Saturday, April 25, 2009

Our One-of-a-Kind Quilt

In honor of my Mother's Birthday, I thought I would feature the quilt that she made for us this year. A quilt is a huge project that takes an incredible amount of time, especially if you want to do it right. I am very lucky to be the beneficiary of these talents.

When we moved to Columbus, we made the upgrade to a king size bed. This may be the single best thing that has ever happened to me : ) Unfortunately, this also meant that the queen size quilt my mother made as a gift when we got married would no longer fit our bed. Mom agreed to take on the daunting task of making us a king sized quilt in the pattern of our choosing.

Picking a pattern and colors is really hard. We settled on a pattern pretty quick but it took some negotiating to settle on colors. A quilt is such a centerpiece in a room, that the colors determine everything else in the room. We settled on a combination of a light cream color offset by various browns. The browns took a while to gather, involving going to many material stores and scouring the brown section. Most of our fabrics tended to be old fashioned, because the reflects who we are and what we like.

It took Mom about nine months of steady work to make the quilt and we received it late this past fall. It looks great! Notice the fine hand-done sewn detail in every block of the quilt. It would be very difficult to purchase a quilt like this, and even if you could find someone to do it, it would cost thousands of dollars. With over a thousand hours of work, it is hardly an economical business regardless of what you charge.

The quilt fits the bed great, it is warm, and it dresses up the whole room.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Club Quarters

When I hear about a new business concept, I generally have one of three reactions. Sometimes I am surprised by how novel an idea is, especially in this world that often feels like every good idea has already been thought. Most often, I turn the concept around in my head a couple times and put it back down, hopeful that it succeeds but glad that I do not have my money involved. Then there are those times that I wonder who would ever think this concept could work.

The Club Quarters unfortunately falls into the latter category. Mix that with an economy in decline, and you have a formula for disaster. To step back for a minute, the Club Quarters is a hotel chain that operates on a membership model. Companies become members and thus are able to lodge employees in any of the thirteen prime locations. Generally, the hotels are located in prime business hubs including New York, London, and Chicago.

Club Quarters promises low rates in exchange for a lower level of service than you would typically find in a hotel. Usually there is no more than one person at the front desk and all routine transactions (check in and out) are done through computer terminals. Because the hotel is limited to business travelers, you do not have to cope with family travelers (kids screaming in the hallway, lollipops in the clothes drawers, the pool too full to fit one more person).

While in Houston, I ended up staying in the Club Quarters because it was the lowest rate I could find for a central location. Hexion, like most companies these days, has restricted travel budgets. I do not have high requirements and I take the budget limitations seriously, so I was able to find a low price at the Club Quarters on Yahoo Travel ($150 per night compared with $250 per night at other downtown hotels). Note that I did not need a Company membership, anyone who can type can get full access.

In practice, Club Quarters falls short. Business travelers do not expect much, but demand clean, comfortable rooms in convenient locations. My room was very small and out of date. It was what I would expect from a low price European hotel. The first room I was given was right next to the elevator and the wall vibrated every time the elevator moved past. When I complained I was told that my only other choices were a room that faced a brick wall or a room that overlooked a construction site that started up a 5am. I took the brick wall. My TV did not work and the toiletries were low quality. The single towel in the room was clean, but had a big hole in the middle.

This hotel holds no attraction for business travelers unless they are looking for very low price in good locations and they are willing to sacrifice room comfort. Vacationers are better served staying at a cheap chain hotel that is a little more out of the way. I would expect that the new exciting business concept of Club Quarters will not survive long without a major rethink and a realistic reassessment of who their customer really is.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Flying Saucer – Houston

Every once in a while I find a truly great beer bar. By this I mean a bar with unique, interesting beers on tap, some of which I have not tried before. It seems like every city has one, maybe two, of these places, though they can be hard to find. Here in Columbus I would put Bob’s Bar or The Bodega in that category. In Houston, I discovered The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.

The Flying Saucer is a small chain with about twelve locations scattered through the US. The Saucer is built around serving a huge selection of beer, most on tap. I noted a nice selection of local Texas beers (Live Oak, Shiner, Real Ale, Saint Arnold, and Southern Pine), which gives them extra points. Of those five breweries, I have only seen Shiner as far north as Columbus.
I also noticed that they had Flensburger Pilsener by the bottle. I can still hardly believe it. This beer I tried for the first time in Dortmund Germany last summer. It is a good beer, but typical of a small local brew. It comes in old fashioned bottles with flip tops. How the Flying Saucer got their hands on it I will never know.

Most of the beer I had at the Flying Saucer was new to me, though I had heard of most before. I tried the tasty Ommegang Hennepin out of Cooperstown NY, which is a strong Belgian Saison beer that went straight to my head. A local brew on the fire sale was the Southern Star Pine Belt Pale from Conroe TX, which was good but nothing special. I located an old favorite on the menu which I used to wash down the veggie pizza, Old Speckled Hen out of Jolly Old England. I tried the Shiner 100 of Shiner TX with high expectations. Sad to say it was a beer I did not bother finishing.

