A Stellar Spring

by Beth Royston

It’s time for me to share another season’s worth of favorite activities again! A lot of these activities are open all year long, but the bright colors and fragrant blooms that come with springtime makes them particularly special.

Visit the Rose Garden!

Located in Washington Park, which is also home to the Oregon Zoo, the International Test Rose Garden is a stunningly beautiful trip. It’s host to more than 10,000 rose bushes and is truly a perfect visit for anyone that’s a fan of spring. There are some absolutely gorgeous varieties of roses that I never knew existed, and every time I feel like I see something new! Plus, you can make it a day trip with Washington Park’s other activities.

Cherry Blossoms at the Waterfront Park!

Perfectly instagram-able, not everyone knows that a large majority of the trees in the downtown Waterfront Park are actually cherry blossom trees. They bloom every spring, and pictures don’t truly do it justice. You can stroll along the park while observing the blossoms, appreciating this official sign that spring is here! For anyone that’s ever wanted to travel to Japan to see sakura season, this is a wonderful experience.

Check out the Portland Japanese Garden/Lan Su Chinese Garden! 

Located in Washington Park and downtown Portland respectively, these two attractions are open all year long, but are particularly beautiful in the spring (I can also vouch for the beauty of the Japanese Garden in autumn!). Seeing lush gardens so full of life always makes me happy after winter, and you can see them at the height of their beauty.

See the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival!

Tulips galore! Located in Woodburn, this extravaganza of tulips is a perfect way to celebrate spring. The best time to see the tulips is the first few weeks of April, but the festival is usually open until early May. They have an immense variety of tulips and other flowers to see and purchase, and also hot air balloon rentals! I hope you’ll keep these Portland spring attractions on your mind this year!

The Best Beverage: In Praise of Coffee

By Erika Nelson

On any particular day, my morning routine always begins with coffee. It’s a stereotype: the college student who runs on coffee. But in my case, it’s true.  I. Love. Coffee. My morning coffee is the simple indulgence that kicks off my day; a form of self-bribery to hoist my tired body out of bed instead of pressing the snooze button. 

One of the little ways I show affection for my partner is by making coffee. We have an Aeropress, which is like a French Press but FASTER, meaning less time to wait for that caffeine jolt! I add a splash of cream to mine, and we sit and watch the news together before getting on with our respective days. If I’m at my place, I either brew a pot of drip coffee or trot down to Starbucks for the frothy goodness of a Grande Nitro cold brew. On days when I’m having trouble working up the motivation to study, I head to one of my favorite places on campus, Park Avenue Café. A mocha and an almond biscotti while I study? Heaven. 

Enjoying a caffeinated beverage (or two or three) in a place where I can have alone time, yet experience a fair amount of background stimulation while I work, is where I’m most productive. The concept of “productivity” is a double-edged sword that seems to go hand-in-hand with coffee culture: social media is saturated with pictures of espresso next to laptops, attached to hashtags like #onmygrind and #butfirstcoffee. Being busy (and the tasty brown beverage that gets you through the busy-ness) is glorified in our society, and some people criticize “busy culture,” pointing out that it can lead to burnout and feelings of inadequacy. 

I’m no stranger to burnouts and feelings of inadequacy. I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was a kid, and was recently diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 27. My ADHD diagnosis has led to a new perspective on my own habits and productivity. Like others with the same concurrent conditions, I’m in a weird spot: common wisdom for the depressed and anxious is to avoid caffeine to prevent exacerbating symptoms. However, coffee’s mainstay stimulant helps many people with and without executive function disorders sharpen their focus. Many people with ADHD use coffee instead of (or in addition to) prescription ADHD medications for this very purpose. 

I sometimes wonder: is it the caffeine, the taste, or the ritual that makes me love coffee so much? Maybe it’s a combination of all three: caffeine helps me concentrate, coffee is yummy, and a morning cup of Joe signals my brain that it’s time to sit down and get things done. Whatever the reason for my coffee obsession, I don’t see myself switching to decaf anytime soon. 

I could probably stand cutting back to one cup a day, though.

Different Priorities

By Erika Nelson

Welcome back, everyone! I’m excited for spring term. My classes are interesting, my color-coding system is finalized, and I’m confident that this is the term that I’ll finally slay the Procrastination Dragon. And this term, I mean it.

