Hey, I’m new here

Portland, OR

When I thought we were going to move to Stockholm, I was excited to start a recurring post called “Hej, I’m new here” to document all the new experiences I’d be having in that city. (“Hej” is hello in Swedish.) Okay, so I’m no longer abroad. But I’d like to share some “what is going on here” moments I’ve had in Portland already. The list is a little different than my first impressions in that it’s things I’m noticing as I spend more time here. I know Portland is weird, but these things are really weird to me. Like…

  • Everyone drives the speed limit. I don’t get it. Don’t people know the speed limit is the lower limit of how fast to drive?
  • Everyone forgets how to drive in the rain. Um. It rains here almost everyday. You would think everyone would be used to it and barrel along on the expressway like normal. Because it is normal. Not the case. Brake lights galore.
  • If you are a motorist and let a pedestrian cross the street on a crosswalk (which is, you know, the law), 99% of them will do that awkward half-run/half-walk as they pass in front of you. Why? I’m not going to run you down. It’s quite amusing once we started to notice this “shuffle”.
  • Parts of town resemble what I imagine Zombieland to look like. Yes, meth addiction is prevalent here, which is very, very sad. And sometimes scary when you see people yelling at themselves and scratching their faces.
  • The city is dead during the day. Not in the Zombieland way mentioned above, but I hardly see anyone else walking around like I do. I can be on a street, look both directions and not see a soul. I find that strange for this urban environment, especially the uptown area where we currently live.
  • You know why else it’s dead? Because free-loading punks with dead souls are all over the place. With cardboard signs like “I’m homeless, Need money for Beer” or “Give me money or F you”. I’m not kidding. It’s infuriating.
  • For all the wonderfully kind and friendly people I’ve met here, there are equally unfriendly types I’ve had the misfortune to come across. I’ll be writing more about that in a separate post.

Those are just a few examples. And looking at it, it’s mostly negative. Sorry bout that. Thing is, I’m pretty sure I only notice all this because I’m new. I have no doubt it will all blend together once this place feels like home.

xxx

P.S. What is home? 

P.P.S. I started Yelping to rate places I try out. You can click over via that bubble on my sidebar to see what I have to say!

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House Hunters: The Portland Edition (update)

(You can read part one here.)

We bought a house. After three lightning-fast weeks of house hunting, we offered on a house and it was accepted. RAISE DA ROOF. Okay not really, let’s keep the roof in place until we get through inspections.

if you’re able to continue reading after my corny intro, here’s the brief story. I have to admit something to you: It was our second attempt. I didn’t write about our first offer because the whole thing (from first seeing the listing pop up to knowing we didn’t get it) happened in a span of 24 hours. We felt so dejected. So lame. Therefore, we immediately rationalized how it was not actually meant to be our house. You sort of have to to get over the grief. So instead of letting disappointment linger, you say well, it didn’t have a built in dishwasher anyway. Or, the basement was weird. I mean clearly, in hindsight, that was not our house.

This one is. I just know it. For the sake of simplicity (and privacy, this is a public space after all), it ended up being a race and in the end, we won. It was meant to be. Ours. The night we found out, we drank champagne to celebrate that someone took pity on us took us seriously enough to accept our offer. That alone is.. baffling. And… affirming. I guess we are cut out for this after all. Now we can take a deep breath and relax. Yay.

Next up: inspections. We are required to have several and possibly more if anything looks suspicious. That is slightly terrifying since the house is approximately… three times as old as I am. Just keeping things interesting around here.

