Tag: Seattle

Living room makeover

Living room makeover

I didn’t grow up super decor-minded, you guys, despite what you read on this blog and possibly see in my obsessive Pinterest habits. I grew up in a bunch of weird different homes over the years, the most stable of which had cheap-ass wall-to-wall builder-grade beige carpet, Formica countertops, those ugly schoolhouse linoleum floors, and aluminum blinds. It also had ugly pseudo-modern 90s light fixtures with that pale green glass and shit, and the first-ever energy-efficient CFLs, which were not all that C and which emitted an even greener, buzzier, flickerier lighting than today’s CFLs. I kinda thought everyone grew up with builder-grade fixtures; I was fascinated by the people in my co-housing community who had a bunch of fancy much-nicer upgrades done to their unit. I never had, like, coordinating sets of anything growing up, except the duvet and matching sham my mom made me, and I rarely cared about things like thread count. I had a preference for natural materials, but that was about it. (It blew my MIND in 1998 and 2001 that all the Spanish kitchens I saw had granite countertops. I literally never met a single person growing up who had those. Were they just not a thing before the 90s in this country?)

Because of this less Home and Garden focused upbringing, it took me a long time to blossom into someone who appreciated nesting. Before I had my own apartment, I was really uninterested in home décor stores; I’d get super bored while my nestier friends wanted to poke around looking at cute vases and photo frames and such. And my first apartment on my own was a tiny studio and I was super-broke, so I didn’t do a ton of decoratey spending there either. From that abode I moved into a house with roommates so I also didn’t feel wildly motivated to decorate outside my own bedroom. However, being annoyed by one roommate’s constant revolving door of dudes I had to awkwardly share a bathroom, kitchen, living, and dining room with meant that I really put a lot of effort into making said bedroom an amazing little sanctuary. I went high-end for Ikea (this was pre-Stockholm collection) and bought stuff from their actual-wood HEMNES collection. (I guess having a woodworker for a father did rub off on me in that way; I’m not super duper handy or crafty and I certainly can’t build my own furniture, but I do have a respect for wood itself rather than MDF crap.) I also scoured Garnet Hill and West Elm for great clearance bedding and Overstock for great basics like real down pillows and comforters, and I suppose that broke-yet-nesty period was the beginning of the home décor obsessed Virginia I am today.

It wasn’t until I moved from that shared house into an apartment with Grant that I really started to get the appeal of interior design. And that, my friends, has still been a slow process. Plus, in blending our two tastes, as well as working with the strange 50s fixed elements in that rental, we haven’t always been that interesting, because we’ve tended to stick to kinda boring palette of too many neutrals as a strategy for compatibility and for blending a bunch of different stuff together. But that All Neutrals All The Time crap is getting boring.

A picture of my house, featuring a chair with my cat Trumpet sleeping on it.

We own a house now, that we’ve been in for two and a half years with only this amazing yet possibly way impractical rug as a major purchase. We’ve been here long enough and we’ve fixed and re-fixed enough small things that we’re finally getting kinda handy, a little, and we’re getting used to the idea that we can do whatever we want to any of the walls and fixtures, and we’re starting to actually become comfortable with spending some of the money we’ve saved up.

This is not a starter home; we hope to raise our kids through college here if life permits it. (I moved around a bunch as a kid, Grant didn’t; our small survey indicates the latter is better if you can pull it off, so we saved up to avoid the Starter Home phase.) That knowledge of this being our Foreverish Home has made us yet slower to make big changes, since I’m now consciously striving to be less trend-driven and go for more timeless/classic looks, which sometimes means not updating fixed features like a brick fireplace or an old-fashioned lighting fixture since you may regret it in five or even fifteen years when the old look comes back around and it’s hard to undo and you wish you hadn’t spent that money in the first place. You can see how this type of evaluation would take me time! But over the past few years, I’ve been researching home design excitedly, and let me tell you, shit’s about to get real. Real bright and colorful and coordinated and classy and comfortable and maybe even a bit glamorous, that is. And probably real messy while we figure it out.