I have the habit of making overly-ambitious to-do lists; both necessary (like re-organizing the closet and taking clothes to Goodwill) and pleasurable (like practicing my art skills). Very rarely do I ever complete even a third of these aspirational tasks.

Maybe I’m lazy and unmotivated. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I’m not the only one who assigns themselves tasks during a period of free time, only to wake up and realize that the window of free time has come and gone. Yet I feel like I do this more than most people. Is it self-sabotage? A mental health thing? Disorganization and lack of motivation stemming from COVID stress?

Whatever the cause (or causes), I’m tired of doing this. I want to be able to set goals and actually meet them.

I decided to look at my lists a little differently. I pulled out my winter break to-do list: was there anything on the list I could see myself doing — actually doing, and not just picturing me doing? Did I write this list for me, or an ideal version of myself? And were my own goals stressing me out; just contributing to procrastination and leading me to not even try?

Ideal Erika — the Erika I want to be — has endless energy and focus. She wakes up at 5:45 a.m. every day to work out. She meets all her homework and blogging deadlines. She has a vibrant social life and devotes lots of time to personal improvement and hobbies. She schedules doctor’s appointments without a shred of anxiety. She keeps her environment clean and tidy and cooks healthy dinners every day in her shiny kitchen with an alphabetized spice rack. Her schedule is perfectly juggled; each ball expertly timed to land in her perfectly-manicured hands, and she manages her stress easily. In fact, stress revitalizes her!

I’m not Ideal Erika. At least not yet. Although the truth is I probably never will be, not entirely. However, I can take steps to get closer to being her, and the first step is by admitting to myself that I have limits. I used to make a lengthy list of everything I wanted to get done in a day, then self-loathe at the end of the day when I didn’t complete it. Now, I’ve started making a list as I would before, but highlighting what’s important … and then highlighting again in a different color once I’ve prioritize from that pool of tasks. As long as I get my Three Big Things done in a day, I feel accomplished.

Some days are better than others, and my Three Big Things turns into Eight Big Things. Other days, I have Two Big Things, or even One Big Thing. And some days I don’t even get One Big Thing done. But since I’ve started prioritizing, life is a lot more manageable and less overwhelming. I’ve completed more projects and been more productive compared to before when I’d load up my plate with endless tasks and self-expectations. And while procrastination is still my biggest obstacle to success, I’ve been paying visits to the Procrastination Dragon less and less frequently.

Quintessential Conventions

by Beth Royston

Ah, conventions – gatherings for people who share a common love of comics, anime, or other uniting things. Where else can you walk giant circles around one building all day, squeezing past people in impossibly intricate armor cosplays, trying to get in line to buy an incredibly expensive burger? I love conventions, and have truly missed their presence in my life this past year. I can’t wait for them to be back again! I’d like to provide a little tidbit on what to expect if you’ve always been fascinated by these gatherings of greatness or have ever considered attending. This is by no means a comprehensive list of every piece of advice or every convention in the area, but hopefully it’ll get you started.

Where do I start?

There are usually a “main three” in Portland my partner and I like to frequent — Rose City Comic Con (RCCC), Wizard Con Portland (WC) and Kumoricon. RCCC and WC are more comic-oriented, while Kumoricon is more anime-oriented. My partner and I aren’t super into comics, and I’m not into anime, but we feel like there’s an inclusion of many sources of media at these conventions. All celebrate pop culture, and offer merchandise for video games, tv shows, books … you name it. There are some smaller cons in Portland we haven’t checked out yet, and we’re interested in checking out some Oregon conventions outside the Portland area. We’ve also attended Seattle’s PAX West in the past, which I highly recommend if you love everything video games like we do. My partner and I are interested in checking out some other Washington conventions in the future as well.  RCCC, WC, and Kumoricon are all in the fall or winter, and PAX is in the summer. Convention tickets usually range between $40-70 for a full weekend pass, but of course, this varies. You can also purchase a one-day pass if you want to test the waters.

Do you have to cosplay?

