Perfectly Portland

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The first time I went to Portland I spent a solid six weeks after the trip perusing jobs and home prices in the area. How could you not love this city? It’s in one of the most beautiful parts of the country with lush trails and rivers less than a half hour from your door. Its food and drink scene is mind-blowing. Its people are laid back and friendly. It has adorable neighborhoods filled with charming bungalows. And it has some really cool names in the business sector—Nike and Columbia Sportswear among others.

Anyway, I obviously didn’t move there. But I did recently pay it another visit, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite spots from this trip (Note: I’ve eaten about 17 meals a day each time I’ve been in Portland. Everyone should do that. This is just a small sampling of my favorites.):

EAT & DRINK

Coffee

This part of the country seriously knows its coffee. The Stumptown adjacent to the ACE Hotel is a great spot to grab a latte. Take it with you to read an authentically paper (!) New York Times on one of the worn couches in the ACE’s hip lobby next door. Coava, which was featured on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, is as Portlandia-ish experience as you’ll find. It’s a coffee shop and wood shop combo. Naturally. Get in line with the flannel plaid shirt folks and order a honey latte.

Donuts

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People will tell you to go to Voodoo donuts. And yes, it’s certainly an experience. But the WAY better donut experience is at Pip’s Original Doughnuts & Chai where they fry the mini donuts to order and you can enjoy them alongside a variety of the housemade chai lattes. The donut drizzled in honey and Nutella changed my life.

Snacks

Olympia Provisions is a charcuterie-lovers dream. Get one of the oversized wooden trays and load up on meats cured in house at this edgy warehouse district spot. If you’re in the mood for cheese and drinking (which I always am), I’d suggest Cheese & Crack (they serve cheese on cookie sheets!) or Urban Farmer, which has an amazing bourbon selection alongside some tasty cheeses. Clyde Common, which gets well-deserved James Beard nods basically every year for its cocktail program, serves a honey butter popcorn that you’ll want buckets of alongside its potent drinks.

Dinner

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So. Many. Good. Choices. My favorite from this trip (and easily in my top five restaurants ever) was Han Oak, a small restaurant serving AMAZING Asian dishes with a chef who lives just off the kitchen. From its hidden entrance in a nondescript parking lot to the chef chopping wood in the yard as we ate, everything about this experience was incredible.

Other favorites include Tusk, a restaurant that looks and feels like Southern California, but is serving flavorful Middle Eastern food. Pok Pok, which has been getting national attention for years for its creative Thai street food and lively atmosphere, is always worth the wait. And I had two unexpected fun finds this trip: Ned Ludd made for a cozy night with its homey ambiance and family-style feast, and Departure Restaurant + Lounge was a luxe evening with wagyu grilled on a stone and wine on a rooftop.

Dessert

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Salt & Straw. Honey lavender ice cream. I don’t think I need to elaborate.

PLAY

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Portland is an easy town to just walk around. There are cute shops and a great trail next to the river. Powell’s Books is a mandatory stop just to see the massive selection of books (the world’s largest, evidently). But every neighborhood seems to have its own little curated stores.

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The Portland Japanese Garden, which is right on the edge of town, is said to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. It’s beautiful and, as you’d imagine, very zen.

Personally, my favorite thing to do is drive out of the city and into the Columbia River Gorge. It’s just stunning. You’re literally driving along the old Oregon Trail. There are picturesque waterfalls and vistas seemingly everywhere. Multnomah Falls are a must and the Vista House offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the gorge. On your way back into town, stop at the McMenamins in Edgefield. I could write an entire entry all about this quirky place, which was once a poor house and is now home to restaurants, bars, a brewery, a distillery, a winery, a hotel, and a spa. Just go. (I’ve also heard great things about the spa, but they were booked up the day we went.)

STAY

The first time I went to Portland I stayed at the ACE Hotel because it was Portland and that felt appropriate. Turns out, I’m not cut out for a life that includes dorm-like bedrooms with bulbs swinging from the ceiling and showers in the room. So, this time I went to the far opposite end of the spectrum and stayed at The Nines. Luxury linens, cool art, spacious rooms, and river views. Now we’re talking. This opulent modern hotel was the perfect retreat from the busy city outside its doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read, Listen, Watch

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I’ve had a weird series of annoyances in my life lately. Nothing catastrophic. Things like the windshield wipers on my car not working and seemingly no mechanic on earth being equipped to fix them. Or things like back-to-back expensive vet trips for a big dog with knee problems and a little dog with stomach issues that keep her—and me—up all night.