Thanks for all the support.

xxx

Monday Travel Memory: Cannon Beach

Happy Monday, kids. It’s a cold, wet day in Portland, but what’s new. Got a recent (and sunny) memory to share. Last Monday, Jaro had the day off (let’s not forget why) and we decided to head to the Oregon coast. We needed a little breather from all the house hunting stress. A two hour drive through pine forests lead us to Cannon Beach- a quaint, little beach town filled with art galleries and cafes. So cute. We strolled through town, wandered down a huge stretch of sand and finished the afternoon warming up over made-from-scratch clam chowder.Oregon

Cannon Beach, ORCannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach, OR

It will be interesting to see how our definition of travel changes as we adjust to life back in the U.S. We have to realize that not all travel needs to be exotic or foreign. Sometimes, it can be a short ride away. More on that later.

xxx

Daydreaming about… Columbia River Gorge

As we adjust to our Pacific Northwest “home”, I can’t stop thinking about getting out into the beautiful wilderness surrounding Portland. The Columbia River Gorge is only a hour’s drive away from the city and it’s THIS gorge-ous. Get it? (I mean, I had to.) What a magical escape.

Oregon

{image via}

We could canoe?

Canoe

{image via}

and wrap ourselves up in our beautiful Pendleton blankets for a very practical photo like this? (we have this one and this one and can’t wait to use them)

Pendleton

{photo via}

I mean, why not, we’re in love. And then we’ll munch on our homemade granola? (looking at this recipe to try first) And do all that other outdoorsy stuff. I’m so ready to embrace the lifestyle out here. Just need to find a house first. C’mon house!

Enjoy your weekend, kids.

xxx

What is home?

ApartmentAs we try to settle in to our new city, it begs the question: When will this feel like home? I have already complained explained about struggling in corporate housing, but what happens, what changes, to make a place feel like you actually live there?

Is it after a certain amount of time?

Is it once you have a routine down?

Is it when you make your first friend?

Is it the moment you get keys to your house and have all your belongings, including your food processor and your cashmere throws? (…maybe that’s just me)

Or is it all of those? Or possibly… none of those?

It’s a notion I’d like to explore: What is it that makes a new place your home? Because it’s one thing to move within your own city, right? You already know the lay of the land, and it’s just a matter of setting up your space and you can feel like you’re home pretty quickly. At least that was my experience moving around Chicago. It was always familiar.

Last week, on my birthday actually, I had a brief exchange with another person at the bakery down the street. I noticed he had the same city map that I was given in our welcome package. So, I casually asked if he was visiting Portland. Yes, he said. A friend at school here. I said, Oh, I just moved here, I have the same map as you. And then he proceeded to gush over how cool Portland is and how lucky I am to live here. For now, I’ll take his word for it. And I then thought about what it means to live here. Even though I told him I lived in Portland, I don’t actually feel like I live here. But, why?

I tried to think back to our move to Amsterdam, and when I felt like I truly “lived” there. At first, it felt like a vacation, as several of our expat friends also experienced. There I was, strolling through markets, eating cheese and drinking wine everyday and taking photos of everything I saw. Loving every minute. So when was the switch? Looking back, there was no single moment that defined it. It was a gradual attitude shift; I woke up one day and realized – Oh, we live in Amsterdam. It’s not a vacation, it’s not a trip. We live here now. We have been for awhile. And while it’s great sometimes, it sucks sometimes too. Maybe it’s when you lift the veil, remove the sunglasses clear the fog and see the city for what it really is. See that it’s not perfect, it’s real. And you know it. Maybe that’s when.

I expect the same thing to happen here. It’s a slow roll. I’m going to try to be conscious of it as I adjust and get more comfortable. It takes awhile to get used to a new city. For now, I’ll take comfort in Jaro & I creating our own sense of “home” as long as we’re together. Wherever that is.

xxx

{image is our empty apartment in Amsterdam, waiting for us to make it our home}

An Expatriate Guide: International House Hunting

Let me preface this by saying it is WAY overdue. I had started writing it back when we were apartment hunting in Stockholm and things… well… things changed and we didn’t end up there. I think it could still be useful, and so I’m sharing it anyway.

