I am incredibly excited about the the recent renovations to one of my cabins up in Big Bear, and very pleased with how everything turned out. In late 2015 I bought several cozy cabins in Big Bear Lake, CA and while all they are all awesome in their own way, some needed a little bit of tender loving care to bring them into the 21st century.
After a couple weeks of renovations, many one day trips up to Bear and back, and several dozen trips to hardware store, the immediate work is done. And while there is always something more to do, I am proud to show off “Baby Bear 2017”.
It was a journey. When I bought the home, this unit was tenant occupied and she owned a cat. The place was a wreck. There was cat fur everywhere and traces of kitty litter all over the bedroom and bathroom. The lighting was outdated and the room was very dark. Several floor lamps were required to illuminate the living area and even then it was reminiscent of a mausoleum. The kitchen had a 7 foot ceiling so head space was at a minimum. A drop down room divider prevented light from the living room from breaking into the kitchen, which made the cooking area incredibly dark as well. The kitchen had an all-in-one sink/oven/stove/refrigerator/freeze that I think had been there since the 1960’s if not earlier. Amazingly, this antique still worked, but it was not efficient, and was more suitable for elves than humans. Cabinetry and storage was sparse, and counter top space was non-existent.
We gutted the kitchen entirely. We took it down to the studs and put up new dry wall with a fresh coat of paint. I hauled lightly used cabinets from a kitchen demo a homeowner in La Mesa was doing. For $200 I got an entire kitchen worth of cabinets, almost sink, faucet and garbage disposal, and brand new cabinet stainless steel hardware. Left over tiles from my bathroom remodel in San Diego that had been taking up space in my garage for a decade became the new counter top and back splash, and left over grout from our winter 2016 kitchen remodel helped as well.
The all-in-one appliance was replaced with the new sink, open box but new studio sized gas stove/oven combo, and a studio sized fridge/freezer combo. It still needs a microwave but for the time being, the appliances are almost good to go.
The drop down room divider was removed. It’s amazing the difference that extra 12 inches of unencumbered space has on the brightness of the kitchen. The kitchen is now replete with pots, pans, utensils, glasses and dining ware as well as miscellaneous kitchen nick-knacks like pizza cutters and ice cream scoopers.
The old, cat tainted green carpet was ripped out and replaced with new wood laminate flooring which extends from the living room into the kitchen. This one feature made the whole home brighter even before tinkering with the actual light fixtures. Carpet absorbed light, while the floor reflects it. It makes the room feel more spacious as well.
A new ceiling light/fan combo was mounted high on the ceiling to help illuminate the entire room, which it does nicely. The fan will help circulate the heat in the winter, and the cool air in the stuff.
Jenny replaced some of the older curtains with newer, lighter ones which again brightened up the room. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, this cabin was dark before the renovations. It would have felt like medieval living.
The old linens, pillows, blankets, towels and throws, were replaced with new, lively ones, complete with new mattress and pillow protectors. And we stocked the restroom with nice, thick Charmin toilet paper, none of that cheap single ply for our vacationers!
Several drafts around windows and doors were sealed, and sealed well. Remember, Big Bear days can get down to 30, and Big Bear nights can get down to single digits, so retaining heat is just as important as producing it. A little bit of caulk, foam sealer, and rubber tube gaskets goes a long way. This home is now air tight.
Last but most importantly is the home got a great scrub down. New stuff and niceties won’t last long if things are maintained and even a home complete with top of the line everything can be an utter dump if not clean. Cobwebs be damned! This place is spic and span now.
Am I happy? Absolutely?
Is there more to be done? Always. I do have a laundry list of things I would like to eventually do like insulate the floor and crawlspace, and re-floor the deck. But the immediate future holds a futon sleeper and double pane windows. But for now, I am very pleased with how it all turned out and am looking forward to putting this bad boy to work in 2017.
Starting about a year ago, I strapped in to one hell of a roller coaster. The last 12 months, from October 2015 to now, have been jam packed full of events. The past year has been tiring, fun, stressful, fast paced, and all around excellent.
Louisiana – The Adventure Begins
The adventures began last October when my longtime friends TJ and Jessica invited Jenny and me on a week long trip to Louisiana with them. They were flying out there for vacation, but also to take their engagement photos in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The trip was a blast from day one. Our flights landed within about an hour of each other so coordinating was super easy. It was late and we needed to catch some sleep to springboard into the rest of the trip. We all hopped in a rental – some all-wheel drive Infiniti sports sedan – and tore our way through the middle of Louisiana to our first destination of the Pelican State.
As you may or may not know, drive-thru daiquiri shops are a real thing in Louisiana and other parts of the south, so when in Rome! Another regional quirk I noticed was Dollar General stores, which appear to be to Louisiana, what Starbucks is to California – there’s one every quarter mile.