No one writes novels about this stuff. No one is going to pay to see the movie of my life. They’d cry into their popcorn with boredom. It’s been a lot of the mundane stuff that unfortunately seems to permeate too much of all of our time. Which is exactly why I like escaping with books, podcasts, and shows like these—and I’m betting you will too.

READ

The cover story of the current issue of The Atlantic magazine, The Last Temptation, tells the story of evangelical Christians and Trump. You know how when you’re thinking something and then someone says it so much more eloquently than you ever could? That’s me and this article. Michael Gerson, a columnist for The Washington Post and former Bush (43) speechwriter, dives deep into the issue of how evangelicals have elected a President with values far from their own. It’s fascinating and disturbing. Which could really be said for anything to do with the current administration.

LISTEN

If you’re not listening to The Daily, the podcast from Michael Barbaro at The New York Times, you’re missing one of the coolest current news sources. I’m obsessed. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. Last week, The Daily featured the first of a new mini-series called Caliphate. It’s a podcast with Rukmini Callimachi, who covers terrorism for The Times, that follows her to the front lines with ISIS. I’ve only listened to one (because I am cheap and refuse to pay for the subscription required to listen early to more), but they’ll be releasing them for free over the next few weeks. If the first one is any indication, this is going to get really good.

WATCH

I was in Oregon last week for work and for fun. I love the West Coast. Like, really love it. But I love it in the same way I love other countries. Because the Pacific Northwest and the American South might as well be different planets sometimes. Anyway, I keep thinking this while watching the new Netflix docuseries, Wild Wild Country. The show is about the Rajneesh movement and commune in Oregon in the 1980s. The group clashes with the locals. It’s an interesting series. There’s criminal activity and free love—all the fun stuff with cults, you know? But it’s mostly just a really interesting look at that period in history.

Thursday Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about something lately. There’s a quote—you’ve likely heard it—that we’re each a compilation of the five people with whom we spend the most time. It’s an interesting idea—and a powerful incentive to spend time with really cool people. It also prompts a lot of what I call “chicken versus egg” questions. As in, what comes first? Am I spending time with funny people because I’m funny? Or am I funny because I spend time with funny people?

Anyway, none of that is the point of this post.

I’ve been thinking a lot about data-driven online artificial intelligence-powered algorithms lately. (Evidently, some of my five people are nerds.) I watched this really fascinating TED Talk about how companies like Facebook (no surprise), Google, and Amazon are tracking our time online, then feeding that into algorithms that predict behaviors in ways humans have never before been able to predict behavior—the artificial intelligence is smarter than we are.

In the talk she gives a great example of how if you’re trying to sell plane tickets to Vegas, in the past you might have targeted your ads for that to men in the 25-35 age range with high credit card limits. Now, someone’s history of Google searches and Facebook posts can be used to determine how likely they are to buy a plane ticket to Vegas—even if they’ve never once searched for Vegas or plane tickets. Of course, this is used for way crazier stuff—like, these algorithms can predict things like when someone who is bipolar is about to have a manic episode.

And here’s where it gets especially interesting. The algorithms don’t understand mental illness or manic episodes. But they do understand that the individual approaching manic is much more likely to spend money. And so they target ads for Vegas plane tickets straight to them. And, of course, it works.

We think we’re wise enough to recognize online targeting—I click on news about Trump tweeting stupid things, I’ll get more negative Trump news. I click on a pair of shoes I want, those shoes will show up on every site I visit for a week straight. I stalk an ex on Instagram (never happened) and then I have to look at his photos in my feed for a month. We all know this, right?

But it’s so much more than that. And it’s growing so fast. And we’re all spending so much more time in front of our screens.

Which brings me back to the quote about being a compilation of five people. It’s from like 20 years ago. And I think it’s changed. I think maybe we’re a compilation of four people, plus our online self. I’m influenced by the people I spend the most time with, but I’m also heavily influenced by the trail of data I’m leaving and artificial intelligence is following.

