Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking back at 2012

The past year has been pretty good for me & hubby Greg. After quietly ushering in the new year in Nashville, TN, we spent some quality time with our families before boarding a plane with one-way tickets to Portland, OR. We could have moved pretty much anywhere in the U.S. and we chose Portland for a variety of reasons. We secured a lease on a furnished apartment sight unseen (the owner emailed us a few photos and we discussed terms over the phone) and it has turned out to be a wonderful place to live.
our apartment is on the first floor left side of this converted 100-year-old home in the heart of the Hawthorne district
As we got acquainted with our new surroundings, I came across the opportunity to work as an extra on a TV show that films here in Portland. It turned out to be a fun way to meet new people and make a little money. My new hobby eventually landed me background acting gigs on three TV shows and two movies, plus a little modeling work. Greg got in on the action a few times, too!
working as police officers for an episode of Grimm
One of our mutual goals for 2012 was to do more volunteer work. We did accomplish this, but not necessarily how we intended. I ended up working at eight beer & wine events while Greg did six festivals and also worked several shifts at the World Domination Summit. We also volunteered at the Oregon Food Bank on behalf of Greg's employer. My tasks ranged from the mostly fun jobs of prepping glassware & drink tickets, supervising and pouring beer to the much less enjoyable token running and emptying spit buckets. For the most part we received free festival entry, mugs/glasses + tokens for free drinks and also usually a hat or t-shirt. Next year I will try to include more "feel good" volunteer work (e.g. Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society).
Greg pours a beer for Santa at the Holiday Ale Fest
Greg struggled a bit with his job search but successfully landed a full time position at Cambia Health Solutions. He started his job as a Problem Management Analyst in June. While he was hoping to try a different line of work (this is essentially the same job as he had at Dell in Nashville), he was quite lucky to find an IT job in downtown Portland only three miles from our apartment. The majority of companies with positions that he would be most qualified for are in the suburbs.
view of Mount Hood from Greg's cubicle on a clear day
We did an in-depth analysis of our finances & monthly budget and determined that Greg's salary wouId be sufficient to cover our expenses and meet our savings goals. Thus I have been very lucky this year to not have to work a regular job. I've used some of that spare time to enter local contests and have been amazingly successful at winning!
the grand prize package for the Portland Monthly Magazine City Living contest
My biggest haul came from a Portland Monthly Magazine contest for which I wrote a short essay about what makes Portland so livable. I usually try not to participate in contests that require me to solicit votes for my entry but that was the case with this one. Still, with the help of dedicated family & friends, I won a prize package worth over $2,000! Greg & I continue to enjoy our season tickets to Oregon Ballet Theatre, White Bird Dance, and Portland Center Stage amongst other things.
ready for opening night at the Oregon Symphony (to which I won tickets)
Speaking of livability, one of the many reasons we moved to Portland is that we could live car-free. We planned to purchase bicycles once Greg started working, but I managed to WIN one in late April! I have logged almost 300 miles on my bike since I picked it up in early May. Greg bought his bike in late May and has logged almost 700 miles commuting to & from work and accompanying me on some very enjoyable 20-30 mile rides along the Springwater Corridor and Willamette Greenway Trail. We also participated in several Sunday Parkways rides this summer. Amazingly, I won ANOTHER bike this fall in the annual New Belgium Enjoy the Ride sweepstakes!
I won my Trek Atwood Ecobike through a Mellow Mushroom/Filmed by Bike promotion
While we make every effort to minimize our impact on the environment (by walking, bicycling & taking public transportation; recycling & composting; etc.) and to support local businesses, one highlight of 2012 is that we finally joined the multitudes and purchased our first iPhones. They have made life so much easier and more efficient in so many ways!
snapping a picture of Mount St. Helens with my iPhone attached to the Kenu Highline
Compared to the past few years, our travels in 2012 barely register a blip on the radar. We did not cross an international border and the only time I left the state was on several day trips into Washington, when I flew home to visit my family in Tennessee in August and when Greg & I used some Southwest Airlines credit to fly to Los Angeles to visit his brother Doug in September. Just before Greg started his new job, we drove down to Bend, OR and spent four days exploring the volcanic landscape and drinking copious amounts of beer. We do have tentative vacation plans for 2013 and I look forward to sharing those trips with you in the months to come.
picking up our reward for completing the Bend Ale Trail
We've been fortunate to have several visitors during our first year in Portland. My mom & step-dad came out for a week in late June, our friends from Seattle stayed for a few nights in late July, Greg's youngest brother & his girlfriend visited us for a few days in August, and Greg's parents came out for a week in mid-October. I also got to see several close friends from the east coast who were in town for a few hours. I always enjoy playing tour guide and showing off our new hometown to visitors. Plus it gives me the excuse to accompany them on day trips to the mountains or the coast!
enjoying a sunny day at Cannon Beach with the Campbell's
I am adding a new slideshow to my blog's home page featuring some of my favorite photos from 2012. I hope you enjoy them and I wish you all a Happy, Healthy & Prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter in Portlandia and other TV appearances

