Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Road To Bozeman

Our bags are packed, my brother has the ominous duty of staying with our pouty dogs, and we leave tomorrow for Bozeman, and the wedding of Marissa, Lindsay's sister! It should be an interesting experience. She is getting married in a small office building, with some unusual angles and lighting, and as photographer, it should be a fun challenge.

Some of my photography supplies for the trip

Saturday, January 24, 2009

September 14th, 2008 - Pendleton, OR - Part II

Arriving in the neighborhood a bit early, we drove around the Riverwalk area, admiring all of the old homes. Nearly every building in the neighborhood had a lot of character, we wanted to barge in and tour all of them. Luckily, a few minutes later, at Mike's, we got to do just that.
Mike's house was amazing. Situated on the corner, the B&B has a great view of the downtown, and a spacious wrap around porch. We did run into a bit of consternation at his door however, unsure of the typical procedure when visiting a bed and breakfast. It's someones house, but also a business. Do you waltz on in, or ring the doorbell? After a bit of discussion, we decided to ring. We also made a note that if we ever have a B&B, to have some sort of sign or plaque on the door informing guests of our preferences, maybe a nice plaque with "Come on in!" on one side and "Please Ring" on the other, or something. At any rate, Mike met us at the door, and introduced us to his wife, their adorable dog Charlie, and himself.

It's interesting how many people we've met online or over the phone since we started this quest, and how most of them differ in person from their online and phone personas. As I'm sure it's a shock to people meeting us for the first time in person. I'm 30, but look closer to 25 or 26, and my wife looks significantly younger than that. I'm also very wordy when I "talk" online, but after years of running phone surveys during high school, I despise the phone, and I'm typically quite reserved on the phone unless I know the person well. However, Mike was pretty much exactly how we'd pictured him, very friendly and smart. He looked like a Math Teacher/Realtor/B&B Owner would look, if you can believe it.

After introductions and some dog cuddles, he gave us a tour of his excellent home. Built in 1912 by
Gustav Stickley, Mike has spent a lot of time slowly renovating and renewing the place. He tore literally tons of old shingles off of the roof, exposing cool old tin signs and shingles from the original construction, and is slowly working to restore all of the old woodwork and decor from the era. He essentially runs the B&B "As an excuse for living in an amazing home" and when he's done working on it, he'll certainly have it! The upper floor boasts 4 bedrooms, 2 baths and a couple of older nooks and crannies, like a linen closet. Each of his rooms are named after Oregon rivers, and following suit, he cheekily named the bathrooms after rivers too, calling them the "Powder River" and the "John Day River" I think this is hilarious. His wife and he sleep in the master bed on the main floor, and he proudly showed off the perfect hardwoods in the floor and the great decor, followed by his misadventures installing the bath next to the bedroom. He gave us a tour of the dining room and kitchen, their next major project, outlining his plans to gut it of the flowery 60's details and adding some sleek new appliances. He seemed pretty excited about the B&B, having just experienced his first Round-Up as proprietors, and he told us some great stories about his guests. We really enjoyed his tour, and loved his attitude about his business, and his dedication to restoring the great old house he lives in.

After jabbering for a while and admiring the leaded windows that looked out over the porch (which I was quite jealous of) we realized the time and left for the motel, along with a couple of other places he wanted to show us.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Book Review - EXTREME ODDS by Rick Hanson

Extreme Odds by Rick Hanson
1998, 256pgs

Rick Hanson's Adam McCleet Mysteries, of which this is the fifth, are an interesting little series. Adam McCleet is a retired police detective in his late forties working at his second career as a semi-famous sculptor, primarily of women riding on sea life. He's dating the gorgeous gallery owner, has a huge number of eccentric friends and the worst sister in the world, Margot. Adam also has a talent for getting into wacky, danger-ridden capers. Extreme Odds is the story of the nation of Bob, formerly an Indian sovereign nation in Oregon, where Adam's friend has created what he thinks will become a moneymaking, free love, free world oasis. Naturally, his friend has started to create it by inviting in a polygamist cult, a paramilitary group, a nympho pot grower, and started building a casino. After a series of "accidents" Adam finds himself stuck in the middle as unofficial Sheriff of Bob, and trying to solve a murder while dealing with encroaching feds, baby births, mystery men, bombs, funny money and everything else Hanson can throw at his poor hero. Naturally, just as things couldn't get worse Margot shows up!

The Adam McCleet series has always been a fun, lighthearted series. They're pretty short, and have enough twists and turns to keep you entertained for a while. I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the characters in this book a little more than in previous, but it was still a fun installment. They're very much along the lines of a Tim Dorsey or Dave Barry novel, which isn't a bad thing. Hanson's stories are based in Oregon too, which is a very welcome change from most of the other wacky crime novelists out there, who usually base their books in Florida, or California. It's good to know there's crazies everywhere!


