travel guide: Portland, OR

You’ve probably heard this before, but let me be the first to say it bold-italic-underlined: Portland is cool. From handmade stationary to vintage clothes to overflowing bookstores, Portland officially lives up to the hype. It’s all cloudy mornings, long bike rides, and books with notes scribbled in the margins. I spent four days there in May and if you can ever make the trip, I promise you’ll want to get Big Foot tattooed on your chest immediately. Here are a few things to do once you get there!

Eat:

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A rosemary and kalamata olive bagel (plus one of every other kind). I don’t know if I’ve been living under a carbohydrate-deficient rock my whole life, but bagels have never been a big deal to me. Until Portland. My dear friend Lillie took me to Bagel Land (as if the name alone isn’t proof of it’s quality) and we got back to her house with a paper bag full of different flavours of amazing. Spielman’s is just as good but more expensive and trendy.

Food carts. These compact food-trucks-turned-permanent-residents line a whole city block. You can find Polish food, Thai curries and cheese burgers – and if enjoying all that amazing food means sitting on the curb next to a parking inspector’s booth, that’s just fine. Check out this site for more info.

Homemade rhubarb crumble ice cream at Salt & Straw. Usually there’s a line up going around the building, but it’s worth the wait – and they’ll let you sample every single flavour it you ask nicely.

Shop:

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Thrift stores – and Portland has a huge selection. They vary in price, though, so if you’re expecting Salvation Army prices you might be disappointed. The quality and variety more than makes up for the $15+ price though (USD am I right?). Crossroads Trading Co. is a bit more hipster while Buffalo Exchange feels a little rock and roll, but you should devote at least an hour to each.

Powell’s Books. Powell’s isn’t exactly a hidden gem but it is definitely a gem. Most people who’ve heard of Portland have also heard of this massive bookstore which takes up an entire city block (and that’s only one of their locations). Even if you don’t want to buy anything, grab a book and curl up on the floor for a couple hours (you won’t be the only one).

Friends of the Library store, located right next to Portland’s stunning Central Library. This was the first place my friend took my in Portland, and I couldn’t have been happier. You’ll find all kinds of book-themed products, like socks, bags, and t-shirts. You’ll also find a wall of postcards designed by local artists – send one to everyone you know, telling them how much you heart Portland.

Do:

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See a movie at Living Room Theatres and grab dinner at the same time. Yes, they serve full meals and bowls of buttery popcorn right to your seat (I hope I’m not the only one who finds this very, very cool)! And you can enjoy an independent or foreign film while you’re at it.

Visit Saturday Market (now available on Sundays, too!). This overflowing stretch of vendors includes everything from home decor made from bent cutlery to handbags made from old children’s books. It’s a very eclectic bunch and an easy way to spend a whole morning. I had my palm read by a woman named Maria who misspelled half the words in her bio. I couldn’t understand half of what she was saying, but that only adds to the mystique, right?

Grab a car (or a willing friend with a US driver’s license) and leave the city. Oregon is full of stunning nature, waterfalls, hiking trails, and Cape Kiwanda. We made it to the Cape on a gloomy morning and took dramatic ocean pictures, but by midday the sun came out and families and surfers crowded the shore. There’s also excellent milkshakes at a cafe nearby.

Enjoy every brick building, Mexican restaurant, colourful mural and public library you can. Portland will take you in with open arms.

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on contentment (part 1)

 

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I was standing in the middle of the mall in late November, weighed down with shopping bags from half a dozen stores, and I felt more like a wisp of smoke than a person.

A boy had broken up with me (like boys sometimes do), and it left me reeling. I didn’t want to continue being who I was. So I went for Plan A, my first course of action whenever I was feeling stressed, depressed or lost from myself, my coping mechanism and my guilty pleasure – I went shopping.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve tried to exchange dollars for a new identity. When I was thirteen, I bought a pile of black clothes (t-shirts, dresses, too-big corduroy pants; I wasn’t picky) at the thrift store because I decided I needed to be more serious. A few years later I loaded up on all things flowy and lace and filled my iPod with folk music, because obviously this made me thoughtful and dreamy.

Sometimes I wish I had kept everything (I haven’t) so that my closet could double as a museum of all the people I have wanted to be.

A couple hours later, frustrated and tired and desperately craving a Cinnabun, I was forced to admit something that I had hoped – had wished – wouldn’t apply this time:

Stuff doesn’t change you. Stuff can’t make you who you want to be.

