Friday, October 4, 2013

Front Yard Farm

Portlanders tend to have a green thumb. It's evident by all the front yard farms all over town. As someone who has more of a light brown thumb, it's something I really appreciate and admire. Even now as the gray of fall rolls in, tomatoes and the occasional fruit fallen from a tree liter the sidewalk. It's clear they know what they're doing.

I'm getting ahead of myself, let me first tell you what makes a front yard farm. It's really what it sounds like. People put up planting beds in their front yards. Sometime it's not in the front yard proper. That area is still reserved for lawn, gnomes, and other front yard accessories. Instead, the planters are placed in the patch of lawn in between the sidewalk and the street. Sounds small, but you'd be amazed at how much produce one of those patches can yield. 

The front yard farm is a great idea. It's industrious, resourceful, and well, fruitful. It goes hand in hand with Portland food culture where many of the items on a restaurant menu are locally sourced. I like this practice in general.

While Portlanders are huge "grow your own food" people, what they aren't is ambitious. Perhaps that's beginning to change a bit, but all and all not so much. Unless, of course, your ambition is to have a body covered in the most amazing tattoos you've ever seen - then you've come to the right place. When it comes to any kind of art there's a supportive community around to encourage the work and help out.

I digress, my point about ambition is that you just don't see it much. Which is why it was so surprising to see a bit of ambition when it comes to front yard farms. How you might ask? People are renting out plots of their land for people to plant vegetables. To be clear it's the little patch of land between the sidewalk and the street.

There are signs planted in the grass alerting passerby's that the land is available. They kind of remind me of those "You could be home now..." signs you see on the freeway promoting a housing area. I wonder how much they get for that land? It's kind of crazy, but resourceful.

I'm all for ambition whatever form it takes and if produces healthy fruits and vegetables - all the better. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Housing Boom

When I first moved here there wasn't a lot of building going on in Portland. Lately, things have changed. Construction is on the rise and every time I turn around it seems like another empty lot is getting built up. Even locations that had abandon buildings are quickly getting rehabilitated. Like the old Der Wienerschnitzel building that was painted black and had flames on the side of it is now a new housing unit. I never knew what that place was suppose to be, but it had character.

One of the more interesting things about all this housing is that there isn't a lot of parking being included. Looks like parking in this town is going to get harder. Perhaps more people will start using car sharing services.

Along with more housing there are more business opening up all over town. Main streets like SE Division that didn't always have a lot of store fronts are getting more shops and restaurants weekly. I'm happy to report that these new shops aren't chains. As Portland grows it's still supporting more mom and pop shops - at least in the South East.

The Pearl is growing as well with high-end brands (Jonathan Adler and Jack Spade) opening stores. That also seems to be right for the Pearl. Especially, since when I first moved here everyone compared the Pearl to SoHo in New York. I see the resemblance, but it's not quite the same.

It's been interesting to see these changes happening and watching a town grow. Inevitably there will be growing pains. I'm curious to see what they might be. What do you think we can expect from all these changes?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Carless In Portland

I'll admit it: I'm a city girl. The years I've spent owning a car in my life are far less than the years I've spent not having a car. That's as Martha Stewart would say, "A Good Thing." When I moved to Portland, Matt had a car - a Subaru (one of the most popular automotive brands in Portland) - it's the same car he had when I met him years before. That's what I would use to get around town. It was nice having a car to drive. It helped me get the lay of the land. Some days I would just drive around random neighborhoods. More often than not I would get lost. I like getting lost. Next time I found myself in that location, I'd know exactly where I was.

As I got a better idea of how the city was laid out I began to figure out routes I liked best and the order of the streets. I learned that Burnside split South from North and the Willamette river split the town East and West. While the city isn't exactly a grid (like the streets above Houston in New York) it's pretty close. Some streets are even laid out in alphabetical order. Having a car to drive during that acclimation period was crucial and oh so helpful.

The car was getting old as cars do. Problems started occurring with the car and it turns out I didn't actually drive it all that much and neither did Matt. It made sense to sell it and let someone else have great adventures in it.