Now Reading - Notes from a small island by Bill Bryson

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

September 14th, 2008 - Pendleton, OR

Pendleton, OR

As one drives to Pendleton, OR. you can't help wonder at the work it took for people to travel here and establish cities. The sheer distance between places has always been pretty awe inspiring to me, and between Pocatello and Pendleton, there's a lot of nothing punctuated by the rare scrub brush or farm. (Including a huge tree farm, that has always intrigued Lindsay and I, both what the trees are used for, and how hypnotic they are to drive past, all the same sized trees in perfect rows...) There's one section of the road, just before you reach the Indian reservation outside of Pendleton where the road circles up and down a mountain, and at the top, there's a little lookout station, that gives you a view of the valley below. I always get nostalgic there, wondering what it was like before "civilization" came to the west.

Pendleton is a very charming little western city. The downtown area in particular is quite nice, with gorgeous old houses and big brick buildings along the main street. One of the things we really like about Pendleton is the way they celebrate their history. Their underground tours, something I'll have to do a separate post on sometime is a singular pleasure, and something I wish Pocatello, with similar tunnels and history would have embraced.

As we arrived in Pendleton, we decided to cruise past it, and check out the Rodeo City Motel, one of the places for sale that we considered looking at.
The Rodeo City Motel

To put it mildly, The Rodeo City was a dump. Apart from it's name, which I found clever, there were no redeeming qualities about the place whatsoever. Broken down cars, beer bottles, and a clientele that quite frankly, were creepy! Our first sign that Mike was looking out for our best interests here in Pendleton.

A Bed & Breakfast/Catering service (whose name I've forgotten...)

After we fled in terror from the Rodeo City, we spent a very pleasant morning just driving casually around Pendleton.

One thing we love about Pendleton is the abundant old churches. While my wife and I aren't big church goers, we love old buildings, and between the houses by the river and the churches scattered across the area, we had plenty to enjoy.
We arrived after the last day of the Round-Up, and Pendleton was just starting to slowly empty out, and everywhere we looked there were signs of the population-tripling crowd they get everywhere. It was interesting to see that while some businesses obviously capitalized on the rodeo, some took that opportunity to flee the town, closing up shop and going fishing for the week rather than deal with the insanity.

Pendleton's Charming downtown.

Their faux wooden sidewalks

Around 1, we headed to Mike's house, and Bed & Breakfast, to meet him before visiting the locations he'd chosen. While we weren't overly optimistic about Pendleton, and our chances there, we were looking forward to looking at the Rugged Country, and chatting with Mike, who
seemed like a very friendly and enjoyable person.

If you look closely, you can see Mike's B&B just to the left of the pink house, another B&B in Pendleton.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our plans for the Rugged Country Part 2

After evaluating the other hotels and motels in Pendleton, we decided one way for us to stand out, was to remodel a few of the rooms, adding some luxurious and romantic touches, like jacuzzi tubs, king sized beds, and offering gift baskets and deals for honeymoons and anniversaries. We also planned to theme the rooms, keeping with the western decor already in the rooms, but making the romantic rooms more immersive and fun. We really wanted to get the locals in. There isn't much else to do in Pendleton, and we knew that if we could get the locals to consider us a vacation type of escape, that our numbers would be helped dramatically.

We also redesigned the logo dramatically, from this:
To something simpler, looking to evoke the bed and breakfast feel they were aiming for, as well as the classier inns of Europe with the simple silhouette.
We drew up the entire business plan and logo in three days, printing it the evening before we left for Pendleton. It was pretty brief, but after speaking with Kris one last time, we felt it was sufficient, she mostly wanted to get an idea of what we were hoping to do with the place, and how enthusiastic we were. After the last trip, we went into this one with a bit more trepidation, looking at the drive as more of a vacation, and planning to enjoy the city more. We also brought a pile of printouts of other potential places in Oregon and Washington to thumb through. We left for Pendleton OR, on September 14th, just over a month after our breakdown of talks in Grayland.

Book Review - A BAD SPELL IN YURT by C. Dale Brittain

A Bad Spell In Yurt by C. Dale Brittain
1991, 314 pgs

When I was younger, I read voraciously. I still read a lot, and quite quickly, but when I was a kid, I'd tear through stacks of books at a time. I'd either have a dozen books checked out of the library, or a huge fine from forgetting to take 'em back, and I read almost exclusively fantasy novels. The very rare sci-fi would slip in, and I read a lot of non-fiction about places I wanted to visit, but typically, unless it had a wizard or dragon on the cover, it never touched my pile. More recently, I've branched out a lot, reading a lot of detective novels, some horror, fiction, pretty much anything I can get my hands on is fair game now. All the same, I still have a great deal of fondness for light fantasy novels. One of the first "Grown-up" books I read was the Spell Of The Chameleon, by Piers Anthony, and while I quickly soured on his Xanth novels, I found two light fantasy authors I really liked, Lawrence Watt-Evans (My favorite author to this day) and C Dale. Brittain. Both of them wrote light hearted fantasy romps, usually with a mildly incompetent main character, and a bright view on the world. You always had a pretty good idea that they'd win the day, find their fortune, meet a few misfit friends and get the girl. I still have a soft spot for that. With that in mind, I snagged a couple of my light fantasy novels and added them to my reading pile that is primarily horror and detective novels to revisit.