To clarify: No, I’m not a hoarder but yes, I like stuff. My dorm room is full of Christmas lights and coffee mugs; I have way too many shades of red lipstick; and I fundamentally disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t own more books than you can read in your lifetime.

For 21 years, my identity has changed, my priorities have shifted, my style has radically improved (I don’t care if you don’t like the way I dress now, you should’ve seen me in 5th grade), and I’ve always used material possessions to reflect that.

I know that I’m lucky. I know that it’s an outrageous privilege to be in my position, and I am trying to recognize that privilege rather than abuse it.

Let me be clear: I’m not a horrible person. I don’t spend money I don’t have, I try to donate to causes I believe in, and I know the things we have don’t make us who we are. But I always manage to convince myself to add one more thing to my shopping basket while I’m in line to pay at the store (it’s probably Pez. It’s almost always Pez).

So, for thirty days this June I am trying something new: Contentment.

A blogger named Nancy Ray created something called the Contentment Challenge. You don’t buy anything beyond the essentials, and replace all that time and energy with powerful books or a new hobby.

Nancy kicked it off with 90 days – I’m starting small and working my way up. If you want to save money, live simply, or practice the art of contentment, please join in.

This means that throughout June, I will limit my spending to gifts and groceries. I will try to be thoughtful about the things I do buy and stop dwelling on the things I don’t. And I will stop confusing who I am with what I have.

dark circles

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Last night I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed. My neighbour came in and we made eye contact in the mirror in that sort of half-true way when you aren’t sure which face to look at. He raised his eyebrows.

In the mirror, side by side, the differences between us were striking. His olive skin next to my paleness, his short hair to my curls. His brown eyes met my green ones, then instantly darted down: to the splotches of purple, black and blue that have been a fixture on my face for as long as I can remember.

“You should get some sleep,” he said. “You look so tired.”

Thumbing through my phone somewhere around midnight (maybe he had a point), I found an old note that I remember writing on my commute home from work last summer. When I used to fall asleep on the bus nearly every morning and smile at the floor when people looked my way.

If anyone has ever told  you you look tired; if you’ve ever felt tempted to give up on something big and take a break from your dreams; to the people with dark circles under their eyes – this is for you:


Today I am tired. Today the skin under my eyes looks bruised, like someone has been pressing their thumbs against my cheekbones and I guess that would explain the lack of sleep.

Today I layered on foundation, concealer, foundation. I tried to patch up sleepless nights like cracks in the concrete.

Thought but never spoken: My face is a construction zone. I am something to be fixed.

But why can’t we look at each other – Monday morning or Friday afternoon, over breakfast or on the way to work – and instead of pointing out our flaws, whisper, “You look so strong this morning. You look determined. I am proud of you for waking up.”

Because bags under your eyes don’t mean ugly. They don’t mean worn thin or barely holding on. They are your body’s clumsy sign language, characters in an unfamiliar alphabet, litmus strips marking dedication and grit. They stand for late nights dreaming and planning and doing. Those circles under your eyes mean flashlights under blankets, the soft glow of a laptop screen, the solo beating of your heart when everyone else is fast asleep.

And so the next time someone points it out to me, with concern or with laughter in their voice, I will smile, thank them, and keep going.

I look tired because I’m trying. And I will rep my tribe, purple and blue smudges under messy, half-asleep eyeliner scribbles. 7am or half past midnight. The early risers and late night dreamers.

We are here and we are trying.

a beginner’s guide to showing up for people

 

birthday card

I saw a picture the other day – maybe you’ve seen it but if you haven’t, don’t try to google it because it will break your heart in so many ways. It was of an old woman – someone’s grandmother, mother, best friend – wearing a pretty dress and heels, all ready for her first ever art show, except for the sad look on her face. Because no one came.

Even describing it leaves me feeling gutted. Because it reminds me of every time I’ve put off sending an email or forgotten to reply to a Facebook message; of every missed phone call or blown-off conversation because sorry I’m busy. Social media has given us a thousand new ways to connect, and even more ways to let each other down.

Because getting to know somebody is about more than liking their profile picture, and being a good friend takes work. We – the generation that is taught that disinterested equals cool and that double-texting is an automatic red flag – know exactly how to measure out an arm’s length + keep people there. Maybe it’s subconscious, maybe it’s a lack of time or money or stamps and-the-post-office-isn’t-open-right-now. No matter what, we can do better.

2016 will be the year of sending birthday cards on time.

That’s my goal. And I won’t manage to remember all of them or I’ll add a sheepish “belated” to the cover, but I’ll try.

