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?

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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}

Corporate Housing

We’ve been in corporate housing for a week and a half. Well, I have. Jaro was lucky enough to settle in when he was out here the few weeks before the holidays.

It’s funny for me to look back on our corporate housing situation a little over a year ago when we moved to Amsterdam. It was exciting and overwhelming at the time, as you can clearly tell from my post. I was so… hyper. So in awe of crazy street names and our mysterious new environment. This time it’s different. The novelty is gone. Perhaps that is because we’re in the U.S. so it doesn’t seem so strange or unfamiliar. Or perhaps it’s because it’s not as fun the second time through. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

We’re in a high rise on the edge of the Pearl district. It’s a nice enough place, but this time around, I am much more aware of everything that’s missing. Along with any decent kitchen tools (which is torturous), it lacks personality. It feels cold. The constant rain, fog and grey-ness doesn’t help. I have no pictures for you, sorry.

Another cause for this feeling of apathy is that fact that we’ve been in transition since, well I guess July. Yep. Almost half a year. You see, after the tournament, we didn’t know where we would go next. A lot of cities were in the running, and Portland wasn’t even one of them. As you all know, this move was a last minute surprise. So here we are, in the United States, and not able to see or use our stuff. We haven’t had it since October when everything was packed up. That is a long time. I just want my stuff. I want my blankets. I want my bed. I want my… raincoats. And that’s just stuff from the Netherlands. Before moving to Europe, we had left most of our belongings in Chicago, so it will feel great to also be reunited with that stuff after 18 months. Stuff. It’s amazing how much it helps you feel “home”. Jaro and I have become pretty good at making all these temporary accommodations “homey”, but now we’re just anxious. And tired of living out of suitcases.

Apartment

It’s making us super-charged to find a house. We’re ready to, dare I say it, settle down.

xxx

{image of me in our Amsterdam apartment just before the move}

Portland: 8 First Impressions

We moved to Portland just over a week ago. I have some initial takeaways that really aren’t based off much; the majority of my time has been spent on a massive house hunt and I spend most waking hours researching, viewing, discussing and generally worrying being excited about buying a home. It may have only been a week, but it has been a whole week. I’ve been out and about learning about this little city that we now call home. It will be fun to look back at this list someday and think, wow, I didn’t know anything. (I did something similar for Stockholm here… for nothing, but oh well).

Here are my first impressions:

  1. It rains. Like, all the time. And it doesn’t help that everyone insists this is the worst time of the year. I mean, please. I was about to move to Stockholm. This is nothing. It’s just a bit depressing. Amsterdam was similar when we moved there too, and I felt trapped in our corporate housing there. At least here we have a car. But, with our current housing in the Pearl (one of the most trendy, sought-after areas), I want to walk around. And I can’t bring myself to do it. You want to know why? Well, since I was planning on a move to the frozen tundra of Stockholm and expecting to be reunited with my stuff before spring, I did not bring a single rain jacket with me. They are all in our shipping container somewhere. But you know what I do have? Four down coats. That’s right, FOUR. Five if you count my down vest. And not a single rain jacket.
  2. Everyone drives everywhere. I guess this is a west coast city planning thing, but you can’t survive here without a car. Things are spaced out and public transit is limited. It’s a big change from our Euro life; not owning a car in Amsterdam and relying completely on public transportation was so easy. Now I have to rely on myself, which isn’t as fun. And have car payments. And pay for gas.
  3. Speaking of gas, the stations here are full service. It is SO weird. I feel terrible sitting in my car while some poor sap fills my tank. I guess it’s a job, though?
  4. I’m loving the landscape; it’s totally different from the flat Midwest and the lowlands of the Netherlands. From the wide river it sit on, to the mountains and pine forests surrounding it, Portland is beautiful. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Hood in the distance. It is quite majestic!  I’m so looking forward to hiking (in my plaid flannel and snacking on my homemade granola) once the weather warms up.
  5. There is a uniform here. Try to go more than a few blocks without seeing someone in a Patagonia down sweater, a beanie, and boots. Try.
  6. We are trying to cook most of our meals at home, but we did go out over the weekend to see what weekend culture here is all about. Something I think I’m going to love is that the dining and bar scene is so relaxed. If you noticed my twitter feed to the right, we have checked out Brix for beers, Saburo for sushi, Corkscrew for wine, and Vault for martinis. Two thumbs up! Looking forward to more foodie exploration.
  7.  Keep Portland weird is a real thing. No really, there are signs that say it everywhere. And it makes perfect, weird sense as you drive down a street with bright purple, orange and lime green houses.
  8. I really need to start watching Portlandia.

xxx

First day in Portland

Hello from the Pacific Northwest! We barely made it to Portland last night. I coughed, sneezed and loudly made my way through two packets of tissue on our flight here, which I’m sure my seat-mates just loved. Really was wishing I had a SARS mask to cover my heinousness. Yet we managed to find a Wendy’s (take that, healthy, organic diet), get to our tiny corporate apartment safely and are almost all unpacked.