No, absolutely not. There are plenty of folks in their regular clothes. However, cosplaying is really, really fun. You can start small and purchase your entire costume online, or pick a character that wears everyday clothes that are easy to find. Or, you can get a little more advanced and try out sewing and/or crafting parts of your costume. It’s rewarding and exciting! It’s a highlight of convention season every year to recognize folks in costume from media my partner and I both love, and also, to be recognized! Having a starry-eyed con-goer ask to take your picture is a pretty sweet feeling. There’s usually a lot of workshops and panels during a con about cosplaying and how to make props if you’re interested in learning. If you are cosplaying, I recommend checking out social media or convention forums to see if there are any meetup groups for the media you’re cosplaying from! Usually there will be a costume contest at a convention, and that’s a great way to see the amazing talent on display.

What is there to do?

A lot! My personal favorite part is browsing the artists’ alley. There are so many cool posters, keychains, stickers, and a ton of other kinds of merch I won’t even think of before I see it! There’s usually a lot of stock for things that are current and popular, but there’s a particular excitement that ignites inside me when I see merchandise for something older, or less well-known. I’ve scored some truly awesome finds, and it feels great to support local creators. You can also attend panels, which are usually on a variety of topics, and simply people-watch. I love walking around and seeing everyone’s cosplays, as well as being asked for pictures. Always ask someone before taking a picture, and don’t touch anyone’s cosplay or body without their consent. There’s plenty to do the entire weekend, but you can always try just going for one day if you’re unsure about how you’ll like it. 

I hope you’ll give convention-going a try if it sounds interesting! This year, it’s a goal of mine to try selling my handmade soap in an artist’s alley.  For now, I simply dream of going back. Hope to see you there!

The Case For Zoom

By Erika Nelson

When PSU announced that the coming spring and summer terms would continue to be remote, I had conflicting feelings. On one hand, I’m happy that PSU is looking out for students, faculty, and staff by minimizing physical contact. It’s comforting to be part of an institution that values health and safety. On the other hand, I (and every other Viking I’ve spoken to on this topic) am disappointed that after a year of remote learning, we still won’t the inside of a classroom for at least the next few months.

I have an edge over “Past Erika” in March 2020, however – I know what to expect. I’m used to living remotely now. I know the ins and outs of Zoom … at least in theory. For instance, I didn’t know that there was a shortcut to “raise hand” (“Option” + “Y” keys) until this week. Although I miss traditional learning, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well Zoom classes work for me. Don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world, I prefer the classroom format and wish we could look forward to non-remote terms sooner than this fall. But by using Zoom, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my learning style.

The Zoom format provides the schedule and structure of regular meeting times, which is helpful to people like me who struggle staying organized and on-task without a timetable to hold them accountable. I’m much more engaged on Zoom than in classes that are entirely on D2L, because having faces and personalities to match to the names leads to more lively discussions (at least in my experience.) In classroom settings, I struggle a lot with social anxiety and self-doubt, leading to stumbling over my words or declining to share my thoughts at all. In virtual classes, there is the added buffer of seeing the instructor and classmates through a window, lending me more confidence to speak up and share comments verbally … and if I’m still feeling shy, I can always type out my take in the class chat.

The benefits of Zoom don’t end with me. Zoom classes have helped make the class dynamic more accessible to students with special circumstances; those who’d like to attend classes in person but can’t always make it there. Life sometimes presents obstacles that make regular attendance difficult —for example, becoming ill or injured, being your family’s only source of childcare, a lack of funds for regular public transportation, or having mental or physical disabilities. Being able to learn remotely during the times you can’t make it to class has made education more equitable — instead of worrying about piling up absences and missing crucial material, students can focus on learning.

Perhaps as we move forward through the pandemic and beyond, schools and colleges should consider ways to offer Zoom classes alongside solely-online courses and traditional in-person lectures. This idea might seem silly, but consider the ubiquity of online-only courses — even pre-pandemic, it was a rare college that didn’t offer a selection of online courses. Critics didn’t think it would work, but online learning is now undeniably part of academia alongside traditional lecture halls. Maybe Zoom is the happy medium that blends classroom and keyboard, creating a more flexible way of learning.

Above: A handy cheatsheet I made to help me remember Zoom commands (those little doodles on the “OO” are supposed to be glasses.)

