Portland Garage Doors

So I’m hanging out in Portland. Beaver-something to be exact. For no particular reason except we wanted to get a way for a few day, there was a play to see, and I needed to get my hair done.

And why not Portland? It’s fun. Good theatre. Stumbling into the Powell’s Bookstore was an exquisite bonus. I got to pick up a copy of my Wally Lamb favorite and am trying a Vonnegut novel at the recommendation of a fellow MFA classmate. Have you read either of these books? And if you haven’t seen A Streetcar Named Desire, you should definitely go to Portland Center Stage and check it out. Flawless. Mesmerizing. 

Today it’s all about getting my hair done here at Edward Wadsworth salon. Rob is a genius -I’m pretty sure this is the first time anyone has ever thoughtfully studied my hair before cutting it. I think I can make this look work for me:


But the thing most on my mind this weekend? Why are all the business establishments made out of old warehouses with garage door entrances? And how did Zama’s create this incredible salt room for couples massages? And why did I wait so long to come here for a massage? 


And if you spend approximately $30 at Powell’s, did you really “save” $1.60 for that first hour of parking? 

Soaring Alone in Las Vegas

I know I haven’t been around much, but I took a recent trip to Vegas and can’t wait to tell you all about it!

So, I had originally decided to take a vacation day on March 14th in my own version of rebellion against Daylight Savings Time. I was all set for a quiet day at home alone with my laptop when my incredible husband decided to take things up a notch.

His idea? To take my one day off work and turn it into a long weekend in Las Vegas.

It took me about ten minutes to get on board with the idea as I finagled things to get time off work. And once that was done, I started counting down the days to the trip. I also decided who better to take to Vegas than Rachel James from my debut novel Soaring Alone!

We stayed at the Luxor Hotel. This place has mixed reviews, but if you go during the week, the prices are super cheap! The food was good, the shops and restaurants weren’t bad, and the room was spacious and comfortable.

My one complaint? The Luxor is not pet friendly. I was incredibly bummed out that I couldn’t take my puppy Omar with me.

Omar

Omar the Giant Puppy

And the hotel’s claim to be “service animal friendly”?…Well, I have my doubts. The dogs I did see there were designer dogs that didn’t appear to be providing any kind of service other than being cute.

Anyway, once Rachel overcame her incredible shyness, we went everywhere together.

Out for breakfast at the Pyramid Café on the main floor of the Luxor was our first stop. Can you see how tired I am? The coffee and the great breakfast helped get me going though.

soaring alone.jpg

Later we wandered out toward the pool. The sunshine was incredible.

I had high hopes that Rachel and her story would be good luck when we hung out at the slot machines, but no chance.

Strolling along the Strip was fun and interesting. We made sure to stop at the M&M store where I bought a sarcastic red cup…that was completely busted by the time we made it home. I was totally bummed out about that. I love coffee cups and this one would have been a great addition to my collection.

coffee mug

I’m super lucky to have a great writer friend over at Coffee & A Keyboard who offered to stop by her local M&M store to pick me up a new one & ship it all the way out here.

Don’t you just LOVE friends who totally get you? 

The David Copperfield show was a big hit for our family –despite the negative reviews that people gave him. Have you ever been? How many stars would you give David Copperfield?

IMG_3336.JPG

We had time for some silly poses-IMG_3377

a walk through the Castle building-IMG_3341

and I even found an apartment that is just like the one where Lester lives in the novel I’m working on now. –Minus the dessert backdrop and that weird red sticker that was on the window of the rental car. Unfortunately that photo got lost in my recent phone upgrade. Oh the pains when technology fails us…

So, if you’re ready for a break or just want to take a few days off for no reason whatsoever, head out to Las Vegas and soak up some sun. And then come back and tell me all about it!

Tundra Oasis

A lot has been happening these days which has resulted in far fewer blog posts than I had planned on writing during the latter part of 2015. I won’t bore you with the details.

I will however introduce you to the completion of one of our latest projects around here: our guest house vacation rental.