Let’s be the type of people who respond within the day. Let’s make “twenty-something” synonymous with “tries their best + cares about other people.”

I want to be known, and I want the people I care about to feel known – seen, recognized, loved. I hope there never has to be another lonely grandmother or forgotten friend, caught in limbo between cancelled plans and un-returned voice mails.

I want to show up for people – in 7 small ways.

1/ Send the goodbye text. Don’t just disappear from a conversation for hours at a time. Say you’re busy and have to go. Say goodnight even if you’re crawling into bed at 9pm after an awful day. When people do this to me, it makes me feel like I matter. Give yourself closure + tell the other person you care enough to sign off.

2/ Be honest with your no. If you can’t make an event, don’t click “maybe” or “interested” on Facebook. Don’t play ambiguous with other people’s feelings. Be honest + be real + make it when it matters. This also falls into subsection 2a: backing out at the last minute, except in emergencies, is the opposite of kind. Some days are tough but don’t be that person any more than you have to.

3/ Call to check-in. My dad has a black belt in showing up + seeing people. He manages to call my grandpa, aunt, uncle, brother and I each at least once a week – just to say hi. Sundays are reserved for catching up. I, still an apprentice, am trying to manage once every couple weeks. Clear your schedule + your space + just listen for 20 minutes. Golden rule: never reply to “what’s new?” with “oh nothing.” Think of something. My dad knows all about the new app I downloaded to make me drink more water. Dedicate part of your day to being silly + heartfelt + so present in that moment that the other person can hear it in your voice.

4/ Bad days require action. If a friend tells you they aren’t doing so well, be there. Be there via text, easily reachable, if they need to be alone. Or be there in person, eat pizza on the living room floor, and tuck their hair behind their ears while they cry. Don’t mistake a call for help with a random text. People can be melodramatic – show up anyways.

5/ Mark your calendar. I was trying to make plans with a friend – the kind of girl who’s so busy I’m surprised she still finds time to eat + sleep + laugh on the daily – and she put it in her calendar. Our vague, tentative, let’s-do-something-fun-next-Friday was suddenly a real thing. Make space. Block off time. Show people they’re worth it.

6/ Send birthday cards. My grandma had this down since the day I was born and here I am, 21 years later, still forgetting to buy stamps. They don’t have to be the prettiest stationary or written in the fanciest writing. They don’t even have to be delivered in the right month. Tear a page out of an old notebook and scribble down some words. Show someone else that they mean more than just a quick “hbd” post on their Facebook wall at 11:50pm.

7/ Find your people // love them hard. This one is tricky – realizing that you can’t show up for everyone + 8 billion birthday cards means licking way too many envelopes. You can’t take every person you meet on a 5 hour coffee date, catching up about what exactly? Oh right, how we just met. But when you find those people you want to hold the closest, make them feel loved. This isn’t about exclusion or making someone feel left out. It’s about doing what you can + showing up when it matters.

Seven little steps and seven months to go in this year. Let’s keep 2016 real + keep trying our best. I am texting back as soon as I can + putting birthday cards in the mail.

YVR

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If you asked me for directions at Vancouver International Airport (or YVR to its closest friends),  I wouldn’t be able to take you far without stopping at the Japanese restaurant where I am convinced that one order of Bento box A is the secret to having a safe flight.

I would show you the table where I broke his heart and then flew across the world. Then there’s the restaurant where my grandma and shared our love for breakfast-for-dinner, and the baggage claim desk where I got Dan Mangan’s autograph. I’d show you the fountain I have trusted with countless wishes, and the security gate where I cried all the way through the line up because I thought I was making a terrible mistake.

Let’s be real: I would make a terrible tour guide, but I could help pass the time between your flights by telling you the story of every single time my heart has come close to bursting in this place.

This airport hasn’t just been there for me on the good days, the family vacations, the daring adventures. It has seen all of me. From just off a nine hour flight, sleep-deprived, doing my makeup in the bathroom mirror to red-faced, sniffling, trying not to get tears on my boarding pass.

Airports are the places where we let ourselves be honest.

Arrivals and departures. Saying goodbye and missing him already. Hugging her twice then running out of the security line up to do it one more time. You don’t have time to hold anything back or tell half-truths.

An eight-hour layover becomes an eight-hour exercise in honesty. Where are you going? Gate B14. How are you feeling? Low, worn out, exhilarated, breathless. Do you need any help?

Yes, please.

Airports are outposts of tough love. They might just seem like four walls with a couple of airplanes parked outside, but every announcement over the speakers leaves one thing unspoken:

Change isn’t just coming, darling, it’s already here. 

