Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - A Year in Review

Here it is, my annual post of recollections from the previous year and thoughts going into the new one.

Greg and I always schedule time at the beginning of the year to review our goals, finances, travel plans, etc. While we already track our spending via spreadsheet on a daily basis, and review our calendars and plan meals and outings every week, it's always a good idea to take a few hours at least once a year to talk about things on a larger scale. With that conversation date set on the calendar for this weekend, I thought this might be a good time to go ahead and rehash the year that is now coming to a close.

Looking back at my blog post dated January 19, 2015 (my first of the year), I had no way of knowing how much my life would change, or at least be affected by, the events to come. The post that I wrote during a very hectic time this summer, The Month That Was, summarizes at least part of those events:  moving, job changes, and frequent travel. In addition, I have continued to deal with some lingering health issues (a herniated disc in my neck which causes constant pain in my upper back & shoulders; and an asthma-type respiratory condition that developed after I had the flu in February that causes frequent coughing and difficulty breathing). Both of these have created an inability or decreased desire to exercise regularly, which in turn has contributed to moderate weight gain. I am definitely out of shape and one of my new year's resolutions is to rectify that asap.

I did fulfill some goals in 2015, including traveling more and spending quality time with family and friends, but sadly it was not all enjoyable, particularly the unexpected death of my beloved Uncle Jim in early August. A quick recap of this year's adventures (you can find some of my favorite photos from our travels in the highlights albums to the right of this post and under the Photo Albums tab on my Facebook page):

  • February - Greg and I flew to San Francisco and took a relaxing 10-night Mexican Riviera cruise on the Star Princess.
  • March - I spent a fun-filled four days in Austin, TX with my girlfriend, Adena. I made the mistake of trying to fly home on standby and it turned into a two day ordeal, with an extra overnight in San Francisco and a memorable 18-hour Greyhound bus ride back to Portland.
  • May - I flew up to Anchorage, AK where I met a new friend and spent the day navigating us around to some of the newest breweries, then bused to Seward the next morning where I met up with 12 family members for a wonderful seven-night Inside Passage cruise on the ms Zaandam.
  • June - Greg and I flew to Indianapolis, IN for five days to attend his youngest brother Brian's wedding.
  • August - I made an unplanned five-day trip back to Indiana (Terre Haute) for my uncle's funeral.
  • September - Our long-awaited 12-night vacation in Iceland. I'm still working on the blog posts for this one!
  • October - Greg and I flew to Nashville, TN then drove to Knoxville to attend his middle brother Doug's wedding. Due to Greg's recent job change, he had to modify his travel plans and return to Portland for work after five nights. I stayed and visited with family and friends for a total of nine nights.

In addition to our travels, we have also hosted several friends for overnight stays at our new apartment (where we finally assembled the bed in the second bedroom this past week!) and/or met up with out-of-town visitors whom we haven't seen in several years. We are expecting more guests in the coming months as some family members are scheduling their biennial visits. I am already planning a few "girlfriend getaways" for early 2016, but Greg and I haven't really talked about our vacation plans yet as his bank of days off doesn't replenish until his one-year Trimet anniversary in July.

Besides travel, I know I still need to focus on some of the same things I mentioned this time last year:  "my physical, and consequently, mental well-being; my relationship with Greg; and making a better effort to set some specific goals and work towards them daily." I also want to do what I'm calling more meaningful work in 2016. I'm not sure exactly what this will entail yet (hopefully my upcoming conversation with Greg will help shed some light on the possibilities), but generally I want to take on more work-type responsibility, preferably in an environment or for a company that contributes to the greater good.

I/we have faced plenty of challenges this past year, not only in our personal lives but also in finding a way to deal with the frequent news of tragic events in the world around us. My hope is that 2016 will bring positive, lasting change and that good will triumph over evil in more situations. I also hope that all of you who read this will take the time to consider the things that you are doing in your daily life that need to change and find a way to make that happen. Life is far too short to be unhappy, unfulfilled, ungrateful, and meaningless. Make yours count!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Vegvísir - My Latest Tattoo