After much deliberation about purchasing a home in the Las Vegas area to rent out as a vacation spot, we decided to work on something a little closer to home. It didn’t start out as a rental plan but evolved into one over the course of the build. –It’s hard to make it a long term rental for someone if it’s sans kitchen.

As the project took shape and we put walls into place the idea of sharing our love of travel with others did as well. The only thing that comes as close to the fun of having your own travel adventures is listening to the adventures of others.

Tundra Oasis was born.

For a reasonable price travelers can experience the remoteness of Alaska while still enjoying some of the comforts of home. If you know of anyone interested in exploring, send them our way.

Happy travels.

My House is a Beach House

There’s a beach house with my name on it.

Okay, so I don’t own the beach house, but the reservation is in my name and that counts for something.

Not everyone likes the beach or so my sister tells me. To tell you the truth, that’s not something I understand. How can a person not like the beach?

Me: There’s miles of white sand.

My sister: [Sand] that gets into places it shouldn’t be.

Me: What about the water and the waves?

My sister: What about the sharks and the jellyfish?

Me: We rented a house with pool access. That’s access to two pools…you know, for those of you who aren’t ocean lovers that want to visit us there.

My sister: Fine. Whatever.

What kind of house has your name on it? Are you a beach lover? If so, we can totally be friends. Or do you prefer a quiet escape to the mountains? Maybe you prefer the lake? Almost like the ocean, but not as cool. A ski lodge? Or a fancy resort? Perhaps you’re one of those tent campers who like to rough it and call it a vacation? We’ve done that too…no judgment here.

When the PTO is in the black and you get a travel itch…where do you make your reservation at?

Creativity & airbnb.com

When you travel as often as we do with a variety of children and pets, it pays to be creative. Which is exactly what Airbnb.com did. –The creative part. I have no idea if the founders ever traveled with their children and pets.

A week ago, we took a quick trip to town for a couple days in honor of the youngest boy’s graduation from the academy. He’d been gone for five long months and we were excited to see him. There was only one glitch. –Traveling in Anchorage at this time of year means hotel prices are astronomical. And, since we never miss an opportunity to get something done in town that we can’t do at home, we were also traveling with Omar whom we scheduled for a veterinarian appointment. The only question: how were we ever going to find a hotel that wasn’t going to charge more than we wanted to spend?

Enter www.airbnb.com.

For years I’ve been a loyal customer to www.vrbo.com (aka: www.homeaway.com). I have their app on my smart phone. We’ve stayed in homes listed on their websites in Pennsylvania, San Francisco, Orlando, Colorado, and Las Vegas. Never have we had a bad experience. An odd one in Pennsylvania, but not a bad experience.

So why choose a new site for traveling? I don’t know. Because hubby was the one planning this trip? Because he’s a fan of branching out and exploring with new ideas and new companies? Sounds about right. I’m the kind of person who is so loyal to a company that I get to know the place and the staff working there. I’m the reason we’ve never tried Princess Cruise Lines.

Hubby: Why don’t we try a cruise on Princess next year?

Me: And cheat on Carnival Cruises where I’m already a gold member? I don’t think so.

This time I caved with only mild resistance to trying a new company. I’ve been busy with school work, so going through all the trouble of finding a place wasn’t high on my list of priorities. Though I’ve got to say, hubby found this mansion bed-n-breakfast that you can stay at in Minneapolis using the www.airbnb.com and when I saw the pictures…well, let me tell you –I’m determined to bank some more PTO so that we can go and stay there. It looks amazing!

There were no mansions in our budget for this weekend in Anchorage, but we did find a cozy little condo for a steal. Pet friendly, close to the airport, and it had enough room for our son and daughter. You can’t go wrong there. The house was a bit dated and more cramped than this introvert traveler prefers, but we did have a giant sized dog crate in the living room for Omar, which did add to the desire for more space.

Overall –it was a great find and while www.vrbo.com will always be my first love when it comes to finding a vacation rental, we’ll use www.airbnb.com again. Especially if it means I get to stay in a mansion someday.

And have you heard how they got started? If not, you can read about it here. Genius. Epic. Revolutionary. How can you not try them out at least once?

