gotten around to re-reading. From the beginning I knew how I wanted my book to end, but sometimes what we want, and what our muse gives us are two different things. The sentence I had always pictured as the closing statment for the entire book instead served to close a chapter. A very good chapter, mind you, but not the culmination. So I was left with needing the rest of the book. And I had ideas - some of them good, some of them rubbish - but I never really got around to putting pen to paper (or finger to key) because I'd always start from the beginning just to make sure that I remembered everything properly, and that almost always led to another round of edits. So, here I am five years later and I have an unfinished book and pretty much no idea how to wrap it all up. I suppose I could tweak it a bit such that it was finished, but in my head - and in my heart - it just doesn't feel done. There's more to the story, I just don't know what it is.

Since that time, I've come up with ideas for stories here and there, but I've never given much thought to actually telling them because I remembered how painful the first book I tried to write was. And then I realized that I don't need to write a book. I can write a story, or a novella. It doesn't have to be epic, or massive. It can just be a quick, fun read. So that's where I am.

I've started another story tonight, and I have the plot pretty much figured out. Right now I'm nearly 1000 words in - not bad for a couple of hours - and I generally know where I'm going. I hope I can continue to be excited about this because I really would like to complete at least one work of fiction in the near future so that I can honestly say that yes, I am still a writer.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

[TRAVEL] Upcoming trips ...

We have a lot of travel plans in 2014; even more than we had in 2013, and that's saying something. For the past ... counts backwards ... um, too many to count ... years we've spent 4-7 days soaking up the sun on one of the Hawaiian Islands. This will be the first time in those many years that we don't have a trip to Hawaii planned, which makes me kind of twitchy. Also, this year, we don't have plans to go to Tofino. GASP! I know, right? Unthinkable. While I would be happy to spend two weeks (or more) a year in those locations, I also realized that with limited vacation time and hundreds of places across the globe that we also want to see, we were severely limiting ourselves. So, this year no Hawaii or Tofino.

So, where ARE we going?

Well, first, we'll spend two weeks in May on an expedition cruise in Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures, starting in Sitka and ending in Ketchikan.

Remember me mentioning Hawaii at the start of this post? Originally we were going to spend a week in a beach house on Hanalei Bay with my sister's family, but at $7000+ for their family to get from Ohio to Kauai, we decided to take a more responsibly priced trip. From one shore to another, we're going to spend a week at a waterfront cottage in Port Clyde, Maine.

The cottage we rented is a bit more rustic than what we had previously reserved in Hanalei in that there is only 1 bathroom (they're currently adding a half bath), and there is no TV. I think my nieces and nephew are going to go apoplectic, but it'll be good for them to spend time playing instead of watching crap Nick Jr. shows. I'm pretty much planning to eat lobster for every meal.

Because my company shuts down for Thanksgiving, and we're planning on being here for Christmas, we decided to cash in our Citibank ThankYou Network reward points for a week at the Hilton Hyde Park in London. We also cashed in a number of our Virgin Atlantic miles for an upgrade to premium economy on a direct flight from SFO to London. I am what you might call a Regency Romance novel expert so I'm especially giddy to be staying across the street from Hyde Park, especially as the Winter Wonderland market will be in full swing.

So those are the big trips we have planned. I have no doubt we'll add in some weekend trips along the way, as well as a trip to Ohio in the fall to visit my family. In fact, we're already planning on going up to Yosemite next weekend for a quick camping trip. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

[DECOR] My Office Nook

I mentioned several weeks ago that we decided not to share an office anymore. You'd think with me working from home full time and Alan only using the office at night that it'd make more sense for me to keep the office, but for how we live, that actually didn't work the best. Since Alan pays the bills and keeps track of all of our paperwork, having a larger space is more important for him. So, I decided to camp out in a corner of our living/dining room.

I started out by working at the dining room table but that became rather problematic for my poor, achy joints. One weekend I was feeling all sorts of energized so I ran out to Ikea to look at desks and came home with this guy.

We already had the pictures up on the wall, so I was quite happy to see that the desk was tall enough to be a proper desk, but short enough not to require a reworking of the picture frames. 