Our first morning we woke up bright and early and went on a swamp boat tour. A must-do if you’ve never gone. Our guide had the coolest accent, and was a pro at handling that thing. He could drift around a bend and manage to get our 6 foot wide swamp boat through a water gate with just inches to spare without breaking a sweat. He told us all about the nutria rat problem, we saw tons of gators, and even had a three foot Chinese tuna jump into our boat and smack TJ in the face. It was awesome.
Our next stop was New Orleans. On our drive in, we turned on suitable playlist on Spotify and stumbled on the comical and tragic song, Senor El Gato! We had a beautiful suite just a few blocks from Bourbon Street. I wish I’d had my Fitbit then because god knows I must have walked several marathons up and down the French Quarter alone in search of voodoo shops, bottomless Hurricanes, the perfect masque, and restaurants to fill TJs insatiable hunger for OYSTERRRRRRSS!!!!!
After a couple days in the city we ventured out of the concrete jungle and into the bayou. We drove 140 miles from our hotel in the French Quarter all the way to Avery Island to visit the Mc. Ilhenny Co. aka the Tabasco factory. I may very well be addicted to Tabasco sauce so I couldn’t very well visit Tabasco’s home state without knocking on their door. We went on the Tabasco food tour, which I HIGHLY recommend. Your first meal is in the official Tabasco restaurant, and from there we hopped in a tour van with our trusty guide and drove to several parishes to try the best cuisine the region had to offer. Gumbo, jambalaya, cracklins, shrimp etouffee, boudin, andouille. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much, and so well.
Rounding out the trip was a visit to a Halloween haunted attraction, the Garden District, several small museums, several visits to Café Du Monde, a fine dining experience at The Bourbon House, the worst comedy show I have ever been to, and dozens of amazing restaurants.
I Bought my First Home
All the while I was in Louisiana getting fat and drunk, I was also in escrow. Now, whether it’s an omen or not is beyond me but I will always remember the day I closed escrow because it was on November, Friday the 13th.
This wasn’t my first real estate, but it was my first home, meaning I planned to actually live there and not have it be solely an investment property. I love my house. Earlier that spring I had been on the house hunt and ran into a series of duds and lemons. After a failed, painstaking negotiation with a previous seller, I gave the search a rest for a while. I am so glad I did because the home I ended up buying was one I had been eyeballing a year earlier. My good friend Mark Wayman saw that the sellers had lowered the price, and a couple months later it was mine.
Three little cabins on two lots, about 100 feet from and with a view of the lake, beautiful scenery all around, on a heavily treed lot. Top to bottom, I love my new home and getting the keys was one of the coolest, most exhilarating things ever.
It’s been great having friends and family come up to visit, drinking some cider and playing board games.
Georgia, and Wedding # 1
Back to South I go. Just days after I bought my house I was jet setting again, this time to the Peach State and the land of red soil for my cousin’s wedding. I don’t know what it is about the South but it’s awesome. We landed early in the morning. The Atlanta airport is a train wreck. It’s massive, and it seems like not a soul who works there knows where to find anything. Four employees pointed us in the opposite direction to the rental car lot, but fifth times a charm!
The drive from Atlanta to our destination was rainy for the first couple hours. I never knew just how big of a city Atlanta was, but there was traffic before the sun came up.
Once the sun rose it became abundantly clear how beautiful the state is. Trees, trees, and more trees as far as the eye could see. Which wasn’t that far since so many dang trees obstructed your view. I marveled at the undertaking it must have been to clear a path of trees across the state to make room for highways stretching hundreds of miles. Must have been enough lumber to last a life time, and yet couldn’t have even been a drop in the bucket.
Just like in Louisiana, there were Dollar General stores evvvvverywhere in Georgia. So at this point I am guessing this is a Southern thing.
My aunt and uncle live on this 140+ acre lot in what to me felt like the middle of nowhere. In the summers they have this big Christian summer camp complete with human hamster balls, giant water slides, a lake, baseball, capture the flag, RC planes, and some absolutely legit laser tag that looked more professional than the MILES gear we used in ROTC. Unfortunately I didn’t get to partake in these festivities but people in the South really know how to have a good time.
I did however go hunting for the first time, and that was a whole other experience itself. Read “My First Hunting Trip” to read more about that. One of our first nights in town there were hurricane warnings, flash flood warnings, and parts the town we were in had even lost power. Coming from the desert that is San Diego, a hurricane was a fun experience to cross off the bucket list. Jenny and I stayed in a summer camp bungalow in the middle of the woods, away from our relatives, which made it all the more interesting.
Georgia also has some amazing chain restaurants that I would love to have back home, including Waffle House (where believe it or not I had a bomb ass Philly cheese steak), Zaxby’s, and the Cracker Barrel store/restaurant. And if you want the largest menu of milkshakes ever, you have to find yourself a Steak ‘n Shake. Damn the south has some good eats.
