Today is my birthday and the first day of our kid’s school in Portland. It’s been a year, or 42. The 4 of us are feeling equal parts excitement, relief, nervousness, and curiousness. They are curious how school works after a year and a half out of it, curious what it’s like to make new friends, and how nice their teacher is going to be. I’m curious if they remember how to read and right (JK). We are finding our new normal and not every day has been easy. The thing is, settling into the unpredictability of life is strangely comforting. My mantra for the last 2 years is dripping with bachelor-style-meets-Goop-sap, which goes as follows: “The obstacles are just part of the journey”. They are unavoidable and the only way over is through. Framing it like that lets me approach mistakes like lessons I get to learn and the missteps are actually challenges that I’m meant to face. It’s been far more freeing and allows me to almost watch along, view my life from a more objective perspective in addition to experiencing it. And y’all, it’s been pretty entertaining to watch.
The only newsletter I actively look forward to reading is Maybe Baby by Haley Nahman. The last few Sundays have been meaningful enough for me to forward them to friends, with a “you have to read this” subject line. A recent one posed her theory on life, which gave me a lot of comfort and insight into what has been happening internally with me the last few years. It’s about a search for what she called “existential frisson” – the tension or relief you feel when you move the dial towards or away from something in your life. I related to it SO MUCH. 15 years ago I bawled when we left New York – I wanted to live there forever, raise our kids there, craved the energy of the city with the daily search for the new and novel. How does that person end up isolated in the mountains, where there is virtually no newness, loving that every choice is so simplified – so simple you almost don’t think about it and it becomes a non-choice. It’s a jarring shift. Brian is ready to get back to a city, and frankly, I wasn’t and there are days still when I’m not. But our neighborhood is so quiet, the parks here are meandering and I’m baby-stepping it back into traffic and crowds. But maybe I’m watching too much Virgin River and fantasizing about a “small town” reality that doesn’t really exist.
And yet we are here and moving forward with this plan, with a lot of hope that our family will thrive here. Maybe we won’t. Maybe our search to find the adorable public school experience we longed for in CA will not pan out after all. Maybe the groundedness and normalcy we have been craving won’t be satiated by moving to Portland. Maybe I’ll be allergic to Alpacas. There are times when I’ve felt whiplash even watching myself, curiously thinking WHO IS THIS PERSON??? I guess Haley’s piece reminded me that it’s normal and maybe even the point of life is to make massive shifts based on current emotions or seasons of life – and that we find relief, joy, and even growth in the midst of that change, regardless if it sticks. I know that the isolation of the mountain house was an over-correction to living in the busyness of LA/NYC. And our extreme hope is that being in this more mellow city will be the right balance of nature + culture that will make both myself, Brian and the kids thrive.
So I’m waiting for things to normalize, and I know it only takes time – you can’t really rush the process. I’m equally grateful and privileged to be in this situation, this I know. Until I settle in this new life I won’t know what version of myself will come out to play, or how long that version will stay – the extrovert that likes newness and fun or the homebody who wants to cook and snuggle. I’m getting used to the consistency in the inconsistency. I’m appreciating the predictability of myself being unpredictable. I feel like I’m watching a bio-pic of my own life and I truly don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I’m pretty into the series and can really relate to the main character, plus her husband is hot. One thing I do know about myself, that will never change, is that I will always watch a long, meandering TV series, full of love, drama and levity, with characters that bring me comfort along with some surprise. Hopefully, you do, too.
Season 12 of this show starts next week. It’s set in Portland where the family lives in a rental house while they wait for their mini-farm to be livable. It’s sure to be a year of transition, of feeling unsettled, and likely some existential clarity. I have all my tools (soup, exercise, podcasts, romance novels, close friends/family, long baths) and I know that it’s really about us creating the right environment and energy for the kids to feel good. Some days it’s harder than others as I mourn the simplicity of our small-town life, and that is absolutely to be expected. So I do what all moms do – I find a shower to cry in, and get it all out. It works. 🙂
Grab your popcorn, get comfy on your human-sized fainting couch. Let’s watch it together and maybe play that drinking game that many of you have suggested in the comments – a shot for every time I say/write “simple”, “sweet”, or “special”. 🙂 Except it’s Souptember so I’ll be drinking Kombucha and tea. Listen, mistakes and missteps have been made, and not just in design. I feel like I’ve grown up on the internet, accidentally, and with that comes a lot of successes and failures, and so much learning and personal growth. Knowing that there are people out there rooting for a happy ending, and willing to forgive when we’ve taken a wrong turn is truly what drives me to continue this “show”.