As much as I’d love to be out exploring, this flu just won’t quit. Oh, and the rain was coming down sideways for the better part of the morning. So here is my view from my prison cell room:

20130107-115321.jpg
We are staying in the Pearl, a charming little patch of the city filled with shops, coffee houses and streetcars, until we buy our home. Despite my health’s (and the ceaseless rain’s) best efforts to keep me in, I think I’m going to see some houses with our agent tomorrow. Until then, it’s bed, tea and reading. Something I actually don’t mind when I’m healthy, but right now it’s torture. hoping to be 100% tomorrow. Or at least 75%. Can’t wait to get out in our new city!

xxx

Happy Holidays

Hi friends. As you know, our expat life came to an abrupt end and we have been busy enjoying this time with our families and friends. Sorry I haven’t posted anything in awhile. I miss it and want to get back on track.

Since we are no longer expats, I have to think about the direction of this blog and the stories I share. We may not be living abroad anymore, but I like to think our life is still pretty interesting. We have a cross country move on the horizon. A house to buy. A life to get on with. New things to do, more places to see. You get what I’m saying.

I’ll be back soon to share some happenings from the past two months. There’s been a lot.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I wish you all a truly happy holiday. We have taken much comfort being surrounded by family and friends and have realized, with new and profound perspective, how special these relationships are.

Cherish each other this holiday season and always.

With love,
Julie

Slight Change of Plans…

Hi everyone. I know there has been a lot of speculation about our circumstances as I haven’t written a blog post since our moving day. You know, the day we were leaving Amsterdam and heading to Stockholm. Well, it was great! Better than we could have imagined, actually. Here is all our stuff awaiting delivery to Sweden:

Moving Day

Here we are in our huge, empty apartment:

Moving DayHere are our very symbolic, key(less)chains, waiting for keys to a new home:

Moving Day

And here we are, just like last year, at the airport (please excuse my crazy hair):

Moving Day

Except we weren’t boarding a flight to Stockholm. We, in fact, had one-way tickets to CHICAGO.

That’s right, folks. There was literally a last minute change in plans.

The morning of our move, with our stuff already packed and the movers already loading the truck, Jaro received a call from his manager in Sweden. She told him to sit down. He couldn’t as our chairs and couch were already being loaded. Her call was to inform him that there was a fantastic opportunity in Portland, Oregon and she didn’t want to stand in the way of him accepting it.

After another call, a quick lunch and a short list of the pros and cons, we decided what was right for Jaro’s career and, more significantly, our life and future. That Wednesday evening, we canceled our flight to Stockholm.

On Thursday night, we froze our shipment and booked a flight to the U.S. By Friday afternoon, we were in Chicago. Only my brother knew we were coming. You know where I’m going with this… Since we arrived nine days ago, we have orchestrated several surprise appearances, including randomly showing up at both our parents’ houses. How could we not? It’s truly the chance of a lifetime since everyone expected us to be settling in Sweden. And yes, we caught some on camera.

Like my sister at her college, Marquette University:

Surprise

And our cousin Roman, on his birthday, no less. Also, please note the awesome effect of Roman being in Jaro’s reflection on the glass door (that was unintentional, but perfect):

Surprise

I even got my girlfriends on their way to our other girlfriend’s wedding shower after a high-speed car chase through the city:

Surprise

And tagged along with them on the road trip to Michigan to get Stacy, the bride, as well:

SurpriseThese surprises were hilarious and we had SO MUCH FUN doing it. Seriously, the reactions, the screams, the tears, the swears… were all worth it. Thank you to all our unwitting victims. We’ll never forget the love we felt by sharing this excitement with you.

The secret’s out now. We’re back. We’ve only know ourselves for a week and a half, what a whirlwind! Because of the timing, and the fact that we were homeless in Amsterdam, we thought it would be best to be home with family and friends until we figure out the next steps. Incredibly, we will be here for the holidays. Yay! It looks like we’ll be heading to Portland in January where Jaro will be working from Nike’s world headquarters. I’m infinitely proud of him. And so excited for this unexpected twist in our extraordinary journey through life. While we may be stateside, we’ll always be Those Dam Americans. Can’t wait to continue sharing our story with you.

Not to be a big cheeseball about this, but this much I know is true: Sometimes life does throw you curve balls. And sometimes, you get to knock them out of the park.

Thrilled to be back, America. Can’t wait for this new adventure.

Julie