I'm excited to announce that I made my Portlandia debut last week! The link to view this special episode free on iTunes is embedded in this post's title. I'm in the opening skit, which is much shorter than I expected. We shot enough good/funny footage that I think it should have been at least twice as long as it is. But you can see me a lot, so that's cool!
We be grillin'
I worked on one other Portlandia skit a few months ago which will air sometime in early 2013. I'll post screenshots on Facebook if I make the final cut.
Look, there's the sun!
I also worked on an episode of Grimm recently which hasn't aired yet. It was the first time I got to ride in a police car on set as an active crime scene responder. I was even told to draw my gun but it was glued into the holster so I just kept my hand on my hip as if I was going to pull it out if necessary!
responding to a crime scene on Grimm (this episode has not yet aired)
Sadly, after five seasons, Leverage has wrapped for good. However, you can see me in two recent episodes:
I'm on the far right, standing behind Brett Kelly
The White Rabbit Job aired on December 5th. I'm one of three people at the factory that is wearing a white lab coat (and the only female); everyone else is wearing red jumpsuits so I'm easy to spot. You don't even have to watch the whole episode as the extras are only seen at the very beginning (first minute) and the very end (starting around minute 37). I'm also in the black & white surveillance video that the team looks at from minute 24:57-25:08 but it's mostly the back of my head so not anything that will make me famous.
I'm all smiles behind the guest stars
The Leverage season (and series) finale The Long Good-bye Job aired last night. I played a Highpoint Tower security guard. You can see me in the first few minutes as the lobby checkpoint guard searching a woman's purse (the dialogue is a voiceover) and also towards the end of the show, searching the theater. I'm in several other scenes as well but it's much harder to spot me in them.
Since moving to Portland last January, I have gotten a fair amount of work as an extra (10 days on Grimm, 5 days on Leverage, 2 days on Portlandia, and 2 movie shoots (Bad Signs and C.O.G.). Of course, I would love to do more and particularly would like to have a short speaking role, but I'm not expecting much in the coming months. Portlandia Season 3 has already wrapped and Leverage is finished forever. There are still a few episodes of Grimm Season 2 to shoot but they're on hiatus for a few more weeks. By the time they start working again I'll have had surgery on my right hip (something I will write about in a forthcoming post) and won't be able to work for several months. So I will close by saying how thankful I am to have worked with some really fantastic people (and actors) over the past year and to have made many new friends. I hope we can do more together in 2013!