There’s a lot to unpack here from societal polarization to privacy issues. But I’m more interested in the psychological effects. And now we’re back to the “chicken versus egg.” Am I the person I am because of my Google searches? Or are my Google searches based on who I am? Am I connecting with some people via social media because of our shared interests? Or do we have shared interests because of social media?

Not to go all 1984 on you, but my hypothesis is that in 2018 even the most self-aware among us are likely being influenced (nice word) or manipulated (less nice word) into subtly changing our personalities—and even our lives—based on artificial intelligence-powered algorithms.

I’ve been a slacker lately on my book reviews. But I’m still going strong on the whole book-a-week theme. Audible is my favorite cheating tool because it lets me “read” books while I do things like yard work or dog walking. Anyway, these are short reviews because no one wants to read eight long ones. Here goes:

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The Dry
This story sounded like an exciting mystery novel. It’s set in remote Australia and about a girl who died and those accused of her death. It was more a coming-of-age story than a mystery though, and it was ultimately pretty depressing. It’s well written, it moves fast, and the descriptions of the place are fantastic, but I don’t like books that bum me out.

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Braving the Wilderness
Everyone seems to love Brene Brown. For some reason though, she just doesn’t resonate with me. I’d had several people suggest this book. It’s about the need to be vulnerable and courageous—especially during this era of polarization. So, in that way, every person in America should probably read it. But I still don’t really get the people who call her their spirit animal.

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Sycamore
I wanted to like this more because it’s by a local author and the story sounded cool. It’s set in a tiny dessert town in Arizona, where a newcomer out for a walk stumbles on bones that may be a girl who disappeared 18 years before. I loved the way the author wove the time periods together and captured emotions like grief and loneliness. Unfortunately, I just don’t like books about grief and loneliness.

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The Girl With Seven Names
Finally! A book I loved. I want everyone I know to read this book so we can all talk about it. It’s an autobiography by a woman who grew up in North Korea and now lives in the United States. Every single page is fascinating. I couldn’t put it down. I seriously read it in a day and a half. Then I watched her TED Talk. Then I spent another day just reading articles about North Korea online. Read this book.

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Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changes White House Years
Another great one! I’ve already written a little bit about this book. I listened to this one on Audible and the author is the reader. (Best kind of Audible book.) It’s an upbeat and interesting book. No major revelations here, just amusing stories that made me laugh out loud, and an up-close look inside the Obama White House, which I picture as exactly like The West Wing—something Litt references multiple times throughout the book.

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The Destroyers
I picked this one because it was named Esquire‘s Best Book of the Year in 2017. Now, I want to read everything ever written by this author. I really loved this one. It took place on a tiny Greek island and was full of intrigue, interesting characters, and exciting plot twists. For some reason this author gets compared to Franzen. The only similarity I see is that this is a super long book. Franzen puts me to sleep. This kept me up past my bedtime.

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The Woman in the Window
I’d noticed this book on bestseller lists, but was a little bored with the genre so I hadn’t read it. Then, I stumbled across its author’s Instagram. He went to school in Charlotte! So, I read it. And I get the hype. It’s a fun book that takes place in New York and echoes old movies like Rear Window. It’s full of surprise twists and has an unlikely heroine and an even more unlikely villain. This is going to be a great movie eventually.

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Red Sparrow
Speaking of books made into movies, I’m assuming it’s the recent Jennifer Lawrence movie based on this book that moved it to the top of the charts. The movie was kind of a flop though. And, honestly, I thought the book was too. It’s about a Russian woman trained to use seduction as a spy who then becomes a double agent for the US. Even though that storyline sounds fun, the story itself felt pretty tired and predictable to me.

Ok, jumping into more books soon. Any suggestions?

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I’m listening to an Audible book called “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years.” It’s by a former Obama speechwriter, David Litt, and it’s hilarious. For anyone who has read much from the Obama White House, it’s nothing new really—another Ivey League-educated white kid talking about hanging in the Oval Office. But it’s an amusing tale of a happier time, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

It’s also offered some pearls of wisdom. Yesterday, I was listening to a portion in which Litt talks about a taping an Obama speech. The speech was happening outside and during it there was a candle of some sort behind the President’s head. As he was speaking, something went wrong and the small candle slowly grew into a giant ball of flame.

There were three staff members, including Litt, who were present as a large ball of flame threatened to incinerate the head of the President of the United States. Initially, none of them did anything.

