Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Grayland, WA

We arrived in Grayland well after nightfall. It was actually a beautiful drive, cruising along the coast of Washington, the ocean audible beyond the lush greenery, the rain drizzling down, with beams from the lighthouse cutting through the sky.

When we reached Grayland, naturally, the first thing we did was scope out the reason we'd come, the Sea Spray Motel,* and from what little we could see in the dark, we liked.

As this trip was being performed on the cheap, we didn't have any lodging lined out, planning to sleep in Strontium, like we had on a previous trip to the coast. Sleeping in the back of a Honda Element is amazingly comfortable, after some trial and error on our first trip. I'm around 6'2" and have the proportions of a yeti, and my wife is just over 5' and quite small, but we've created a pretty nice little setup for sleeping in the rig. We have an inflatable twin mattress that runs on a little battery pump, and we leave it laid out in the bottom of the Element. Then, layered on top of that is a full size pillowtop mattress cover, plenty of blankets, and around 6 pillows. Then we just pile our luggage and cooler on top of that. When it comes time to bed down, all we have to do is slide the seats forward, stack our luggage in the driver's and passenger's seats, inflate the mattress, and tuck the pillows into the odd crevices around the doors. I was shocked how comfortable this was the first time we did it, and it's incerdibly nice to be able to just pull to a dark place, inflate, and sleep. We've slept behind Safeways, in isolated campsites, construction zones, on the sides of roads and hotel parking lots, all with little to no problem. The first time we used Strontium like this, we made neat little cardboard and cloth window covers, which were nice, but a huge pain. For this trip, we just went bare windowed, and hoped no one wanted to peek in. Eventually, I plan to come up with some sort of clever window covering system, but for now it seems like we do a pretty good job of fogging up the windows by sleeping in it!

Anyway... we drove around the area for a while looking for somewhere to sleep, and were shocked to discover the campground, which had well over a hundred spots, full up! Eventually, we just found a dark, semi-private road, and parked on the side for the night.

Camping, Element-Style!

The next morning, we headed to the beach, desperate to see the ocean, and walk off some of the nervous energy we had. The first thing we noticed, was something we'd forgotten, that you can drive on Washington beaches. This is something we are not fans of. Lindsay and I are usually the people giving you dirty looks as you cruise past us on your four wheelers and dirtbikes on the trails of Idaho, and we figured that the beaches of Washington would be no different.
Luckily, even with tire tracks, the beach was gorgeous. Grayland is part of the Cranberry Coast, and they have 18 miles of beach. The beaches in Washington are a different breed, very cool and stromy, they definetly have a different feel to them than beaches in Oregon and California. More of an untamed, rebellious ocean. We loved it.
An old stump on the beach in Grayland, WA

After wandering on the beach for a while, we ate some decadently greasy chicken fried steak at the Local Bar, and drove around Grayland, finding it intriguing how many vacation houses were for sale, and how many other houses seemed to be slowly melting into the land. The cranberry bogs were also very unique, and we've sworn to eventually find out more about them, and hit a harvest, because they're very odd, and cool.

Eventually, it was time to meet Mabel, and take a tour of the motel... A place we were really hoping would become ours, especially after the charming morning we'd spent in Grayland!

The Sea Spray Motel* (Not it's real name)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Movin' Right Along...

We left for Grayland, WA early on August 8th. We planned to enjoy this trip, even if it didn't pan out. It was the first time we'd ever been to the coast in Washington, and we were really looking forward to it! We ate a brief breakfast in Baker City, OR in an unremarkable cafe, (We had hoped to eat at the Prospector's Chocolate Co. but they weren't open yet) and continued on, pushing our way deeper into the gorgeous world of Washington. The winding roads of Washington made driving slow, and we stopped a lot to enjoy ourselves, eating at an awesome little dive bar that may or may not have been called the River Rat in a city whose name I forget.

The Mystery City

After dinner, full of greasy fish and chips, we wound our way up the Washington coast in increasingly dark and stormy conditions until we cruised into Grayland, fairly late in the evening.