It is rare that Greg and I plan and book a trip so far in advance, with the exception of our around-the-world adventure in 2010-11. We generally prefer to wait until closer to departure, so as to have a better idea of our work obligations and overall mood in terms of the type of vacation we want. This also increases the possibility that we can take advantage of last minute deals, especially for cruises. With Iceland, we didn’t want to take that chance. Even though Icelandair started nonstop flights from Portland to Reykjavik this May, the route is seasonal and is only operated a few days each week. Options on legacy carriers often have undesirable connections and higher prices.
But I am digressing from the true focus of this blog post, which is to explain how and why I chose to get a new tattoo in Iceland. One advantage of having plenty of time to plan and prepare for a trip is to start thinking about how you want to preserve your memories or commemorate the occasion. Photographs are the obvious answer, as is purchasing small trinkets that help remind you of the fun times you had. Over the past 18 years, I have increasingly turned to another option, tattooing. I have written a few blog posts on the subject:

Shockingly, it has already been 3 ½ years since I got my last tattoo (the hop cone). In that time, I have come up with many ideas and sketched out numerous designs for my next one(s). As far as the travel theme is concerned, Greg and I have been on plenty of trips, but none where I really had the time and inclination to get a tattoo, with the possible exception of my extended trip to The Netherlands, northern England and Scotland in the spring of 2014.
Thus I was compelled to research my options in the months leading up to our trip to Iceland. Greg, for his part, kept jokingly suggesting that I get a tattoo of a glacier. I am more interested in symbolism, so I Googled keywords like “traditional Icelandic imagery.” I also incorporated words most relevant to my life like “travel” and “adventure.” It didn’t take me too long to find the vegvísir. What I didn’t realize until I delved deeper is how often it is used as a tattoo; even Björk has one! But this didn’t stop me from pursuing this course, as it truly represents everything that I want to convey at this time:

The Vegvísir can be seen in the Huld Manuscript of 1860, translated to mean signpost, however the word is derived from two Icelandic words: veg and vísir. Vegur means road or path, and Vísir stands for the word guide. The instruction given to this symbol has been translated as “If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known.”  The design and translation taken from the Galdraskræða Skugga is similar. That version was transcribed in 1940 but taken from earlier sources. Unfortunately the author did not share what those sources were.
Fen Alraun speculates that the Vegvísir incorporates 8 different charms of protection on each stave; thus the overall charm becomes one suitable to defend against many kinds of obstacles that might cause one to lose one’s way. He believes it is not necessary to understand the meaning of each stave: As long as the helm is written correctly every time it will still hold its power.

As it turned out, the Icelandic Tattoo Expo was taking place September 4-6 in Reykjavik. We were scheduled to arrive in Iceland the morning of the 3rd and would spend the first two days in Reykjavik before starting our driving tour of the country. I reached out to some well-known tattoo artists but quickly learned that many of them were booked for the expo. However, the owner of The Icelandic Tattoo Corp told me to contact one of their artists, Haffi, as he might be available during that time.
Via a Facebook Messenger chat with Haffi, I made an appointment for September 3 at 11:00 a.m., less than three hours after we were scheduled to land at Keflavik. Calculating the time to shop at duty free and collect our luggage, take the Flybus into the city, walk to our Airbnb, then walk to the tattoo shop, I would not have any room for error.
Luckily, we did not encounter any issues the morning of our arrival and had no trouble getting to the studio right on time. I had a thorough 30+ minute consult with Haffi, during which we talked about the size and location of the tattoo. He also offered us some budget restaurant recommendations, which we did actually use to good result. However, Haffi suggested I consider waiting to get the actual tattoo until the end of the trip, due to the fact that we planned to visit at least one geothermal spa (you shouldn’t soak a new tattoo for at least two weeks) and because we were staying in hostels with shared baths, which doesn’t guarantee the most sanitary conditions. I agreed with his logic, so we scheduled my new appointment for 7:00 p.m. on September 13, our very last night in Iceland.
It’s not especially easy to get lost in Iceland, as there’s only one main road, Highway 1 or the Ring Road which encircles the country. Yes, there are plenty of roads which turn off from this main track and are used to access more remote areas like the fjords or the highlands. Even so, there is adequate signage, and as long as you are prepared for sub-optimal driving conditions you should not ever, technically, get lost.
My new tattoo, while historically known as a signpost which prevents one from getting lost, has a deeper meaning for me. It is symbolic of the struggles I have overcome throughout my life, and, in light of recent events which cause me to question my current path, I trust that it will help me find my way going forward.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Mortality Check

My recent experience with the unexpected death of my Uncle Jim inspired me to put the finishing touches on something I’ve been working on for months. While Greg and I both created legal wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc. after we got married in 2011, neither of us have explicit instructions as to what to do in the event of either of our deaths. Considering that we both want to be cremated, and both have different and somewhat nontraditional views on how we want things to be handled, I realized how important it is to have all of that in writing now, versus leaving it to a distraught family member to sort out in the event of an untimely death.