I'm glad I did. A Bad Spell In Yurt tells the tale of Daimbert, a recent graduate from the wizard's school, and one who barely graduated by the hem of his robe. He managed to stumble into a position of Royal Wizard in the tiny kingdom of Yurt, where he hopes to lay low, make some friends, practice as little magic as needed and eat some mighty fine crullers. As luck would have it, there's some dark stuff going on in the kingdom and the surprisingly resourceful wizard is soon contending with dragons, illusions, love potions, demons, youth spells and telephones! Obviously, this isn't life altering reading, but it's an incredible amount of fun, and I really like the dynamic Brittain creates between the wizard and the chaplain of the kingdom, it's not something you often see in fantasy novels. Yurt is also written to sound an awful lot like a kingdom I'd like to be Royal Wizard for. I could think of worse jobs!


Now Reading - Extreme Odds by Rick Hanson

UPDATE! - A Bad Spell In Yurt is now available free from C. Dale Brittain's home page Here. Check it out!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our plans for the Rugged Country Part 1

Wanting to do this up right, we began researching the history of the Rugged Country Lodge, its history as a business and its place in Pendleton as a hospitality business. In the 50's, when the building was erected, it was known as the Pioneer Motel, and later as the Budget Inn. As of the late nineties, the building was badly run down, and even worse run, soon to be repossessed. After holding on to the distressed motel for a while, the Pendleton Community Bank eventually gave the property to the current owners, who then set about transforming it into what is now known as the Rugged Country. Their vision was to create a "Motel that thinks like a bed & breakfast" with a combination of B&B style amenities and attitude and motel prices and rooms.

After discussing it a bit with Mike, we decided to contact the Community Bank, the very same that owned the property until 2003, and ask about the likelihood of financing. I spoke with an extremely friendly woman there named (Ironically,) Kris, and after a few conversations during which we described ourselves and our vision for the motel, she was very positive about our chances of securing financing. We were extremely up front with her, letting her know that we had virtually nothing but our experience and enthusiasm to offer, but she still seemed quite confident. She did request a full business plan, something we could bring to show the financial aid people that she was pulling in to help. We thought this was a great idea. We'd already done pretty elaborate plans for our own benefit before, but never in a formal capacity, and while we didn't have a lot of time, we were excited about the idea of our plans out on paper for the financial people to see, but to also use as a guide for ourselves.

The first thing we did was evaluate the business, and where it sat in the food chain in Pendleton. Pendleton is an interesting town, essentially a dusty valley in the middle of nowhere, with a freeway cutting through it. However, it does have a lot of interesting benefits too. There is a prison there, which, while some may consider a real negative, motels see a pretty steady stream of visitors from it. There's also an Indian casino just out of town, a few tourist style attractions, and the yearly Round-Up Rodeo, a huge rompin' stompin' blowout, that fills the city to 3 times the capacity every year for a week. It also seems to be just the right amount of distance from a lot of bigger cities to be a great place to stop for the night. For a city of 16,000, they have a lot of lodging establishments, close to 20, and that's discounting the RV parks, campgrounds, and the fact that during Round-Up, people rent vacant lots, parking lots, schoolyards, and the legit hotels raise prices up to 150%. The Rugged Country sat at a pretty good place, just below the bigger chains, but more respected than any of the seedier motels in the city.

Naturally, we didn't want to walk into something that was perfect, and there were some definite places to improve. While the B&B shtick was great, and some of it seemed genuine and lovely, some of the aspects of it were a little over the top to the point of being almost creepy, primarily the large amounts of rambling personal accounts from the owner, and the odd Country Chic signs in the hallways. We also disliked the clip art style logo of a cowboy on a horse in the air in front of some trees in front of a mountain. Personally, I thought it looked too busy, and from a distance was really hard to identify. We also needed to find a way to make some money when there wasn't a huge rodeo in town.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Looking Towards Pendleton

Knowing the problems we'd experienced with the Realtor in Grayland, Jared took a little bit of time before deciding on our contact in Pendleton, finally deciding on a gentleman named Matt.

Mike is a great guy, who not only works a Realtor, but also teaches math and runs his own Bed & Breakfast in Pendleton At first this worried us, wondering whether it would be a good idea to go with someone that would essentially be our competition if we got a place there. Turns out the opposite was true, and having someone like him as our guide was spectacular. Of the three properties available that we were interested in, Matt helped us eliminate 2 offhand. One was pretty far out of town, and while on paper it l0ooked like it might have possibilities, he assured us that once we drove past it, we'd see why we didn't want it. The other we vetoed to an extent, partially because it had too many rooms, but also because it had a pool, something neither of is wanted to deal with.