Amsterdam

In case you’re new here… hello. My husband and I went through the process of moving abroad once (almost twice) and it was a HUGE learning experience. If you are faced with the same opportunity to move abroad, God help you. Kidding, guys. I’ll help you! Moving to a new country, in the mix of all the excitement, can also be stressful. Having survived a major move from Chicago to Amsterdam just over a year ago (which I excitedly documented here and here), we were totally naive, but stumbled through the process and ended up with a great result. We want to share what we learned, so that maybe we can be helpful for someone else. Here be my tips:

  1. Understand your perspective. It is much different to visit a place as a tourist versus a soon-to-be resident. It’s important to distinguish the two. Don’t focus on being close to the tourist attractions necessarily, but rather areas with livability based on your lifestyle and interests. Sometimes that overlaps with touristy stuff and that’s okay too.
  2. Do your research. Learn as much as you can about different neighborhoods by reading through online expat guides, local blogs, etc. Know someone that has lived there? They are probably your biggest resource. Even if they don’t share your taste, it’s helpful to talk with someone who is living there and understands the area from a dweller’s perspective. Expat bloggers can be especially helpful, provided the writer is responsive.
  3. Get an “overall feel.” This is kind of vague, but walk around. Drive around, if walking is not practical. Go to as many distinct neighborhoods as you can, see if they match up to what you researched. Eat local food. Check out some shops. Grab a drink at a neighborhood pub. Turn down that residential street. Can you see yourself living here? What are you liking about it and also not liking? Hopefully, you can do this in a visit before the actual move, so you have time to reflect on what you experienced.
  4. House search all over the city. See as many as possible. Even though we initially preferred one specific area, we saw apartments all over the city. You know why? So we could say with confidence that we were focused on the right area for us. As much as cities are different, they are the same. Most cities have a touristy area, as well as a high rent district, a hipster-ville, a downtown, and just plain old undesirable areas. What did you like/not like about where you have lived previously? Is that still relevant to your current life stage? Living priorities might be different if you are young &/or single or older &/or have children. We happen to like “hipster-ville” so that’s where we ended up.
  5. Think about your surroundings. You know what they say in real estate: Location, location, location. As an expat trying to settle into a new country, this is especially important. You need to feel comfortable and safe. How important is it to you to be within easy walking distance of bars and restaurants? What about public transportation? Or the grocery store? The bank? Does that park on the corner look safe or full of drug addicts? Seriously. Imagine yourself walking home at night.
  6. Know what you need versus what you want. Say you find an area that seems to fit you & your lifestyle. You’re halfway there! With the homes in that area, be flexible on dropping amenities down the priority list. When we attempted to move to Stockholm (which ended up not happening after all), we thought we “needed” a dishwasher. Guess what. Many places in Europe, even those with brand-spanking-new kitchens, don’t have them. You know where I’m going with this. As we were house hunting in Stockholm, it quickly dropped down to a “want”. Besides, Jaro can be dishwasher (but seriously, how do people survive without a dishwasher?). Same for gas stoves, closets, large bathrooms, etc. Be open to living simply. You might even find it surprisingly refreshing. …Unless you are sacrificing A/C in a hot climate. In that case, I feel sorry for you.
  7. Be firm with your agents. Relocation rental agents, as we learned, have a job. It’s not to guess your preferences, it’s to get you settled as quickly as possible. Don’t cave in if you don’t feel good about it! When in Stockholm (again, a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get a place), we almost went with a beautiful apartment in a neighborhood that just wasn’t right, but caught ourselves and realized we’d regret it. I know this depends a lot on your situation and whether you have guaranteed temporary housing, but be honest and direct with the rental agents to keep them focused on your needs.

This method worked for us and we find ourselves following it as we attempt to buy our first home back in the U.S. After reading back through this list, it is not necessarily specific to moving abroad. Is this helpful? I’m curious, what are some other tips for helping others house hunt abroad?

xxx

{image of Amsterdam taken by me}

House Hunters: The Portland Edition

Street Sign

Our names are Jaro & Julie and we are first time homebuyers. Cue Psycho music. Seriously, play that clip in the background while you read this post.

