Fall Apples

apple

Fresh apples are one of my favorite parts of fall, and I’m lucky to live in a place where many different types of apples grow really well.

Apples might not seem like an exploding product line, but over 130 new varietals have been introduced over the past 5-6 years.

One standout new apple is the Riverbelle, which has a snappy crispness and is more sweet than tart.

Try them if you can find them near you!

 

 

Brand Loyalty – Starwood

Almost exactly five years ago, I had a reservation to stay at an unnamed hotel to run in a race.

I chose that exact hotel based on proximity to the start/finish line, so I knew it would be within easy stumbling distance at the end.

When I got there, the desk clerk informed me that they were oversold, and that my guaranteed, pre-paid room was, in fact, not guaranteed and not available.

However, they were happy to send me over to another hotel about 10 miles away, which totally defeated the purpose of staying near the finish line.

Spouse and I drove through increasingly sketchy parts of town to get to the new hotel, and at one point we passed an overturned car on fire.

car on fire

When we got to the new hotel, it was something like this:

badhotel

I took one look at the parking lot and decided that since I didn’t feel like being murdered in my sleep, there was no way I would be staying there.

I got on the phone and immediately booked a room at the local W, a hotel chain I’d long admired but had never stayed.

That W was heaven. I was hooked.

Since then I’ve stayed at nearly a dozen different Ws, mostly because I also committed to nearly always staying at Starwood hotels as part of their Preferred Guest program.

starwood

Even though I don’t usually do a great job of concentrating airline miles or other “reward” points or programs, I am pretty fierce about Starwood, particularly since their Preferred Guest Program is recognized as one of the best loyalty programs out there. (Marriott wins the top spot).

Although the 40+ properties in the W chain are still my favorites, Starwood has many great brands including Westin, Aloft, St. Regis, Sheraton and Le Meridien.

I don’t quite garner Road Warrior Status, but I travel just enough to be able to maintain Gold Status with Starwood, which gives me perks like free internet, free drinks, late check-outs (4 PM in some places), and significantly faster points accumulation over regular membership. Best part is that it’s free to join.

Reaching Gold Status requires either a total of 10 different stays or a total of 25 nights within a calendar year. (Platinum Status requires 25 stays or 50 nights, which would be impossible for me to do).

Here are a few tips for how I’ve made (and kept) Gold Status:

  • If I’m short on stays, I will consider staying at two different Starwood Hotels in the same city during the same trip. Switching hotels is obviously required and can be a pain, but sometimes it’s worth it. Consider this, too, if there is one hotel that is much nicer but more expensive and another Starwood that is nearby but less costly. Downtown Chicago is a great example: there’s a Sheraton within about 4 blocks of the Lakeshore W. The first is often cheaper than the second, allowing a few nights of economy and a few of splurge.
  • Book two rooms in the same hotel under different reservations. A few times I’ve invited either my mom or my in-laws on a weekend getaway, and I separately make a reservation for one room for each party. This is slightly different from making one reservation for two rooms; this is making two reservations for one room each. You get double credit (two stays) if you book them individually.
  • Book one night at a time at the same property. I discovered this by accident, and technically, I don’t think the system allows this, but it worked twice for me. There were two occasions where I thought I would only be spending one night at a particular hotel, and in the end, my schedule changed and I ended up staying for two nights. In each case, I had already booked and pre-paid online for the room for one night. I went back online and made a reservation for the following night. Both times, I explained at check-in that I would really be staying for two nights, not one, and I didn’t have to switch rooms. The system gave me credit for two stays, when normally a two-night stay would have been considered a single episode.
  • If you’re going to Disneyworld, stay at the Swan or Dolphin hotel. Both of these are Starwood hotels located on Disney property, right next to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. You can take Disney transportation to any of the parks. The Swan is a Westin and the Dolphin is a Sheraton, but both are nice. I like staying at the Swan slightly better, but the Dolphin is bigger and has a casual restaurant and a nicer one (Bluzoo) where I like to eat.
  • Don’t forget about the boutique brands. Starwood has a Luxury Collection that includes some smaller properties that some people may not realize are part of the group. One example is the cool and historic Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
  • Think outside of the conference block hotel. If I’m traveling for a work conference, I always check to see if any of the designated hotels are Starwood. If not, I check the map for proximity and usually book a Starwood hotel on my own. My work doesn’t require me to stay at designated conference hotels, which is nice.
  • Look for crossover rewards. These don’t count as stays, but they can help accumulate points. I have my Starwood account linked to my Delta frequent flyer account.
  • Always sign up for double and triple point promotions. Starwood is having one of these right now called “More For You.” Stays with a Friday or Saturday night earn triple points until the end of the year and other stays of two nights or longer get double points. You just need to sign up by October 31st.

Here is my home for the next week:

westinhonolulu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hawaiian Style

hawaii

Today I’m off to a work trip to Hawaii, and of course I am super excited.

I have two days of vacation on the front end, and I was contemplating taking a “Magnum, P.I.” tour in a replica helicopter from the show.

tc helicopter

At $500 an hour (per person!), though, it seemed a bit steep.

I had to laugh when the conference sent a link about “What to Wear in Hawaii.” Here’s a quote:

The traditional Hawaiian women’s dress is the muumuu, which hangs from the shoulders and fits loosely around the body. Women can wear them to most occasions and fit right in.

So, to recap, I will be dressing like this for the next week:

homer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Graders and the $220 Meal

The New York Times Magazine sent a group of second graders to Daniel, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Manhattan, for a seven course prix fixe tasting menu that goes for $220 a person.

While paprika smoked cured hamachi with ossetra caviar wasn’t a huge hit with the under-8 crowd, the overall result was charming and hilarious.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/foodanddrink/foodnews/small-plates/vi-BB8yqJf

P.S. These kids are also about a million times better behaved than my own. One more reason I will NOT be taking them to Daniel any time soon.

 

Big Sigh

A few weeks ago, I received a brochure in the mail for a conference being held today.

When it arrived I thought, hmm, this looks interesting.

The conference title vaguely rang a bell. A distant, distant bell.

The brochure sat on our counter for quite some time, but eventually I opened it up to see what was on the agenda.

That’s when I discovered that I was one of the featured speakers.

So, yes, the title rang a bell because I’d agreed to be a keynote speaker months ago, then promptly forgot.

I spent much of the past week getting my 75 minute presentation organized.

Two thoughts:

  1. At least I figured out that I needed to give a speech prior to the event, not after.
  2. When am I going to stop being like this?

The Magic 8 Ball would probably say “Never.”

 

[Big sigh for my life].

 

 

Field Trips

It was a Banner Week at Fancy Pants Ranch.

Both kids went on field trips (plural).

Trixie visited a pumpkin farm and a fire station. Best parts: corn maze and pole, respectively.

She was able to select a pumpkin and decorated it with a Sharpie:

photo-70

It basically looks like Adam Levine’s arms to me.

MGM went to a cave (!) and the same fire station. Best parts: finding “diamonds” and the fact that the fire fighters had THREE refrigerators.

This was unbelievably sweet: MGM was so excited that they let the kids collect rocks at the cave, and he found several diamonds that he couldn’t wait to give to me.

Here they are:

photo-69

 

Ten carats, for sure.