The other property, The Rugged Country Inn, looked great though, and we started working on seeing the property. Curiously, my wife and I had stayed there the year before, on a trip down highway 101 with my family. The most vivid thing we remember about the Rugged Country was that it had a folder in the room that in addition to outlining the city and food, also had a bit of "homestyle" history of the place, and we remember at the time that it seemed to be a little too detailed and kind of close to the edge of creepy. Apart from that, we remembered the Rugged Country as being a nice place, and according to the listing, it was about the right size, and had an owner's quarters on the property. We asked Matt to look into viewing it, while we looked a little into financing, this time deciding to play it smart, and have some assurances of a real thing before diving in. We hoped....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review - FEAR NOTHING by Dean Koontz

Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz
1998, 432 pgs
I've only read two previous Koontz books, and after both, I came away wondering, as I do so many other mainstream popular authors, what the big to-do was. The writing seemed pretty generic and sometimes drowned in its own sense of self importance, and the stories were pretty bad, full of gross out moments for no reason, and unlikeable characters. Luckily, Fear Nothing was much, much better. It tells the story of Christopher Snow, a 20 something man living in the city of Moonlight Bay, California. Snow has a disease called xeroderma pigmentosum, which makes him hyper sensitive to light, even something like a bright light bulb potentially causing cancer in his easily susceptible body. As a result, he lives in the dark, leaving the house only at night, and even then bundling up in long sleeves, sunglasses and sunscreen. Chris' father has just passed away, and as he leaves the hospital, things begin to go hinky. His father's body is switched by mysterious individuals in the hospital basement, trading it for that of a transient, one that was killed violently, it's eyes ripped from their sockets. Accidentally seeing this switch, Snow begins on a dangerous and bizarre journey, his formerly safe and comfortable life crumbling around him in the darkness of the night.

To say more of the plot would give things away, but there are shades of Stephen King's "The Fog" Michael Crichton's "Congo," Lawrence Watt-Evans' "The Nightmare People," and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers throughout the book. I enjoyed it. It was spooky and kind of crazy, with a great sense of paranoia. Koontz still writes with some of the self importance that bugged me about his previous books I've read, and where this book is supposed to be written by the protagonist makes him seem kind of pretentious, but it didn't bother me as much here. This would be a great book to read at 3am with the doors locked and a storm rattling the windows outside.


Now Reading - A Bad Spell In Yurt by C. Dale Brittain

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Accesories

With my sister-in-law Marissa's upcoming nuptials as an excuse, I managed to convince myself that I needed to buy a decent tripod for taking the photos. While I didn't get anything top of the line, I did find a nice, full sized one with an extra camera mount and a quick change, so it should be pretty useful on the 31st.

Also, after our recent trip to Washington, I managed to temporarily (I hope...) misplace the charger to my camera battery. So far semi-panicked searching hasn't turned it up, so I had to buy a new one of those too. Luckily, I found a company online selling a compatible charger that has a car adapter in addition to the wall plugs, which will come in quite handy! I also picked up 2 extra batteries for my Digital.

These should serve me well, provided I don't forget them and my cameras at home!

Forging Ahead

Somewhat despondent about the failure of the Sea Spray attempt, we licked our wounds for a few days, then jumped back on the horse. On the way to the coast, we'd already compiled a list of a few other motels and hotels that looked promising, most along the coast of WA and OR, as well as a few on the border between the two.

In Pendleton, OR, there were three motels for sale. We'd been to Pendleton before, and stayed the night there a couple of times, it was about as far off from a beach related area as it gets, being far more mountainous and dry. In fact, the more we looked into Pendleton, the more it began looking similar to our hometown, Pocatello. Situated in the valley, famous for it's yearly rodeo, small population, a nearby Indian reservation and casino, interstate running through it... Really the major initial difference we saw was the smaller number of churches, and rather than hiding away and denying their western past to an extent, Pendleton embraced it; running an amazing underground tour, paving the sidewalks to look like slatted boards, they even run a slogan in the city stating "Welcome to where the real west lives!" Certainly not what we were initially envisioning when we started this, but we thought it would be worth a look!

The next day, we contacted our trusty Realtor Jared and asked him to find us a Realtor in Pendleton.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Return Home, The Bid, and Lessons Learned.

Soon after returning home, we called our Realtor to let her know how excited about the place we were. We'd spent a large portion of the return trip discussing the potential and our plans for the Sea Spray, and we were anxious to get the wheels turning. However, before we could even begin with that, we still needed that ROUS, the financials. Mabel said she was on it, and would get back with us soon. A few days later, after no word, we called her again. She told us that she was leaving on vacation in couple of days, but should have something before then. Finally, one day before she left, we received an email of sorts, containing some fairly hard to decipher tax forms from the last few years, along with an explanation that it was all they could find, and was likely all that we would ever find. Without any occupancy data, and with just the tax forms, it was worse than we'd feared. We had pretty firm assurances that they were making significantly more than filed for, and in fact, from what I could figure, the only income reported was what had been run on credit cards, no cash or check income. Either way, it did us no good. If we were going to be able to get a loan for the place, it would have to be for a good chunk less than they were asking. We still thought it was a possibility though, as we were pretty naive about certain things then, and called her to tell her we wanted to bid. Mabel convinced us to wait until she returned from her vacation; the place had been on the market for over a year, and no one was buying now anyway. We (somewhat grudgingly) agreed to wait.

In the meantime, I was selected for a hard fought promotion at work, and left for a training weekend and classes in Salt Lake City, UT. The whole time I was there, my mornings were spent in conferences and classes, and my evenings were spent obsessing over our bid and our future.

A week later, when Mabel returned from her vacation, we placed a bid, at a significantly lower price than they were asking, but one that we felt was fair based off of the income that had been provided. We heard nothing back from our Realtor, and when we called to check up on it a couple of days later, she said that she still hadn't written the bid up and delivered it, she needed to talk to the listing Realtor and get some forms, but she'd get on it that night. By this point we were pretty fed up with delays, but we sat waiting, hoping desperately that she would get back to us.