Waiting for the other shoe...

Supposedly, for the last 3 days, Pocatello was to be in the grip of a winter storm so frightening in it's magnitude that the city could grind to a halt, civilization would begin to degrade, and only those with snowshoes and sled dogs would prevail.

Thus far, all we've received is lots of wind. Which, as all Pocatellans and Chubbuckians learn in grade school, is because Idaho Falls sucks, and Utah blows. In fact, walking to my car, Strontium after work tonight, the winter air seemed downright balmy!

That said, it wouldn't faze me one bit to wake up and see 2 feet of new snow and 20 foot drifts in the morning. In fact, being off work for the next two days, I'd welcome the chance to curl up with a blanket and some coffee and try to finish slogging through the Clive Cussler book I picked up at the thrift store last week...

Friday, December 26, 2008

More storms on Christmas day here, we got roughly another foot, with a lot more drifting this time...

Here's our little garden owl before Christmas...

and after... He is to the left of the lizard.

Clearly, the Oregon Rain Man sculpture we have despises winter in Idaho...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter In Idaho

I really love snow. I know some people don't, but for some reason, whenever we get a storm, especially one like today, where it was primarily just nice drifting flakes, I love it.
Even when it involves shoveling a foot of snow off of the walks....

It's just so pretty. That said, it would be a lot easier if I didn't have to drive in it, and could just spend the whole day curled up with a blanket, a good book, some hot cocoa and the new Ray Lamontagne CD....

Movie Review - The Thing (1982)

I had planned to watch and review a Christmas movie here tonight. I had a few hours of downtime that I was going to use to dig through some old magazines in the hopes of condensing some boxes, and watch a good old fashioned holiday film... Apparently, I'm still in Scrooge mode, 'cause John Carpenter's The Thing grabbed at me from the shelf with a long, flailing, tentacle and wouldn't let go. Maybe it's the foot of snow that we've received in the last 24 hours, or something, but I suddenly found myself in the mood for a good old fashioned claustrophobic horror film instead!

The Thing is possibly one of the best horror flicks ever made. It stars a bearded Kurt Russel in angry bearded man mode, as part of a crew of researchers in a remote antarctic base. They've been there for a while, and it seems like they've all fallen into a comfortable, if slightly burnt out and annoyed groove. Then out of the stormy sky, a helicopter appears, chasing and shooting at a dog. Flying in close and fast, the bird touches down, a masked and desperate man shooting at the dog as the inhabitants of the base come out to watch. Even as one man fumbles a grenade and blows the chopper, the other starts shooting and chasing the dog, desperate to kill it, and speaking a foreign language. After winging one of the men in the base, the foreigner is shot and killed. Then things get creepy.

The crew discover that the helicopter and men belong to a base of Norwegians, based a distance away, and they go to investigate the base. MacReady (Russel) and the doctor find the base in ruins, the entire crew dead, and a mass of charred multi-limbed flesh in a pile. They quickly gather up some of the papers and videos, along with the remains, and hightail it back to their base. Soon enough, the men discover that the Norweigans had found and exhumed an alien space ship, buried for thousands of years, and that with it, they'd unleashed an alien. A horrible, shape shifting monster that can take the form of any creature, man or beast.

In any other movie, this would spell a certain sequence of events; Men get taken over, lots of shooting, one of 'em gets deformed and evil and starts killing everyone, a girl takes her shirt off for no reason, explosions increase at the same speed as ludicrous plot development until finally the marines arrive with a hero that saves everyone.

Instead, in this movie, it gets tighter and claustrophobic. None of the crew know who is and who isn't infected, they don't know who to trust. Stranded in a huge storm in freezing temperatures with no radio contact and no escape, the men of the base begin to break down, distrust runs rampant, and slowly, the creature begins to take their places.

