Around Here: Cherry Blossoms

I’ve mentioned before that I absolutely love flowers. Well, Portland basically injected an IV into my veins with all the flowering cherry blossoms (these are cherry blossoms right?) that are lining the riverfront right now. They give me that high on life feeling where I can’t help but smile. A fortunate circumstance indeed given that we are otherwise totally miserable for being stuck in our corporate apartment this final week. Saturday can’t come fast enough. (Oh yeah, we move into our house Saturday for those of you wondering.)

Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland

The trees are so full, the grass is so green and the sky (on Sunday anyway) was so blue! How can this not put you in a good mood?

xxx

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Around Here: Portland Saturday Market

I’ve now witnessed firsthand that Portland is a different city when the weather cooperates. Similarly to Amsterdam, it seems that the city really comes alive on a nice day; the hipsters are smiling, the kids are skipping and the dogs’ tails (everyone has a dog) are wagging. I’m serious! It sounds hokey/Pleasantville-ish, but it’s true. Everyone emerges from their hermit holes cozy homes & favorite coffeeshops to hang out in the fresh air. It’s kinda nice to think that we all truly appreciate a sunny day; I know it’s something I definitely took for granted growing up in the midwest. (Never again.)

A couple Sundays ago, on a chilly riverfront run, we noticed signs for the Portland Saturday Market that starts up in March. Again, similarly to Amsterdam, markets are where we would spend our weekends, so we wanted to check this one out and see how it compared. Here’s what we saw…

Portland, OR

Typical cheeky, vintage vibe

Portland, OR

The main stage

Portland, OR

This pint-sized performer

Spring

Hey it’s (un)officially spring. Floral hat for Jaro.

Spring

And velvet shoes for me

Portland, OR

Food cart lunch

Portland, OR

Local brew

Portland, OR

The Irish Lager – tasty!

It’s a large market, with vendors selling mostly cheap trinkets and some handmade crafts. There are also so many food carts that it’s impossible to decide what to eat. They have every type of cuisine under the sun. Hawaiian kalua pork? You bet. Lebanese mezza? For sure. But what about Polish pierogis? They have that too! And the location is great – right next to the waterfront park, a grassy space for picnics if you can keep the loose dogs at bay. Overall, the market itself was… average. Doesn’t compare to the beautiful markets in Amsterdam. I would bring visitors there, if only for the food carts. And the people watching is some of the best I’ve seen here.

Just being outside, soaking up the sunshine, was wonderful.

Spring is on its way. 

xxx

Daydreaming about… Our New House

heart balloons

Happiest of Fridays, friends. I have some wonderful news and in a rare twist, it’s not about travel. Yesterday, Jaro and I became homeowners. For the first time. I’m so proud of us. It has been a scary, stressful, exciting experience and, in the end, we couldn’t be happier about how it has turned out. After a few months of uncertainty and every type of “wrinkle” and “hiccup”, which were all totally out of our control, it is a tremendous relief to know that this little house is ours.  We can get in there in 30 days. The final countdown is on. 

There’s a lot of places in the world I want to see. But right now, there’s no where else I’d rather go than… home.

xxx

P.S. You can read more about our househunting here and here.

{photo via}

Happy Valentine’s Day

Wes Anderson

I love these valentines from flavorwire. And Wes Anderson films. And this quote, specifically. It actually sums up my relationship with Jaro quite well. When we started out on our journey almost six years ago, we had NO idea where it was going (and still don’t). It has taken us from Chicago to Amsterdam, almost to Stockholm and now to Portland. It’s been a crazy ride. And I look forward to continuing it with him for the rest of my life.

Hallmark commercialization aside, I don’t mind the excuse to shower those you love with… love. What’s the shame in that? We always try to do something a little special.

Several years ago, back when we were newly dating and being the food freaks that we are, we went to this restaurant in Chicago. Our dinner cost about the same amount as a weekend trip to Mexico. (I always compare costs of things to travel, like that’s a plane ticket to Europe! Do you do that too?) As much as we love food and as incredible as that nine course tasting menu was, we vowed to never do that again.