The next day, we got a call from Mabel. That morning, when she was calling the listing agent to ask her what other papers were needed, the listing agent informed her that the Sea Spray Motel had received a bid, and the owners accepted. Our bid had never even been written up or presented. We were utterly crushed.

We had spent months at this point working towards the Sea Spray, fighting with Realtors and curmudgeonly caretakers, our hopes always lifted by the vision we were creating for the future,and that short phone conversation undid all of it.

This was our first real brush with finding a motel, and we learned a LOT from it, all of which has left us in good stead, but they were lessons that hit below the belt a lot of the time.

What we learned from the Sea Spray Motel Attempt:

1 - You must always be happy with your Realtor, and always be 100% honest with them, as they should be with you. Our current Realtor here in Pocatello, Jared Wilks (one of the few people I'll use the real name for here, and solely because he's been such a true help that he deserves to be recognised) told us that when we first contacted him about our worries with Mabel. He explained that his company prided themselves on being the easiest to fire Realtors around, because they plan to be so good that you wont need to, but also because you should do it if needed. We didn't, and we regret that more than anything. From the first contact with Mabel, we sensed that she wasn't thrilled about working with us, and that she may not know everything she needed for a commercial transaction like the motel. That should have been enough of a sign.

2. Getting answers and responses should be easy and prompt. It sometimes took us days to get an answer to a simple question, if we ever had it answered. We should have immediately smelled ROUS in the room when they said they couldn't find the occupancy data. Mabel was also notoriously hard to get ahold of in fact, there were times we had to actually contact the owners and the listing agents instead. That shouldn't have ever happened.

3. Never dive without all of the answers. We should never have visited the property without the numbers. That was a big, dumb mistake, and should have been obvious.

4. Use your resources. Here in Pocatello, we have a few select individuals who are smart, successful, friendly, and willing to help, amongst them, Jared, and we underutilized them all.

5. Be cautious and certain, but jump as soon as you are certain. We had been told by Mabel that someone else was looking at the property too, but she followed it with a disclaimer that the listing agent claimed that all of the time, so we kind of ignored the possibility. We'll kick ourselves for not being pushy in regards to the bid and the time frame of it for the rest of our lives. Would it have made a difference? Probably not, but who knows?

6. Don't assume that you can create something from nothing. For every ROUS we saw in the motel, we quickly rationalized it away with a brilliant plan for overcoming it. I think that if we'd really sat down and written out all of the things we would have needed to do to make it what we were picturing, we would have quickly become overwhelmed.

7. Never EVER fall in love with a place before the last paper is signed and it's official. Nearly all of these problems we hit could have been avoided or easily overcome if we'd followed this cardinal rule. We were in love with this place before we'd clicked through all of the photos on the initial listing view. Hell, we are still in love with the place now, after we've sat and re-evaluated all of the negatives there were, and what a load of work it would have been. There's nothing wrong with being in love with a place.... eventually, but it's got to be worth it, and it's got to be yours to love. Otherwise it's just too difficult when you realize you fell in love with what it could be, and that you'll never have the chance to make it that.

8. If you do make mistakes, learn from them. This is one we have taken to heart like nothing else. We still make a lot of mistakes in our quest, but for every one, afterwards we sit and discuss where the misstep was, whether it was avoidable, and what we'll do next time. Eventually, we will get it all right, all at the same time, and it will be glorious, my friends!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Review - FAT TUESDAY by Sandra Brown

Fat Tuesday by Sandra Brown
1997, 458pgs

Burke Basile is a pretty messed up dude. He's a burnt-out detective that's almost out of a job, lost a wife to a gym teacher, accidentally killed his partner, been pushed away from his partner's children and friends, and has been saddled with a new, obnoxious partner. About the only thing he's got going for him is that he sports a mighty fine moustache. Basile blames all of this but the moustache to a certain extent on Pinkie Duvall, a nefarious and dapper Defense Attorney/Crime Lord, (one of the only times you'll ever see that combination, by the way). Pinkie was in charge of the man that got his partner killed, and has his pinkies in everything else too, from prostitution, to drugs, to extortion. Basile decides the fellow needs to be taught a lesson, at any cost, and kidnaps Pinkie's disturbed but beautiful wife in a complicated plan that he clearly didn't think through involving priests, rednecks, gay flashers, Cajuns, fishing, gators, guns, a naked upper lip, and handcuffs. Naturally, some time alone in a fishing cabin with the captivatingly flawed beauty queen leads Basile to start thinking about more than just revenge, and soon he finds himself fighting to defeat the well armed, well connected, well heeled, orchid growing, killer attorney for the both of them!