Litt says this wasn’t because they were unconcerned. It was because they were “staying in their lane.” They knew their job duties and none of their jobs included “saving the President from a ball of fire.”

Eventually, one of them did finally leap forward and extinguish the fire. The point remains though. And I’ve been thinking a lot about it since listening to this passage yesterday. Often, in our jobs, we see the metaphorical balls of flame about to destroy the leader of the free world and we don’t do anything. Ok, maybe not that level of catastrophe, but we see places where implementing change would be a great idea and because it falls out of our realm of duty, we don’t say a single word.

It’s a strange system the professional world has set up for us. It makes us feel comfortable—we know what’s expected of us, but it’s not really conducive to creative innovation or game-changing moves.

I’m a stay-in-my-lane rule-follower by my nature. And while that serves me well much of the time (I’m not in prison), there are a lot of times when I wish I’d calmly and diplomatically (and metaphorically) told the President he was about to be severely burned.

So, consider this a little plug for the book—which is no way a self-help book. And a little plug for spending more time outside your lane.

Under the Spell of San Miguel

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The first time I heard of San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of central Mexico was about 12 years ago. I remember thinking “Sounds like a lovely place, but if I’m going to Mexico, there better be a beach involved.”

But over the last year or so I’d noticed its charming stone streets and colorful architecture pop up on my Instagram feed and in magazine articles. So, I decided that beach or no beach, it was time for a trip. Which is how four of my best girlfriends and I ended up spending five glorious days there in January.

San Miguel is magical. Its baroque architecture, dry climate, and rolling hills make it look like Spain or Tuscany. Its history as a haven for ex-pat artists means that it’s full of colorful shops and gorgeous galleries, as well as stylish restaurants, hip rooftop bars, and chic coffee shops. And mixed in with all of this is the rich culture of Mexico—and all of its famed tequila, guacomole, and tacos. For me, it was love at first sight.

I could write sonnets about San Miguel, but those wouldn’t really be helpful (or very good). So, instead, I’ve listed my top recommendations for your trip below. Because trust me, you want to go.

STAY

We stayed in this Airbnb. It was perfect. The centuries-old home was gorgeously restored and spacious with hidden courtyards, and a rooftop perfect for wine and cheese sunsets and sunrises full of church bells. We were a block away from our favorite breakfast spot (literally, they gave us hugs goodbye on our last morning) and two blocks away from the city’s center square.
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Rosewood San Miguel
Like all Rosewood hotels, this luxurious spot was beautiful. It’s on the edge of the historic part of town, but easily walkable to everything and close to its beautiful gardens. It’s a perfect spot if you want the amenities of a hotel. However, we took full advantage of it even not staying there. We spent an evening at its rooftop bar (a must), a morning shopping at a market in its courtyard (so fun), a day by its modern pool (another must), and an afternoon in its serene spa (duh).

DO

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Spa at the Rosewood
This might be the most reasonably priced luxury spa I’ve ever gone to. I had a blissful two-hour treatment that included a lavender scrub followed by a lavender oil massage. It was hands down the best massage I’ve ever gotten. And the whole thing cost  around $110. Amazing.

La Gruta
About half an hour outside San Miguel are these natural hot springs. Grab a taxi in town and have them take you by the Sanctuary of Atotonilco on the way. The historic church is a World Heritage Site and often called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico for the incredible murals across its ceilings. The springs are less than a mile away and well worth the trip. You could easily spend a day here relaxing in the sun and swimming in the various pools.

Shopping!
There are adorable shops on every corner in San Miguel. This Travel + Leisure article does a great job rounding up a few. My personal favorites were Mixta and Doce 18. Mixta is just a cool boutique. Doce 18 had me kind of losing it because it was so cool. They call it a “concept house.” The idea is that there are mini versions of shops and restaurants throughout its sophisticated space and bright courtyard. This feels like something you’d find in London or New York—not off a cobblestone side street in the middle of Mexico. There’s an art gallery, champagne bar, macaroon stand, clothing store, tequila tasting room, mac and cheese bar… it just keeps going. And every one of them is more Instagrammable than the last.
EAT & DRINK
We ate SO much great food. As shocking as this is, I had to narrow it down significantly to get to this list of my absolute favorites.
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You’ll likely have to wait in line just to get in the door of this charming coffee shop and brunch spot. It’s worth it. So worth it. Sit in the tree-filled stone courtyard. Order the lavender latte (and another one to go) and poached eggs. It’s like teleporting to a summer morning in the fields of Provence.