Filmed before digital effects, the creature in The Thing is both amazing and disgusting, an animatronic configuration of limbs, slime, insect parts, bones, teeth, tentacles and whatever form the creature took over. It's amazing, quite frankly, and something that, if done today, would be shoddily animated and lose a lot of the horror you feel as it moves on the screen. Yet somehow, as effective and disgusting as the creature is, the real horror in the movie comes from the humans themselves as they break down under the pressure, distrusting and fighting each other, surrounded by miles of sub-zero temperatures, with no escape in sight.

The Thing is an amazing film, and I dare anyone to watch it at night with the lights off, the snow piling up outside, and not get a bit creeped out. Or a lot. Especially if you have pets that like to jump on you without warning for no reason.... Highly recommended.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Meet Savannah!

She seems to be adjusting well to life at my mom's. Bella loves her, and Scout tolerates her with indifference... Which is kind of high praise for her!

Friday, December 19, 2008

A new Kitten!

Tonight, my wife and I gave my mom a new kitten for Christmas. She lost her previous cat, Silk a couple of years ago and had recently asked us to look into a new one, and we decided to go in with some family and get her a new one. We adopted her from the Pocatello Animal Shelter a couple of nights ago, and began acclimating her to our dogs, in the hope that it will translate to hers, which are less than half the size. So far, she loves Ludo.

Mom loves her, and we plan to drop the as-yet-unnamed kitten off at her new home tomorrow morning!

It's finally kind of starting to feel like Christmas for me! (I've been a bit of a scrooge this year...)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Preparation

A week passed. On Mabel's end, no news. The family was hard to get a hold of, the Listing Realtor, it seemed, had inherited the listing, and knew virtually nothing about it, the manager was very uncooperative, and our Realtor was seemingly unwilling to push any of them to get the info we needed.

On our end, we began investigating the property heavily, using any and all online sources available to us. Starting with a google search for images, and going so far as to emailing the Chamber of Commerce, and the Cranberry museum in Grayland, WA. The Motel had virtually no presence online, the homepage was a simple page, with one link to events in the area, and one link to a few more pictures of the cabins, they didn't even have any online ordering, just an address and a phone number. Outside of what we could find there, the information we found was intriguing though. While it was listed as being 11 cabins with ocean frontage, from what we could find in pictures, it was actually 8 separate cabins, one duplex, and the owners house/shop/office. It was on 1.2 acres, and from Google earth's vantage appeared to be the closest building to the ocean, but certainly not ocean front. We started conversations with the Chamber of Commerce and the Cranberry Museum there, primarily trying to find out people's opinions of the Motel, and then try and delve into the history of the place. We're both big history fans, Lindsay is a History Major from the University Of Montana, and I have a lot of interest as well, and we had plans to decorate one of the cabins with the history of the motel in mind.

Surprisingly, we learned that most of the residents of Grayland were imports, and the Chamber had no idea who we would even begin to talk to in order to learn more about the history or to find old photographs. For the time being, we just kind of filed it away, something to look into deeper after we got the place. The people we connected with were very friendly however, and we chatted off and on while we prepped for our visit. One thing we did learn was that the Motel was considered poorly run. That actually gave us hope, but in retrospect, should have made us nervous as well...

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Headlong Leap.

Deciding to take a chance, we contacted our Realtor here in Pocatello, Jared, who found us a Realtor out in the area, contacted her and let her know we were interested. The first thing we were surprised to discover, is that a lot of Realtors move at a glacial pace. Jared, and everyone we'd dealt with previously at our local business have been energetic, friendly, up with the latest tech, and just absolutely amazing to work with, and we'd assumed the same would be the case in Washington. Apparently, email is something fairly foreign there. If we wanted to get ahold of our new Realtor, Mabel (Name changed) we found ourselves needing to call, and usually leave a message a couple of times, and the listing agent for the Motel was even worse, often deleting emails unread. It seemed odd to us that a tool like the internet and email would be so quickly discounted out of hand by these Realtors!

At any rate, we dove in, asking to see occupancy data, and asking the usual questions; days on market, date built, why the owners were selling, etc... Some of the information came back quickly, and the rest would never really be answered...