Mode of Transportation

A recent conversation in our household has been that of the type of vehicle we’ll be taking on an upcoming road trip. We love road trips. There’s something about getting into the car and settling in with your travel blanket and pillow, turning up the music loud enough to enjoy, and driving to a special destination.

This year, we’re going to take a southernly route from Indiana to Gulf Shores, Alabama. There a things about this trip that we’re looking forward to –because we’ve taken it before. Hubby is eager to get his hands on a “big gulp” of sweet tea, something he misses since we moved so far north there aren’t any roads to travel on. Our daughter has her snack money set aside to purchase Gardetto’s and Combos. She’s also put on the agenda: “Show Gwen what a Kroger is” because her friend, Gwen is traveling with us this year and has never been to (or heard of) a Kroger.

Along with planning for the treats we’ll get along the way, we’re excited in general about the idea of driving along that last stretch of road before we get to the sand. In the past, we’ve gotten that far and found ourselves irritable and cranky from lack of sleep and too much driving. We learned a few years back that it’s better for everyone involved if we stop half way there and sleep.

With all this on our minds, we’ve been discussing the mode of transportation. It’s a big thing to consider since we no longer own a car and will be renting one for the drive. This year, our kids have grown…as kids tend to do and we’ll be traveling with four of them, including Gwen. And while we all love one another’s company, we know the value of getting some space periodically and having a spot to curl up in and call our own on a drive like this one is going to be.

The kids’ request: a 15 passenger van.

I can’t say I blame them as we used to own one and it made drives across town easy, so we know from experience that a vehicle of this size would serve us well on a cross country journey.

But they’re so expensive to rent these days. The cost of a van this size would double what we plan to spend on the alternative…

A minivan.

Yeah, I know. It’ll be a rather cozy drive in a minivan.

 Renting a minivan has its advantages too, though. For starters, think of how much easier it will be to pass that bag of Gardetto’s around instead of hollering two bench seats back and having to walk the snack food up to the person requesting them. Nice, right? And that big gulp of iced tea –well…who am I kidding? Hubby does not like to share his iced tea and I prefer it to be unsweet.

To be honest, I’m glad we’re renting a minivan. Saving that money is going to pay off in spades when we get to the beach. More shopping, more seafood, more fun activities…you can’t go wrong there, I don’t think.

Isn’t that what traveling as a family is all about? Sitting close, sharing snacks, and jamming to the radio? All so that later, we can use the money we saved by choosing a smaller rental car to have more fun together. Yeah…that sounds right.

In fact, when we have our vacation committee meeting this weekend with the family members and Gwen, I’m going to have this blog post at the ready to ward off any final complaints or attempts at overthrowing the parental government.

Who’s with me? Isn’t saving money on the necessities worth it when you can use the extra cash to have some good old fashioned family fun?

Traveling with Omar

Preparation for this year’s family vacation has been tricky. Getting a puppy will complicate what has historically been a simple process.

Before: choose a rental house (using our tried & true system: check dates, check price, then look at (aka: drool over) pictures of potential rental house). Pay the deposit on the rental house (usually by January 1st in anticipation of the July or September vacation). Wait for the week before vacation to pack.

The waiting is usually the most challenging of the above steps. We are an impatient breed when it comes to travel.

Then, we brought Omar home. She’s a lovely puppy. Too big for her own good. Adventurous. A seeker of all things she can chew on -including people. And the kind of puppy that will race at you, full force, so that she can throw all 35-ish pounds of herself at you. -In the abdomen, either right after you wake up in the morning or right before you can get to the bathroom to empty your bladder. Silly puppy.

And having Omar, while a sheer joy, makes planning for travel a challenge.

Before we adopted Omar, we’d done the following for our upcoming trip:

  1. Found a beach house (using the tried/true system outlined above).
  2. Were in the process of waiting for the week before vacation so we could pack.

Things were on schedule. We were satisfied with our beach house selection. We were excited to return to one of our favorite vacation spots.

Shortly after Omar joined our family, my husband made a comment that put is in a bit of a whirlwind.