I wish I had exciting news (read: that we have actually BOUGHT A HOUSE), but I’d love to share our experience with house hunting so far. It is such an emotional, scary and overwhelming ordeal life event.

When we arrived here two weeks ago, I didn’t really have any context to this city. I had glanced at a map, Jaro had pointed out some areas he heard were nice (though he wasn’t that familiar either), we flipped through some listings on Zillow, but that was it. Probably not the most prepared I could have been, but I just wanted to get out here and see it for myself. I had never been to Portland before our move.

I hit the ground running with our agent after my bout with the flu upon arrival. He drove me all over the city, explaining the neighborhoods, showing me houses. It was helpful. Then, on my own, I’d just get in the car and drive around. Might not sound that thrilling, but remember, Portland is weird, so I was entertained. Plus, it’s really the only way to learn the layout of the city. After two weeks of house hunting, here are some things I figured out:

  • Portland is divided into four quadrants: NE, NW, SE, SW. It’s really easy to navigate. We decided very quickly that the west side is not for us, despite it being closer to Jaro’s office in Beaverton. Once you leave the tiny downtown, it has an overall suburban (sometimes rural) feel. Often times, homes are not within walking or even biking distance to anything. Convenience was an issue. It felt isolating. So, we are focusing our efforts on the east side. It feels more “us”. It’s the kind of thing you just know.
  • Once we narrowed down which side of the river we wanted to be, we got even more specific about neighborhoods. Being in or near an “anchor” neighborhood (read: most desirable), where there are good schools, green spaces, restaurant and shopping options, etc. is all very important to us. There are several areas that fit the bill nicely.
  • We are looking at detached houses (like, with a yard and stuff), and most houses are old. Don’t worry, this is something that excites us more than scares us. We both love vintage houses, with all the details and woodwork. While our darling little home will certainly have personality, it may be lacking in other areas like closet space, room size and amenities. Don’t care. We will love it despite these inevitable imperfections. We will have to compromise on some things. As long as we feel we are not settling, we’ll be happy.
  • But then we remember that we are trying to buy a house in January. In and around all the areas that we want to live, there is extremely low inventory because of the time of year. This presents additional challenges, and more pressure on us to commit.
  • You see, with these vintage houses, we are not the only ones that see their charms. If a house is in decent shape and in a decent location (not even necessarily great in either category), we can expect several offers on the table within the first 24 hours. During our first week here, we didn’t realize we would be battling it out, gladiator-style, with other buyers on every single property. We quickly learned we need to hustle. And then sit tight and cross our fingers. Hurry up and wait.
  • Okay, so homes get multiple offers. Guess what that also means? We have to be competitive and offer above asking price if we want any real shot at winning the house. There is a sense of panic and all of us buyers are scrambling, desperately, to be the winner.
  • As a result, they sell FAST. How fast? Try end of day that they get listed. Or maybe the end of the next day, if you’re lucky. That is just the market here right now, which is so anxiety-inducing. Cue nervous stomach aches and eyelid twitching (does that happen to anyone else?). Every day we wake up wondering, are we going to buy our home today? And then I want to pass out. Could happen. The passing out or the house buying. Or both.
  • I wish I had been counting, but I’ve probably seen close to about 25-30 houses since we arrived. Houses are much easier to view when they are vacant. Occupied homes are filled with so much crap that sometimes it’s hard to look past (not as bad as the horrid apartments in Stockholm though).
  • And finally, open houses are the worst. You’re in there with other buyers and the selling agent, and I feel like it’s as much about sizing each other up as it is about the house. And we all have to take off our shoes, and keep our comments to ourselves… it’s just awkward. And, if a seller even has time to hold an open house, it’s probably not that great.

Sounds intense, huh? I’m already tired. This house hunting thing is a lot of work. It’s not an episode of Property Virgins, that’s for sure. I wish we had time to mull over the listings, negotiate (down, not up) with the seller and enjoy this process, but that’s just not going to happen. We have been thrown into the lion’s beaver’s den. Portland, why you gotta be like this?