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Cumpanio
This elegant Italian bakery became our favorite spot to gather for cappuccino and fresh pastries most mornings. They had an almond brioche that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. This is the kind of place where you’ll want to linger over lattes and long conversation.
El Manatial
It’s a hip favorite for the locals and fills up fast most nights. Known for its ginger margaritas and seafood tostadas, it’s a convivial little cantina where we literally ordered half the menu (food and drink) and still only paid like $12 each for dinner. The dream.

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La Posadita
This rooftop restaurant was the perfect place for a long lunch in the midday sun. It’s right next to the cathedral and offers impressive views from any seat. The guacamole was my favorite from the whole trip (and we tried A LOT) and the oversized icy  margaritas were made for those lazy kind of vacation afternoons.

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Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar
This spot on top of The Rosewood more than lives up to its hype as the best bar in San Miguel. When we stepped off the elevator and walked around the corner into it, I literally stopped and said “Whoa.” It’s that impressive. The views are amazing, there’s live music most nights, and the creative mezcal and local tequila cocktails are the kind of things you’ll want to sip on for hours.

For a fancier experience–or a more romantic evening, if that’s your thing—this is your place. It’s a beautiful spot in a courtyard draped with twinkling white lights and centered around a fountain filled with fresh rose petals. The dishes and the wine list feel more European than Mexican—think buratta cheese, foie gras, and housemade pasta.

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I’ll stop now. But a few quick things to know before you go: San Miguel is at 6,500 feet and a desert climate. It gets very cold when the sun goes down. It’s about an hour and a half from the Leon Airport. The Bajio Go shuttle service was easy, friendly, and inexpensive. And finally, take me with you, please.

January’s Books

One of my New Year’s goals was to read one book per week this year. Sometimes I think about this WSJ article where Karl Rove talks about President George W. Bush reading 95 books one year. While he was BEING PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Always makes me feel like I really need to step up my game.

Anyway, my plan is mini-reviews of each book at the end of each month. So, let’s do this:
The Wicked City
The Wicked City
Reading a Beatriz Williams book is the literary equivalent of a hot bath and a full glass of red wine. She weaves fun stories of primarily strong—and primarily wealthy—female characters throughout the 20th century. This one was all speakeasies, jazz music, and New York in the gilded age. Perfect indulgent book to curl up with on a cold winter weekend.
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The Perfect Horse
My friend who is an equestrian vet recommended this to me. She called it “a page-turner.” In retrospect, this would be like if I was recommending a book on dachshunds and cheese and called it a page-turner. Slightly biased. It is a fascinating story though that gives a unique angle on WWII. It focuses on the heroic efforts from a variety of sides of the war to protect some of the world’s top horses. It’s heartbreaking at times—as any war story—but it’s a remarkable tale.
The New Jim Crow
The New Jim Crow
You know how now you hear about things from the Civil Rights era and they seem so obviously wrong? Like, of course “separate but equal” was a farce. But at the time it was just accepted. This book feels like reading the future’s view on our current state. Like, of course mass incarceration of black men for minor drug arrests is completely insane. But for some reason we’re all just accepting it. This one is like getting a peek at how history will view our era—and it’s not pretty.
Slow Days Fast Company
Slow Days, Fast Company
I can’t stress enough how much I loved this book. It genuinely feels like stepping back in time to the 60s and 70s in Southern California. The writing is beautiful. The stories are fascinating. I didn’t want it to end. It’s a book with descriptions that make you feel like you can literally taste and feel the moments she’s describing. So good. (Fair warning: It was the 60s in California. If heavy drug use and unconventional sex offend you, don’t read this.)
The Kind Worth Killing
The Kind Worth Killing
I love stories with crazy, smart, manipulative women seeking revenge. Think Gone Girl. I was one hundred percent pulling for that brilliant psycho to get away with it. I should probably talk to a therapist about this. Anyway, this book has more than one of these type of characters. It’s a fun thriller full of juicy plot twists. I’m ready for the movie now.