Thus I have spent the past couple of weeks slowly plugging away at the details in my “End of Life Instructions” document. Essentially, I wrote my own funeral service, although that’s the furthest thing from what it actually is. Instead, the document spells out how to go about donating my body to science, what to do with my ashes once I’m cremated, who to notify, how to conduct a celebration of life event, etc. I even wrote my own obituary.

Which leads me to an interesting thought. Originally, the title of this post was “Crowdsourcing My Funeral.” But not only is that overly morbid, it gives the wrong impression as to what I’m actually trying to convey. Instead, as I was working on my end of life wishes, it struck me that what I want most is for anyone who has been a part of my life to share their favorite memory of their time spent with me, or perhaps how I inspired them to travel, take more risks, or just embrace the possibility of making a change for the better. Then I realized how sad it would be to have all of these people share these things on my Facebook page, or at my Celebration of Life event, after I was gone, especially if they hadn’t told me the impact I had on their life while I was alive. Please let this be a reminder to thank the people that have made a difference in your life now, whether with a quick phone call, text, email, handwritten letter, or even a Facebook post. Not only will it brighten their day, it might be the cue they need to take a similar action themselves.

Now that I have completed these documents, the next step is to review everything with Greg, to make sure he understands my wishes and is comfortable with what he must do to see them through; have everything notarized; and then, when I’m in Tennessee in October, I will share the information with my father and mother, as it will be up to them to take the necessary actions in the event that Greg and I both die at the same time.

I guess, in the end, this blog post is my version of a public service announcement (PSA) to remind you to take the time to not only think about how you would want things handled in the event of your death, but to also put it all in writing. Please don’t let that burden fall on your loved ones that would have to make permanent decisions in a time of tremendous grief.

Here are some helpful links to get you started:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Burger A Day

Greg and I do not eat red meat very often, maybe once or twice a month at most. So Portland Burger Week presents a unique challenge for me, which is mainly to not make myself sick by overindulging in all things bovine. Thankfully, several of the restaurants participating in this year’s event offered non-beef burgers so I made sure to seek out a few of them.

This year was not my first rodeo, but it is the first time I made an actual effort to go to more than one or two places during Burger Week. In 2013, the inaugural year, I went to Foster Burger. It was my first time there and I didn’t have the foresight to avoid the lunch rush. Thus I had to wait in line for about 30 minutes just to get a seat at the bar. But, oh, was that burger delicious, as were the “black and white fries” and the beer I had with it.
Bacon Kimcheese at Foster Burger in 2013
Last year, I went to Widmer for a late lunch. Again, I grabbed a seat at the bar and ended up chatting with a few regulars as well as a some tourists. The burger was messy and delicious, and I couldn't resist pairing it with a couple of pub-only brews.
American Kobe Cheeseburger at Widmer Gasthaus in 2014
As with most eating endeavors, while I certainly have favorite haunts, I like to try places I haven’t been to before and/or food that is unique in some way. The same goes for this year's Burger Week, although sometimes the locations were dictated by other activities I/we were doing that day, and also required easy access via public transit.

I usually do not order side items because, frankly, it’s all I can do to eat an entire burger of any size. However, I did play by the rules and at least ordered a beer (or several). Note that I shared three of my burgers with Greg, which allowed us to try more than one burger (or enjoy another meal, like dim sum) on the same day. A link to the description of each burger is embedded in the burger's name.

Day 1 of Burger Week: Monday, August 10, 2015

To be honest, I still wasn't ready to be out & about on Monday. I just returned home from my uncle's funeral in Indiana on Friday and spent the weekend indoors with Greg. I couldn't focus, didn't have much of an appetite, and definitely didn't feel like socializing, especially with strangers.

Day 2 of Burger Week: Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I was forced to leave the house because I had an afternoon appointment to establish care with a new doctor through our new insurance (Kaiser Permanente). I decided to make the most of it and run errands near Lloyd Center. While I could have taken the MAX from there to the doctor's office near Gateway, I decided to take the bus instead up to NE Fremont and Lil' Wares. Their burger week offering was called " The Sleaze" and it paired perfectly with a pilsner from Plank Town Brewing.
My first burger turned out to be one of my favorites.