It turned out, the owner who had the same name as our Realtor, Mabel, was very ill, and that was why they were selling, and had been trying to sell for almost 2 years. They has bought it for her to run, and shortly thereafter, she fell ill and they hired a manager to live in, and run the place. This made us excited, adding fuel to the fire. They seemed desperate to sell, no longer ran the place, and had been trying to sell for quite some time! They were also willing to carry the loan, something very favorable to us, while we have good credit, we didn't have any real money for a down payment. Somehow, in the excitement, we kind of overlooked the lack of any occupancy data, income numbers, or any real effort on the part of the Realtors or owners. We realized that we had a few days off together in a few weeks, and asked Mabel to get us the data while we planned to come out and visit the property...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Diving In

Okay, back on track...

When Lindsay got home that night, I prefaced showing her the property. "Don't get excited, I just thought it looked intriguing, that's all." I then showed her a property listing for a 10 cabin motel with owner's house on 1.2 acres roughly 2 blocks from the ocean, in Grayland WA. Withing 5 minutes, we were in love and wanted to try for it, all of our careful plans be damned!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Card Outtakes II

Clearly, Our cats are no easier to photograph than the dogs... Especially with the dogs in the same room!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Card Outtakes

Being semi-responsible adults, Lindsay and I have decided to do Christmas Cards this year, primarily as a way to keep in touch with our families that are slowly drifting further afield. As part of that idea, I was left to take a photo of the dogs for the card while she was at work tonight.

This turned out to be much easier said than done, as both boys were very rambunctious and obnoxious. It did, however result in some great outtakes!

Needless to say, the photo of the cats is going to wait until she gets home!

Electronic Billboards

In Pocatello, the hot new advertising product seems to be color electronic billboards. There's a few around town, in varying sizes and quality, one of the nicest being by the new Costco, and typically advertising a realty company featuring a lady with a lion-like mane of hair, the local college football team- the Bengals, and the Lingerie shop in town. (Lions, Tigers & Bare - Oh My!) Most of these are kind of decent, with cheesy animations and generic billboard ads.

However, on the drive home after working in Idaho Falls this evening, there were 2 new electronic billboards running, and if I hadn't been in a hurry, I would have found a big rock to throw. All of the boards in town are in fairly populated areas, plenty of ambient lights around, but these new ones are in the middle of nowhere in fields along the sides of the interstate. For these billboards to function in the daylight, they have a fairly high light output, and at night, while in a populated area, they still look decent. However, on the side of the road, with no other lights around these new ones are like a half dozen semis bearing down on you, high beams on, somehow coordinating them to form a dancing animated Santa Claus that proceeds to tap dance into your retinas, permanently scarring them. They really need to install some sort of Day/Night modes on these where they drop the light output at night. I watched 6 cars swerve madly as the picture on the billboard changed and their eyes were unable to deal with the spotlight beam. They flashed a number to call to advertise with them, but my eyes were watering too badly to read it.

Sometimes I despise technology.

This concludes my rant. Off to swaddle my eyeballs in bandages.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Search

It turns out, that unlike searching for houses, finding commercial properties on the internet is fairly difficult. There are a lot of sites out there that sell it, but on each one they require you to open an account, or pay for access, or sign over your first born son, or accept email offers to view their listings. If you're looking for a resort or large hotel to buy, your options are almost limitless, there are amazing amounts of properties in the 1.5-6 million dollar range out there.

For our needs, I was able to find a few sites that were mostly effective. As far as bang for your buck, easily has the largest selection of listings, but to see the basic ones, you have to sign up, and a large portion of the listings are hidden even then unless you pay. Craigslist also has a pretty good selection of businesses listed, but you have to slog through a lot of other stuff cluttering up the listings to find them. Hint - When searching Craigslist, make sure you go into the separate categories, then use the search function. Searching on the main page for the area will rarely bring you any accurate results. Also, say you are looking for a place in mideastern Oregon, make sure to search the more metropolitan areas listings too, a lot of sellers will put their listing there, hoping for more exposure.