Husband: What if we take Omar on vacation with us?

Me: I don’t know if the house we reserved takes pets. But I can check.

Note: If I’d been thinking, I might have been a bit more assertive. “The house doesn’t take pets. It costs $8,793.00 for a pet deposit.” Or something like that. But no. I said I’d check.

It turned out that the house we reserved, did not take pets. So hubby had an idea.

Husband: Do you think we can switch reservations to a house that does?

For this particular trip we’re going to take, we’re using Reed Realty for our housing needs. Reed is amazing. Clean houses, reasonable prices, friendly staff. We love getting their brochure in the mail throughout the year. I’ve considered sending them a family Christmas card, we like them so much.

When I called them to inquire about moving our deposit and large family (with Omar) to a pet friendly house, they didn’t disappoint. The hardest part was choosing between two lovely pet friendly homes.

Reed Realty staff person: If it helps, this one is closer to the beach.

I was sold on it.

I thought we were finished with revising the travel plan to include Omar the giant puppy.

I was wrong.

Next came scheduling her (yes, Omar is a girl) for a spay appointment -at the local vet…which is a few hundred miles away…by plane. And shots. And picking up a new collar complete with name tag. She chewed through the last collar.

Then, purchasing a larger travel crate. We don’t call her the giant puppy for nothing. She’s giant and still growing.

We’re still not finished though. I’m thick in the middle of locating and securing not one, but two nights of dog boarding. In two different states, you know, to accommodate for the road trip we’re taking (pre-trip & post trip) around the actual vacation. And dog boarding is harder to come by than it sounds. I’m still shy one night of overnight dog care. Why is it that more hotels aren’t pet friendly? They’d clean up if they were.

Omar’s great though. She really is. And I’m learning a lot about patience, flexibility, and the length of an application for boarding a dog as well as the definition of a “temperament assessment” that is required at some boarding facilities. Just a friendly FYI: the paperwork for those is thicker than Pride & Prejudice, so be ready.

But, look at this face. How could we not change everything to take her with us?

Omar the Giant Puppy

Omar the Giant Puppy

Vending Machines & Rest Stops

There’s nothing like slapping together a few plans and details to get a good road trip together. You get your bags packed, invite someone along to explore with you, and hit the open road.

Everything is going well, assuming you haven’t missed your train or had a flat tire. Basically, you’re not on vacation with us.

As the day progresses your energy starts to wane. The rumbling sound you hear isn’t the bass on the radio. It’s your stomach asking for dinner. And in your stomach’s defense you haven’t given it anything besides that family sized bag of Gardetto’s and a big gulp in about four hours. It’s definitely time for dinner followed by a warm bed and sleeping. Your travel mates agree and you star scouting the highway for the sign marking the next exit.

The sign ahead says the next chain restaurant with actual dishes and forks instead of plastic sporks is three hundred and ninety seven miles away. Not cool.

And then you see it.

You don’t say anything at first. You’ve been to one before. It was memorable, but not remarkable. You’ll do it again if someone in the car insists. Or your eyelids start to flutter closed in the next nine miles. You can make your stomach wait if need be, but you won’t risk lives by trying to pull an all-nighter.

A quiet discussion as started up in the backseat. Your sixth sense kicks in. You know where this is headed and you can’t help but sigh. Damn the powers that be for not putting fourteen quality chain restaurants in a sixty seven mile radius from your current location.

“Hey. Why don’t we stop there? We can get some food, stretch. Maybe even get a little shut eye.”

It’s the voice from the backseat. The elected spokesman of the group. You knew you didn’t care much for that guy. This would be the last time you invite him on a road trip.

“You hear me, man? Pull over. Just up ahead.”

Opening the back door and pushing him out of the moving vehicle would be a distraction from driving. And wrong. Yeah, that’s it. It would be wrong.

You choose the activity that isn’t a felony and that won’t get charges slapped on you before sunrise. You turn on your flicker –AKA: the turn signal. You purposely look for a large bump you could take at semi-high speed in hopes the guy back there talking gets “accidentally” bumped out of the car. No luck.