Day 3 of Burger Week: Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I had already made plans to meet my friend Rachel at noon for lunch at Burnside Brewing. Of course, the place was packed, with a line out the door to place your food and drink order, then another line outside to get your burger. Rachel grabbed us a table inside and I waited in line outside in the hot sun for 20+ minutes to get our Drrty burgers.
Rachel and I both ordered the $8 special of burger, beer, and shot of Jim Beam.
The best deal in town and also one of the best burgers I had all week.
As we sat for a few hours and nibbled on our burgers and drank a few beers, I bumped into several friends whom I hadn't seen since we moved a month ago. This was the best day overall in terms of the social aspect of Burger Week. The only negative was when Rachel texted me later to say she ended up in the ER after tripping on a curb and hurting her shoulder.

Day 4 of Burger Week: Thursday, August 13, 2015

Greg and I had made plans to meet downtown after he got off work. We were shopping for some dress shirts for his new job, plus we wanted to do some Iceland trip research at Powell's. We started at Portland Penny Diner, where we shared the Sweet Onion Burger. It was simple, but tasty, especially the browned Walla Walla sweet onions.
Sweet Onion Burger at Portland Penny Diner
After walking around for a few hours, we were ready for round #2 at Davis Street Tavern. Their Yucatan Burger was the smallest of any I had all week, and honestly it was pretty bland considering the list of "spicy" ingredients. It didn't help that the restaurant was not air conditioned so it was quite stuffy and uncomfortably warm as we sat at the bar and shared a burger and a $6 pint of beer.
Yucatan Burger at Davis Street Tavern

Day 5 of Burger Week: Friday, August 14, 2015

We took a break from burgers today and ate one of our favorite meals - Mediterranean Shrimp Pasta.

Day 6 of Burger Week: Saturday, August 15, 2015

A beautiful, cooler day, perfect for hiking up to the top of Mt. Tabor to watch the Portland Adult Soap Box Derby. We watched the racers and the spectators for a couple of hours then walked down to SE Belmont for a beer.
One of my favorite entries in the Soap Box Derby.
After a nice pub crawl featuring stops at Horse Brass and Belmont Station, we made our way to Ya Hala where we each ordered the featured Hala Burger. Since we had already had a few beers, we just drank water, but also ordered tabouli, which was a nice, refreshing way to start the meal. The restaurant was busy and the kitchen seemed to be having difficulty keeping up with all of the orders. After waiting about 10 minutes for a table, we waited another 20+ minutes for our food to be delivered. My favorite ingredient was the tzatziki sauce. This was a great non-beef burger, but it was a bit too salty and made me very thirsty for hours after we ate.
Hala Burger

Day 7 of Burger Week: Sunday, August 16, 2015

We had already planned to run a few errands on Sunday, as well as to start the day with "breakfast" at HK Cafe, which was a nice break from burgers.
dim sum at HK Cafe
After I got my hair cut by Kim at Shear Success, where I've been going for the past three years, we walked to the Portland Mercado, since the last time we were there was opening day when it was crazy busy. Then we walked a bit farther and stopped at N.W.I.P.A. for a beer. Soon enough, we were ready for our final Burger Week offering: the 24K at Foster Burger.
This time we ordered the fries.
The 24K was good but fairly simple and a bit overcooked.
To sum it up, I got to try six burgers in five days. A couple were outstanding, and a couple were kind of meh. I did not get sick or have any gastrointestinal distress. However I probably gained a few pounds. I don't think Greg was overly impressed with any of the four burgers he tried. In fact, he said "I just want to go to Serratto for happy hour" (when you can get their scrumptious 1/2 pound cheeseburger and fries for $8).
Greg, about to enjoy the happy hour burger at Serratto in April, 2014.
There are plenty of places that didn't participate in Burger Week that are known for their great hamburgers. I've had a few, but do hope to try more of them in the coming months. Still, I suspect when August rolls around next year, I'll be preparing a plan of attack for Burger Week 2016!

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Belated Farewell to Irvington House

Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of our move to North Tabor and, subsequently, the end of our time at Irvington House. Greg and I were starting to put some plans together to move sometime this winter, but the owner accelerated that timeline for us somewhat unexpectedly. In the end, it probably worked out for the best, but it's never easy to move, especially during the peak summer months.

