Letting It Out & Letting It Go

Yesterday evening we ventured over to the AIDS Garden Chicago, memorializing the HIV epidemic and honoring those who live with the disease today.

I hadn’t had a good cry in a while, until yesterday. I’ve been putting a smile on for my new team at work, my neighbors, myself… and the tension I’d been feeling was building up to more I could handle.

Darkness covered us as we enjoyed some cheese and crackers along Lake Michigan when Juan started talking about all our good times together. Knowing that we may not have more of those times together broke me in ways I couldn’t imagine possible—and I just cried. Cried so hard and didn’t have any support from him—not even a hug. I was angry and hurt and scared and alone… until Linley comforted me. He sat right next to me and gave me a hug (yes, my small dog can give hugs!). I made me laugh so hard, and even during one of the saddest moments I’ve had in quite some time, he gave me hope that things will be okay—even if they aren’t right now.

When people say things like “animals don’t have feelings” or “animals aren’t that smart,” I wholeheartedly disagree. I was never allowed to have a dog growing up, but I’ve had my fair share of rodents, and even those little critters had personalities! But Lin is different. He’s the most intuitive fella I know. Others (Airbnb hosts, my friends, complete strangers…) even say that he knows me so well, that we’re a good pair. Even as I type this as I sit at my desk, this is how close he is:

I don’t know a better way to channel my love – and receive it – than being with this guy 💛

Media taken Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4, 2022

I want to live like Linley

…try saying that five times fast! 😂

Lin and his new friend/doppelgänger, Bowie!

Linley makes friends wherever he goes, is content being lazy inside or exploring outside, and loves life in all its simplicity.

He’s always up for an adventure!
Another Lake Michigan sunset 🧡
Mocking Lin’s poses
A new illustrative tattoo of my little guy ❤️

I thoroughly enjoyed my Memorial Day weekend with this little guy—and am looking forward to more summer adventures together!

Media taken May 27-June 1, 2022

It’s a walk in the (dog) park

Something that always brought Linley and me joy was hanging out at the dog park. We’re a 45-minute walk to the dog beach (which really takes over an hour with all the times Lin has to mark his territory) and about a 20-minute walk from our local dog park here in Chicago. It’s great to be close to a dog park, but boy do we miss our old one in Troy, Michigan!

The Daisy Knight Dog Park felt like such a sense of community for both Linley and me: long-lasting conversations with strangers-turned-friends and their dogs, Linley getting all the love from neighborhood kids and other dogs… but here feels so different. The past two times we’ve went to the dog park here, we haven’t really been welcomed. Granted, there are a few nice people who say hi and make small talk, but overall it doesn’t bring the same welcomeness that I’ve/we’ve felt in the past.

But Linley and I remain persistent and positive! We always make the most of it, arrive and leave with smiles on our faces, and enjoy the quality time we have on our long walks together.

“Sun’s out, tongue’s out!”

Once my car’s back from the shop (TBD), hopefully we can hit the beach instead 😉

Photos taken Thursday, May 26, 2022

Light in the Darkness: Chicago Riverwalk and Dog Beach Day

First and foremost: thank you to those who read my latest post and left beautiful, compassionate comments. Opening up about my mental health was scary and messy and awkward—but incredibly necessary.

It’s increasingly difficult to remain positive during personal and circumstantial times like these: yesterday’s horrific school shooting in Texas, my closest friends suffering from burnout and depression—while I’m trying to be there, suffering the same sorts of feelings, my car had to be towed a couple nights ago, leaving Juan, Linley and I stranded and taking a Lyft back home, family-related anxiety, work ramping up… But I do want to focus on the positives while acknowledging the heartaches.

Last Thursday, my friend Andrea and I took Linley on a four-mile stroll along Chicago’s infamous Riverwalk. He absolutely loves it, as do we. We spent a few hours walking, talking, laughing and ended our time together with some much-needed gelato and ice cold water.

Last Friday, I took Linley to our local dog beach (clearly our favorite spot!) and we had a great time. Lin was playing in the sand bar, pulling on his leash, whining and “talking” with the other pups… it was such a great afternoon! But the rain suddenly approached the beach—creating swirls in the water and the temperature to suddenly drop by 20° at least. Between Lin grabbing leaves from the lake and the rain on our way to the car, he was soaked!

In no way is this intended to minimize what’s going on in the United States, my friends’ lives, my life… but rather a reminder that there is hope and that I always need to find light in the darkness. 🤍

Media taken Thursday, May 19 and Friday, May 20, 2022

Vulnerability around my mental health

Today I wanted to take a step back and write about the current state of my mental health.

When thinking of a title for this post, I wanted to start with “transparency” or “honesty,” but the word “vulnerability resonates more. Brené Brown, one of my favorite researchers and mental health advocates, says that being vulnerable – no matter how scary – is one of bravest things one can be.