Without a real desire to do so, you start the process of slowing down and easing into the exit lane. You practice some deep breathing and try hard not to dislike the guy in the backseat. Besides, you are a little tired and there are worse places to stop. Like a Motel 6. Or an abandoned warehouse in a decrepit neighborhood. Surrounded by angry pit bulls who’ve eaten less than you have in the last half of the day and who would likely eat your face off at first glance.

As slowly as possible, you pull into a parking space, trying to manage the sudden onset of motion sickness you’re experiencing thanks to being surrounded by thirty eighteen wheelers, each filled with a sleeping over-the-road driver.

Before you can stop yourself, you escape the confines of the cramped car. Your knees and legs simultaneously rejoice and complain at the sudden stretching and freedom. They get comfortable, join with your still rumbling stomach, and make a beeline for the bank of machines in the distance.

An awning with built in fluorescent lights shields them from the light of the moon. Digging in the pocket of your jeans, you find a fistful of various coins and a few crumpled bills. The choices available are limited; previous passersby have already picked over the contents of the wicked vending machines as if their lives depended on it.

Dinner becomes the inevitable: lukewarm coffee made from mediocre coffee beans and questionable water, heated and mixed together by an unseen robot in the belly of the vending machine paired with semi-squished donuts with an expiration date you refuse to read. After all, their stale and less than appetizing taste tell you more than you need to know about when those circular sweets should have been eaten.

Dinner for a $1

Dinner for a $1

The road to your final destination remains a long one. More than ever, you wish you were capable of time travel. And perhaps, going back in time to un-friend the yahoo who decided this was the best way to spend an evening.

A few miserable minutes spent around the “restaurant” of the evening is followed by flipping coins to see who gets to sleep sitting up and bent over the steering wheel versus the guy who gets to stretch out on one of the bench seats in the back. You have half a mind to call the ground outside –being eaten by feral coyotes would be a better choice than sleeping in a vehicle filled with body odor and the snoring serenade of your traveling partners.

A thousand more miles…a few more state lines to cross…a podcast on how to choose traveling buddies…you’ll make it. You have to. You’re determined to. It’s you’re only choice.

Where Hawaiians Vacation

As summer starts to slip away like grains of sand in an hourglass, my mind is on travel. And not only a long weekend. No. Give me two weeks of the unencumbered view of the ocean. Let me feel the sand crunch under my feet, the waves lapping against my legs.

Am I even close to such bliss? No. I’m less than two weeks out from a solo trip to an on campus residency. My ultimate beach bliss: a long two months plus away. The latter is on my mind more than most things these days, I’ll admit.

Today it’s a short jaunt into town. A miniscule one. More of a bus ride if you will as we go to collect our youngest boy for a weekend visit home. He could make the commute alone, but we haven’t seen him in three months and we have nothing else to do this morning.

While we wait in the terminal on a delayed flight to show up, I’m reminded of the recent news that an acquaintance is planning to relocate soon. To Hawaii.

Occasionally, despite our teenage daughter’s adamancy that we will NOT be moving anywhere until she’s graduated and grown my mind wanders…to possibility. To freedom from the rules our children impose upon us. To what it would be like to live in Hawaii.  Truth be told, any beach location fits into this daydream, but I settle more into the fantasy when Maui memories surface.

And when I get into this mode, there are only two questions that come to mind:

  1. When will that be us? Answer: Not for at least two more years (shouted by my daughter).
  2. When one lives in Hawaii (more specifically Maui) where does one vacation to?

Because if you think about it, I may really need the answer to this riddle in approximately seven hundred and thirty days…give or take a few. And since time has a way of moving by quickly, I need to ponder this with as much research as a master’s level thesis.

So…where does one go?

Not to the beach, I would assume. You already live there. The view is your morning and your evening. It might even be where you enjoy a peaceful (albeit sand filled) tuna sandwich picnic most days of the week.

Which means I’ve got to come up with some alternatives or I’m likely to become a stay-cationer in a couple of years. –I should mention that I joined a colleague in turning up my nose at the thought of a stay-cation last week. I couldn’t help it. It’s summer and I’m due for a trip. I’m also a bit of a vacation diva.