The plot will thicken with added chickens and rain. Thanks so much to all of you who have been watching and rooting for us over the years. It means more than I could possibly express. I still genuinely love this job, and am so grateful to be here and am even more grateful that you are here, too. Thank you.
Happy birthday and happy beginnings !
I’ve been reading you from Paris for years. Thank you for sharing a piece of your life, allowing me to rethink pieces of mine, including appreciating how pretty rooms in a home can be.
Happy Birthday! I just joined the 40s club this year and I’m thinking it might all be about transitions in life. Thanks for sharing your mistakes (and your thoughts about them) and providing home inspiration to ponder as we wander about our lives. I’m afraid the last few years I’ve also retreated to snuggles and soup, but perhaps the next few years will be about finding balance while cherishing the urge to slow down and regaining confidence in planning, attending, or even enjoying potlucks and other social times. Looking forward to party planning without considering bubbles!
Happy birthday! I love following this “show” and eagerly await the Portland years. My gut says they’ll be good ones! ❤️
Yes! How exciting to see the Portland years!
Happy Birthday Emily! Thanks for your honest post. This reminds me of the quote “The Journey is the destination” I’m not sure who said it,someone much wiser than me! I hope this year brings you all you hope for!
Oh and I have been reading you pretty much daily since 2010! Your blog and my morning coffee are what are look forward to in the mornings!
Could not be rooting for you more 🙂
Love Maybe Baby! Happy birthday and good luck on the new journey.
Happy birthday! And good luck for the school start!
I feel a lot of the things you described. Going back to the normal that was before march 2020 (e.g. back at the office) is not easy. That were things that were easier working from work, e.g. being home when kids got back from school, easier to start prepping food, etc. And still I am longing to what was normal, e.g. hugging friends (oh how I miss it). This summer (but probably the last year and a half) has brought up a lot and dealing with it while school start, oh man! One step at a time and we will get through.
Yes, to all of the above. This last year has been..well..mind blowing, to say the least.
Off topic…I love the rug in your photo. 😁. What and where?
Here’s to a new beginning even if it’s still weird.
Happy birthday! I’ve been following your “show” since the Brass Petal days, and that’s what keeps me coming back. The design content is pretty good too ;). I turn 42 in two weeks, which probably explains in part why I relate to so much to the storyline, but I think we can all relate to reexamining our priorities over the past year. In my case, it also helped me realize how tired I was – not just physically, but emotionally as well – from trying to do too much and always being on. Maybe some of this comes from living in a city, but more seems to come from our current culture imho. I can’t even imagine what that would be like with two small children as well. It has been helpful to step off the treadmill for a while, but I’m starting to realize that living in this state of suspended animation isn’t so great either. Getting to the point, I can’t wait to watch the Emily show, the Portland years. I’m sure it will be great no matter what happens. My mum used to say (and I used to think it was hooey, but now think she was… Read more »
Happy birthday Emily! I’m rooting for you.
Thank you! I’ve so enjoyed what you bring to the world, and eagerly awaiting your insights on Portland!
Happy birthday and happy new beginnings! Thank you for allowing me to follow you and your hot husband on the journey! 🙂
Happy birthday and we are so glad you are here doing what you do. I hope you have a wonderful day and feel just a little more settled. Making memories is thr best for that.
Happy Birthday! Wishing you and your family the best with your move to Portland.
Happy birthday! Grateful for your thoughtful feelings and willingness to share them. 🙂 Life is an adventure, and it sounds like you’re making the most of yours.
Happy birthday! I think you inadvertently became someone else’s Maybe Baby by posting this.
