portland, oregon - 2017

Despite the fact that my first two blog posts are now centered around it, I find my own birthday to be very stressful. I try to keep celebrations mostly low-key to spare myself the crippling anxiety that accompanies party planning. Last year I ended up having a party at a dive bar in North Center with $2 beers and it turned out great! However, I still wanted to do something a little different for this year, with it being a bigger milestone, so my boyfriend Pete and I decided to head out of town. 

My requirements when choosing a destination were affordability, reasonably decent weather in October, and a good Halloween atmosphere. While I usually try to save on hotels, I did want to be able to stay somewhere a little nicer since it was a special occasion. New Orleans was my first idea, but it quickly got crossed off the list due to steep flight and hotel costs. Next I started planning for Key West, but Hurricane Irma derailed that plan too. Finally, I ended up settling on Portland - a location that had been on my list for a while, and had remained reasonably priced even with last minute traveling. It couldn't have been a better choice.

This is a long post - so if you're looking for something specific you can jump around with these handy buttons. 

Trip Highlights

Portland Japanese Garden 

This was by far my favorite thing we did (and honestly one of my favorite places I've been to, period). We got beyond lucky with the weather - it was in the 50s-60s for most of the weekend, and the day we went to the Japanese Garden was brilliantly sunny. Portland seems to be blessed with brilliant fall colors all over the whole city, but the trees here were so intense and colorful it almost seemed fake. I am too lazy to drag a good camera around with me these days but I wholeheartedly regret having only my iPhone with me that day.

Aside from the beautiful winding walking paths, there is also the Umami Café, where you can drink tea and eat Japanese snacks on a balcony overlooking the gardens. Pete and I both tried the sencha green tea which was very good. The food is very light, however, so I considered this more elevenses than a true meal.  There's also the Cultural Village, with a gift shop, some small exhibits of Japanese artwork and historical artifacts, and an explanation of the history of the Japanese Garden in Portland. 

I honestly would recommend a trip to Portland in the fall just to come here - but apparently it's much more common for there to be cold rain, so you might not get the absurdly magical sunlight we did. Still would be beautiful, though, and I'm sure it's also gorgeous in the spring.


Another very common Portland tourist stop is the Pittock Mansion, a turn of the century estate on the hills above the city. The weather was unfortunately the very opposite of the morning we spent in the Japanese Garden, so we couldn't really take in the spectacular views of the city from the hilltop. It did make for some appropriately spooky photos, though.

I love museums and I'm especially into historical recreations (one of my favorite parts of any museum in Chicago is Yesterday's Main Street in the Museum of Science & Industry). The house is decorated with period furniture, although sadly not many originals from the Pittock family themselves. One thing that surprised me was how awesome the bathrooms were - surprisingly modern with waterfall showerheads and white subway tile. I was disappointed to realize later I forgot to take a picture of them. 

It was really interesting to learn about the history of the Pittock family. Henry Pittock went from a penniless 17-year-old Oregon Trail pioneer to the founder of the modern-day Oregonian and one of the richest men in Portland. Unfortunately, his children weren't able to upkeep the massive house and it was sold just a few decades after it was finished. Luckily, the residents of Portland bought the mansion to save it from being torn down and replaced by a subdivision.

Go on a clear day to take advantage of the sweeping views of downtown Portland. We also heard from more than a few local residents that the mansion is decorated beautifully for Christmas every year. 

Biking along the river

Because the weather was so nice, we ended up spending a lot of time just exploring the city and trying not to think about the imminent Chicago winter. We stayed at a great spot right next to the river (more about our hotel a little further down), and they had an awesome program where you could rent out some bikes for the day. They include locks and helmets if you'd like - I absolutely require a helmet because I am clumsy and prone to falling off bikes. This was a great way for us to get around! The Willamette River has a beautiful waterfront park next to it with large paths perfect for biking, and it was a great place to take advantage of the time change by catching a sunrise. 

One afternoon we biked across one of the bridges and met a few friends to bike from bar to bar, which was so much fun I apparently forgot to take photos of most of it. Our last stop was Washington High School, which would have been weird except that it's not a high school anymore - it's been redeveloped after being vacant for many years. It's got a great roof deck and was the perfect spot to end an afternoon and enjoy a view of the city.


  I didn't get a ton of photos at the hot spring, for reasons that will soon become apparent. Here's a picture of the Cougar Reservoir nearby instead.

I didn't get a ton of photos at the hot spring, for reasons that will soon become apparent. Here's a picture of the Cougar Reservoir nearby instead.

