Upper Left U.S.A.

My latest explorations of the Pacific Northwest included my first ever visit to the great state of Oregon! To say I was looking forward to this trip would be under playing how excited I was because ever since last year’s trip to the San Juan Islands and Seattle I had been itching to get back up north!

Three of my girlfriends and I flew into PDX, rented a car and headed out to Astoria, then down to Newport and finally to Portland with various planned and unplanned stops around the way. We totally lucked out on the weather. Each and everey day was sunny, clear and cool.

Our first day we drove from Portland to Astoria. Astoria is tiny port city on the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean. Why did we pick Astoria? Well, the answer is it looked cool in the movies! Have you heard of the 80’s movie The Goonies? The movie was set in Astoria and filmed there along with classics like Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy and many others.

We had booked a room at the Cannery Pier Hotel which didn’t disappoint. Our room had a balcony overlooking the Astoria-Megler Bridge that connects Oregon to Washington.

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During our time in Astoria we drove around and explored the cute town, walked through the little downtown area and visited the Astoria Column from where the views were breathtaking. We learned about the adventures of Lewis & Clark and about the old Scandinavian community that’s been in Astoria from generation especially from Finland.

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Our next stop was Sunset Beach. We were there fairly early in the morning and had the beach to ourselves. This is a beach that you can drive your vehicle on to and the sand is hard packed so you can easily walk right up to the water. Beaches with this type of coastline topography are common in Oregon, but they aren’t in Southern California so we really enjoyed these stops.

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After Sunset beach we drove down to Ecola State Park for epic views of Cannon Beach which was probably my favorite stop because THE GOONIES!!! Oh and also because it was absolutely majestic and the perfect mix of ocean, water, sky, mountains and trees.

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Other stops we made along the way included Seaside, Tillamook Cheese Factory, Cape Kiwanda, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay where I finally got to see whales!!!

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What I didn’t know about Oregon is how serious they are about coffee. There were tiny structures like this with drive thrus all over the place. We were stopping at least two coffee stops per day.  We also enjoyed our fair share of chowder on this trip. Another exciting aspect of this trip was seeing the “fall colors” the picture below was taken outside a doughnut shop in downtown Portland. This is exciting for someone from Southern California where we don’t really get a true “fall”.  This was such a great trip that I can’t wait to plan my 2019 visit to the Upper Left a.k.a. the Pacific Northwest.pd

 

 

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Curb Appeal Improvement Version 2.O

Here’s the original before and after of our residential exterior project with phase 1 which included improvements to our garage door and a new paint color.

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Here is what our home looks like now with a new fence/gate, drought tolerant landscaping and rocks instead of dead grass.

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DIY cards

In my effort to simply my life by clearing out clutter in my home I realized that I had a lot of leftover craft supplies so I decided to start making greeting cards for friends and family with all my existing supplies.

I’m not a regular crafter. The reason I had a surplus of crafting supplies laying around is because due to the infrequency of my crafting whenever I have set out to craft I have purchased extra supplies to give myself room to mess up. Years ago I purchased a bunch of felt and numbers to create an advent calendar for my friend’s daughter. I ended up with a lot of leftover felt and numbers. I also tend to hang on to scrap wrapping paper pieces in case I ever have to wrap small things, I’ve also collected other random crafting items over time. However to control my hoarding I have allotted myself a limited amount of space to store supplies.

When I realized I was running out of space I decided to begin making my own greeting cards to “use up” all my crafting supplies and save money on cards which can be anywhere from $4-$7 each these days. Here are some of the cards I’ve made and actually remembered to take pictures of. They were al created with surplus crafting materials I had laying around.

I keep telling myself I’m going to make our Christmas Cards this year, but let’s be real, no one wants the flip flops I’ll be creating.

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Minimalism and Tiny Homes

Have you ever watched the shows Hoarders or Storage Wars? Do you ever think about how the people in the shows acquired so much stuff? Now, have you watched any Tiny House shows and wondered how the people in the those shows have so little stuff? Which of these lifestyles appeals most to you? Minimalism and tiny homes are becoming more and more appealing to me. Here’s why…

Many years ago, while I was still a child,  my mother unexpectedly passed away, A couple years after her death, my father decided it was time for us to move. My sister was going to be leaving to attend a college 2 hours away, I was going to be starting a new school and it just made sense for us to move closer to my school and all of our family members. We downsized from this 3 story, 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 2,400 square foot house into a small 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment.

Leaving my childhood home and the community I had grown up in was traumatic, but what was even more scaring was dealing the amount of STUFF we had filled the large home with. The home had 2 dinning rooms and 2 living rooms so it seemed we had 2 of everything! My parents had spent so much money on “quality furniture” that parting with these inanimate objects was considered “a shame”. If you ask me, what was “a shame” is how much money had been wasted on purchasing all this STUFF! In the end, we had a couple garage sales, family members took what they wanted, some stuff got stored in my aunt’s garage and the some stuff got stored at my father’s store.