I describe my spouse and I as Rolling Stones. We have lived in a huge metropolis, then lived in a small Oregon coast town, moved to a small university city in the PNW, and are now back on the outskirts of previously mentioned metropolis. All in less than 3 years. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself: where are we supposed to be? Where’s our place? It feels like everyone else has it figured out. It’s nice to hear that this is something you mull over too, and I love the perspective that the choice you’re making right now is the right one.
Thanks for writing this blog!
Everyone else doesn’t have it figured out! 🙂
Awww, happy birthday and happy Portland chapter! My biggest worry for you is the natural light thing given the new house, but you’re so window focused I think you’ll be fine, AND if that’s my biggest worry then I know you’re gonna be OK. <3 (But take seriously all the advice you get about tricks to battle seasonal affective disorder, if you start to find the fall/winter a struggle up there!) This post really resonated with me, even though I've over-corrected perhaps in the other direction. My family and I relocated unexpectedly from Seattle (where we bought and customised what we thought would be our forever home, to a lesser extent than any EHD project but still), and uprooted to London which is somehow even darker and rainier, but has all that NYC-style energy. And then I had a (second and final) baby and then the pandemic hit right when her grandparents were fixin' to visit, so now, only one of six grandparents has even met my nearly two year old now. And they've missed so many milestones and devleopments of the older kid! I also moved here and wasn't able to find work right away as I expected, so… Read more »
MIL is teary. What a lovely post. Having had the privilege & joy of watching you & Brian navigate your journey together from the wedding in our backyard, to the births of Charlie & Ellie, to watching you grow into the amazing woman you’ve become-what a ride it’s been! I love our wine-soaked late night conversations when we’ve shared wisdom, laughter & tears. You truly have become like a daughter to me & I thank my lucky stars every day. Happy birthday, darling girl.
So beautiful, Suz! 🤗
even made me teary! 🙂
Aww, sweetest comment in EHD history.
My son turns 15 today and started high school last week. We are in the midst of a massive remodel and I feel all your same emotions today you spoke of in your piece. Happy Birthday and cheers to being able to keep moving through it!
Happy Birthday! If you miss the small town vibe there is Multnomah Village in SW Portland, complete with funky diner, cozy bookstore and cute toy shop too (and much more).
Love the toy shop and sarah j handmade next door!
Emily, I feel like I’m addressing a friend even though we’ve never met, happiest of birthdays to you. I have read your blog faithfully for years, absolutely rooting for you and your family. My gut tells me Portland is going to be great.
What a lovely post. Happy Birthday and Happy Next Steps! Thanks for sharing it all with us 🙂
Happy birthday! And cheers! It sounds like you are on a wonderful adventure. Enjoy it. Also, you’ve inspired me to make soup for dinner tonight, now I have to make a grocery list. And one shallow ask, can I get details on your cute printed blouse? Thank you! Take care!
Me too on Virgin River, Emily! Why doesn’t that place exist in real life, and when can I start wearing flannels again?
Happy Birthday, Emily! I’m definitely out here rooting for you and your family! I hope you come to love living in Portland! Any kind of change can be unsettling because of leaving that comfort zone thing. I hope Portland will be for you a good middle ground between LA and the mountains. For me, I think the pandemic has caused me to wonder why I even exist and what I should be doing, thinking, feeling in this world. It has helped me so much to study and practice Iyengar yoga and the yoga sutras of Patanjali. One of my favorite sutras, I.33 (interpreted here by BKS Iyengar): “Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.” All of these words are packed with meaning. What I like about Iyengar yoga and my teacher is that it’s not just a fitness routine. It’s a philosophy and way of living that brings together physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Anyway, it has helped me realize a sense of peace and joy in life, and to feel “everything is ok”. Always a work in progress. (My teacher does a… Read more »
Happy birthday! It’s my son’s 12th birthday today and he just got his first COVID vaccine, hurrah! Best of luck as you adjust (and adjust, adjust, adjust again) to your new life in Portland.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! 🎂🥂🍻
Take a deep breath…and relax.😊
I’ve been watching this show for many, many moons and the plot is marvelous, unpredictable and fun!
The characters are far more than endearing, they are part of our lives, we’re vested and we certainly care a lot about happy endings.
I think your MIL, Suz, said it all really.