Sandra Brown has written over 60 books, starting primarily as a romance author and evolving into an author of "thrillers" and this novel definitely shows a little bit of both types of books. Despite being a well respected, strictly law-abiding veteran detective in New Orleans, Burke is also apparently irresistible to women, both with and without his moustache! Now, I'm certainly not saying that one couldn't live in N'Awlins and have been a cop for some years without keeping oneself in shape and attractive to the opposite sex, but I am saying that I've never really met someone who has, that's all. Brown seems to find it necessary to cram as many features and quirks into a character as possible, making them all seem so outlandish that you can't help but have a good time reading about them, from the gay-aspiring actor-ex-con-wimpy-public exposing-from a rich family-accomplice, to Burke's brother, who only has a couple of pages, but still has a couple of memorable quirks and you can't help but wonder what's going to pop up next!

The book starts pretty strong, with a good basis for why Burke hates Pinkie so much, and certainly makes you feel like Pinkie deserves what he's obviously got coming. The abduction of Pinkie's wife, Remy (yes, that's her real name... ) is hilarious, complete with costumes and elaborate scams and angry homophobic hillbillies. Unfortunately, once the two reach his remote swampbound cabin, things start to get a little romance novel-ish, and they inevitably find feelings for each other and lose clothes for each other as well. The ending was also pretty disappointing to me, it seemed like there was a couple of chapters missing, and that others had been crammed into one without any real sense of reason. While the first half was drawn out and clear, the last half had about a dozen double crosses and nearly as many dropped or ignored plot points. All the same, it ended good, if utterly predictably, and it was a fun read. I'll probably check out some of Sandra Brown's other books, especially if they're as cheap as I got this one.


Additionally, I'd like to share a second opinion, written in pencil on the first page of my copy of the book, by the mysterious B. Olsen:
That's right - "Very good!"

Now Reading - Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz (I don't have a very high opinion of Koontz, and this one seems pretty... unlikeable so far, so it may not get finished....)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

August 10th, 2008 - Driving Home From Grayland

Why do I prefer driving home along the gorge on the Washington side rather than the interstate on the Oregon side? Aside from the obvious; that the Oregon side is an interstate, and interstates are the Wal-Marts of the road, killing small diners, roadside attractions and individuality, on the Washington side, you also get amazing curvy roads, tunnels, an occasional Sasquatch, and views like these:

Classic Car & Semi

Lush Greenery

Oh yeah, and This View!

On the way home, we also stopped at The Hungry Redneck Cafe, which is this great little diner outside of Durkee, OR and had some huge portions of excellent grub, topped off by the BEST strawberry pie I'd ever eaten in my life. If you're ever in the area, which would be in the middle of nowhere off the side of the interstate, you should stop. Really. Unless you're on a diet that you plan to stay on, anyway.
The Hungry Redneck Cafe!

Apparently, the Hungry Redneck also has Espresso, whatever that fancy word means, I'm guessing it means sorta fast in Redneckian.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Grayland/Westport, WA - early August

The Docks in Westport

After touring the Sea Spray Motel, we wandered around Grayland a bit, visiting the overflowing and excellent antique store across the street, and chatting with the gentleman that owned the grocery store. Heading north, we noticed a greenhouse, and stopped, partially because we saw that they sold Science Diet dog food, which we feed our dogs, and partially because we love greenery, and wanted to see what kinds of local plants were on offer. After leaving the greenhouse, we realized that we'd seen about all there was to see in Grayland, and decided to head up to Westport for dinner.
Westport, WA

Westport was a fun little city, and a dramatic change in feel from Grayland. Grayland felt very much like a little beachfront town. The kind of place that is just waiting on the verge for something to happen, but also like the kind of place that doesn't want to do anything to make it happen, kind of quiant, but isolated. Westport is a fishing town, and has a lot more of a feel for tourism, with a great little section of shops and restaurants, and docks rather than beaches. They were also just starting to get some "Big business" tourism in, with the building of some big condos and resort style places. One thing we found kind of odd and a bit off-setting was that in every place we stopped, if they asked why we were in town and we told them we were looking at property, they immediately recommended a realtor or had property to sell themselves! One lady even had flyers ready that she handed out to us.
New Development off the port side!

We ate at the Half Moon Bay Bar & Grill, which we had assumed was going to be a bit more of a down and dirty bar, and ended up being a fairly "nice" restaurant. The food was good, though not as good as the dives we'd eaten in previously, and the help also argued with us, upon requesting a refill of my beverage that they didn't carry Dr Pepper, and that I must have mistaken the Root Beer in my first glass... not something anyone that's ever tasted the two is likely to do... We spent a nice evening strolling around Westport, in good spirits, and feeling pretty hopeful about the trip out. We'd spent a good amount of money on gas for the trip, and for one as shotgun as it was, we were worried that it would be for naught. Luckily, it wouldn't be, but not for any of the reasons we hoped! As night fell, we headed for home, hoping to make it a good distance before sleep took us, and our ride became our bed...

Book Review - THE LOCH by Steve Alten

The Loch by Steve Alten
2005, 487pgs

Maybe it was the locale of the Clive Cussler book that I disliked. This book wasn't written any better, and didn't really explode with brilliant ideas or anything, but there was something about it that grabbed me more. I should make it a point to re-read Sahara in the summer time - on a beach, or something. The plot of The Loch was almost custom made for late night winter reading. Zachary Wallace is a brilliant marine biologist that grew up on Loch Ness before moving to America where he became a renowned scientist with a focus on large underwater animals, like the giant squid, during the search for which he nearly dies. He had an uncaring slightly abusive relationship with his father, and until his half brother shows up to tell him that his pa is on trial for murder, hadn't spoken to his father in decades. Naturally, he feels obligated to return to Loch Ness for his father's trial, a place with a lot of ghosts, an old friend, an old crush, a mysterious body of water where he almost drowned as well, and a manipulative father who may have more ulterior motives than anything else.