About 13 years after this traumatic move my father retired and decided to move overseas. This meant he left with just some suitcases and boxes. I had to rent a Uhaul and move all of his remaining “quality furniture” into a storage unit. About 5 years and $10,000 later I told my father I would be emptying out his storage unit and letting Goodwill have all his furniture. Once again, I had to hear about the “quality furniture” and how it was “a shame”, but again I felt was a shame was the amount of money he’d spent on it and now storing it.

Around the same time I sold his business which he had owned for over 35 years and when the real estate agent told me I had 30 days to vacate the premises once again I found myself emptying a space that had amassed decades and decades worth of STUFF! Office furniture, bookshelves, tools, ladders, etc etc… I let friends and family take what they wanted and everything else went into a dumpster I had rented. To this day, my father doesn’t like to think about all of the “quality items” I got rid of.

Earlier this year, my aunt unexpectedly passed away and her husband sold their home. I knew that this wouldn’t be an easy move for uncle because just like my father he was going to be downsizing from a 3 bedroom home with 2 of every room to a 2 bedroom apartment. He and his family had been in that home for over 30 years so they too would have decades and decades of STUFF. I knew from experience that their garage was packed to the brim because they had been storing items from our house in there. Over the span of a few days a few of my cousins and I showed up to help clear out the garage. We had to hear over and over about the “quality” of the stuff and how it was such “a shame” needless to say that once again after a garage sale and family members taking what they wanted, the majority of things ended up getting hauled away by a rubbish company.

I’d like to share a few nuggets that all of these experiences have taught me:

  • Life is temporary
  • We don’t take any STUFF with us, so don’t collect things
  • Collect memories not things
  • Live as if you’ll die tomorrow (because it really can happen that fast)
  • Minimize your clutter and only keep necessities
  • Don’t waste money on “quality” stuff that you’ll feel bad about parting ways with
  • There is no need to buy expensive furniture
  • Spend your money on experiences not things
  • Be a minimalist
  • Live in a Tiny Home
  • What’s “a shame” is the amount of money we waste on STUFF
  • Rise above consumerism
  • Leave a legacy of deeds not STUFF

My husband and I live in the smallest house by square footage in our neighborhood. I wouldn’t say we are minimalists but my experiences have taught me that everything I buy should be viewed as disposable. I have no desire to hold on to things for decades and if the opportunity to live in a tiny house presented itself tomorrow I would gladly sell or donate all of our furniture and live a more minimalist life in a tiny space.

 

 

Yerevan is Always a Good Idea

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View of the Opera House looking down from the steps of Cascade

Yerevan, is the capital of Armenia and where a majority of tourist who visit Armenia base themselves out of. I’ve been to Armenia somewhere between half a dozen to a dozen times and yet every time I visit I find new and interesting things to discover in Yerevan. The best way to explore Yerevan in my opinion is on foot.

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Mulberries

During my most recent trip I wanted to take full advantage of the pleasant weather by walking around town as much as possible. Not only was I determined to get close to 10k steps a day, but getting lost in cities I’m visiting is one of my favorite things to do because I see and learn so much. During this particular walk around Yerevan, I couldn’t help but notice all of the different water features and water fountains and wondered whether our obsession with water fountains comes from being a landlocked country.

My father, upon retiring repatriated and now lives in Arinj in the Kotayk Marz. Driving to his house from Yerevan we always drive past the zoo. I have wanted to visit the zoo for many years and on this trip we had the opportunity to do so. Admission is about $1.50 in American dollars and well worth it because the zoo is built into a hillside so you will get quite a good workout walking uphill and downhill, but you also get to see deer, birds, monkeys, a hippopotamus. a zebra, bears, lions, a tiger, and my personal favorite the Patagonian mara. I had never seen a Mara before. It was like a cross between a squirrel, a deer and a rabbit!

Across the street from the zoo I spotted these cool images painted on a wall of Armenian authors Barouyr Sevag, Yeghishe Charents, and Avedik Isahagian.

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Day trip to Dilijan

During this last trip to Armenia we had planned a day trip to Dilijan. I wanted to show off this little remote mountain town to my husband who despite having been to Armenia a few times already still hadn’t been to Dilijan. Personally, I like Dilijan because in the spring and summer the weather here is milder than it is in the City and in other regions.

Dilijan is in the Tavush Province of Armenia and historically has always been a resort town where people go to relax and clear their heads. Our plan was to leave my father’s house in the Kotayk Province after breakfast and have lunch somewhere in Dilijan before heading over to the United World College (UWC) for our scheduled tour. I had bookmarked a few different restaurant options including “Haykanush”, which ended up being the one I was favoring because it was located in the Old Dilijan Complex on Sharambeyan Street which I really wanted to see.

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Haykanush Restaurant

This portion of Dilijan was restored and preserved by the Tufenkian Cultural Foundation and demonstrates the architectural details which have earned Dilijan the “little Switzerland” nickname.

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After a very delicious lunch and short walk up and down Sharambeyan street we made our way to the UWC campus on the other side of town. I had spotted this campus driving by it a couple years ago. The modern design caught my attention but what really impressed me was the rooftop gardens I could see all the way from the road. Doing some research online I learned that it’s a LEED certified building and during our tour we learned that the architect had intentionally designed living walls along the side of the building along with the rooftop garden to reincorporate the soil and plants that had been displaced from the land to make way for the buildings. I really liked this concept.