When I found out we were going to move, I immediately started making notes about some of the crazy things that happened during our year and eight months in residence. I can honestly say that I became even more knowledgeable, especially relating to household maintenance, than I already was, and that Greg really learned how to clean bathrooms, mostly learned how to make a bed hotel-style, and now knows how much the finishing details can change a guest's first impression of their lodgings.

As you read my notes below, keep in mind that Irvington House was built in 1908 as a single family home and was eventually converted to a duplex, then a triplex. While there are plenty of modern touches, some of the inner workings of the house are still original (e.g. knob-and-tube wiring in the caretaker's apartment) and the floors and walls are not insulated/soundproofed.

Things I will not miss:
  • slamming doors
  • emergency maintenance calls in the middle of the night
  • neighbors’ barking dog(s)
  • next door neighbor’s cat that lays on the front porch furniture and dirties the cushions
  • grill mouse
  • odorous ants
  • guests who rearrange the furniture
  • tripped circuits
  • one night stays
  • people who do not remove their shoes (which makes it very noisy above the caretaker's apartment)
  • hauling cleaning supplies and dirty linens up & down six flights of stairs (the house covers four floors)
  • being on call 24/7
Craziest things that happened:
  • A guest "accidentally" knocked a big hole in a bedroom wall shortly after we moved in.
  • Guests who dressed in very elaborate costumes for Comic Con.
  • Guests who left trash everywhere in the upstairs apartment.
  • A tree fell across 15th Ave late one evening and pulled down live power lines. I had to direct traffic until the cops arrived.
  • A guest's car getting stolen (it was actually towed by a neighbor).
  • Guests who left bloody sheets on the bed that resembled The Godfather horse head scene.
  • An older guest lost their footing, fell down the stairs and had to go to the hospital for stitches.
  • A guest in the garden unit called late at night and said there was water all over the apartment. I went downstairs and sure enough there was 1/2 inch of water all over the concrete floor. Turns out the P-trap under the kitchen sink had become disconnected. She had been washing dishes and didn't notice the water pouring out of the cabinet! 
Best “left” items (I rarely received tips, but often guests would leave a note saying they had left some food in the fridge that they couldn't take with them):
  • unopened beer or wine
  • a vacuum-sealed thermos that the guest told me not to bother shipping back to him (Greg takes his coffee to work in it every day)
  • an actual $20 cash tip
  • fresh produce (most often lettuce)
  • an unopened bag of Doritos (Greg's favorite)
Things I will miss:
  • The perpetually "lost" cat Buddy, whom I had to carry home on numerous occasions.
  • Greg ringing his bike bell as he rode up the driveway from work. I was usually in the kitchen cooking dinner so could easily hear it and wave out the window. Our new apartment is in the back of the house down a long flight of stairs...
  • Lounging on the beautifully landscaped back patio (although it's pretty hard to beat the view from our deck on Mt Tabor).
  • The rainbows created by sunlight coming through the leaded glass windows in our apartment.
  • The squirrel antics and numerous birds we could observe from our living room window.
  • “Paid” vacations - If anyone stayed in our apartment while we were gone, I charged the owner a nightly rate (as determined by dividing our rent by the number of days in that particular month).
  • The owner’s vehicle, which I occasionally borrowed for personal use.
  • The overall location and proximity to everything.
I'm sure I'm leaving out plenty. Hopefully Greg will comment if he thinks of something particularly interesting. The takeaway from this experience is that while I've always thought I might enjoy running a bed & breakfast or vacation rental of this nature, it is very hard physical work (I cleaned the two rental apartments a total of 250 times) and requires being on call 24/7 to assist guests or deal with maintenance issues. It also requires tons of patience -- guests were notoriously "clueless" about so many things that were spelled out in writing at the time of reservation, in reminder emails, as well as clearly posted in the apartments. I'm not ruling anything out for the future, but I will evaluate and choose the property wisely and consider all of the pros and cons before committing to a job like this again. Farewell, Irvington House!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

In Remembrance of my Uncle Jim

My Uncle Jim was a charismatic member of my family, as well as my guardian, my mentor, and my friend.
Memorial table
When I was growing up in Nashville, Tenn., I always looked forward to trips to Chattanooga to visit my grandparents. My mom’s brother Jim, the second youngest of the five children, was only 17 years old when I was born. I don’t remember much, if anything, from the earliest years of my life. But I do remember that Jim was the daredevil of the family, riding four wheelers and motorcycles, going offroad in a 4WD truck, etc. When we were old enough, he’d offer to take my sister Emily and I for a ride. I know my parents were apprehensive about letting us go, but we always had a blast and Jim was the reason I got to have those exciting experiences.
I wrote this.
I even had a tangible connection to Jim for a few years. When I was 16, my parents bought Jim’s old car, a Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 and gave it to me for Christmas. It was a great little car and I drove it until I was in college.