Of course, this being a book by the author of Meg, a tale of a giant killer shark ( I think - I haven't read Meg) Nessie makes an appearance too, and begins craving flesh... human flesh! OooOoooOooh! Obviously, this is a book where it's better not to stress the details and go along for the ride. The characters are all pretty realistic and the atmosphere of the Loch and area is great. It really made me want to take a trip. Alten also does a pretty thorough job of making his Scottish characters speak in spelled out Scottish Brogue, and while it takes a bit of getting used to, eventually their dialogue sounded pretty good to me. (Saying their lines out loud was fun too, much to my dogs amusement.) While the ending is never really in question, and some of the characters are a little one sided, I enjoyed reading The Loch. Alten liberally sprinkles actual quotes of Nessie sightings and snippets from an old diary into the story, and those, combined with the descriptions of the settings made it a great read that moved at a quick pace. My only real complaints about the book; The love interest seemed a little too opportunistic and over the top "slutty", it seemed like there should have been a bit more interaction with the half brother, and the book was kind of heavy in hardback - made my wrist hurt. I could probably ask for more realistic action thriller about Loch Ness, but if it existed, I probably wouldn't like it as well!


Now Reading - Fat Tuesday by Sandra Brown

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Grayland, WA - The Tour - Part Three

Obviously, the most important part physically about a motel is it's location and the guest rooms, but one area that we've found is really lacking is the owner's residence and office area. While it's something that the guests don't have a lot of contact with, it's still quite important, and one that Lindsay and I focus on a lot. Most people that we've spoken to that are selling their business are doing it for one of two reasons, either they are ill or retiring, or they didn't know what they were getting in to and decided they didn't like running a motel. Working for a small owner/operated motel is an incredibly time consuming process, but it can be very rewarding. The biggest, and most obvious obstacle is that you're always on call, and pretty much need to be there all of the time. Luckily for us, we're pretty much designed for that lifestyle. I read obsessively, paint, sculpt, watch movies, lift weights, write, cook... and my wife likes to do a lot of crafts like Knitting, cross stitch, quilting as well as a lot of writing and reading. Neither of us have ever been much for getting out or anything, we like meeting people and talking, but as long as we can walk the dogs once a day, and have something physical to do like painting walls or building flower boxes, we could happily be cooped up in the same acre of property 24/7.

With that in mind, the Owner's residence was very important to us. We figured that if we are happy there, so will the guests, and this place had a lot of potential. In addition to an office and a 2 bedroom house, we were told by our Realtor that there was a 2 car garage that had been converted to a shop, perfect for my art room/workshop. There was also an office and a public restroom in the same building. Knowing all of this, we were pretty anxious to check out the building that we would potentially be spending a large amount of time in.

From the outside, it wasn't excessively promising... The wood had started to give in a few places, and there were quite a few windows that seemed to be obscured by junk piled inside.
An observation further supported by the first thing we looked at, the "public restroom" which was apparently now the paint closet.

The office was surprisingly small, especially considering the amount of space the building took up, merely a tall desk and a little hallway to stand in. This was a little disappointing, as we'd planned to put in a small gift shop and sell some trinkets, scarves, kites, etc... something to get non guests in, and to check out the motel, as well as a way to sell some of our crafts and artworks. While in the office, we spoke with the manager, who refused to let us see most of the house. He'd let us in the front room, and that was it. The manager and his family hada bird in the room, and beyond that, all I really remember about it was a couple of decorative teddy bears, and general feeling of slovenly distaste from the manager.

We then did a quick run through of the shop/laundry room/storage area... For those of you who have always wondered what the back rooms of a motel look like... it's usually not this...

In retrospect, the visit to the motel should have been less than exciting, but it was thrilling to us. This was the first real step we'd taken towards our dreams, and as many problems we saw, all of them were things we could overlook or work around. We impressed Mabel with our knowledge of motels and our enthusiasm, and even she came away from the tour feeling pretty hopeful about the potential and our prospects. The only real downer was the uncooperative manager and his family, who, we were told, did not want to lose his cushy position and job. We would later find out exactly how cushy that job was....

We left the motel extremely pumped up, chattering away about plans both for the day and for the future, deciding to spend the rest of the day in the area, checking out shops and taking in the ambiance of the twin harbors.

Grayland, WA - The Tour - Part Two

The first thing we noticed about the grounds was quite positive, a nice little firepit in the corner. Washington is a much colder area than Oregon and California, and we could immediately see how something like this would be great for those chilly evenings under the stars! Unfortunately, beside it was something that sounded excellent in theory, but it's execution here left a LOT to be desired...

It was a Crab Cleaning Station/Covered Barbecue area.

Unfortunately, it looked like something you'd be afraid to let your kids near, with uneven boards, rotting wood and rusted out hunks of metal...