A picture of my dining room.

Next on my list is a combo of things: sofas/LR seating for better flow, capacity, machiness, and comfort; possible rug swap-out for better matchiness; window treatments for light blocking, coordination, and drama, not to mention energy efficiency; paint for looks; lighting fixtures for looks and functionality; and possible fireplace and surround revampification for total room coordination and possibly glamour/drama. Not necessarily in that order, but probably, sorta.

I’m taking advantage of Apartment Therapy’s Style Cure program this month to (loosely) follow along and stay motivated about making the changes we’ve been fantasizing about for years now. The primary focus is the living room, which is super important because it’s what our front door opens into, and where we spend the vast majority of our time now that we have a TV in there. (I don’t wanna hear it, hippies; it’s well documented that TV is higher quality than ever and we don’t watch the crap. Well, mostly. I haven’t stopped watching True Blood yet but I’m ashamed of and exasperated with myself, and I’m working on it, OK? OK.) PLUS, my Heartographer clients walk through that space to get to my office, so I want it looking awesome. Therefore, we’re tackling every single one of the above-mentioned topics in just that room alone, haha. With no clear budget, more like “as little as possible yet make it as awesome as possible” so yeah. It’s a bit cray.

Even though it may seem like a lot, I’m reveling in this new-found joy of decorating. And in all this research, I’ve come to realize some things that are damn near epiphanies to this cheap-historied décor novice. I’m going to start blogging about some of those epiphanies soon, in sort of mini-installments by topic so they don’t get overwhelmingly long, and I’ll also probably do a couple of round-ups of my favorite sites and resources since many friends have been asking me for those lately anyway.

First up will be one about curtain (and window treatment in general) epiphanies! So look out for that post soon if you give a damn about all this decoratey stuff, and if not, please feel free to ignore this blog until I go back to whining about iOS 7 in September-ish. ^_^

A love/breakup letter to Big Tech

A love/breakup letter to Big Tech

As you might know from my recent QUIT post, I recently left my year and a halfish of various contract positions as a corporate stooge in a major Seattle tech company. That active verb “quit”  is a little misleading; said tech company is most certainly the one who decided to end my short-term contract this last time around, but the timing was pure serendipity for me since I was conflicted about having accepted this most recent leg of work with them. I had been itching for a graceful exit, yet majorly chicken about initiating one myself. (I had been having an amazing summer focusing on fun, gardening, getting healthy, and growing my consulting practice,  and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give all that fun and freedom up just yet. But a job is a job and a paycheck is a paycheck, so I went back to Big Tech even though I wasn’t quite ready to return.) My corporate stooge overlord was both an amazing and an amazingly frustrating employer, and when I didn’t get hired on full time the first time around, it really broke my heart like no one has broken my heart since my early twenties. Like all heartbreaks, I came away from that bummer having learned a lot and figured myself out a bit better. I gained so much from my time working there, and I’ve been ruminating on how to quantify and describe those huge gains in wisdom and experience.

The positives:

Metrics matter. My stooge overlord former employer is very vocal and public in said corporate values about metrics and data, and thanks to working there, I’ve learned to better quantify my successes and back them up with numbers. (I always fumbled at this during actual interviews, but I feel like I’ve learned how to do this better in other areas of life, including what used to be just my side business.) I’ve installed better analytics tracking on all my sites. I use data-driven decision making now, when before I would call it “gut instinct.” One of the most helpful tips I got while interviewing there was about said gut. My interviewer gave me a helpful note about how, when she was working with non-data-minded people, she wouldn’t accept “it just feels right” or “my gut says X” as an answer. She would ask targeted questions to drill down into WHY someone felt that way in their gut, and invariably this would produce a more quantifiable, justified, analytical line of reason than the opinion-holder even realized they had in them. Her approach stuck with me, and I think I analyze everything that draws my attention more, well, analytically after that conversation. If I do ever go back to a Big Tech role, I think I’ll be able to represent my successes and strengths better with hard details instead of just enthusiasm.