Georgia was a beautiful state and I would love to go back!
Two Weeks in Ohio
October was Louisiana. November was Georgia. Now fast forward to December where I spent the first half of the month in Ohio! This time it was for a business trip for Nationwide (is on your siiiidddde). Christmas time if my favorite time of the year so I was a little bummed to miss out on a couple Christmas parties and all the festivities that go with it. But Nationwide spares no expense and they own their home hotel (yes, Nationwide Insurance owns their own hotel in Ohio) which was dressed to the nines in holiday splendor. This place was very nice. It had a sort of colonial feel to it, and the entire place was adorned with holly, and the hallways and lobbies all filled with Christmas music. Each lobby had a decked out Christmas tree, and a quaint seating area with a 24/7 fire place.
I cannot speak on behalf of Ohio, but Nationwide sure knows how to cook up some grub. We had access to a dining area and every day got breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And we’re not talking some lame ‘continental breakfast’ where you are starving after your meal. This place’s breakfast would put 94th Aero Squadron to shame. If there wasn’t a waffle station, there was an omelet station, or a crepe station. And that’s the breakfast. No joke, I think I gained 10 pounds on that trip.
Ohio in December is f***ing cold. Remember, I’m from San Diego and have experienced a hot Christmas. Here I was inappropriately dressed for 30 degree weather, with heavy winds. My group consisted of people from neighboring states including New York, who had a laugh or two at my expense. Joe, thanks for letting me borrow your jacket buddy.
On my trip to Ohio I did a lot of good, professional tips regarding the insurance industry. But that pales in comparison to the awesome people I met on the trip. There was a ton of good food, great people, excessive drinking, boisterous laughing, and a hilarious late night, boozed conversations.
Back to San Diego!
It felt like I hadn’t been home in forever. Between all the trips out of state, hours of flying in a crammed seat, it was great to finally be back home. But December was half way over and Christmas was fast approaching so it was time to make up for lost time with interest. The day after I landed I whisked Jenny off and we bought a fake Christmas tree. Only the Charlie Brown trees were left, but we got a screaming deal on the display model – Walmart knocked off like $100. Score! I went all out with ornaments, stockings, holly, decorations, and all around Christmasness. For the next two weeks my house smelled like pine and cinnamon.
I also have an inner Martha Stewart that comes out around Christmas time and not to brag, but my decorations dominated. See pics!
Snowboarding in Big Bear
At this point, I’ve owned my house for over a month and haven’t been there once due to my chaotic schedule so Jenny and I had to set aside time to retreat to Big Bear and escape the hustle and bustle. Here’s a photo of us in front of the “Sold” sign, which I insisted my real estate agent keep up until after I had a chance to take a picture in front of it. Thanks Mark!
New Years came and went, and before we knew it April was here and I was jet setting yet again to another state, this time to Hawaii.
Hawaii was a blast. I had been to the state before, but only to Kauia, which felt like the Palm Springs of the Pacific because it was almost all old people and retirees. This time around we went to O’ahu and stayed in Wai Ki Ki.
Not that I normally get home sick, but when I landed in O’ahu it felt a lot like being back home in San Diego. At the time we went, the weather was absolutely perfect. Mid-80’s, super low humidity, clear skies, with only the occasional rain, usually before we woke up. Basically, perfect San Diego weather.
Just like San Diego, O’ahu has half a dozen military bases. Tons of beaches. Lots of beautiful hiking. Snorkeling. A tourist city. It used to be part of a foreign country (the Nation of Hawaii vs Mexico), and the native population still has a huge cultural impact on the city. Every other street and community in San Diego is Spanish, and on this Pacific Island every other street was Hawaiian. I felt right at home in this city. Heck, they even had a Costco! It was like someone carved San Diego out with a knife and threw it into the middle of the Pacific.
Hawaii was just too much to fit into this blog, so I’ll put more about it later.
A Summer of Weddings
The summer of 2016 was the summer of weddings for me. I went to three weddings in three months, and was in one of them. I also went to two bachelor parties.
Bachelor Party # 1
was for my friend Brett, in April. There were a lot of faces I hadn’t seen in a long time, or seldom get to see now that adult life has taken over. It was great to catch up with old friends. We spent a couple days in Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas but one particularly funny moment was when we were hanging out in an outdoor jacuzzi when it started dumping rain. I mean pouring! I’ve never seen fifty people in bathing suits running so fast and looking so pathetic, including myself. Anders, the road trip was a lot of fun man.
Wedding # 2
was my high school buddy TJ and his now wife Jessica! Despite having been sunny the entire week prior, mother nature decided to pull a fast one and make it rain the day before the wedding. Again I was ill equipped. Thinking “oh, it’ll be sunny!” I brought surf trunks and not much warm to wear besides by suit. Luckily Big 5 has a Dickies jacket on sale, and would you believe it, liberal Santa Barbara’s Big 5 actually had no shortage of 22LR on sale? Naturally I had to buy some.