Here are links to previous blog posts which I have written (and posted pictures & screenshots) about being an extra:
http://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2012/02/extra-ordinary-day.html
http://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2012/03/quiet-on-set-life-of-television-extra.html
http://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2012/03/celebrating-leap-day-2012.html
http://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2012/09/dont-blink-or-youll-miss-me.html

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Connectivity

Greg & I finally gave in to temptation and purchased iPhone 4S's this summer. This is our first foray into the world of the iPhone and, after six months of ownership, we are pretty pleased with our new-found connectivity.
our only real complaint about our iPhones: the battery drains quickly when you're running multiple apps
Greg has used a Windows-based phone (HTC Touch Pro2) for the past couple of years, but he couldn't take advantage of all the best apps due to their incompatibility with the operating system. I was using a Nokia E75, a very sturdy and utilitarian Symbian phone whose potential I couldn't fully realize since I opted to keep my costs low with T-Mobile's pay-as-you-go calling & messaging service.
Greg likes to use The Weather Channel app on his iPhone
I was somewhat hesitant to get an iPhone (or any similar new device) because I found it hard to justify the significantly higher cost for mobile phone & data service (combined we were paying under $50 per month whereas our new plan costs $130 after a 23% employer discount). Not to mention the initial cost of acquiring the devices (discounted to $150 each with a 2-year contract). Ultimately I was won over by the knowledge that I would be able to stay in touch with my family & friends more easily, respond to timely requests immediately (like confirming call times for my work as a background actor on Grimm, Leverage & Portlandia), access my calendar, notes & To Do lists (in Google Docs) while on the go, and navigate my way around town via public transportation more efficiently.
checking the bus schedule with the Kenu Highline attached to my jacket's pocket zipper
It is hard to estimate how much time and money the iPhone has saved me in the past six months but it is significant! During weeks that I'm out & about regularly, the PDX Bus app alone saves me a minimum of one hour per day of waiting time (because I know when a bus/train/streetcar is due to arrive and can plan my travels accordingly) and I waste less time trying to figure out how to get from Point A to B. To this end I also use Maps, Flashlight, and Around Me.
Apple Maps indicated this was a road. No joke.
My favorite money-saving apps are Safeway (particularly the Just4U program), Foursquare (random discounts when you check in somewhere for the first time), Yelp (for deals and helping narrow down restaurant options), and Happy Hours (no explanation needed!). Beer drinkers that we are, I use Taplister to find out what's pouring at our favorite bars.
free Mai Tai at Trader Vic's just for checking in on Foursquare
I also take LOTS of pictures and have several photography apps that I enjoy using like Instagram, Snapseed and MobileMonet. The iPhone takes excellent pictures in most settings and the quality is good enough that I've stop carrying my full body camera except when I know I'll need a powerful zoom.
one of my Instagram pics
Since we plan to keep these phones for the life of our 2-year Sprint contract, Greg & I decided to purchase AppleCare+ to extend the standard one year warranty to two. Besides hardware repair, this covers each phone for up to two accidental damage claims (subject to a $49 service fee). We figured this would be a likely occurrence given that we take them everywhere, including on bike rides, and that I expose mine to less-than-ideal conditions to snap photos on the spur of the moment, thus increasing the likelihood that I'm going to drop it in the process.
rainy day on the coast - Look, there's a dead bird! I guess it didn't have a Highline.
To ward off major damage caused by a simple drop, we both also purchased protective cases. I chose the Speck CandyShell Grip in my favorite color, purple, and Greg went with an armband/case combo since he uses his phone (music & fitness apps) during his workouts and while running. I've loved my case from Day 1 and have no complaints. Greg recently upgraded to a waterproof armband so he can still run/bike with his phone during inclement weather.
Thanks, Justin!!!
But the thing that gives me the most peace of mind when I carry my iPhone is the Kenu Highline. I read about this brilliant invention on a travel & technology blog I follow called Too Many Adapters. The review was posted just three weeks after we purchased our phones so the timing was perfect. I did some research and immediately contacted the company to request a Highline (retail $19.95) to demo. I received it just a few days later and now I can't imagine going anywhere without it!
Highline attached to my belt loop while bike riding
I typically attach the Highline to the zipper pull on a jacket pocket but have also attached it to a belt loop or a purse strap. I rarely disconnect it except when I'm just hanging out at home. Recently I was in an Apple store and they needed to look at my phone. When I pulled it out of my pocket, the Highline was attached and the employee immediately said "Wow, that's cool!" So, of course, I pretended to drop it, just opened my hand and let if fall towards the ground. I knew the outcome but the employee didn't. She was about to freak out as the Highline bungeed my phone long before it hit the floor. They definitely should be selling these in Apple's retail stores!
Highline attached to my dress's shoulder strap while biking
I can't tell you how many times the Highline has saved my phone from certain destruction. Plus it has eliminated any stress and insecurity I had about using my phone in pretty much every environment imaginable. Hold it over a boiling batch of wort while making beer - check; take photos & shoot video (with one hand) while riding my bike - check; lean over a 100 foot drop to capture the perfect shot of Lower Multnomah Falls - check. Bottom line, before you buy any accessories for your iPhone, including AppleCare, invest $20 in a Kenu Highline. You may discover that it's all the protection you need!
Highline attached to my Scottevest jacket pocket