Lately I’ve been struggling with current pain and past trauma. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about my family members, former coworkers and friends who have hurt me deeply. The blessing and curse of being an empath (or “indigo child” if you will) is feeling so deeply. Deeper than the average person can feel. I remember every word, moment, feeling… when I have been hurt in the past. For certain friendships or working relationships, time does heal all wounds; I’m not thinking about certain people as frequently as I used to. And I understand that people grow apart, but this is different—this is people who I believe have genuinely hurt me or have taken full advantage of my kindness.

All processing past pain, I’m also coping with current depression. Depression about Chicago not being what I thought it would be, my marriage not being as strong as I’d like it to be, people here letting me down no matter how hard I’ve tried, family and friends from Michigan continuing to let me down… It’s difficult for me to not feel like a failure. I feel like I’m failing in my family’s eyes, in Juan’s eyes, in certain friends’ eyes… I feel like if I leave Chicago that I would be a failure. But is it worth staying when my depression is worsening?

Last week one of my closest friends here betrayed my trust. I continue to feel like Juan and I are growing apart, not wanting the same things of the future. I feel financially trapped and scared that I’ll never live the life I want to live. I’m afraid my family will continue to misunderstand me and never fully accept me as I am.

For the first time in my life, I truly don’t know how to move forward. I know I’ve been open about my struggles with mental health on this platform, but things feel worse this time.

Living with depression feels like living with a deep sense of hopelessness, despair and constantly feeling alone or misunderstood.

But what I really want and need to feel is a clear path forward—a light in the darkness.

Photos taken Friday, May 20, 2022

Warm Weather, Warm Heart

Spending so much time outdoors last week made me exponentially happier 💛

Linley and I spent five days at the dog beach, including one morning at sunset. We also met some new neighbors on our block – both human and dog! – and enjoyed some lemonade stands along our afternoon walks. These kids are gets salespeople around here! Chasing Lin at the beach and watching him play with other dogs and kids was incredibly heartwarming—and exactly what I needed 🙂

Here are several photos and videos from our week:

A very “Chicago weekend”

Week one of work is in the books—and so far so good! But admittedly, working after going seven weeks without it took extra focus and determination, leading to feeling extremely tired after a long week of onboarding. This, as well as some personal things, made me excited for a nice, “Chicago weekend.”

And by that, I mean good food downtown, a comedy show and a fun afternoon at the Montrose Dog Beach.

We stayed in and watched some comedy while munching on McDonalds fries and Chicago Diner vegan shakes on Friday evening. Saturday morning started off with a nice, warm morning walk followed by driving downtown and grabbing Mediterranean food at Ema (10/10 would recommend). After stuffing our faces, we walked around West Loop a little before heading back home. Linley was so cute on our late afternoon/early evening walk because he wanted to head into every restaurant and bar in Wrigleyville! 😂

While we were at lunch, Juan and I decided to book comedy club tickets for that evening, so after Lin’s and my walk, we got ready to laugh some more. Listening to three hilarious comedians, including fellow Michigan native Steve Iott, while drinking some cucumber lime martinis couldn’t have made for a better night!

Channeling my inner Midge Maisel

Sunday morning was a little more lazy; we ordered breakfast in and hung out before heading to the beach in the afternoon. Linley enjoyed himself at the dog beach, and seeing him have so much fun made our day, too! He’s the best… 🙂

My evening ended with a great phone call with one of my closest friends, and some Survivor before heading to bed.

Don’t forget to follow Linley on Instagram! westiepoo.linley 🐶

Photos taken Saturday, May 7 and Sunday, May 8, 2022

Missing Montana

During Linley’s and my road trip to Washington state last month, we passed through Montana. I’ve heard from a few friends who have been there how beautiful Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park and Whitefish are, but never expected to feel like I was back in Norway—or even in a place like Alaska. Montana blew me away in natural beauty.

Linley being too salty to appreciate the view!
Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

What blew me away even more was the kindness of its residents. I stayed at three Airbnb’s (two heading west, and one on the way home to Chicago) and everyone was incredibly gracious. And yes, I know that Airbnb hosts “need” to be kind, but these Montanans weren’t just hospitable—they were true, “salt of the earth” people who treated you like family from the start.

My favorite Airbnb was our first one in Billings. Our hosts, Jennifer and her dog Izzy, were two of the greatest hosts I’ve ever stayed with (and I’ve been using Airbnb in Europe since 2014!). I enjoyed my time with them more than anything. It was especially nice after a LONG multiple-day drive without many people to talk with, excluding Linley who wanted nothing to do with my bad singing 😂

The only downside of my trip is that I woke up with a nasty head cold the next day (not covid, thank goodness!). Jennifer was so kind and took Linley and Izzy on a walk down by the river because my head felt like a bowling ball. Again, reiterating how amazing and warmly I was treated there. ❤️

This week has been a struggle: learning a new role in a new industry AND at a new company, my marriage falling apart, my happiness in Chicago fleeting, a major fight with my mom and resurfaced PTSD, a general sense of not being able to find my footing… it’s been draining to say the least. But I’m grateful for my road trip memories and want to think about positive moments that have occurred recently. I hope to make and find more of these memories soon…

If you’re ever considering visiting Montana – or are simply passing through – please reach out and I can send you my Airbnb info and travel highlights from Billings, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake and Helena.