Change has been on its way since you booked the ticket six months ago; since you tried to remember all the packing advice you’ve heard over the years but ended up shoving everything into a duffel bag at the last minute anyways; since you picked a seat beside the window and daydreamed of the mountains and valleys you’d spy from above.

I always get nervous when I see the signs at the airport for baggage claim that say, “No turning back beyond this point.” What if I change my mind? What if I forgot something on the plane? What if what if what if

The airport has been there for me at every crossroads in my life. Moving away to school, traveling to the other side of the world, saying hello and goodbye so many times that the endings and beginnings started to blur together into one.

I wish we could always be the people we are at the airport.

Sometimes in a rush, sure, sometimes a little stressed or over-tired because life happens. But always honest. Always willing to ask for directions and gracious when others need help.

Always – always – on our way. Maybe feeling lost or guilty after spending too much money on trashy magazines, but always headed somewhere new.

If I were taking you on a tour of YVR, I would tell you that it takes two hours, one bus, and a skytrain to get to the airport from my tiny dorm room. I would also tell you that – even when I’m dragging a giant suitcase and apologizing to every person I bump into – I look forward to those two hours all week. Because even if I’m not coming or going for too long, I’m already on my way.

10 things

I wish I could introduce myself in person, over a cup of coffee or tea, while the world bustles along around us. We’d meet eyes, smile sheepishly down at the table, and gesture wildly when the story got good.

In the meantime (and probably for the best, so I can’t knock anything over), it’s nice to meet you! I started this blog to try to be honest and write words that matter. Here are ten things you’ll know about me by the end of our coffee date:

1. I love making lists. My to-do lists read more like New Year’s Resolutions, every day of the week. It’s all wake up early, work hard, be happy. I’m proud of myself if I can check at least one thing off by the end of the day. Sorry if I get a little dreamy-eyed.

2. I’m not from around here. This will probably be obvious when I show up either 5 minutes late or 30 minutes early because I still don’t understand traffic, and hold my phone in front of me like a talisman when I walk, trusting screen shots of Google maps to bring me to you. I was born and raised in a small town way up north, but Vancouver is starting to feel like home.

3. I’m studying International Studies and Communications at Simon Fraser University. I go to school on a mountain and regularly feel like I’ve been punched in the face by knowledge. It’s the best feeling. If you ever want to discuss the Panama Papers or theories of international development, I’ll grab another cup of tea and make myself comfortable.

4. Rainy days are my favourite. I hope it’s raining when we meet, so we both arrive with dripping umbrellas and squeaky shoes. Vancouver’s climate speaks to my soul.

5. I love coffee, tea, or really any warm drink in a cute mug pressed into your outstretched hands by an equally cute barista. If a library and a coffee shop had a baby, I would move there and never leave.

6. I am always happy to talk about books. When I’m not in school (and even when I am, shhhh), I spent half my time with my face buried in a book. Currently reading/being ripped apart, page by page, by Beloved by Toni Morrison. Please send me your recommendations for life-changing reads.

7. I can’t seem to stay in one place for too long. Don’t get my wrong, I love routine. I once ate the exact same thing for breakfast for 3 months straight. But that hasn’t stopped me from reluctantly and anxiously jumping at every opportunity to turn my life upside down. Last fall, I moved to Prague for four months and found new parts of the world to fall in love with. There were tears and bad days, but I’m already planning my next adventure.

8. If you ever need a 2am Denny’s pancake run co-pilot, I’m your girl. Anytime, anywhere, day or night. The best things happen over greasy hash-browns and a lack of sleep. There might not be a pancake emoji yet but you and me, we’ll make it happen.

9. I wish I was a morning person. I’ve been trying so hard to turn myself into one: making pots of coffee and setting my alarm earlier and earlier. But I never get used to it, and my eyes never seem content staying open when they could be fast asleep. 6am is calling my name but it hasn’t happened yet.

10. I am trying to be honest. I’ve been a serial blogger since I knew what the internet was. I would pick a pretty domain name, scatter a few words here and there, and then leave when I decided it wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough.

But these days I’m learning that “good enough” doesn’t actually exist. There’s only practice, trying your best, and sticking to it. I know there’s a chance this thing won’t last, but I am trying to be honest with both of us.

What you are is already enough.

Sorry if I came on a little strong there, but really, what’s the point of being halfhearted? We’ll see where this goes. And if it ends in a real life coffee, then we’re both doing okay.