Jim was a firefighter at Red Bank Fire Department for over 10 years. I always liked to visit him at the fire station so I could climb on the fire trucks and wear his helmet. When I moved to Chattanooga to attend college at the University of Tennessee, Jim and his wife Jenny were living in Hixson. Jim was still a member of the fire department and he knew I had been a volunteer firefighter in Gallatin during my senior year of high school. He suggested I apply to join RBFD and attend training, which I did. I was the only female firefighter in the department during those years. It was challenging and often intimidating to say the least, but Jim was always around to offer support and encouragement.

When I was involved in a car wreck during my freshman year of college and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance, Jim was there immediately to comfort me and get me home safely.
As a child, Jim's nickname was "Dammit" because his dad was always yelling at him for something.
There’s only one time I can recall that Jim got really upset with me. I had met an older firefighter during my time at RBFD and we started dating. Jim did NOT approve of this relationship and he had no qualms about telling me that I was making a huge mistake. While I didn’t agree with him, I knew he was watching out for me because he cared so much about me. As it turned out, of course, he was right.

I remember how excited and protective Jim was while Jenny was pregnant with Morgan and how he beamed with pride and joy after she was born. I was honored to be one of the first people to hold his baby daughter at the hospital.

I know Jim also appreciated how close I was with my grandparents (his parents, Jack and Barbara Patterson). When Granddaddy got sick, I would go over to their house on Godsey Lane to visit and help take care of him. When he was in the hospital, I would drive with my grandmother so she didn’t have to be alone. But Jim was the one by his side in the hospital room when my granddad took his last breaths.

We all left Chattanooga around the same time. I got a job with Delta Air Lines and moved to New York City to be a flight attendant. Jim, Jenny and Morgan moved to Terre Haute, Ind. so he could start a new job with Industrial Supply. We didn’t see each other as much in the following years, but I tried to come to as many family gatherings in Tennessee as possible and even flew in from California once to visit them in Terre Haute. It was always hard to believe so much time had passed, since the minute we were together it seemed like we had just talked yesterday.
Grandmother Patterson's 80th Birthday - March 28, 2009
More recently, when I quit working for a couple of years to travel around the world, Jim asked me point blank how much money it cost and how I had been able to save up so much while living in New York City. He had a hard time understanding how I was able to have such an exciting, adventurous life. I reminded him that I had been sacrificing for years, always living with roommates and minimizing possessions, plus I didn’t have a spouse or children. He acknowledged that and said he wouldn’t trade Jenny and Morgan for anything.
July, 2011
Jim experienced a lot of loss in the past few years but rarely let on that he was struggling. He called me one day out of the blue this winter and said he needed me to help him deal with a particular situation. We talked for about 30 minutes, not just about that one issue, but about life in general. I was really touched that he placed so much value in my opinion.
May 25, 2015
Our recent trip to Alaska will be a lasting memory of the fun times we shared. Just two months ago, we were all soaking up the sunshine and beautiful scenery of the Inside Passage from the decks of a cruise ship. Jim was always on the lookout for wildlife (or just an ice cream cone) and it was wonderful to have so many days together to talk and reminisce. I’ve been on a lot of cruises, but have never gotten so little sleep from staying up late drinking, dancing and laughing the night away.
May 26, 2015
I’m so very sad that you had to leave us so soon, Uncle Jim. I am thankful for each and every minute we spent together, in good times and bad, for all 41 years of my life. I hope that there are lots of birds, deer, power tools, Jeeps, and cheap beer wherever you are.
Memorial table we set up at the funeral home
Love always,


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Coquine - A Lovely Addition to Our New Neighborhood

It has been just over two weeks since we moved to the north slope of Mount Tabor. We are loving our new apartment and I will be writing more about it, among other things, in the near future. However I wanted to take a few minutes to share with you some photos from a wonderful Grand Opening Dinner that Greg & I attended on Thursday, July 16, at Coquine.