All the same, it was a great idea, and something we could pretty easily tear down and rebuild to be really nice eventually.

There was also a big 'ol shipping container on the property, presumably used to store the boat and four wheeler, or just piles of random stuff, judging by what we'd seen so far...

Next up was the owner's house and office area, something we were pretty excited to see, not just because we were going to be living there, but also because we had big plans....

Friday, January 2, 2009

Just a quick note

The Sea Spray was just the first place we looked at on our quest to find the new future we're dreaming of... the first of many. Keep in mind that when we saw them, it was only the beginning of August. Since then, we've looked at a half dozen other places, some seriously, some humorously.

I'm just spacing it out to increase the suspense! hahaha!

We are in serious talks right now to take over and run a motel in Washington, but I've got a lot of ground to cover before we get there!

Grayland, WA - The Tour - Part One

After eating breakfast and driving around the area looking at cranberry bogs, we met Mabel, our Realtor at the Sea Spray Motel. She was pretty much as we'd pictured, a slightly older lady, friendly, and nice, but somewhat biased and set in her ways. Immediately, we could see that she was surprised by our ages. I'm 30 and my wife is 24, and we look young, Our age would continue to be a problem as our search continued, and that day we could see that she hadn't anticipated our youthfulness. She was very friendly though, and it was nice to finally put a face to the voice online. Mabel also handed us a card, featuring her picture holding a couple of cute little dogs, which was both a shameless advertising ploy on her part, and yet still utterly fitting for her to have on the cards.

Having checked out the Motel, we were pretty anxious to get the show on the road.
The Sea Spray Motel consists of 11 structures, with 9 individual 1 bedroom cabins, and one duplex, as well as an owners residence/office. The property is 1.2 acres in size, and is on the corner of the main road through Grayland and the main beach access there, which is utterly perfect! Online, the motel is posted as having ocean frontage as well, though that clearly was not the case upon arriving, as there was roughly 4 blocks to the beach, and in between there were plots of land for sale, but it was still in a great spot for a motel.

Naturally, the manager was being incredibly difficult. He would only allow us to look in certain cabins, and Mabel was reluctant to push him, so we reluctantly agreed to look at the ones allowed and the office/residence. It was pretty apparent from the start that the motel had once been cared for. The cabins were cute, and had a lot of character, and were decorated pretty whimsically from the outside. Unfortunately, as we started looking around inside, it became clear that at one time, the owners had started decorating and painting it, and as the owner became ill and the manager took over, that stopped, and things were left either poorly painted, half finished, or just made up enough to get by.Colors were all over the place, ugly hotel bedspreads mixed with clashing sofas and paintings...

"vintage" appliances and tile right out of a 50's nuclear disaster readiness film...

and where they had attempted to add some decor, it was badly waterstained posters and glued together puzzles, hung without regards to the other things in the room.
The walls were amazing too, odd colors, often painted over old paneling, and poorly patched with colors roughly matching...

Clearly, this should have been a clear sign that the Sea Spray Motel was an R.O.U.S. - then again, we'd essentially ignored the previous Rodents Of Unusual Size associated with the venture, the inefficient Realtor, the utterly unprepared and clueless owners, the surly and uncooperative manager, and like those, we ignored this stuff, after all it was all cosmetic, and could be easily fixed with some elbow grease and LOTS of paint. We still really liked the Sea Spray! It had a lot of character, and a lot of potential!

Then we toured the grounds and office.......

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Book Review - SAHARA by Clive Cussler

SAHARA by Clive Cussler
1993 568pgs

I bought this book at a thrift store sometime this summer, thinking it would be a perfect Beach Read style of book, and then forgot I bought it and never read it. Clive Cussler has a pretty good pile of books under his belt, and all of them are known for being rootin'-tootin' shoot 'em up thrillers, with big locations, bigger characters, and even bigger explosions.

This was my first exposure to Cussler, and unfortunately I wasn't too impressed. The story concerns a deadly red tide that, being fed by a mysterious chemical pollutant stemming from the Sahara Desert, threatens all life on earth, so Dirk Pitt, buff, brilliant, scientist/military mastermind leads a team into the desert illegally to discover the source. Along the way he finds a beautiful scientist, a evil warlord, a wicked french businessman, gold mines, a Civil War boat, an Australian pilot, and a prospector named Clive Cussler.

Now really, as ludicrous as the plot was, with all it entailed, the odd choice of naming the prospector after himself was the most annoying to me, the rest were all played out pretty well, and I did find the book pretty fun. I just don't understand why he chose to do that. Sahara is definitely one to just turn your mind off and let loose with, and I think if I re-read this in the summer on a beach, I'd probably rate it higher, but in the middle of a huge snowstorm, slightly grumpy about Christmas, it didn't catch my attention very well.

That said, I paid $.50 for it, and it was a decent enough way to pass a couple of evenings. If I found any more of his books for sale cheap, I'd probably give them a go too.


Now Reading - The Loch by Steve Alten

January 1st, 2009

I've got a good feeling about 2009.

May all of your hopes and dreams be fullfilled for the new year, full of pleasant surprises, opportunities taken, and dreams come true!