portland blogs

Finding a Path

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Finding a path

Contributed by Allison Burt-Tilden

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As a small child growing up in 1980's Portland, I felt like I had it all: a loving family, a nice home with lots of other children nearby, and a secure spot as teacher's pet at school. All of this came crashing down shortly after I turned seven. My parents declared bankruptcy, my dad had to sell our home and his flourishing business, and we began living a pattern of chaos that would last more than a decade. My parents fought bitterly until their eventual divorce, I was enlisted as a secondary parent to my two much younger siblings, money was always an issue, and we moved every six months on average, often living with my grandparents in between rentals. Needless to say, I developed some pretty gnarly anxiety and as a result, I started to struggle in school.

By the time I turned 18 I had already dropped out of high school and gotten my GED. Despite having worked full-time for a couple of years already, I had no idea how to manage money or how to find my purpose in life. I went to work, paid the rent, paid the bills, bought some food, and spent whatever was left on make-up and clothes. As a life-long lover of fashion, I used my free time to read high fashion magazines and shop, which was my main joy in life. As far as I could figure out, life was about working so that I could shop.

In my early twenties, I was overjoyed to make the move from the service industry to an office job – and just like that, I fell into real estate. For a high school drop-out, it seemed like my golden ticket; a good salary, benefits, evenings & weekends off, and most of all, stability. Never mind that the work itself didn't interest me, I was doing what people are supposed to do. Naturally, it didn't take long for me to feel completely dissatisfied. Remembering how easy it had been to fall into my job, I gave my notice and went back to the placement agency to ask for something else. That's when my total disregard of news and current events first bit me in the ass. The year was 2002 and apparently the country was in a recession. After six months of unemployment, I got swept back into real estate after finding a series of dead ends elsewhere. Apparently my experience was quite sought after.

For the next ten years, I slogged my way through the industry. I worked in escrow and in mortgage, I worked for a listing brokerage, I negotiated short sales, I went back to mortgage – and what I remember most of those years is being utterly miserable. I dreamed of quitting and going to school - but for what? My interests were so varied and the harder I tried to decide on a path, the more confused I became. Part of me has always wanted to do something in science or health care, while another part of me desperately wanted in on the fashion world. No matter which ideas I entertained, I always felt like someone who was peering through a thick glass wall and I couldn't imagine ever getting past.

The turning point was slow in coming and in some ways, I feel like it's still happening, like I'm at the halfway point through a revolving door. It all started with meeting people at parties and dreading the inevitable question: 'What do you do?' I didn't want to talk about it! I would reply that I hated my job, that it doesn't define me, that I wanted to do something else, something in fashion, and ultimately, all the reasons why I couldn't make a change. This is where I want to take a moment to thank each and everyone one of those people who were such good sports listening to my negativity, but mostly, I want to thank each and every one of them for also telling me: Just do it.

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It took years and probably a hundred such meetings and discussions before I had the epiphany. There I was at another social gathering, introducing myself to someone new and dreading the inevitable. 'So what do you do?' came, but this time I answered, 'I'm a blogger'. Granted, at the time my blog was more of a personal thing and I hadn't shared it with many but that simple sentence enabled me to think of myself outside of the real estate box, to talk to someone about something I genuinely enjoyed doing, and to give up the negativity that was really starting to grate on me (I can only imagine how it came across to others). Sure, I was still working in mortgage but suddenly it was just my day job - something understood as just a means to an end and not really worth discussing.

Once that first shift occurred, suddenly, I realized I was indeed a blogger. I started brainstorming new content ideas, I pushed my boundaries (like, a lot), I upped my game, and I started sharing the results with people. Crazily enough, they liked it! Blogging is not my ultimate goal but it has helped me in so many ways. I now understand my talents for writing and photography and how I can apply them to my love of local & indie fashion. Most importantly though, I have learned that not only can I step outside of my comfort zone, I can re-define my comfort zone.

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Four years later, my blog has a small but steadily growing following and I work as a contributor for a really big blog (honeykennedy.com - check it out!). I'm about to take the next big step in putting myself out there for even bigger jobs in fashion writing and photography - I'll be honest, it's scary as hell! When I look back at miserable me sitting in a cubicle, processing loan applications and hating life, I remember the hard work and determination that has, so far, gotten me out of that cubicle, resulted in a body of work I'm pretty proud of, and helped me make real connections with amazing people doing amazing things.

When I think back to all the praise I received for my writing in school, how much I enjoyed learning photography from my dad, and how much time I spent engaged in anything and everything fashion related, I see that this has been my path all along. Despite having not had the best role models when it came to living a happy and purpose driven life, nor any real education to speak of, I found my path, and not only that, I'm working on forgiving myself for finding it later than some others. Finally, I see a glimmer of light over the horizon and it’s lighting my path. 

Allison Burt-Tilden is a Portland based indie fashion blogger and freelance photographer. She's the creator & editor of Votre Grande Soeur and a contributing writer & photographer for Honey Kennedy. When she's not working, you can find Allison enjoying a burger at one of her favorite spots on N. Mississippi. Follow her on Instagram @votregrandesoeur.

"I make Chocolate."

I Make Chocolate.

Contributed by Sinead Byrne

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When I tell people on the mainland that I live in Hawaii they usually express some degree of amazement or wistfulness. When they ask what kind of work I do I often answer in an almost off-handed way, trying to soften the double-whammy of my life circumstances...

"I make chocolate."