We had decided to take a few days off for this trip, so when Monday rolled around we decided to get out of the city a little bit. Unfortunately due to the fire in the Columbia Gorge earlier this year, some of the spots we had wanted to visit weren't open to the public yet. We rented a car, picked up our friend John and headed three hours outside Portland to Cougar Lake, located in the Willamette National Forest. 

The primary reason for this long scenic drive was that we had heard good things about the Cougar Hot Springs (also known as Terwilliger Hot Springs). If you look it up, you'll find awesome photos of beautiful scenic pools under a canopy of trees - looks straight out of Lord of the Rings or something. 

We went on a Monday, thinking it would be less busy than the weekend and that maybe we'd get lucky and have the pools all to ourselves like social media led us to believe. Upon arriving in the parking lot nearby, an attendant charged us $6 each and warned us that clothing was optional at the spring. Unfazed, we hiked a short way up to the pools, carrying our tiny hotel-issue towels with us. 

Let me say first that I don't think I'm a prude. While I prefer not to be naked in public, I'm certainly not shocked and appalled by other naked people. Years of swim team as a kid (and heading into the locker room to find an old lady sitting bare-cheeked on my towel) taught me that many older folks really have no problem being naked in front of other people. But I will admit I was not prepared for the Cougar Hot Springs.

First off, it was extremely crowded. There are five different pools that stair-step into one another, with the top pool pouring into the next level, and so on. Every single pool except for the very bottom one was nearly full when we got there - people were sitting shoulder to shoulder, essentially. And a better warning really would have been "clothing is discouraged" because almost every single person was naked as the day they were born. 

I know this sounds very precious and pearl-clutchy, but I balked for a second. I have some personal space issues and certainly didn't want to wedge myself into one of the crowded chatty circles, but I also didn't find the lowest (and coldest) pool, which looked like murky run-off from the crowds of naked hippies stewing in upper levels, particularly appealing. However, faced with the prospect of six hours cumulative driving for no good reason at all if I did not get in, I gritted my teeth and decided to go with the flow, like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream.

  John took this photo, but I borrowed it to show you the layout of the pools and how busy it was. Check out more of his stuff on Instagram - @johncywinski

John took this photo, but I borrowed it to show you the layout of the pools and how busy it was. Check out more of his stuff on Instagram - @johncywinski


I wish I could say that it was an amazing, transcendent experience, buuuuut I never really relaxed enough to truly enjoy it. I did eventually work up the nerve to move to the upper pools, and I was able to take a few photos that capture how magical this place would be if you did manage to find yourself relatively alone there. I would not do this again, but all said and done I'm glad we did go - it makes for a good story, anyways.


  Birthday breakfast at Mother's Bistro

Birthday breakfast at Mother's Bistro

We didn't spend a lot of time focused on where we were eating & drinking on this trip, but we managed to find some good spots anyways. Some of my favorites: 

  • McMenamin's Backstage Bar: Named because it's located in the back of an old 1920s movie theater, it's got massively tall ceilings and pool tables galore.

  • Mother's Bistro & Bar: We walked here for breakfast on my birthday - solid spot for breakfast and giant mimosas. I really appreciated their Halloween decorating efforts, too.

  • Basecamp Brewing: Very #Portland brewery with a nice patio outside their taproom.

  • Washington High School: Mentioned above - repurposed high school with a bar on the roof deck, overlooking the city.

  • Secret Society: A Victorian-era hall with live music, looks to be primarily jazz & swing based on their event calendar. We ended up here for Halloweekend and I kept expecting the Sanderson sisters to make an appearance.

  • Swift Lounge: Cocktail bar with a cool vibe; they serve seasonal drinks in giant mason jars for a surprisingly low price.

  I will confess that I actually took this photo from the hotel website because I scribbled all over my photo of the room in Instagram stories. But I promise it looked just like this.

I will confess that I actually took this photo from the hotel website because I scribbled all over my photo of the room in Instagram stories. But I promise it looked just like this.

Where we stayed

Knowing that I'm a completely neurotic disaster when it comes to planning, Pete kindly took the reins once I made up my mind on a destination. He had stayed at the Kimpton Riverplace Hotel on a previous trip to Portland and loved it, and it ended up being a perfect spot for this trip. Situated on the river next to a beautiful waterfront park, it's also right in the middle of the city, which made it relatively easy to get to the tourist spots to the west and more trendy, fun nightlife to the east. I should take this opportunity to mention that working in the hotel industry has made me slightly picky about where I stay, and I really enjoyed this hotel. Good pick, Pete.  👍

some thoughts on thirty

  On my 30th birthday, in the Japanese Garden in Portland, OR.

On my 30th birthday, in the Japanese Garden in Portland, OR.