My friend Chris Angelus runs Portland Food Adventures, where he coordinates monthly dinners at Portland's best (and often, newest) restaurants. For a fixed price you are treated to a gourmet multi-course meal along with beverage pairings. Gratuity is included as are gift certificates to some of the hosting chef's favorite restaurants around town. Overall, it's an excellent value and an opportunity to interact with like-minded Portlanders while enjoying some amazing food and drinks!
Greg & I each received this set of three gift cards at the end of our meal.
I jumped at the chance to attend July's dinner at Coquine, mainly because the date coincided with the week of our move and because it was only a 10 minute walk from our new apartment. Located at SE Belmont and 69th, the new restaurant occupies the corner spot in a small strip of businesses near the top of Mount Tabor. It is a unique neighborhood location and super convenient for transit riders as both the east & west-bound #15 buses stop on that block.
As we waited for the 25 attendees to arrive, we were served a cocktail called Dans Les Champs, which consisted of dry gin, green chartreuse, orange liqueur, lemon and sparkling wine. Already a fan of gin-based drinks, I loved it and found it quite refreshing. This was paired with a passed hors d'oeuvre of fried gnocchi, which was amazingly light, like a fried pillow of air, but quite flavorful.
Once we all took our seats and acquainted ourselves with our table mates, Chris introduced the proprietors of the restaurant, Chef Katy Millard and her husband and business partner, Ksandek Podbielski, a front of house mastermind and beverage aficionado. They explained their seasonal menu and hands-off approach to service, meaning they don't believe in interrupting the flow of the meal and conversation to explain each wine pairing or food preparation technique. As it turned out this was a welcome respite from the occasional lecture you might receive at some restaurants and it allowed us to savor each sip and bite during our two-hour meal without intrusion. We did, however, ask plenty of questions, which Ksandek was happy to answer while pouring our next glass of wine.
Now for more of those photos I promised...
Crispy duck wings; snap peas with honey mustard glaze and black sesame

Chilled almond and garlic soup

Carrots, roasted and raw

Every wine pairing was spot on

Summer squash

Pork ribs

Almond milk-cardamom sorbet

Candies and sweets

Chris congratulates Ksandek and Katy at the conclusion of Coquine's PFA Grand Opening Dinner
I realize as I post this that I managed to miss one photo (of the oil cured Oregon Albacore). It was paired with one of my favorite wines of the evening, the Elbling Trocken.

As you can infer just by looking at these photos, every dish was delicious! I believe my favorite was the chilled almond and garlic soup, but it's really hard to pick one thing. I would eat them all again in a heartbeat, and thankfully will have that opportunity at this fantastic little restaurant in my neighborhood.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Month That Was