The wedding took place in beautiful Santa Barbara in this awesome sort of Spanish villa in the middle of an open air plaza. It was super simple but incredibly fun and the weather cleared up just in time for the main event! The pre-wedding, ceremony, and rehearsal were all in the same plaza which made travel arrangements a cinch. Those who know me know that I’m not much of a dancer, but I danced my ass off at that wedding. TJ and Jessica, you guys had an awesome wedding, and who doesn’t appreciate an open bar?! You have some really cool friends, and I still need to check out your new digs!
Wedding # 3
Was for my college friend Brett and his now wife, Adriana. Besides being a ring bearer when I was four or so, this was my first time actually being in a wedding and it was a cool experience. Prior to the wedding the groom’s party had a photo shoot, and I might say, we nailed it. Taking a limo to the wedding was baller, and Brett I appreciate the custom beer mug! The scene was beautiful at Admiral Kidd conference center on base, and again, it was great to see so many old faces I hadn’t seen in years.
Over the Line
Literally the day after Brett’s wedding I was up at 4:45 AM to get ready for Over the Line on Fiesta Island. While this isn’t a wedding or a bachelor party, it was just one more spice thrown into the mix that has been my last 12 months. You can read more about my OTL experience here.
Bachelor Party # 2
Was for my cousin Cortlen in July. Damn, this was a fun trip! Basically, we all went camping and white water rafting up outside of Sacramento in the American River (middle fork). Half of the people there were my cousins so it felt like an extended family reunion.
The drive up there and back down was long, but I had some awesome company. I picked up my cousin Kevin from Long Beach and the two of us headed up North on our adventure in the ‘X-star’. Kevin’s a Hillary supporter but we won’t hold that against him! He was an awesome road trip buddy and damn I don’t think I have laughed that hard my entire life.
We went on some awesome hikes and found a little creek with a natural bridge created by a fallen tree, just like in the movies. There was beer pong, camping, knife and hatchet throwing competitions, exploding beer cans, and we almost saw some Hatfield and McCoy business go down between two of the ‘resident campers’.
Rafting was another story altogether! You’d have to do it for yourself to get it, but it was a lot of fun rafting with my cousins and we have some cool pics to show of it.
Anthony, you did a great job orchestrating the entire trip.
Wedding # 4
Was for my cousin Cortlen. This time the wedding was all the way up on Monterey. Another long haul back on the road, this time in the Subie. The ceremony was at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands and had a beautiful view overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Big Sur Coast. The view, magnifique! It’d been a year since I was in Monterey and I had forgotten the natural beauty of the area.
The ceremony was quick and beautiful, and Cortlen and Ally, I am so happy for you guys! Sorry we couldn’t chat more but I know there were a ton of guests you had to make the rounds to.
We spent the first night at a hotel, and the second night at a VRBO type thing with some relatives and that’s where the fun was. We had the staples of any good time, good food, good company, and good alcohol. I learned Mexican dominoes and another game I really enjoyed called Linkee. Imagine “Taboo”, but with a twist. My sister and I were on the same team, Team Awesome, and naturally we were victorious.
The ride down was a lot of fun. My mom, dad, brother and sister drove up together and the six of us hop scotched on the way south at a number of wineries and wine tasting rooms including Eberle winery and a tour of their massive, underground wine cave.
In the last 12 months I have done a lot. At one point I had been to six states in six months. At other point I had been to three weddings in three months. In total I have been to four weddings, been in one wedding, been to two bachelor parties, and traveled lord knows how many tens of thousands of miles by foot, car, boat, and plane. I’ve bought a home (three homes actually!). I’ve made some amazing new friends and reconnected with dozens of old friends and relatives I hadn’t seen in ages. I’ve eaten some amazing food, drank some incredible wine, and brewed some good beer. I feel like I have made great strides professionally, personally, and physically.
I truly am blessed to have such amazing friends, and such an amazing family. Growing older doesn’t come without it’s downfalls, and one that I’ve grappled with for the past couple years has been the difficulty in keeping up with friends and family as we all grow older and get stuck in the rhythm of our daily grinds. But growing older is also a privilege not everyone gets to enjoy. While I have lost contact with a number of friends over the years, it makes me appreciate all the more the relationships that are still very much alive.
The holidays are fast approaching and I am excited for them, and equally excited to see what 2017 and the next 12 months have in store for Jenny and me.
To all of my amazing friends out there, you know who you are. Thank you for being a part of my life, and Jenny’s life. For all the great memories, all the fun stories, all the late nights, and early mornings. For all the long drives, and funny moments gone in an instant. For all the good food, good drinks, and good times, I am incredibly grateful.
I love you all and am happy to have you in my life.