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Experiencing the Four Seasons in One Week - Conclusion

It has taken me almost a month to publish four posts detailing my in-law's visit in October. Much has been going on in our lives lately which has impacted my spare time and has caused me to lose focus on writing. Still, I want to summarize their trip here, by documenting their impressions of our adopted hometown and the multitude of sights they took in.

Shortly after their visit, I emailed Dave & Linda and asked them to reply with a list of things they liked and/or would recommend for any visitor. I also requested that they include the things that they would do differently next time. What follows is an edited version of their feedback.

Dave enjoyed:
  • Mount St. Helens (in spite of the snow & clouds) and the two movies at Johnston Ridge Observatory
  • Portland Japanese Gardens (minus the hike up from the parking lot)
  • PSU Farmers Market (minus the parking ticket); he also rightfully suggested that we should have bought lunch from one of the vendors there
  • the dinner I cooked at home (awww, how sweet is that?!); the monster calzone we shared at Hopworks Urban Brewery comes in 2nd
  • OHSU tram and views
  • Columbia River Gorge (minus the gravel road)
The LaRowe's at Bridal Veil Falls
Dave was not so keen on:
  • wineries (he said they're "just not my cup of tea")
  • some of the pub food
  • the rain, snow, rain, snow...
bundled up at Johnston Ridge Observatory
Linda loved:
  • our self-guided tour of Portland (Day 2)
  • Mount St. Helens
  • Columbia River Gorge
  • the snow on Mount Hood
Linda enjoys the view from Marquam Hill
Linda would have preferred:
  • less rain, especially when we visited the coast
  • padded chairs at the brewpubs (seriously, I had never noticed how many places have hard wooden chairs until she said something!)
crappy weather on the Pacific Coast
Both agreed that next time they would prefer to stay closer to downtown Portland (and thus also closer to us) and they would like to visit during the summer months when there is less chance of rain.

As the title of these posts indicates, we truly did experience weather conditions covering all four seasons during the week they were here (with the exception of the hottest days of summer). As any native Northwesterner knows, having good rain gear and wearing layers is the key to being prepared for a day here. Still, as Linda wrote at the end of her email, "Portland is a beautiful area and I can see why you decided to move there."

Here are the links to the previous four posts:
Days 1 & 2
Days 3 & 4
Days 5 & 6
Days 7 & 8

The link to all of my photos from their visit is embedded in this post's title.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Experiencing the Four Seasons in One Week - Days 7 & 8

Day 7 - Tuesday, October 23rd
The LaRowe's had one last excursion on their wish list: a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge and Mt Hood. Again, the forecast was for clouds and some rain while Mt Hood had already received six inches of snow overnight. We got started around 9am knowing we had a lot of driving as well as plenty of stops to make throughout the day.