On Tuesday, May 19, I received an email from our current landlord saying that our time was up at Irvington House. We have lived here for almost two years, since August 2013, and part of our contract was that I perform the duties of caretaker for this licensed bed & breakfast which is operated as two self-catering vacation rental units. It is often a thankless job, consisting of cleaning both rental units an average of twice a week, plus household maintenance, performing concierge-type duties for our guests, administrative responsibilities, etc. The owner has never had anyone stay longer than about a year and a half, and he was clearly starting to worry that we would bail at a most inconvenient time for him. In truth, Greg and I had discussed our options earlier this spring, and ultimately decided that 1. We would like to invest in Portland real estate (i.e. buy a house or condo); and 2. Whether or not we were successful in that endeavor, we would still plan to give notice and move sometime during the following winter.
The front entrance to lovely Irvington House
So our hand was forced at what happened to be a most inconvenient time for us. Just four short days later, on May 23, I was scheduled to board a flight to Anchorage, AK. I would ultimately rendez-vous with my extended family in Seward, aboard Holland America Line’s ms Zaandam. From there we cruised Alaska’s Inside Passage on a wonderful seven night journey that ended in Vancouver, BC on Sunday, May 31. I immediately flew home to Portland.
My beautiful family aboard the ms Zaandam
On Monday, June 1, I started a new job with Brewery Consultant Group. My friend, and Culmination Brewing owner, Tomas Sluiter heads up this company whose purpose is to advise clients interested in starting new breweries across the United States. My role is to write proposals,  business plans, pro formas, and more, with a heavy emphasis on project management. It is the perfect job for me and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work more closely with the industry that I love.
My office at the brewery
On Thursday, June 4, Greg and I boarded planes bound for Indianapolis, IN to attend his youngest brother’s wedding, where we spent a fun-filled four days with his family and our new in-laws. Of course, I couldn’t resist leading the troops, including the just-married bride and groom, to as many breweries as we could fit in around the wedding festivities. I had intentionally booked a later flight home on the following Monday, so I caught a ride into downtown Indy and spent the entire afternoon exploring the city on foot, including stops at two more breweries (total count: eight). I didn’t arrive home in Portland until after midnight.
On a pub crawl in Broad Ripple with my in-laws
On Tuesday, June 9, after I completed my tasks at Irvington House, I went to work at Culmination Brewing where I helped with the setup for Media Preview night. Then I spent the rest of the evening bartending, waiting tables, and cleaning up after the event. This was not the only time I have chipped in to help at the new brewery; I occasionally bartend and also was a server during their Grand Opening on June 19.
Opening night at Culmination Brewing
So it wasn’t until Thursday, June 11, that Greg and I first started seriously looking for a new place to live. The hunt to purchase real estate was pretty much quashed as quickly as it began. The housing market is just too hot right now, with buyers bidding up already-inflated prices on even the dinkiest places. Our focus turned to Craigslist, where I have successfully found apartments and bought & sold many items over the past 10 years. Still, the pickings in our price range were slim, and many did not meet enough of our top criteria. While I scoured Craigslist and reached out to all of my friends for help in our search, Greg scanned sites like Zillow,, and property management listings.
We're selling our area rugs, if anyone is interested
Of course, we also had to keep up with our responsibilities at Irvington House, including double-cleanings (i.e. turning over both rentals on the same day) on most weekends. I’m sure you can imagine the stress of my old job, my new job(s), and searching for housing with a looming move date around August 1. Don’t forget that we don’t own a car, so it’s not as simple as driving around neighborhoods looking for “For Rent” signs, which are few and far between anyway. Nor can we just hop in the car to go see a new listing as soon as it’s posted. After seeing a couple of average-at-best apartments the evening of June 18, we were feeling pretty defeated and starting to seriously consider whether we should even stay in Portland or, God forbid, move to the suburbs.
Liquid courage
To add to the complexity of the situation, during this same time frame, Greg had applied online for a new position at Trimet, Portland’s public transportation agency. He has not been happy in his current job for quite some time, and had been looking for other opportunities. He finally got called for an in-person interview just as we were ramping up our apartment search.
Trimet, a big part of the reason we moved to Portland
On Saturday, June 20, we spent the entire day out looking at apartments. We had made appointments to see a variety of places in northeast and southeast Portland, the majority of which were converted basement units with the landlord(s) living on the main/top floors of the home. By the end of the day, we actually felt like we had options, as we especially liked two of the places we had seen. As we struggled with how to proceed (you can’t delay a decision in this market), I sent out a few quick emails to our top choices, thanking them for their time and expressing our interest. Luck was on our side, as all responded in the affirmative that they wanted us, too.
Animals love us; do people, too?
We tried to regroup as quickly as possible, listing the pros and cons of each place. Ultimately, we decided to pursue a spacious two-bedroom apartment on the north slope of Mt. Tabor. As we worked out the details with our potential new landlord, Greg got the call he had been waiting on. Trimet was offering him the job!
On a clear day, we'll have an unobstructed view of Mount St Helens from our deck
Now, less than six weeks after incurring the initial shock of being told we needed to vacate our apartment, we have not only lined up a great new place to live, but we have also both gotten new jobs, all while balancing our current jobs, two out-of-state trips, and other unexpected drama. I credit our overall hard work, organization skills, prioritization of tasks, diligence with our savings and budget, strong employment history, and excellent references (thanks to those of you who participated!) for making everything possible.
Greg & I at his brother's wedding in Indianapolis
The transition will happen fairly quickly. Greg’s last day at his current job is Friday, July 10. I will celebrate my forty-first birthday on Sunday, July 12 while packing and cleaning Irvington House’s basement rental unit one last time. We move into our new home on Monday, July 13. Greg starts his new job on Monday, July 20. We’ll then have six weeks to settle into our new lives before we go on a well-deserved vacation to Iceland.
We're going to spend almost two weeks driving around the entire country!
So if you haven’t heard from either of us lately, or wonder why our social media posts are sometimes cryptic, now you know why. And that, my friends, was the month that was.