Around this same time a new service started in Portland. Maybe you've heard of it - Car2Go. Now, we already have ZipCar here in Portland. It's a service I used in New York - about once every other month friends and I would get a car and get out of the city to run errands or just go on an adventure. It's fairly easy to use, you reserve a car (there are a plethora of models) and then pick it up at it's parking spot and return it there when you get back. You pay by the hour and gas and insurance are all included in the price. Pretty simple.

Car2Go is a bit different. The entire fleet is made up of smart cars. It works similar to ZipCar in that you have a card that you use to unlock the car and you can reserve cars. The big difference is that you can get a car anywhere and you don't need to return it to the place you picked it up. The service also includes gas and insurance. Instead of paying by the hour you pay by the minute. It's all about short trips and getting you from one place to another. There is even a Car2Go mobile app that can be used to find and reserve cars nearby. The app has its moments, but overall it gets the job done.

I quite like Car2Go, but then again I'm rarely in a hurry and don't mind walking to find cars. They aren't always around. For example, on a weekday during work hours it's pretty easy to find a car downtown, and quite difficult to find a car on the east side. That's just what happens. The cars are where the people leave them. One of my favorite uses is to drive a Car2Go to meet friends for dinner and then take a cab back home after.

It's actually less expensive than owning a car. Then again, I don't use a car every day. Between the two car services and the bus service in Portland getting around without a car isn't too difficult. I must say it really does help that there's no particular rush to be anywhere. That sense of urgency just isn't as immediate as say in a place like New York. Honestly, even there you can get away with being late to some things. That said; Portland may not have as dense a layout as New York, but both cities are quite doable without a car and I think that speaks to a certain city-centric lifestyle.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Favorite Weather

My favorite time of year is summer and one of the great things about living in Portland is the summer. Granted, the season here doesn't officially start until July 4th. Think I'm kidding? Nope. When it kicks in it's awesome -- dare I say idyllic. It's typically 80 to 90 degrees with minimal humidity. There are some days when the temperature can hit 100 degrees if not a little higher, but at least it's a dry heat. Last summer we had about three months of sunny days for three months straight. All of this is a welcome change after spending summers in New York.

To be fair there was something magical about summers in New York on the weekends. For those who don't flea the city for the Hamptons or Fire Island, the city becomes a private playground. It's much easier to get into great restaurants, the streets are fairly empty (still there are more people on the streets than those walking around downtown Portland on a busy day), and if you're lucky enough to know someone who has access to a pool each weekend can become like a mini-vacation.

It's the other five days of the week that were brutal: The oppressive heat trapped in between all the buildings, the steam coming up from the subway tunnels through the sidewalk vents, and the humidity. Not a fan of humidity. There were days when you couldn't wait for the rain. Not just rain. A torrential downpour that felt more like a tropical storm. When these struck people would huddle under building awnings waiting for the rain to pass (usually only about 10 minutes). The best part was always that first breath of air when the rain stopped - just a moment of no humidity.

Portland summers are pretty much the opposite and I love that. I don't even mind when it rains for a few days in a row. What I don't love is the schizophrenic weather which usually occurs in the Spring months and often in June. This year we've gotten plenty of beautiful days in both May and June so I feel a bit bad mentioning my weather angst, but not that bad. What is schizophrenic weather you may wonder? Well it's a mixture of sun, rain, hail, gray sky, and sun again all in the span of a minute or two.  

Honestly, how do you dress for that kind of weather? I have a jacket on, wait I don't need a jacket. It's a head scratcher. Now if that happened maybe once or twice a day that would be one thing. That's simply not the case. The weather can carry on like that all day long. The upside is we sure do get a lot of rainbows in Portland.

Even better news? Summer is coming and I can't wait. Now, if I could only find someone with a pool.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Blooming Trees

There's something about Spring in Portland. It's different than Fall, when the leaves on the trees turn different colors and inevitably fall to the earth. In the Spring, the trees literally bloom. The colors are vibrant and the idea that all of these trees are growing flowers in gorgeous shades of pinks instead of leaves - is a bit magical. Just walking through a neighborhood can make you feel alive.