I spent 3 nights surfing the internet, just compiling likely search pages, and teaching myself the tricks to finding properties, as well as learning the lingo. On the third night, I started actually looking for a property that we could afford, that had everything we were looking for.

The thirty-third property in, I found a place that got us so excited, we forgot a lot of the promises we'd made to ourselves about the search, one that would ultimately guide us in the right direction, and teach us a lot of things along the way, especially about disappointment, cynicism, & never letting hope die....

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Starting Out

Our initial plan to get going on this was to make as much money as we could while still living in Pocatello and working at our jobs. To that end, we decided the best first step was to buy an apartment building, live in it on the cheap, and make money by renting the rest of the building as well as renting our house. I had just received a promotion at work, one that, while meaning more work and salaried paychecks, it also meant a bonus check every summer at the end of the fiscal year. Nothing substantial, but enough that combined with the income from the apts, we would be sitting in a comfortable position rather quickly. There were a good number of apartment buildings available in town at that point, some priced lower than the house, and we figured we could get into one of those rather easily. We have the good fortune to be friends with the owner of Gate City Real Estate, and spoke with him about our plans. He said it sounded like a pretty good plan, but warned us it might be more difficult than we'd thought due to the nature of lending on an investment property, rather than a primary residence, but that there were still a good number of places out there that we could get with 0% down.

Turns out, had we tried that 6 months earlier, that would have been true. Unfortunately, in order for us to get an apartment building when we started looking, the banks would require somewhere between 30-50% down, depending on our history and the building, and even then, we'd have to be able to cover the payments on our own without rental income. Needless to say, this was dispiriting. We had crunched numbers, and at this point hoped to jump right from the apartments into something closer to our eventual goal, bypassing a lot of time and steps along the way. Eliminating our chance for that left us a bit afloat. Luckily, we're pretty bull headed, and dove back in, talking to our mentor friend, who suggested possibly looking into Motels for sale. Being a running business, rather than an investment property, buying a motel outright would actually be easier to obtain funding, under certain circumstances. Quite frankly, we were a bit skeptical that we'd find a place, but decided to start looking...

Our Plan II

The first tier of our plan is still very much a work in progress, and is mutating wildly every day, it seems. What started as a crazy idea during spring break has evolved into business plans, bank meetings, investor searching, scouting trips, blood, sweat & tears, and one might convincingly argue that we're no closer to starting up than we were then.

Obviously, one can't merely walk into a bank and request enough money to build a multi-million dollar complex in Washington, so Lindsay and I realized that we needed to start smaller, attempting to find a hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast that was small enough for us to be owner operators for our first step.

Of course, not just any place would do. There's a surprisingly large number of motels for sale across the united states, but we really wanted to find one that fit a few very specific criteria.

1- Size. We needed to find a place small enough to run it by ourselves, or with very minimal help. Our profit margin would be much higher then, and it would give us the satisfaction of being in charge and responsible for every aspect of the business. When we succeed, we want to rest easy knowing that it was because of us.

2- Location. Obviously, the location of the actual motel is important, but we also wanted to find a place in an area that we wanted to live, ideally near the Or/Wa border where we would like to eventually build our final business. We also looked towards the coast, not just from a personal enjoyment factor, but also secure in the knowledge that regardless of national conditions, the allure of the ocean will always be strong for vacationers.

3- Condition. While it would be fun to waltz into a property that's performing at peak, with everything decorated tastefully, clean, and well run, that isn't a property you can improve easily. We wanted to find a place that was functioning, but one that we could immediately improve and make our mark on. At the same time, we didn't want to try and revive a business that was floundering, building falling apart, bad management, bad reputation, something that would be such an uphill battle that we'd be exhausted long before we started turning a profit. Essentially, we needed to find a place that used to be loved. Somewhere that had owners that cared for and took care of the property, performing needed repairs, taking care of the customers, and keeping good records, but one that the owners have stopped caring about as much. Ove where the decor is a bit outdated, the beds old, the landscape neglected, with a shoddy website. Something we could create into a gem.