Linley enjoying our Airbnb in Billings!

Photos taken Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20, 2022

It has been a WEEK.

It’s only Tuesday and so many little odd things have gone wrong…

For starters, yesterday was my first day at my new job. After going seven weeks without working, it has been extremely hard for me to focus. My dog also kept making noise during my only real meeting of the day—mainly because our upstairs neighbors are moving out and also made a lot of noise. AND my travel Instagram account was hacked, and will likely be disabled…

I. Am. Devastated. ☹️

BUT me being me, I’m trying to find the silver lining in it all. Perhaps this is a great way for me to live in the present; not the past (not posting throwback travel photos, etc.).

Until/if I can even get this sorted out, you can find my dog at westiepoo.linley on Instagram. His account is private – for now – but he’ll follow you back, I promise!

It was a beautiful day yesterday, and here are some photos from my 6am stroll:

Photos taken Monday, May 2, 2022

Welcomed by Washington

Linley’s and my final destination was Washington state—to spend quality time with our friend Bethany for a long weekend. We were graciously welcomed by her, the wilderness surrounding us, light breeze and warm sunshine every day of our visit.

Our weekend together was worth all the money for gas and Airbnbs, time on the road across numerous states and nasty head cold I caught along the way. Having Linley and Bethany finally meet in person was beyond touching—and of course I’d missed her immensely, too!

Until next time, Washington 🙂

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram:

@westiepoo.linley and @adventureinspades

Media taken Wednesday, April 20 through Sunday, April 24, 2022

It’s always sunny in South Dakota

Hello from Billings, Montana! Linley and I are heading on a road trip to Seattle, and we’ve had some interesting stops along the way…

Me changing oil at a gas station in Minnesota, while Linley stares in judgment as I punch a hole in a styrofoam cup for my makeshift funnel…

En route to Washington state, I decided that Rapid City, South Dakota made the most sense as our first overnight stay. I’ve heard by several that South Dakota had an abundance of national beauty once you get past the horrible, incredibly boring jaunt of I-90 West, including the Badlands and Black Hills National Forest. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in the most breathtaking places, but the sunset driving through the Badlands is one that cannot be ignored.

After a relaxing night at a local Airbnb and an official oil change in the morning, we headed west to visit the Black Hills National Forest—which engulfed us in its natural beauty and crisp mountain air. Linley and I are both avid hikers and thoroughly enjoyed our three-hour trek. Our adventures in South Dakota oddly reminded me of my times in Estonia: sometimes the places you have no/less expectations of can quickly become your favorites!

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram: westiepoo.linley and adventureinspades

Media taken Sunday, April 17 and Monday, April 18

Asheville Waterfalls

In 2014, I saw some of the largest, most beautiful waterfalls in Asheville, North Carolina. During my most recent visit (I returned to Chicago with Linley late last night), I knew I had to revisit DuPont State Forest—and finally see Looking Glass Falls.

DuPont State Forest is a free, extremely large park with multiple trails and options for everyone to enjoy. Linley and I wanted to spend the majority of our time at High Falls—arguably the most magnificent of the bunch. I distinctly remember this from my first time in Asheville nearly eight years ago, and haven’t been able to forget it ever since. We hiked down to the river beneath the falls, found a great rock to sit on and enjoyed some quality time together.

Once Linley started getting antsy, we started to head east to get a better, closer view of the falls. The trek wasn’t necessarily the safest, but Lin and I were able to practice some fancy footwork and find a good spot to enjoy the mist from the falls.

Once we were pretty covered in sprinkles, we headed north and hiked another hour or so to Grassy Lake Falls—another waterfall in the park. This fall is significantly smaller, but much more peaceful and tranquil, making it the perfect spot for a quick picnic. There was a big rock that seemed like it was made specifically for Lin and me. We munched on some cheese sandwiches and dog food, and relaxed before the next hike.

On our way back to the visitor’s center, we met a lovely couple and chatted with them for a bit—which is one of the many reasons why I love the Asheville area so much. Linley even started to fall asleep as we visited with them! We finally made it to the car, and headed north to Looking Glass Falls.

Looking Glass Falls sits halfway between Asheville and DuPont State Forest, and is one waterfall I’ve always wanted to see. It’s not necessarily a “hike,” but it is a beautiful place to park your car, walk down toward and hang out for a little while. Linley and I sat in a “sandbank” type area with the best view of the falls, people watched and enjoyed hearing the sounds of the waterfall and the creek flowing near us.

I’m beyond grateful to have visited some of my favorite places with one of my best friends 😀

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram westiepoo.linley and adventureinspades

Media taken Wednesday, April 13