Of course, the petals fall to the ground like the leaves, but looking down on a walk around town isn't so bad either. There are so many flowers blooming in a bounty of colors it's just outstanding. It's all a person can do to keep from picking some, bringing them home and putting it in a vase to admire for a few more days.

Here are a few snapshots that will last longer and it might even be a lovely little escape to revisit on dark winter moments when the days short and the skies are gray.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Soup-Off: The Trophy Has Been Passed

There's been a bit of a tradition started among our friends here in Portland that happens every January. It's called Soup-Off. The holidays are over, the weather is cold and sometimes there is even snow, though it rarely sticks. We are all in the mood for some soup and solid competition. Last year, my soup potato leek soup took second place. The only good thing about coming in second is that I wouldn't be responsible for making the Soup-Off trophy.

That's right this event has taken on its own magic and last year it was decided that a trophy should be made. The right person for the job won last year. In his quest to make a Soup Trophy in the form of a heavyweight belt with a bowl in the middle and a spoon, he ended up with quite a creation. For that, we'll excuse the fact that last year he didn't actually make the winning soup. I digress. Back to the trophy. In his search for the right size spoon (the three bears story, anyone?) at Goodwill he ended up finding one of the larger spoons I've seen and a real trophy was born.

Soup's On

This year there were only four competitors and each soup had it's own style. One soup was an African inspired creation from a Top Chef recipe and it was good, but it didn't take the prize. Another soup was essentially dinner in a bowl. While you would definitely want a bowl of it on a cold winter night, it too lacked that special something to take home the trophy. Our soup, well, we made a hot and sour soup that in the end was too spicy and more of a thai-inspired soup than a true hot and sour soup. Perhaps it was the marketing, or that the other soups were just better - we also did not win.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Which of the four soups one? Well the one that took up half the table, of course. It was a chicken posole with so many sides that it resembled a bit of a make-your-own soup bar. The creator had spent at least 10 hours cooking it and found all the authentic ingredients needed to pull it off triumphantly. The soup was phenomenal and in the end many of us ended up making nachos out of all the sides.

The trophy has found a home until next year. The only question is how will the winner leave her mark on the trophy?

Saturday, February 16, 2013


It's been a busy few months, I spent the early months of fall writing my first book, Microsoft Surface: Visual QuickStart Guide. It was quite the adventure and extremely time-consuming. Writing the book was a task in itself and at one point, I locked myself in a hotel room to get some chapters finished. Of course, half of the first night in the hotel the WiFi was down. Since so much of the tablet experience requires an Internet connection to make the most out of it, that put a little damper on things and forced me to take a much needed break - at least for the night. 

In my professional opinion, Microsoft's tablet is a huge step forward for the market. I think it will help push the boundaries of what a tablet can be and do. The advances in technology and the processing power available are making tablets a viable option for people to take on the road to get some work done and still have some fun. I think as a result we'll see more interesting options available from its competitors and that is something that is greatly needed to move the experience forward. 

Overall, Microsoft's design is innovative, but not perfect. That is expected and could also be said of the other tablets on the market when they first debuted. As a long-time reviewer of mobile technology, there has been one certainty: the third version of anything typically hits the sweet spot of how the product should work. Still, the Microsoft Surface is a huge departure from what people typically expect of a Microsoft product and for that I applaud them. 

Since it is so different, people will likely need a manual to make the most of the device. Performing all tasks isn't immediately evident and there are actually quite a few ways to accomplish one goal. Once you master a few UI basics, using the Surface tablet becomes more intuitive. I kept all this in mind while writing the book and set-up the chapters so that you could quickly learn how to use the tablet and then skip to other chapters to learn more about a specific feature. If you're in the market for an easy-to-read, picture-friendly book on the Surface tablet I encourage you to check it out.  

Although, I rarely surfaced during much of the time spent writing the book I was still busy making observations about living in Portland. Stay tuned.