A Wonderful Winter

by Beth Royston

I wrote a post previously on my favorite autumn activities (see: An Aspirational Autumn). I thought I’d continue the series by logging some of my favorite winter activities! It’s definitely been more of a secluded winter with the pandemic, but I’ve been pleased to find out that I can still carry out some of my plans. So without further ado, here are some of my best recommendations to carry you through these chilly months.

Check out the Portland Winter Light Festival!

Held every year in early February, the Winter Light Festival is a glorious assembly of light displays and art. It’s usually spread out through different locations in the city. This year, the Festival took the form of separate installations around the city. I unfortunately didn’t make it out to see the art this year, but I’ve gone in the past, and I absolutely recommend it! Check out their website linked here.

See Zoo Lights!

If you love going to the zoo, check it out in a new fashion with Zoo Lights! Held around the holiday season, this event at the Oregon Zoo takes place in the evening. While most of the animals are asleep, you can see brilliant and cute light displays, and the infamous tunnel of lights which is a worthy photo-op. They have many food carts still open, so you can still get a warm beverage and a snack. I definitely recommend checking it out at least once.

Venture out into the snow!

I was beyond thrilled to have snow this year on Valentine’s Day weekend. If you also enjoy the snow, I definitely recommend making the most of it! You can have a snowball fight, build a snowman, or simply take a lovely winter walk. My fiancee and I walked to our local park, found a hill, and tossed ourselves down it on our stomachs like penguins since we didn’t have sleds. It was so much fun, but be careful if you’re out in the snow not to slip! If you don’t have any good footwear, you can purchase snap-on treads for your shoes that will vastly increase your traction in the ice. 

Try taking a trip to the coast/sea lion caves

You may not find this enjoyable if you dislike winter weather, but if you don’t mind it, take a trip to the Oregon coast. During the off season, the beaches are pretty vacant, and hotel rates tend to be lower. My partner and I went in December, and we absolutely loved how quiet it was. The scenery at the beach was still gorgeous. Neither of us are huge sunning-yourself beach people anyway, so we didn’t mind at all. Also, consider heading down south to Florence to visit the sea lion caves, which are the largest sea caves in North America! Unfortunately, they closed this year due to the pandemic, but it’s a bucket list item of mine to go. The best time to go is during the winter, when the sea lions huddle inside the cave to stay warm.

However you spend your winter, I hope it’s safe, warm, and fun! 

Dorm Pie

By Erika Nelson

As I’ve written before, I live in student housing. Dorms— a word that connotes many things related to “the college experience”— ridiculously tall beds, hallways decorated to reflect the RA’s floor theme, washing machines that only work half the time … and above all, socialization. From bonding over bowls of instant ramen to flashcard quizzes in the common area, you can’t picture dorm life without thinking of social interaction. 

I came to PSU in the fall of 2019 — ignorant of COVID and the pandemic on the horizon, I had one blissful term to experience the social aspect of college and dorm life. Sure, most of the other residents seem to fall into the 18-21 cohort, and at 27 I’m an old lady by comparison, but mixing colors at Paint Nite and making dorm decor at RHA-sponsored events was a great way to chill out and meet fellow Vikings. While waiting on my laundry one night last year, I ran into a couple girls reading Tarot cards. Naturally, I threw my accounting homework to the side so I could get a reading. The cards uncannily reflected a recent breakup and reminded me of my ex (although, to be fair, pretty much everything reminded me of my ex at the time.) I bawled like a baby and the three of us swapped stories about Men Who Did Us Dirty. I don’t remember those girls’ names, and I never ran into them again, but I’ll always appreciate that experience.  

The halls look very different now … no Tarot cards or half-finished puzzles to be seen. Occasionally I’ll bump into another student on the way to their room, or the elevator will stop on another floor and a resident and I will awkwardly stare at each other until the doors close and the elevator continues its trip up or down (one of the new Housing rules: only one person/household in the elevator at a time, to cut down on germ transmission. The elevators didn’t get the memo, so they continue to stop at floors where the button is pressed.) Once in a blue moon, there are freebies left by kind strangers — individually-wrapped hand sanitizing wipes; packets of tea; paper napkins with a note saying “emergency toilet paper :).” I don’t usually partake in these freebies (sanitizing wipes are an exception) because of, ya know, the virus … but it always warms my heart a little when I see them. 