Adapt or die! Unlike many corporate stooge overlord companies, this particular one does not appreciate people or processes that are stuck in old ways, or unable to cast aside prior notions and reevaluate their goals or methods. That Office Space archetype? Totally not applicable. The place is constantly shifting and changing, and they value culling the old out more than any environment I’ve ever been in. As someone who enjoys spotting and fixing the holes in an organization or team or its processes or documentation or whatever, I really liked that they valued my input that usually went beyond QAing my assignment and encroached upon QAing our specs, tools, policies, management, QAing the company itself, etc. Even if half my ideas were rejected for various totally reasonable reasons, it helped me learn to adapt better in my own ways. I’m now pursuing new and different revenue streams in my business and am open to approaches that in the past I had shied away from.

HUSTLE. I haven’t worked my ass off in quite that way for YEARS. When we burned the midnight oil or churned through craziness, we really really churned. I appreciate being able to really burn rubber at a major Forture 500 company; not since working for a crazy busy law firm have I been reminded how to buckle down and get shit DONE. I learned not just to get loads done but to be proactive and solve problems myself, and develop excellent judgment about when to self-help and when to escalate (and how much to holler about it). It made me better at learning solutions, finding DIY workarounds, and generally solving my problems instead of fretting about them or letting them block me.

Poise and pause. My first role in this stint was very reactive. I worked for an incredibly stressy and tightly-run team, with a powerhouse of a manager who still baffles me with her badassery. (She is literally the only person I’ve ever met who is allowed to use the phrase “works hard, plays harder” in any kind of profile anywhere ever.) My job was essentially to jump when she or any of her higher-ups (or the workflows they managed) said jump, so I did a lot of  putting out fires and reacting to the freakouts of various internal and external stakeholders. However, one note she gave me when I pressed her for candid feedback was about how quick to react I was, and  how that could be perceived as negative even though I was trying for a positive. Even though reacting quickly and taking care of issues smoothly was an important part of my job description, I would get a little too enthusiastically worked up about putting out the Fire of the Hour. She urged me to take a minute, take a breath, step back from what the emergency was, restate it to the requester, and then roll up my sleeves and tackle it, pointing out that such poise in the face of crisis is a trait that many higher-ups in corporate culture displayed. I utterly failed to implement this level of poise and pause when, say, answering questions during a FTE interview loop, but the feedback still stuck with me nonetheless. Now I think I’m learning to handle crisis or perceived crisis a bit better, and I’m OK pushing back on everyone from clients to contractors who are overly demanding when it comes to getting a response out of me. I still have a long way to come in this department, but I’ve never received this kind of high-level critical feedback in the thoughtful way I did from anyone at any other company. I keep the Christmas card said boss wrote for me on display in my office, because compliments from someone like her frankly mean more to me than from just your Average Joe coworker.

Picky coworkers! I LOVED how opinionated and high-standarded (shut up) my coworkers were. The wit and fervor that would emerge on things like wiki pages, For Sale listservs, signs in the kitchen or elevators, etc. was a total delight. If I ever needed a referral for a type of business, not only would I get great recommendations I knew I could trust, but I’d get detailed dossiers backing up those choices. Yelp could never be as useful. The pickypants fights that would sometimes break out were hilarious, too. There was literally an internal wiki page called something like “we are not SAVAGES, people” which contained instructions on how to flush toilets and make coffee properly. LOVE.

Perceptive coworkers. The feedback I received from mangers and from people who interviewed me was some of the most helpful I’ve ever heard in my life. Because this company deeply values reflection and self-improvement, I feel like people were more at liberty to be practical and candid in how they evaluated my strengths and weaknesses, and while the more critical points were never easy to hear, they were always deeply appreciated. I feel like I could have paid a career coach for five years of regular input and not gotten even a fraction of the insight and assistance I received for free from my generous coworkers, friends, bosses, and mentors there. People who work there are sort of conditioned to a certain type of analytical directness that was so refreshing. Mentor-type people there immediately identified the traits in my personality that suited me well for certain types of work, and they honed in on what I enjoyed and what mattered to me better than I myself knew how to do. It was disarming but very welcome.