Well, it's been ages since I wrote in this blog - getting close to a year now. I actually went ahead and hid all of my old posts because I'm obsessive and there's nothing I love more than a fresh start. But I'm going to approach this blog a little differently this time around. I always have had in my head an idea of what I wanted this blog to be. As a manic perfectionist, I wanted it to be... well, perfect. Instead of being about my actual life, I wanted it to show the idealistic, stylized version of my life. #millenial

The thing is, most of my twenties can only be described as tumultuous. I was mostly broke and just scraping by, I struggled with depression (and self-medicated frequently), and I eventually wound up in an abusive relationship. It took me several years to undo the havoc I wreaked on myself during that period of time. I'd never want to repeat my early twenties, and I certainly didn't want to share the sad reality on the internet for family members, strangers, and randos from high school.

That's why turning thirty was such a strange experience. 

I'm usually not a huge fan of my own birthday. I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to planning parties, and that increases exponentially when it's a party for myself. And of course, I don't think many people love the experience of getting older. By the time I turned 27, I had already begun to gloomily refer to myself as "almost 30" in the same tone people use to convey news like "It's official - I can't have children.

Even worse, it seemed like other people felt that it was an event to dread. I was pretty shocked at some of the aggressive comments I received. While the attitudes behind them weren't shocking - they were pretty typical "you're running out of time, tick tock" sort of stuff - I was definitely surprised by how forthright some people were about my rapidly declining social value. 

But by the time I woke up in Portland the morning of my birthday, I realized that not only was I not dreading turning thirty, I was looking forward to it. Like I said, there's nothing I love more than a nice blank slate. And that's what my thirties are, kind of. Except instead of kicking them off with a negative bank balance and a penchant for unhealthy relationships, I'm starting with a job I love, the happiest relationship of my life, and a nice middle finger to everyone who thinks I'm a useless old prune now. I'm trying not to swear on here but it's difficult and if you know me, you'll know that my sentiments are actually quite a bit stronger than that. 

All of this is to say that for the first time since I attempted to start a blog years ago, I actually have a life I'm proud to share. So I guess I'll go ahead and share it! It feels nice to create something that has nothing to do with work, and if I'm honest I miss the early days of blogging - where people just posted whatever they wanted without trying to monetize or drive traffic or get instafamous. 

So yeah, welcome. Hopefully I'll be able to get another post up before 2019.

Ended up going back and publishing all my old posts again later in an effort to not be such a perfectionist!

2016 book report

Last year, I got the idea of doing an annual book report from one of my favorite blogs, like want need. It was a nice way to revisit all of the different books I read throughout the year. I realized suddenly that it's already halfway through March and I never posted one for 2016! You can read last year's book report here

This year I tried something different - I had been wanting to reread the Harry Potter books (my favorite books of all time, no shame), but I didn't want to spend my already limited reading time just rereading the same books over and over again. My friend Maggie gave me the idea to listen to audiobooks during my commutes, and that has been awesome. Not only are the Harry Potter audiobooks really well done, it's made my dreary hours in the car so much more enjoyable. The audiobooks are quite expensive if purchased individually, but with an Audible subscription you can get them for much cheaper. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial and get one free book credit *here!

  • GOAL: 16 books - though I see now that when I wrote last year's book post, I thought I'd read 24!

  • READ: 17 books

  • BOOKS BOUGHT AT INDIE STORES: 7 - this is slightly down from last year, which is probably because I started Book of the Month Club as well as threw in some audiobooks

  • FAVORITE: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. A close second was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

  • LEAST FAVORITE: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This book wasn't bad, really. It just felt like an attempt to capitalize on all the hype from Gone Girl, and it wasn't nearly as well done.

  • LONGEST: Although I listened to the audiobook instead of reading it, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix is easily the longest at 870 pages. Next was A Thousand Splendid Suns (372 pages).

  • SHORTEST: The Pearl by John Steinbeck - 96 pages.

  • FUNNIEST: This is one of the reasons I like doing these reviews... not one of these books is really "funny", and most were kind of depressing. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is pretty lighthearted, I guess. Maybe I should read some at least a funny book or two this year...

  • SADDEST: Quite a few sad books in this group, but I think Sophie's Choice is the clear winner here. Runner up would be All at Sea by Decca Aikenhead, a memoir about the aftermath of her partner's drowning death.

  • BEST COVER: I do really love the Harry Potter cover illustrations, but Dark Matter's cover is my favorite out of the new books I got.

  • WORST COVER: I really disliked the covers for both Sophie's Choice and Under the Net.

  • MOST OVERRATED: Definitely The Girl on the Train.