Around Thanksgiving, I found a Dorm Pie. A solitary pumpkin confection left on a communal table, the pie was exposed to the elements without a cover, and there was no note explaining its presence. It was like an unaccompanied child at the airport, and I simultaneously felt mild amusement, pity for the lonely dessert (lockdown has caused me to anthropomorphize everything), and gratitude that someone thought, “I have an extra pie. Someone will want this.” We’re a building of college students, after all — we love free food even when COVID hasn’t made employment scarce — and it’s the season of giving. And I love pumpkin pie … sure, it may be uncovered and rife with viral particles, I thought, but it’s probably fine! I don’t want it to go to waste, or dry out before someone can find it …

I ended up leaving the pie. Whether someone ate it or threw it away, I’ll never know, but the Dorm Pie will forever live in my memory as a symbol of goodwill during hard times. 

Even though we dorm-dwellers can’t socialize in person, there’s still a sense of community — seeing free stuff someone’s left for their neighbors is a reminder that even in these socially-distant times of Zoom trivia nights and solo elevator rides, residents are still looking out for each other. 

Or maybe they just want to unload excess stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  But if you’re reading this, kind Pie Donor — you should probably leave the cover on next time. 

Winter is Coming.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We’re in this together.

By Erika Nelson

Governor Kate Brown recently announced new social-distancing requirements across Oregon. Most counties will have to follow the new guidelines for at least two weeks, but Multnomah County and other COVID hotspots will stay shut down even longer. Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee recently announced similar restrictions. I’m willing to bet that it’s only a matter of time before Governor Gavin Newsom follows suit in California, making shutdowns in the West Coast states three-for-three.

Needless to say, this is unwelcome news. Everyone is fatigued from the months of isolation, and it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security from the warmer months’ improvement. But the pandemic is nowhere near over, and as we move into the colder months, our collective situation is likely to become even more dire. It’s more important than ever to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, and taking the basic precautions to slow the virus’ spread.

Yes, these measures are inconvenient. Like everyone else, I’ve been irritated and upset by the shutdowns and restrictions. Earlier this year, I had to postpone medical procedures that weren’t deemed essential. A large part of why I chose PSU was Portland’s vibrant social and cultural scene, and I haven’t been able to experience most of the places and businesses that Portland is known for. In fact, I might very well finish out my time in college without seeing the inside of another classroom. The lower half of my face is constantly breaking out in “maskne.” None of these inconveniences are life-and-death situations, though.

What I’m saying shouldn’t be controversial: People need to face facts and follow the safety measures that save lives. I am sick of the head-in-the-sand science denial, the conspiracy theories, the people endlessly complaining on social media about the basic measures meant to keep themselves and others safe. It’s disheartening. It’s disheartening to know that millions upon millions of people complain about masks: Masks causing people to inhale carbon dioxide (they don’t), masks being uncomfortable (fair enough, but not important), masks somehow violate constitutional freedoms (not true), or any number of excuses. Some people flaunt going maskless and give performative, self-righteous rants in private businesses or record themselves marching through public in some kind of virtue-signaling display, extending America’s hyper-partisan us-vs-them narrative into public health.

Masks are not political. Public health is not political.

There are some things you just can’t argue about. There are facts, and then there are opinions. “That’s just my opinion, and you need to respect it!” Well, your opinion doesn’t mean much when America’s premier health advisor says the country “could not be positioned more poorly” with regards to the virus’ spread. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when cases are surging almost everywhere. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when hospitals are overwhelmed and record numbers of people are dying. Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have long warned that the cooler weather will bring more cases, and that if we don’t collectively change our habits, the pandemic will become even worse. 

The only way to prevent future lockdowns and stricter requirements is to follow the rules now. Everyone needs to take this pandemic seriously. Please. If you go out, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Sanitize. This isn’t hard. This isn’t forever. The more we adopt these lifestyle changes, the closer we are to going back to normal.