I swapped a mica torchiere for this one that was on the other side of the room, and then went shopping for a desk chair. We have a beautiful mahogany lawyer's chair in our office - you may remember it's the chair that tried to kill me last year by flipping me backwards and then landing on me. So, in addition to it being dangerous, it also really hurts my tailbone, especially since I fell on the dock in Tofino straight onto my coccyx. 

I looked around, but ended up back at Cost Plus World Market, one of my favorite stores for dining room furniture. They were having a rather large sale that weekend and even though I called ahead to check on a specific style and was told it was in stock, when I arrived ... it wasn't. (You saw where that was going, right?) After dealing with some less than fantastic customer service, I drove home with two nail head trim chairs upholstered in a lovely linen color. 

When I'm not at my desk, it sits at the dining room table.

Did you notice our new hanging lamp? I got it at Target and I love it but apparently they don't sell this apparatus anymore. All told it was about $30, which is great because I was looking at similar items at Lamps Plus and they were over $100 + shipping.

Also from Target, I picked up these mirrors. Actually, I ordered them online. I was a little surprised at how small they are. Also? Super lightweight and kind of cheap. But, they're cute so there's that.

So, that's where I work.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

{MISCELLANEOUS} Real Estate Sampler

The idiocy in the Bay Area (namely, Silicon Valley) is at an all-time high and it's gotten to the point where I'm almost ashamed to work in the tech sector here. While there are a number of hard working people (and companies) that are creating products that are benefiting individual users and society at large, there are a number more companies taking millions of dollars in investor money for ideas and schemes that are just worthless. It's these people that are throwing parties with mechanical bulls and calling themselves innovative game-changers, or buying up dilapidated cabins from Marin and installing them in their campus cafeterias, or going on rants about how poor people need to leave San Francisco. (Yes, all of these things have recently happened - you can't make this up.)

With this in mind, it's pretty much every day that I look forward to the day that I can leave this insipid wasteland of arrogance and entitlement for somewhere you're not judged based on what startups you've worked at, or how many people you have a superficial relationship with on LinkedIn. (I'm sorry but just because I met you once at an industry party and talked to you for 30 seconds does not mean you are part of my network. Chances are, I thought you were a douche anyhow.) With that, I give you another installment of a somewhat regular feature here on the blog: Real Estate Sampler.

Today's locations include Portland, OR; Portland, ME; Lake Tahoe, CA; and Bozeman, MT, all priced below $500,000 (I know to some of you that seems like an insane amount of money; it's a sad state that having lived in the Bay Area for 12 years that seems cheap to me.). You'll also notice that I've tried to include a wide variety of style of houses in this list to make it interesting for everyone.

Portland is becoming more and more expensive, so it's harder to find the deals up there that existed even two years ago. Still, you can get a beautiful house in a city that is among my favorite in the U.S.

I have to admit I don't have any knowledge about Portland, aside from the fact that we visited for an afternoon back in 2000 and I thought it was a great little city. I know people who are closer to the area and they concur. Still, I thought it would be fun to show the two Portlands, with an entire country between them.

Lake Tahoe is a pretty huge area, and so it's not really fair to compare it to any of the other locations on this list in terms of availability. There is A LOT available under $500,000. There is also A LOT available over $1 million. It's a very interesting place. 

Bozeman is another area that is filled with well priced homes, as well as mansions. It's also an interesting place in that it's a pretty remote mountain town, but because it's also a University town you get a lot of the cultural benefits of living in a city. This is also another place that has a ton of inventory available, most of it new construction and in the suburbs or out in the country. If you want to be close to the University and the adorable Main Street, you're going to pay a higher premium. You can find a house for under $500k, but it's going to be older, smaller, and need some elbow grease. 

$449,900 - 4/2, 2094 sqft (this is one of the in-town homes)

$449,000 - 3/3, 2162 sqft (I'm sort of in love with this one)

So there you have it. A roundup of great properties for sale across the country in places that aren't VC money and foolish behavior dominated.