Concision. While every blog post I ever write including this one might lead you to believe otherwise, I swear working in this particular sector of corporate stoogehood really did help me learn to tighten up my business communication. The company I was at valued keeping it short short SHORT and need-to-know only. Because of that, I’m getting better at getting to the point and summarizing my often complex or confusing feedback in a more digestible format, and I’m better at deciding when to provide top-level information as opposed to going into too much detail. Sort of. :) I’m at least conscious of needing to whittle down to the main message with certain audiences now. Nope, not you; other audiences. :P

The negatives: There were, of course, a few things I liked less about this particular Big Tech stint. Like how, after a year of pouring my heart and soul and sanity and every spare moment into trying to land a full-time role there, I was sorta groomed and encouraged and then ultimately turned down. Yeah, that part stung. I still completely understand why I didn’t wind up fitting that mold, at least for the roles I tried out for, and I’ve learned much about how to present myself better both at lean companies like that and in general to the world. Before I went there, I was considering consulting full time instead of getting a Proper Corporate Stooge Jobby Job, but a dose of that invigorating culture made me recommit to having a J-O-B job and really work at it. I’ve never wanted a corporate stooge position so badly, or tried so hard to get one, only to fall so very hard. In the end, it worked out for the best since I don’t think I’m cut from quite the same cloth as the people that make Big Tech great, but I still say it was like having my heart broken after being, well, let’s say proto-corporate-engaged. Anyway. All that said, here’s some of the stuff that I certainly don’t miss:

Extreme budget consciousness. This is a big one. The company’s desire to cut costs wherever possible was certainly understandable, and definitely had a lot of positive consequences for them as a market leader. But sometimes, when your monitor size is restricted for insane Office-Space-seeming reasons, or when your corporate-kitchen-supplied compostable fork dissolves into mush (yes, like that episode of VEEP) when you stir lukewarm leftovers with it, you sorta wish they’d just spend an extra buck and make their employees’ lives easier or more comfortable or ergonomic. Until recently, I had never been one to expense much in my life, but my very severe tennis elbow that developed in 2008 has meant that I’m extremely sensitive to shitty ergonomic setups now. I had also come from a fairly cushy and accommodating PC gaming company that was sensitive to wanting to avoid RSI in its employees. So in that sense, I suppose I had been a bit spoiled. But still. Curved split keyboards and adjustable height desks, people. They make a big difference! I know such things add up, but I don’t miss feeling like I had to whine and seem like a special case, or deal with constant dumbass comments over the fact that my monitor and laptop were stacked precariously upon piles of dictionaries and reams of copy paper to hack a reasonably healthy setup. (That may be more a commentary on social acceptance of proper ergonomics in general. I’m much more sympathetic to my friends who require special diets or medical aid now—it sucks to feel like the squeaky wheel to get your basic needs met.)

Get there first. I can’t deny that the company I worked for beats lots of other companies at lots of different games because they get there first, and make big-picture moves that sometimes seem baffling in the small picture. But as a perfectionist and a pickypants, I hate the model of placing what I perceived as more value on winning the tech race than on perfecting the journey. I think this is partly unique to QA, so I suspect that only working somewhere as polish-obsessed as Apple could really ever satisfy this itch of mine. (I’ve always felt that we released imperfect stuff at every QA or editing role I’ve ever held. So maybe it’s just me. But still.)

Infrastructure. Many things about working at this tech powerhouse felt slapped-together, right down to its campus. The flow of the numerous lines in the overstuffed cafeterias was exhausting. The friggin’ Starbucks across the way from my building had only one standard width door, so people constantly jammed coming in and out of it. One FTE coworker was on a waiting list for a company (paid) parking spot the entire time I worked with her. One of my contract roles shifted between three different buildings, at numerous different desks and on different floors, and I hear it’s scheduled to move again… partly because it seems like the whole leg of the company I belonged to didn’t anticipate their own success and growth. I don’t miss feeling like everything was done after the fact, or that I have to fight everyone for a spot in line or a parking place or a cup of tea in the kitchen. For all the company valued efficiency on paper (if you will), so many basic human comfort things (like don’t block all the silverware drawers with the only microwave, what?) felt less than efficiently planned out at times. (Then again, I’ve felt that way about other corporate stoogey jobs/buildings/systems, too. I guess I was just hoping that working for the Efficiency Kings would mean fewer silly problems like that.)