Being Under the National Spotlight

by Beth Royston

I can depend on them, those text messages, every time Portland is in the news. Of course, they are from friends and family outside the city who care about me and are concerned for my well being. But I think it isn’t often realized by people that live outside of the Portland area that life here is not really like it’s portrayed on the news — and we’ve had a lot of coverage lately. 

Recently, with the federal occupation of Portland, it felt like we were under a giant microscope. I was getting a lot of calls at my student position in the Admissions office from concerned parents and wary students about how really safe it was to be here. To be honest, sometimes things happen in Portland and I have no idea until someone texts me about it, and I think I do a decent job of checking the news! Of course, I can understand why people are frightened. Coming from an entirely suburban area while growing up, moving to a city with inner-city challenges was a culture shock for me. Something I think that is important for incoming students to know is that the Park Blocks, the big green space running through the middle of campus, is actually city property. That’s why there are wonderful things, like the farmer’s market that happens there every Saturday. But that also means that protests can gather there that aren’t PSU-related. It can be a lot to get used to, but I am happy to live somewhere where people are truly passionate about standing up for things they believe in. I still remember the shocked expression on my partner’s face when I brought him to his first loud, marching, flag-waving protest (he’s from a suburban neighborhood in Ohio).

It can be nerve-wracking to receive all of these queries, almost as if it’s forcing me to look inward when someone asks if I’ve been affected by any of the protesting, or the wildfires, or this, or that. Being under the national spotlight is tough. I can only ever give my own opinion, which is that I do feel safe at Portland State and in Portland. 

My Journey So Far: Reflecting on My First Year at PSU

By Erika Nelson

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at PSU for a year now! The last 12 months have brought more changes and challenges than I could have possibly imagined, both in my personal life and the world at large. Since I first became a Viking in September 2019, I’ve switched jobs, broken up with a long-term partner, changed my major, found a new partner, had a major medical emergency, spent almost four months out of town because of the pandemic, and moved apartments … wow. That’s a lot of drama to squeeze into one year. 

If I could go back in time, I’d change a lot of things (first off: warn people about COVID-19, obviously). However, I’ve learned so many lessons and found a new strength and sense of accomplishment from everything I went through. When I feel down on myself, I try to remember how much I’ve grown in a mere 12 months …

My newfound sense of direction

Last autumn, downtown PDX’s urban sprawl seemed like a labyrinth. I was constantly getting lost, relying on Google Maps to get to classes or do errands. Today, I move through the neighborhood on instinct and have all the street names memorized. (“Are you looking for Starbucks? Do you want the one on 6th in the Urban Center, the one on Jefferson inside of Safeway, or the one on Broadway and Clay? Don’t bother trying the ones on Jackson or Montgomery; they’re temporarily closed.”) I’m starting to feel like a local!

A new passion for wellness

A year ago, I was a brand-new suburban transplant who rarely walked anywhere for necessity, much less for fun. A lack of endurance made simple trips to the store a sweaty ordeal. Now, I’m so accustomed to walking every day, I get cabin fever when I have nowhere to go. In addition, I started running regularly and attending workout classes (before social distancing, that is), and started paying closer attention to what I ate. I did end up losing weight, which I’m proud of, but I feel better, which is so much more important than a number on a scale. 

Having faith in my journey

My first term at PSU, I was a Business major — while aspects of the field interested me (and still do), I was only on that track out of fear — what if I couldn’t find a career to make money majoring in the humanities? However, I soon realized that I needed to take a chance and major in what I loved; what felt right. Now, I’m a happy English major and I’m exploring the idea of law school. I love literature and challenging myself to find connections and interpretations in various media, and applying those ideas to real life. I had to take a few steps back in my graduation timeline (changing my major as a junior means I’ll be at PSU a couple extra terms), but I’m happy where I am. It’s better to take a leap of faith than always wonder “what if?”

It’s easy to focus on all the ways life sucks … and let’s be honest, life sucks for pretty much everyone right now. Life is complicated even in the best of times, and we’ve all had our lives disrupted by this virus — it’s ok to be angry, sad, scared, or anywhere else on the spectrum of emotions. Yet it’s also important to pause and reflect on the good. I’m not someone who subscribes to the tenet of destiny, or says “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe there’s lessons to be learned in every situation: good, bad, and in-between.