Back to the quest though- vacation destinations for the recently relocated Hawaiian:

  1. Boise Idaho or Coeur d’Alene Idaho. All those sun drenched mornings in Maui, waking up to the sweet (though slightly burned) smell of sugar cane might result in a serious craving…for potatoes. Maybe?
  2. Madison Wisconsin. Why wouldn’t I develop an interest in visiting a state known primarily for its cheese and dairy production? I like cows. Besides, I’m used to wandering farm animals –Maui is known for the wild chickens that greet people at the airport. NOTE: Those chickens do not greet you with leis to put around your neck. Just so you know.
  3. Boston Massachusetts. The historical piece really is a draw for me.
  4. Tennessee –Someday I really want to visit Nashville. I think I could really enjoy the country music scene. I’ve also always wanted to go line dancing. I have a pair of really great boots for such an evening.
So stylish...

So stylish…

5. Rhode Island. Honestly, I know nothing about the state, yet I’m intrigued by it. It’s rather tiny and unassuming. A place that small seems it would possess something great. I’d like to think Rhode Island is like a small gift wrapped box –the kind fit for something incredible…like diamonds.

diamonds

For now, those places are vacation possibilities should I end up relocated to the great state of Hawaii. In the meantime, I’ll go to school and count down to the days of my next beach vacation.

My Gypsy Soul Mate

Last week in Seattle I experienced a moment of revelation at the top of the Space Needle: my husband is my gypsy soul mate.

When we embarked on this trip to Seattle, a place we’ve been approximately a dozen times in the last four years, we knew we were interested in trying something new. We’d been to the famous Gum Wall:

The Gum Wall --not really sure what that's about :)

The Gum Wall –not really sure what that’s about 🙂

trolled the aisles of Pikes Market:

Public Market --amazing!!

Public Market –amazing!!

and traveled via monorail:

Public transportation

Public transportation

It was time for new adventures. It was time to go to the top of the Space Needle:

What it looks like at night...

What it looks like at night…

And during the day.

And during the day.

The thing is I hadn’t really thought we’d go. Sometimes we plan things and they don’t come to fruition. And in all honesty, while I wanted to do something new and interesting, I have a longtime fear of heights. It all started when I was a kid and had climbed to the top of this jungle gym contraption. Once at the top, where a cousin of mine was already perched, she pushed me off. I came perilously close to landing face first in the dirt.

When my husband purchased tickets

This piece of paper gets you places.

This piece of paper gets you places.

I still wasn’t convinced we’d go. It can be trying to fit several activities into one five day visit to this magical city

A beautiful view from the top of the Space Needle.

A beautiful view from the top of the Space Needle.

when you have a few teenaged kids in tow and your husband has two days of training events to attend.

Getting to the Space Needle was also a challenge. It took a(nother) ride on the monorail with a mile or two walk to get there.

We arrived and made our way to the ticket booth, then around the building to the very long ramp that would eventually get us to our destination. I started to feel anxious.

Thankfully I know my limits and when we stepped out of the elevator on the top floor of the Space Needle, I announced to my husband, our daughter, and her friend that I would enjoy the view from inside. They didn’t mind and made their way through the throngs of people to the outside deck.

It was as they walked through that glass door that two things occurred to me.

  1. People don’t read posted signs. –The one on the door clearly stated no drinks or food were allowed on the deck. Yet several people walked through it in a state of oblivion with glasses of liquid in hand.
  2. My husband isn’t just my husband; he is my gypsy soul mate.

The authorities of the Space Needle cared little about their placard and the people who had no regard for it, as evidenced by their non-existent response to these rebellious patrons of this odd, though remarkable, establishment. Thus, I didn’t dwell on the thought either.

Instead, I took a deep breath and ventured out the door.

Although I didn’t take food or drink with me, I did take with me the staunch realization that my husband had worked hard to make this trip possible and for that I was willing to face my fear.

It’s a beautiful sight to behold at the top of the Space Needle. Especially when you’re up there with your gypsy soul mate.