SLOW YOUR ROLL! While a huge part of me thrives in a busy and fast pace, I feel like the culture in this last stoogeship engendered a very unhealthy work-life balance for most employees, particularly the full-timers. People raced down the hallways, scrambled through lunch/ate it at their desks/skipped it entirely, hunched their shoulders and carpaled their tunnels, kept their networking-only coffee meetings to a tight 15 minutes, skipped from meeting to meeting, and just generally felt like they were always huffing and puffing from one emergency to the next. I never got that same feeling of constant urgency and upset  during my tenure at other mega tech companies, stressy though everyone was there. It was a less SPEEDY kind of stress elsewhere. I think the place I just left attracts a certain go-get-em wife-and-kids-be-damned attitude that burns people out quickly, but rewards those who get off on cortisol spikes. I loved it while I was there most of the time, but there were definitely moments of not-love, and I’m not sure how sustainable it is in the long run.  I’m still friends with a lot of very stressed-out full-timers there who envy my  newfound freedom despite their fancy résumés and reliable paychecks and whatnot.

The takeaway. All in all, despite the negatives I LOVED the culture of this fast-paced startup-feeling company. I’ll always be grateful I had the chance to soak it up and learn from it. Who knows; maybe someday I’ll find myself back there or at another tech powerhouse. But something tells me that this might have been my last taste of Big Tech from the inside, and I’m kinda happy about it since I seem to have more fun using it than creating it. So thanks, guys, for teaching me lots, mostly that I totally have it in me to make it on my own now that you’ve cut me loose. ♥ I sincerely loved working with the amazing people I encountered in Big Tech, and I hope they all identify with more positive points than negative points from this tome!

PAX recs for out-of-towners

PAX recs for out-of-towners

Here are my PAX 2012 tips for out-of-towners, since I found myself giving them verbally to many people. Hope they’re useful! Stay sane, well hydrated and fed, and above all enjoy your PAX experience. And wash your damn hands!

Noc Noc (Goth-ish bar) for drinks. Try the chili; surprisingly edible.
Cupcake Royale for sweets. If you’re stuck just go with salted caramel like everyone else; popular for a reason.
• City Target for a weirdly NYC-like shopping experience.
• The crêpes in front of the con are way better than Subway and the line is always shorter, silly. Branch out!
• Food at the Internet-eschewing gyro place on Pine between 1st and 2nd is totally solid and cheap, but runs spicy.
Market Grill for a grilled halibut sandwich. Ask the Chukar Cherries people if you can’t find it. Worth the $15; skip the chowder.
Le Pichet and the Virginia Inn are yummy, low-key, and less overloaded than closer places. Don’t be a wuss because of the Frenchy menu; it’s delish.
• If you want the market guys to throw a fish, it helps to buy one. Chat up a local who will take it off your hands for a discounted price.

Pink Gorilla and Kinokuniya in the ID are kind of (y)our mothership. Don’t take photos of merch. While there, hit Beard Papa and/or Samurai Noodle. Worth the cramped conditions.
Local 360 for fancy foodie fare. Try the rabbit anything.
• Gamma Ray Games in Capitol Hill wants & deserves your business.
Shorty’s has legit pinball machines, rad hot dogs, and grown-ass drinks.

• If you have a car, get thee to a Full Tilt Arcade—pinball, beer and local ice cream. Multiple non-downtown locations.
Homegrown makes the best goddamn sandwiches you’ll ever eat (and I don’t even *like* sandwiches). Skip the soup.
Card Kingdom is like it sounds; heaven for tabletop geeks.
Brouer’s is another Goth-vibed joint with a mind-blowing beer section. Daytime darkness, too, if you’re into that. Close to The Troll by car so you might as well drive past it.
• If you wanna drop some dough on a really amazing meal, try to visit Canlis. Get the prawns (non-cocktail) appetizer.