We are trying to make the best of it. Every day, we take a deep breath and check for new listings. We are trying to stay level-headed and reasonable about what is out there and our expectations. We’re trying to be patient. After only two weeks, I can say with confidence that we’ll know the right house when we see it. That is progress from knowing nothing a mere 14 days ago.

Right. So it’s only been two weeks. I need to chill, I know. But since I can’t stand our corporate housing and we haven’t lived in our own space since October, it’s constantly on my mind and I’m anxious. Blankets, people. I miss mine.

Can’t wait to update you once we find our little home. Any day now…

xxx

{image from our aimless wandering around Portland, at least it was sunny}

Monday Travel Memory: Olympic National Park

Pacific Northwest

The only other time that I spent in the Pacific Northwest before our move was back in 2009. We took ten days to drive all around Washington state, ferried over to the San Juan Islands and even scooted up to Canada for a few nights.

One of my favorite experiences was hiking in the Olympic National Park. The glacial rivers, the mountains, the pine trees… It all created such a gorgeous, peaceful scene. I love this photo. Look at me, I’m like Pioneer Woman.

xxx

Daydreaming about… Bouldering?

It’s Friday, yaaay, and the start of a long weekend. I had a GREAT birthday yesterday. Jaro took me out for a beautiful dinner at Bluehour, which is yet another way that Portland is winning me over. Jaro won me over years ago. 😉 Birthdays take on a new life when you are far away from family & friends, don’t they? I am so much more conscious of the people that make an effort to reach out and remind me that that care. Even though I was alone most of the day yesterday, I wasn’t really alone. The calls, emails, and even facebook messages were such a comfort.

In other news, Jaro spontaneously (and secretly- that little sneak!) signed us up for bouldering classes last week. I’m so nervous. But also really, really excited. It will be fun to learn something new and adventurous together. Who knows, maybe I’ll even love it? It looks so intense!

Bouldering

I hope you have a great weekend. We are going to keep on keepin’ on with the house hunt, we’re pretty much on lockdown in Portland until we find a house. I’ll share some updates on that next week.

xxx

P.S. This site looks like it will be helpful about bouldering in Oregon.

{image via}

28

Apartment

It’s my birthday. 28. Here I am.

I feel very still today. Like I’m in looking at my life frozen in a glass jar… sort of analyzing it from the outside. This birthday is less about celebration, and more about reflection. I feel quiet (and if you know me, that is highly unusual). As I undeniably enter my late twenties (twenty seven was still mid-twenties in my mind), I can’t help but reflect on what I’ve accomplished in my life so far, where I am, if I’m happy. And I can’t help but think about this past year; how I grew; how I changed.  Living abroad, being alone a lot, learning new things, dealing with unexpected news, traveling to places outside of my comfort zone, all affected me in ways that I can’t really explain, I can only feel. Twenty seven was quite a year. I felt both lost and found, if that could possibly make any sense.

Imagine this: Imagine if you were working at a job that was considered “impressive”, that you worked really hard to obtain, that was financially very stable and secure, yet only mildly fulfilling and mostly miserable. Imagine if you were given the opportunity to leave it behind you and go off to live in another (beautiful/fascinating) part of the world, comfortably, with a man you adore, and take that time to figure out what you really want to do. …What would you do? I took that time to explore the world (as much as I could) and in doing so, also explored myself.

I have so many ideas. Being back in the States makes it much easier for me to pursue new endeavors. And so… Here we go.

Cheers to 28. It’s going to be a great year. 

Also, I’d like to thank my mom. Mom, I always think of you, but especially on my birthday. It’s as special a day for you as it is for me.  You too, Dad.

xxx

P.S. I am going to celebrate, don’t worry. Jaro is taking me out for a nice dinner, exactly what I want.

P.P.S. Actually, all I really want for my birthday is… a house. More on that fiasco adventure soon.

{image is a quiet moment at our apartment in Amsterdam}