4- Price. Our biggest, and most persistant problem. We don't have a lot of money. If we did, we could walk in tomorrow, and have our pick of a dozen prime properties. Unfortunately, we're going into this with a lot of enthusiasm and ideas, but virtually no capitol. Our families are not well off, and especially in todays market, finding funding or investors for a hospitality business is next to impossible. Hotels pricing is also all over the place. A common problem seems to be places pricing themselves based on their percieved value, or on what they really make but don't report, both things that shoot ourselves and them in the foot when we go to a bank. Money. We've learned a lot of good, hard lessons about it's power lately.

So essentially, what we're looking for is a small, cheaply priced motel on the coast that is in good shape, but not too good, that reports all of it's income, is willing to deal, and has lots of room for improvement, allowing us to start in on our dreams for the future!

Sure, it sounds easy on paper...

Our Plan

Our plan, if it can be considered as such, is to eventually own a small sized, luxury themed hotel with extensive garden and wedding facilities in the Portland/Vancouver area. Obviously, that's easier said than done, and to accomplish this, we've devised an elaborate series of starts, middles and finishes that will take us away from everything we've ever known and hopefully, after a series of hills and valleys, land us in a place we love to be, in a job we love to do, and in a life we're proud to call ours.

This is something we've been working on for quite some time, and I'll be starting with some events that have happened quite a while ago, partly to protect the innocent and ourselves, partly to ease my sense of superstition about talking about certain events as they happen in fear of jinxing them, and partly because I just started this puppy, and a lot has happened!

First, a bit of background on us:

I'm currently a manager with a major nationwide chain of drug stores. I've been with them for 6 years now, and prior to that, I managed a gas station and a movie theater, at one point, I did all three simultaneously. I've been in management for around 12 years combined, all of it retail in some form or another. I enjoy reading voraciously, own over 2,000 DVDs, (Odds are, you'll see some reviews of books and movies pop up on here too...) and I draw, paint, sculpt and design, occasionally for actual money!

My wife, Lindsay, is a graduate of the University Of Montana, and currently works for the Best Western Hotel. In her time, she's worked at a pet store, a greenhouse, a craft store, and for her father's music store. (off and on continuously since she could work a vacuum, in fact) She enjoys reading, cross stitching, crafts, and computer programs. If not for this last thing, she could easily pass for a septuagenarian in print...

We have 4 pets, all of whom are treated like our kids. We have a 2 year old Newfoundland/Retriever mix, named Ludo, a year old Great Pyrenees puppy, Pooka, and two cats, sisters that were born on St. Patrick's Day. The black one is named Clover, and the Siamese is named Sassafras.

We currently live in Pocatello, ID, a city where we were both born and raised, a city where if you don't know someone and their entire history, you inevitably know someone who does. Some people consider this a good thing, others want to move to Oregon and open a Hotel.

All joking aside, while we have great respect for the city and it's history, it's just time for us to stake our own claim in the world, and we figure now is a good time to try something crazy that might work out better for us than we could possibly imagine.

Rodents of unusual size?

Why the title?

Apart from it being a line from one of my personal favorite book and movie, Princess Bride, I also thought it was kind of a funny take on the problems we've found in our attempt to get going on the hotel/motel business. The worst problem a hotel could have would be Rats, and while we don't physically have rodents of any size, brother, we've got problems!

- Kristopher

(also an alternate name for the small dogs everyone seems to have these days, the Pocket Dogs that are suddenly okay to take anywhere and everywhere, just because they fit in your purse... )


Welcome to a new experiment for us! For the last year or so, my wife and I have been working towards our dream of eventually owning and operating our own Hotel. It's been a long road, and quite frankly, balancing our full time jobs, our pets, family and friends while still concentrating on the things we need to secure our future career has been difficult, to say the very least.

I started this blog, in part as an attempt to keep the friends and family we've been seeing less of in the loop and informed, but also as a journal of our efforts, both successes and pitfalls, as we attempt to grasp our dream with virtually nothing but our energy and enthusiasm.