• If you’re doing any scenic WA drives anyway, make your way to Bandy’s Troll Haven. Worth the minor detour, and you needn’t even exit your vehicle. No spoilers!

• Restroom best bets near PAX are Macy’s, Nordstrom and Pacific Place.
• Pay phones still exist in the bus tunnel underneath Macy’s and in the lobbies of hotels. You might just need them when the networks predictably crash and you can’t call or text anyone. Figure out how to dial in to your voicemail remotely and get quarters.
• Don’t get peed on by the freak tenants in the apartments on the SE corner of 2nd & Pine. For reals, look up & think fast.
• Wash your hands. Seek the free Purel swag on day 1 and use it often. There’s a Walgreens and Bartell’s and Target and more all within a couple blocks if you lose it or run out. Down with crowdsourcing plagues!
Fox Sports Bar, Taproom and Cheesecake Factory all have cold cold AC. Said AC is the only real reason to patronize these establishments. Better yet, make friends with someone who works for a downtown dev studio and go cool off there. (Works best on Friday when normal office facilities are on.)
• Stay away from Pioneer Square itself. Just… you don’t need that. Belltown should be explored for overpriced fancy food/drinks, but not for nightlife. These two neighborhoods are not for us geeks, trust me.
• Look both ways, dummy. Cross when it says to or when it’s for real clear, INCLUDING CYCLISTS. They will cut you. Use your signal. Walk on the right. Don’t sidewalk or car text. Wait for everyone to exit the elevator/bus/streetcar before you enter. Everyone here does all that shit wrong all of the time, of course, but there’s an assload more people in town right now so please aim to be smart and courteous.

• You unlock a Seattle achievement if you sneak into the ladies’ room of the Columbia Tower Club (75th floor, members only, no spoilers for the tourists plz).

Piece of Mind

Piece of Mind

So there’s this stupid little head shop in Fremont and Lake City called Piece of Mind.  Now you MIGHT think that’s a cute little pun, but let’s examine things closer.  Take a look at their logo to the left.

So that’s a PEACE symbol, right? Like, world peace, peace on earth, peace and goodwill. Or PEACE of MIND. So you see, the name PIECE OF MIND would only be a good pun if the interpretation of the homonym /pIs/ that they were going for was, in fact, the PIECE meaning. I.e. a piece of pie, let me give you a piece of my mind, etc. FOR EXAMPLE.

So unless they’re trying to indicate that their shop, instead of giving one ‘piece of mind’, actually somehow robs them of a small piece of their mind, then they’re clearly not quite grasping the concept here.  And if, in fact, the whole piece thing IS in fact their desired marketing angle, then God help us all.

As another case study, let’s take a looksie at an example of a GOOD pun using the term /pIs/: Peace a Pizza, whose logo and name ACTUALLY MAKE SENSE.  Because, you see, traditionally you eat a PIECE of pizza, so changing their name to reflect the PEACE meaning instead is actually a valid pun here, that’s witty and consistent with their logo and branding.  Please take note, stoners of Seattle. Put down the pipe and pick up a thesaurus.

GOD THIS INFURIATES ME SO MUCH EVERY TIME I DRIVE BY THE PLACE.  Thank you for letting me get it off my chest, Imaginary Readers.  All better now.

Most Irrationally Annoying Shop of 2008 Award

Most Irrationally Annoying Shop of 2008 Award

Another year, another bizzarely boring and silly retail idea: glassybaby. While Christmas shopping and running errands at Bellevue Square, I spotted the following store. (Keep in mind that this is during the INSANELY busy season, on a particularly insanely packed evening. And yes, that is one lone customer you see.  I actually peeked in a few more times over the course of the evening and saw no one at all.)