  • READ OFF MODERN LIBRARY TOP 100: 3 - books #94-96. I really didn't read enough of these this year, I need to focus more on that list in 2017.

  • READ FOR BOOK CLUB: Only 4... my book club sadly fell apart last year.

  • BOOKS FROM BOTM CLUB: 2, and I still have a whole pile to get through. I actually stopped ordering them until I can catch up!

  • AUDIOBOOKS: 5, which is quite a few for someone who never enjoyed an audiobook before in her life.

  • GOAL FOR 2017: Trying to keep things reasonable and just adding 1 book per quarter, so 20 books.

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a look back, a look forward

What a year 2016 was. I have so many mixed feelings about it, because it was really a total roller coaster. It was also, however, one of the best years of my life on a personal level. I've heard/thought enough doom & gloom about 2016 to last an eternity, and I'm ready to appreciate the good parts in order to start 2017 off on a good note. I've got a couple resolutions for 2017, but mostly I want to just keep doing more of what I've been doing.

I traveled all over the US and across the pond to spend time with friends & family. I watched my youngest sister graduate. I got to attend FIVE weddings, celebrating friends from grade school, high school, college, and afterwards. 2016 included my first vacation with my boyfriend, and then we went on a couple more trips for good measure. I visited some great friends, and some friends visited Chicago too! I saw Hamilton from amazing seats with great company. I ran my first ever half-marathon. I made new friends and rekindled old friendships too. 

Some of my 2017 resolutions:

  • Read 20 books (up from 17 in 2016)

  • Run a half-marathon in under 2 hours - I was close this past year, but an injury made the last couple miles a struggle

  • Work out 4-5x per week

  • Volunteer 2x per month

  • Update this horribly neglected blog at least a couple times per month

  • Learn something new - maybe finally take a real swing at learning French?

  I also will be spending 2017 livin' large & getting into trouble in honor of my Uncle Kevin, who passed away suddenly late this year. He was one of the coolest guys around, and had a laugh that filled the room. We miss him immensely.

I also will be spending 2017 livin' large & getting into trouble in honor of my Uncle Kevin, who passed away suddenly late this year. He was one of the coolest guys around, and had a laugh that filled the room. We miss him immensely.


an afternoon in the chicago botanic garden

I have spent the majority of my life living in or just outside of the city of Chicago. You would think that by now, I'd have seen most of the major attractions, and truthfully I thought I had. When my aunt was visiting from out of state a few weeks ago, my mom suggested we go to the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I realized that I had never been there before. Well, I was certainly missing out. 

Am I the only one who didn't know about this incredible place? I asked a few other friends and most of them hadn't been there before either. It feels like a hidden gem, maybe because it's not actually located IN Chicago - it's in Glencoe, about 20 miles north of the city. 

We went on a Sunday afternoon, and while busy, it didn't feel terribly crowded. The grounds are massive (365 acres) so you can always find a quiet corner. The Botanic Garden is actually divided up into 26 different garden areas, each with a theme - naturally, some are more popular than others. The Japanese Garden seemed to be the busiest, maybe because the plants and styling of the garden are so different from what people commonly see here. One of my favorite sections was the English Walled Garden, with its separate "rooms" designed and manicured in six different ways popular throughout British history. Despite the popularity of both of these gardens, it wasn't hard to find a quiet place to sit. 

 The  Botanicals: Intimate Portraits  exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

The Botanicals: Intimate Portraits exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

It's not all gardens, however - there are exhibitions too. It was such a beautiful day that I chose to sit outside in the gardens while my family explored some of the exhibits, but I wish now I had seen the Botanicals: Intimate Portraits photography exhibit they had. Luckily for me, it's there through September 25th, so I'm going to have to plan a trip back. My brother said that the furniture exhibition called The Hidden Art of Trees was also really cool.

We ended our day with an (expensive) snack on a beautiful patio, but they do allow picnicking in a glen adjacent to one of the parking lots. I did see some people breaking the rules and eating snacks on various lawns, which I am sure you could get away with as long as you aren't a terrible human being who leaves garbage behind in a botanic garden. 

It's surprising to me that I haven't heard more people talking about the Chicago Botanic Garden, considering that it's free to go. While the parking fee is admittedly a bit steep ($25-30 per car, so make sure if you're driving you consolidate vehicles), you can take the Metra there from Chicago. There's even a $2 trolley in case you don't want to walk from the train station once you get there. You can also purchase memberships that include free parking for a year. 

Maybe it was the beautiful weather or maybe my affinity for plants has just grown stronger (seriously, my apartment is starting to resemble a ill-watered jungle)... but I LOVED it. I'm already checking Metra schedules so I can take a book and spend another summer afternoon there wandering around and reading.