Last year, Jaro was traveling for work, so I went out in Amsterdam with some girlfriends to MOMO, a see-and-be-seen spot where we drank and laughed and happily stumbled home.

Tonight, we’re meeting new friends (yes, friends!) for some wine. (I know, on a Thursday. Living on the edge again.)

Hope you all find a way to celebrate love today.

xxx

On Friendships

Picture this: Two young women are walking down the sidewalk, looking at their phones and accidentally bump into each other. They apologize and smile at the same time, then realize they are carrying the same purse. Want to be friends? one of them asks. Yes! is the answer. Then, they hook arms and head into the nearest coffee shop and a beautiful, meaningful, real friendship blossoms. 

THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN.

I just moved to a new city where I don’t know anyone. How on earth do I make friends? Anyone who has moved can probably relate in some way. I would like to think I’m outgoing, personable, even funny sometimes, but it’s not like I can walk into a bar and be like, hey, I like your shoes, wanna be friends? Or interrupt girls dining at the same restaurant as me  and say, hey, you guys remind me of my friends back home, can I join you?

We have now been in Portland for a month and I’ll admit, I haven’t made any connections yet. Unless you count the barista at the cafe across the street. We’re real tight. I’ve let myself be consumed by this house hunt. The only way I can try to change this is by getting active in Portland and getting out. I have to “put myself out there.” Which can be really uncomfortable, even for a social person like me. It’s like… dating. Yuck. It’s intimidating. I think especially so since we’re back in the U.S. where everyone always appears established. Comfortable. Not with a sign on their back saying, hey I want new friends, come talk to me. 

When we moved to Europe, it took awhile to find friends there. I would pass little pow-wows of hip women having drinks together or shopping together and sigh. I want that! It took… four months to finally meet people. That’s a long time. I ended up stumbling into a group of other new ex-pats (none were American, interestingly) and we formed an instant bond over that commonality. Jaro once said that being an ex-pat is like being on a deserted island. You make do with what you have. And he’s right. We ended up forming unlikely friendships with people that we may not have been friends with if we were back in our cozy bubble of Chicago. I now treasure those friendships even though I may never see those people again. Isn’t that interesting?

The other thing about those ex-pat friendships is that somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it was temporary. And so rather than fully immersing myself into the group, I held on more closely to my friendships back in Chicago. This was a delicate balance that I think, in retrospect, I tipped too far. I gripped my life back in the States so hard that it was really difficult to focus on my life in Amsterdam. Most weeks, I had at least five or six skype dates, always an hour or longer. Always varying times, and varying days. It was like a job. It kept me tethered to my apartment. And, unfortunately, it prevented me from really putting myself out there in the city where I lived. That, combined with all the travel we did (I traveled a solid 1/3 of the 14 months) and wanting to spend quality time with Jaro (which was never enough), I never really got settled. I don’t have regrets, but moving forward (pun absolutely intended) I’m going to do things differently.

Now that we’re in Portland, I can’t act like this is temporary. We just bought a house for crying out loud. We are going to be here for a long time. Maybe forever. This is my life. Here. In Portland. Time to start acting like it.

With Jaro’s work schedule (he was traveling this entire week and we spoke maybe twice, for instance), I will need to focus on myself. I’m proud to say that I’m starting! Here are some things I’m going to try and where I hope I’ll meet some new friends:

  • I joined a yoga studio, CorePower Yoga.
  • I signed up to volunteer with the Oregon Humane Society.
  • I’m going to take photography classes. (started researching some options)
  • I bravely stuck my name on a sign up board at Powell’s to join a writer’s group here in Portland. (and already got one response!)

And that’s just the beginning. I’m also thinking about language classes (would love to be fluent in Spanish and eventually French), possibly a book club (’cause this girl loves to read) and maybe, just maybe, I’ll work. That’s a whole different story in itself as that would also include a career change…..

Any tips? I’d love some insights from others that have gone through a move and needed to create a new life for themselves. I admire anyone that has had to go through it. It takes so much courage.

xxx

P.S. An insightful article about making friends as adults. Anyone think I can spearhead a Portland social club?

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!

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

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}

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}

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}