On Mondays all pints are $2.75 and every night there is a fire sale special at that price. Wednesday is brewery glass night so when you order the special beer, you get to keep the glass.
The Flying Saucer was very close to my hotel, so I ate there nearly every night. The food is good, though typical of bar food. Nothing to satisfy the vegan and very little for a vegetarian. They have a veggie pizza which stood out for its outstanding flavor.

The walls of the flying saucer are covered in plates. Some of the plates are china similar to what you see in flea markers. The rest are gold plates with names and dates on them. These are the plates belonging to the UFO club members who have had 200 beers (and paid $18 bucks). Seems like a small price for the semi-permanent fame of having your name on the wall.

High Five for the Flying Saucer!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Houston Downtown Tunnel System

One of my favorite things about Houston is the underground pedestrian tunnel system. It is about 6 miles long and connects 95 city blocks. Many of the big buildings downtown have stairs leading down to the tunnels, so it is easy to pop up to street level right where you need to be. The tunnels are great when the weather is simply too wet or hot to wander outside. I do not understand why more cities did not have the foresight to include this sort of public work in the master plan.

The tunnels were clearly built in many stages over the years as they change as you walk along. Sometimes they pop up above street level, but mostly they seem to go from one building basement to another. There are maps around so you do not get lost in the maze.

The tunnels are open every day from 6am to 6pm. Since many parking garages are connected to the tunnels, it is entirely possible that some people never need to go outside.

In the tunnels you can find a variety of stores, including banks, barbers, convenience stores, wireless phones, and coffee shops. Most of the buildings that are connected to the tunnels have some sort of food court that is down in the tunnels, so many food options are available.


I traveled to Houston last week for work. Houston is generally a goodplace to go because it is a direct flight, the food is good, and it is a fairly lively place. Houston is chock full of large corporations and is a much larger city than I expected. The last census shows a population of 5.7 million, the sixth largest metropolitan area in the US. There is a strong Mexican influence which is reflected in the food and it is ordinary to hear Spanish being spoken on the street. Houston is a very international city and you can hear that in the accents that surround you. 21 percent of the population was born outside the US. The city is arranged in a grid pattern that is relatively easy to navigate. It is a classic American city as it has sprawling suburbs and bad traffic.

I did not have much time to look around much but I did compile a quick list of the things I like and dislike about Houston. On the plus side:
- The weather this time of year is fantastic. Tropical, moist, and warm.
- Houston has a positive energy about it, it makes you feel like something exciting is about to happen.
- Many great restaurants and food choices. Fantastic sushi, regional cuisines, creole, and BBQ.
- Houston is clean and the suburbs are full of interesting places to go. Being such a big city means that Houston has many distinct neighborhoods.

A few of the downsides of Houston are that:
- After 5pm, downtown empties out. There is not much life downtown at night.
- Hotel rates are very high downtown.
- Urban sprawl and mega-highways detract from the charm.
- The people are generally stand-offish. When I am there I know I am no longer in the midwest.
- The airport is boring, named after a president not worth remembering, and has few good places to eat.
- The weather in the summer would melt a Pennsylvania boy like me.
The former Enron building. You can see hurricane damage on the building on the left still evident from the storm during the summer of 2008.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saturday Night at the Monster Truck Show

Lately I have been volunteering with the American Red Cross. I attend large public events (sports games, races, fairs, etc) and provide first aid services to those who need it. We usually have a room or table or other such base and a pile of equipment. Essentially we serve as the buffer between the public and a full-out EMT crew, though many of us do have EMT training. This has been especially interesting due to the variety of events I have volunteered for.

Last night I attended the Monster Truck Show on the Ohio State Campus. This is the first time I have gone to one of these shows, though I have seem a million television advertisements for them while growing up. Who wouldn't be a bit excited about seeing Big Foot roll over a bunch of cars. The reality was a bit less exciting. It basically consisted of six trucks driving around a very small space trying to figure out how to make driving in circles and driving over cars interesting for two and a half hours. The kids in attendance seemed to have a good time though and they clearly were the target audience. The audience made great material for "You might be a redneck if..." jokes. Never have I seen so many NASCAR shirts and camo in one place.

One highlight was Megasaurus, which is this 35 foot tall mechanical dinosaur. It breathes fire. It can pick up cars and chew them in half. And it can stare into the crowd and give kids nightmares. I want one to drive around my neighborhood to stir things up a little bit. The pictures in this post are from the internet as I forgot my camera.

From a first aid perspective it was a fairly quiet night. A bunch of people looking for ear plugs, bandaids, and one call for an irregular heartbeat.