Eyes get wide. They laugh and shake their heads as they sandwich these two facts together; not only do I literally live in a tropical paradise, but my work-life is centered around the most universally loved and joy-inducing edible item known to man. There's almost a hint of a shrug in my bearing as I nod and smile in response to their disbelief. The smallest trace of an apology colors my face as if to say, "Yeah, who knows how I got so lucky." Truth be told, however, I know exactly how it's happened.

My life has been a series of crystal-clear decisions. I've always had a knack for teasing out my soul's desire and heading off in that direction (however unlikely) with determination and level-headedness. This has left me with a wake of experiences that might seem quite randomized to the casual observer, but which were all necessary, natural steps on my journey. By the time I turned 22 I had completed an intensive theatre program in London, participated in a 3-month teaching internship in a rural village in Ghana, written a thesis and received a BA with magna cum laude honors, worked in a backcountry chalet in Glacier National Park, successfully thru-hiked the entire length of Pacific Crest Trail, and moved across the country twice on my own dollar. It wasn't until this second move, when I landed back in my homeland of upstate New York after 5 and a half years of flitting from place to place, that I reached an interesting impasse. Upon my return to my geographical starting-point I found myself struggling with something I had never felt before: lack of direction. I had a degree. I had gone on adventures. Going back to school didn't seem right (there wasn't anything I particularly wanted to study). Going on more adventures didn't seem right (I was out of money, and, though I'll probably never tire of adventuring, aimless travel without a purpose to tie my experiences together didn't strike me as the thing to do.). I had reached the foggiest fork in the road of my young life. I was face to face with one of life's trickiest balancing acts; how do I honor the past, enjoy the present, and provide for the future? How do I compose a perfect harmony of time?

There's nothing like a good moment of clarity, and my subconscious breathed a sigh of relief when I finally had mine that winter. In a word, CHOCOLATE. I thought about chocolate everyday. I ate chocolate everyday. I daydreamed about growing my own cacao and opening my own chocolate cafe- everyday. It may sound silly, but when I got real with myself and took stock of my passions and dreams, chocolate really stood out. It was a part of my day-to-day life in a way that nothing else was. I started to spread the word amongst my friends and family ("I think I want to make chocolate for a living"). Some of them were supportive, others were not, but most were confused-- after all what did chocolate have to do with theatre, academia, humanitarianism, or outdoor pursuits? Where was the logic here? I would have agreed that this latest goal had come entirely out of left field, had I not known that it originated (just like every other venture I'd undertaken) from that reliable place of calm certainty smack dab at the center of my being.

So, why Hawaii? If my original moment of clarity can be summed up by the word "chocolate," then the key word for my specific approach to this line of work would have to be CACAO. I was not content with the idea of mere chocolate making; in the spirit of the whole know-where-your-food-comes-from energy sweeping the nation, I wanted to be involved in the entire process, from tree to bar/truffle.  Like most tropical plants, cacao is a great lover of rain, shade, and temperatures above 60 degrees Farenheit. As such it can only be found growing in a band 20 degrees North and South of the equator. Hawaii just barely sqeaks into this category at it's position of 20 degrees North and is therefore the only state in the U.S. that can cultivate cacao. Though the Hawaiian cacao industry is still in its infant stages (with only about 100 acres planted state-wide) anyone in the business will assure you that Hawaii is destined to become the Napa Valley of chocolate. As consumers continue to become more and more rigorous in their demand for locally/sustainably/ethically sourced products, the future of Hawaiian cacao is looking brighter by the minute. So it was simple, really. If I wanted to grow cacao, and I wanted to stay in the United States, I had to move to Hawaii. What a bummer, right?

Seven months later I found myself living on Oahu working for a totally rad bean-to-bar chocolate company. I had never visited Hawaii before I moved out here. I didn't know anyone who lived here (although I did have the job lined up ahead of time). I had never even dabbled in chocolate making. I didn't really have much except for my passion and conviction. In this situation, that turned out to be enough. I spent six months working on Oahu before moving to Maui where I currently live and work for a visionary company called Sweet Paradise Chocolatier. I spend two days a week in the kitchen making truffles, two days a week working on the cacao farm, and one day a week selling chocolates at our boutique retail shop. I have the honor and joy of spending my work week creating one of my most favorite things in the world. I get to learn the ropes from an accomplished chocolatier and business woman. I get to spend lots of time outside in a gorgeous place. I get to help spread the gospel of fine, craft chocolate, reworking the public's approach towards chocolate one farm-tour at a time. I get to eat lots of chocolate.

My three-part time harmony is currently humming along quite nicely. I still have to give it regular attention, tuning it slightly here and there, endeavoring to never leave a single note neglected. With so much tugging at us all the time it's often too easy to drop out of key, or to let one part overshadow the others, and it's only through constant reevaluation that we can keep ourselves from falling into discord. I'm continuously seeking the perfect blending of past, present, and future chords, guided by those moments of clarity that resonate within my being on all three levels. So yes, I live in Hawaii and make chocolate, and sometimes that can strike even me as being too dreamy to be realistic in the long run, but, at the end of the day, I'm so deeply certain that this is where I'm supposed to be that the thought of doing anything else seems truly disingenuous. Life goes on, and there's no predicting what's around the next bend, but for now I can say with a delicious mixture of solemnity and delight that chocolate is at the center of my life, nourishing my soul, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sinead Byrne is a backpacking, adventurous, bright eyed chocolatier living in Maui. Check out what they do at Sweet Paradise http://www.sweetparadisechocolate.com/ or order some delicious chocolates just in time for the Christmas Holidays.