You’re looking clam, fabulous and spiritual, in a way, all rolled up into contentment!,
You’ve got this!!!
I’m wondering how Buttercup, but especially Oscar, went travelling to Portland???????
Once you’re settled a smidge, I’m ready to roll on the Safe House room makeover challenge… just say the word!👍
You’re home! Enjoy!💗
Happy birthday! I’m surprised no mentions of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” 42 is the answer to everything! 🙂
I was thinking the same! The answer to life, the universe, and everything!
Happy Birthday Emily! I absolutely love these kinds of posts! They are so raw and real. So excited to follow along and watch this amazing “show” of your new journey!!
I am looking forward to seeing the “Portland Style” evolve and get stronger. The Portland house flip was my favorite project you have done and can’t wait to see more of that in the coming years.
Happy Birthday!!! I’ve been reading since close to the beginning! I realized the other day that you are responsible for making me become obsessed with interior design! I am a user experience designer and abstract artist, love buying vintage furniture, but it was following your blog that made me fall in love with interiors. Keep up the good work!! I do miss your mid-century design vibes, but am still reading every day!!! Good luck on this new chapter!!!
I think this is the most mixed-emotions I’ve ever seen you share and my heart sympathizes with your wide, deep, human soul. That’s what life is like sometimes, isn’t it? Wishing you goodness and restoration as you come home to Portland.
Happy Birthday! You feel like my internet friend and I am here for ALL of it–the joy, the mistakes, the soup, the parenting, the alpacas, the tiny fainting couches, and of course, the pretty design. We got you!
Happy Birthday, Emily. 🙂 I think you’re incredible and the world is brighter and filled with more hope because you’re part of it. I love L.A., but I do sometimes miss Lincoln, NE, where I grew up. It’s simpler (although with a population of 300,000+, while not a metropolis, is also not the tractor town some people think it is) and people’s attitudes are less annoying, at least in some ways. And I definitely miss my parents, who still live there. So I very much understand your desire to move back closer to home. You’ll figure it all out. You always do! And when the tears come, well, just remember that there’s an L.A. gal who is sending you a big virtual hug. 🙂 Bless ya!
Long time follower and reader, first time commenter, but I just love this post so so much, and boy can I relate. Happy Birthday Emily, I wish you and your beautiful family all the happiness Portland has to give.
Beautiful post. Question: do people really live in small idillic towns like on Virgin River? How do I find that? I’m ready to leave the city but am unsure of how to find my perfect small town.
Happy birthday! I love the part where you list all your tools – I need to do that. Also *human-sized fainting couch* made me lol.
Welcome to Portland! I’m so glad we’re a part of your journey.
Just the post I needed today! Happy happy birthday!
Happy birthday! I loved reading this. I’m so glad you’re in a place to let go and see how this goes. Life experience has taught me that in a new season nothing is like you expect. What you expect to be good will likely be bad. And what you expect to be bad will likely be good. The best you can do is make choices based on your values (I value family time, so we’ve moving to allow us to be together more. I value wholistic education, so I’m positioning my kids to be in schools that nurture them. Etc), then rest knowing you’re doing the best you can.
I’m looking forward to this blog changing along with your life changes. It’s healthy.
There are no mistakes. It’s all just life. In any moment we find ourselves standing in a place of contrast so we can choose which thing we prefer, and what we don’t. Then we move forward to another moment and make the same kind of decision. And if you’re paying attention to your choices, you’ll be moving in a direction of joy that you prefer. But all of it is necessary. Enjoy all of it!
Happy birthday! May your year be filled with joy and peace!
Happy Birthday Emily!
You’re gonna do great! Your family will thrive in the beautiful life that you create.
Aww happy birthday. It’s humbling to be “along” for the journey from brass petal to
I’ve been reading you for years and years. Thank you for learning out loud so we can learn with you. Rooting for you Emily.
Wishing you many more trips around the sun, Emily! It seems a good time to express my gratitude for this little piece of the internet you have created! It brings me joy every day over my morning tea! It seems you are reaching the Real You by being open to new experiences and dropping the identities of ‘city person’/extrovert/introvert! Isn’t it great when we can see growth in ourselves, especially on our birthdays? Have a very Happy Birthday!