When one of these shops turned up in U-Village months before, I was perplexed and then quickly irritated. I like retail real estate to be filled with cute and /or useful shops that contain a variety of delightful goods, not sparse minimalist spaces displaying a single product that is… a little glass candle jar. Not even the friggin’ candles to put in the jar, mind you: just the jar itself. AND OH MY GOD THEY ARE FORTY DOLLARS APIECE THAT IS BALLS.

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City Market gets political

City Market gets political

Sarah Palin sez, "City Market Is not my daughters store.  It is my store." [sic]Not exactly the first time, but still.  This was pause-and-shoot worthy. Especially given that these days, the mere mention of Sarah Palin’s name is a standalone punchline. Even the women on the skincare and makeup forum I frequent had to take a stab.

Anyway. On a political note, Imaginary Readers, allow me to introduce you to Grant’s new blog. (Here’s hoping he doesn’t mind the Imaginary Plug.)

Grant will most likely write about politics far more frequently than I will. He will also write about video games and movie reviews and… aw hell, go click it. He’s funnier and wittier and taller than I am. Well, in many contexts/shoes, anyhow. So there you have it.

He’s also figuring out how to do a lot of custom CSS stuff from scratch, which makes me jealous and impressed. Who knows — maybe I can get him to work his newfound skills on this tired old blog. (Kidding, kidding — he’s the one who helped me co-design this hack-of-a-theme just a few months ago, so I could update to a non-WP 1.0 design.)

My inn = my kinda food

My inn = my kinda food

Grant and I wound up having to hit the Sub Pop 20th Anniversary Comedy Show without dinner in our stomachs last night, so we used my precious iPhone to locate some late-night grub. (By the way, the Citysearch Web app for the iPhone is pretty darn handy, if not 100% accurate.) We stumbled into the Virginia Inn (aka “My Inn”) fifteen minutes before the kitchen was going to close, and the staff were all super-nice and accommodating.

We recalled that the VA Inn had been closed for a while since they were expanding their kitchen, so we were hoping they’d have a decent selection of actual food, and not just bar fare. And it turns out, we were right!

I ordered the “Steak Frites” and requested it medium rare, thinking I might get a dried-out slab of charred flat-iron and some blah fries. But what I got was a thick, small but hefty, perfectly Pittsburghed (charred on the outside, rare-but-not-chilly on the inside) filet mignon chop, and some of the most superbly prepared potato strips I’ve ever tasted — for a total of $22.

Oh, how I wish my iPhone battery hadn’t died, so I could post a photo! For greasy pub food, I had a meal that rivaled the stuff one could get from The Met for three times the price. I was blown away. I’m definitely mentally re-bookmarking my inn as a place to head back to. I’m so glad they’ve re-opened!

Northgate Hell

Northgate Hell

I’ve been going to the Northgate Mall since I was a kid, but I kinda lost interest after their construction got so prevalent that the whole parking lot was covered in debris and chain-link fences. But it seems that some of that construction has finally been finished, yielding lots of swanky new retail space.

The problem? The goddamned stores aren’t attached to the mall. The entire mall is now flanked by these hip new stores, but they’re not connected at all, even though they’re RIGHT UP against the mall. So they LOOK connected. And half of them (but not all!) are LISTED on the mall’s directory, and pictured on the map as if they were connected to the mall. (And the other half aren’t mentioned or pictured on the mall maps, but the stores call these outlets their “Northgate Mall” locations.)

And some of the new retail isn’t even within reasonable pedestrian distance from the mall. And by reasonable, I guess I’m not really bitching about the distance. I’m bitching about having to walk through a shitty, car-oriented lot full of idiot drivers and no crosswalks. I saw a mom pushing a stroller and dragging a toddler get almost hit as she was trying to walk over to one of the new cafés.

If you’re going to be an outdoor mall, swell! Do it like U-Village (or better), with crosswalks everywhere and lots of open spaces with separate entrances for each store. But if you build a typical, closed-in, claustrophobic mall with a car-friendly lot that hates people on foot, then at least build all the retail in one centralized, CONNECTED spot. Sweet Jesus! It’s enough to drive this potential shopper away, so I never have to deal with muddling over how the hell to get into a certain store again.