Our first stop was the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint. Basically this is a parking lot with a few informational signs and a nice view of the gorge to the east. We spent a few minutes here before continuing on the historic Columbia River Highway.
looking to the east from Portland Women's Forum viewpoint
I had already checked online for the latest road closures as I had read about an ongoing construction project to repair and replace deteriorating viaducts and retaining walls and to restore sections of the highway. As it turned out, the road was closed from just beyond the scenic viewpoint all the way to Latourell Falls. Our only options were to detour back to the interstate or take a back road off of Larch Mountain. I thought it would be more scenic to take the back road and had the assistance of the GPS on my iPhone to guide us in the right direction.
a typical stretch of the Columbia River Highway
The inherent danger in relying on GPS is that it doesn't always tell you the condition of the roads. Our route down the mountain was actually an old one-lane gravel road! Dave, who was driving, wasn't thrilled about continuing on this path, but I was confident that it would eventually meet back up with the historic highway past the closed section. And we did make it without incident although I'm sure Dave & Linda were on edge the whole time!
Alex Barr Road - our shortcut (calling this a road is generous)
Our next stop was Bridal Veil Falls. As the rain was holding off, I thought it would be nice to take a short hike. The signage indicated the trail was fairly steep but I had never seen these falls before and again convinced Dave & Linda that it was probably worth the effort.

From there we continued east to the requisite stop at Multnomah Falls. Probably because it was a weekday and the weather wasn't ideal, there weren't too many visitors and we were able to enjoy the short walk up to Benson Bridge for an excellent view of the upper & lower falls.

We finished up the drive on the historic highway and reconnected with I-84 heading east to our next stop, Bonneville Dam & Fish Hatchery. At the right time of year you can see thousands of salmon and other fish making their way up the fish ladder at the dam, but in late October it was pretty quiet. We toured the exhibits and then headed over to the hatchery to say hi to Herman the Sturgeon, a 70+-year-old monster of a fish.

It was already 1:30pm by the time we stopped for lunch in Hood River. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to eat at Full Sail Brewery (and I was ready for a beer!). I would have liked to take the free brewery tour again (I enjoyed doing this with my mom & step-dad in June) but our timing was a bit off (tours are on the hour) and I was afraid it would take up too much of the remaining daylight (the tours last about 45 minutes).
We briefly debated whether or not we should continue around Mt Hood (the long way home) as the rain seemed to be setting in. But again, I figured we had come this far already and wanted the LaRowe's to get the full loop experience. As it was just past the peak of fall harvest season, we stopped at Draper Girls Country Farm to browse the fresh produce and see the goats. On a nice day there is a beautiful view of Mt Hood from their orchard, but the clouds had completely enfolded the mountain on this gray afternoon.



We continued on Hwy 35 towards Mt Hood and soon reached the snow line. The road had been plowed and there wasn't much traffic; we even saw someone cross country skiing! Again there was a discussion as to whether we should turn back but the road was open and we were already closer to Portland coming from this direction. So I convinced Dave to turn off at Timberline Lodge.

As it turned out, the road was only plowed for the first few miles; the final stretch was still covered with snow! We only saw a couple of cars on the way up and we took our time climbing the final 2000' elevation to the lodge (which is at 6000').
plowed

not plowed
Normally, after checking out the exhibits on the main floor, I like to take a break and have a beer while sitting by the huge fireplace and gazing out at the mountain's peak rising just past the lodge. But we couldn't see anything but the trees about 100 feet beyond the windows plus it was already 4pm and we still had an hour or more of driving to get back to Portland.


on a clear day, the top of Mt Hood is visible through this window
So we slalomed our way back to the main road and proceeded (in the rain) to our apartment where we picked up Greg for dinner. Our choice for the "last supper:" Apizza Scholls, where we ordered two mixed pizzas: Apizza Margherita + Sausage & Peppers and Bacon Bianca + Pig & Pineapple (which guaranteed that Greg & I would get the leftovers!).


Day 8 - Wednesday, October 24th
We said our goodbyes to Linda & Dave after dinner last night as their flight was at 10:55am this morning and they would need time to eat breakfast, pack and drop off the rental car before checking in for their flight.

We had a great visit, which I will sum up (in their words & mine) in my next post. Again, I have embedded the link to all of my photos in this post's title.