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During the tour we also learned that this “college” is actually a two year high school where students spend their Junior and Senior year of high school before going off to college. It’s a very competitive program and students indicate their top 3 choices from the 14 UWC campuses but can be placed at any of the locations. The student body is international in make up as is the faculty and staff. Our tour guide showed us all around and told about what the students study and how they spend their 2 years at the school. We also learned that although the Dilijan campus has only been around for 4 years Prince Charles has already paid the campus a visit and George and Amal Clooney are big supporters of the school.

If you’re planning a trip to Armenia I highly recommend emailing the UWC-Dilijan campus staff and scheduling a tour. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon touring a beautiful facility.

Four Years Later

Four years ago, my husband and I had plans to be on the East Coast right before the holidays and our trip happened to coincide with the eleventh annual Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) Holiday Gala so we decided to attend since this is one of the charities we both like to support. The star studded event took place at Cipriani and honorary guests included Andrea Martin, Michael Aram, Alexis Ohanian, Victor Garber, Eric Bogosian, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Patricia Field, and Stephanie Seymour among others. About $2.5 million dollars was raised to build the first of many state-of-the art SMART centers in Armenia. It was a memorable night for us and we were so happy to have been able to be there.

Four years later, during a planned trip to Armenia we heard that the first SMART center had just been completed and an official opening ceremony was going to take place. I couldn’t ignore the coincidence so I contacted a friend who works for COAF to ask if we could attend and we decided to make the 3 hour drive out to the remote and rural village of Debed in the beautiful Lori Province to see the center.

I’m so glad we made the trek because had I not seen this place with my own two eyes I wouldn’t have believed it existed. The site that was selected for this project left us all in awe of the beauty of northern Armenia. Even my father’s wife and her son who were both born and raised in Armenia kept saying they’d never know such a breathtaking place existed mere hours away from where they’ve lived their entire lives. As if the setting wasn’t inspiring enough then there’s the 20,000 square foot modern building! Since none of the photos I took can do it justice so I’ll just have you check it out for yourselves in this video

Over the next ten years more SMART centers like this one will continue to be built in different regions of Armenia to provide opportunities for youth in isolated areas to develop their language skills, have access to technology and develop their skills in the areas of IT, robotics, arts, music, entrepreneurship, organic agriculture, and economics. The goal is to empower the youth to tackle the issues in their villages and for them to feel connected to the world without having to leave their villages.

I’m so grateful to COAF, its founders, employees, supporters and donors for all the programs they have in Armenia that help make Armenia a better place for our youth.

The New Armenia (Nor Haiastan)

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May 28th 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the first independent Republic of Armenia. Tens of thousands of Armenians from around the world had planned to travel to Armenia to be there for the centennial. I was one of those Armenians.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, a Velvet Revolution had taken place in the country. After two weeks of anti-government protests the former President’s plan to become Prime Minister (a la Putin when Medvedev became President)  had not succeeded and the people’s revolt led to their candidate being elected Prime Minister. This unprecedented non-violent successful movement left Armenia with a new President and new Prime Minister that the people (for the first time in decades) were happy with. The new Prime Minister made promises to hold oligarchs accountable and make them pay their fair share of taxes which they had been evading for years on end. Immediately it felt like a new dawn had arrived in Armenia.

I couldn’t wait to get to Armenia and see for myself what people were saying about how much the country had changed in just a matter of a few weeks! I arrived in Armenia 18 days after the revolution and the rumors were true! The citizens of Armenia were happy! They were positive! They weren’t complaining! They had hope! It was as if a dark grey cloud that had been shrouding the country had disappeared. All I got during this trip was good vibes! It’s difficult to put into words how much love the people seem to have for their new President and Prime Minister. It should have always been this way. It’s such a shame that for so many years this wasn’t the case.

This is an image of the government building in Yerevan just a block away from Republic Square. It was from this balcony that Aram Manoukian announced the establishment of the Republic. It’s very ironic that although the building is still standing there is now an eyesore of an addition built on top of it and a pizza parlor on the ground floor owned by an Oligarch.

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Stay tuned for posts about the opening of the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) Smart Center in Debed, our tour of the United World College (UWC) campus in Tilijan and our visit to the Tumo Center!

 

 

I have in my mind…

I have in my mind an image.

An image of a place in Artsakh.

A peaceful place where the grass blows in the breeze and the backdrop consists of lush green mountains.

The small property is surrounded by a pony wall made of stone.

There’s a modest black wrought iron fence that marks the entrance into the property.

There is a single shady tree in the center that provides some shade on warm days.

There’s a sign somewhere on the property and it bears the following quote from a poem by Hovhannes Shiraz

«Մեզ չի կարող մահն էլ զատել, մի ոգի ենք ու մի մարմին»

Translated this means… Even death can’t separate us, we are one soul and one body.

This poem has also been turned into a song beloved by many… it begins with the words «Դու էլ դառած կռուածաղիկ»

They say don’t tell people your dreams…. show them.

Well I envision it to look something like this!