Living Big 2.0

18 Aug

I promise…I haven’t been ignoring you or the world of Living Big!

The past few months I’ve been hard at work making grand plans to expand Living Big into a full-fledged travel business.

*Pinch me* 

The dream of sharing my passion to travel with likeminded women is coming true.

In this time I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to launch a business – from designing a brand and logo for Living Big, the legal-ees of a business structure, liability, finance and insurance, to designing a website, setting up an e-commerce platform, digital marketing and more. I’m a little tired, but knowing the dream is in reach has given me the energy I need to bring it all to life!

LB launch blog graphic

In the next few weeks I’ll be launching a brand new Living Big website. [Wha?! I know…!] and once it’s live you’ll be able to read all about the Living Big trips I’ll be hosting in 2015. But I can’t resist, so here’s a sneak peek….

Switzerland: June 19-28, 2015 (10 days/9 nights)

Discover the real Zurich – beyond chocolate, timepieces and banking – before hiking through little-known areas of the Swiss Alps. We’ll journey to the very traditional Appenzell region to stay in a small hut built into the side of the mountains (remember this…?) and then make our way to the Bernese Oberland mountain range for spectacular hiking, jaw-dropping mountain views and an overnight trek that leads to dinner by candlelight among the mountains.

Spain: August 30-September 11, 2015 (13 days/12 nights)

The energy in Spain is unlike any other place I’ve been. You’ll feel it as you walk through the streets, expressed in the food and dancing, when learning about its dynamic history and incredible architecture, and in your interactions with its warm people. Join me in vibrant Barcelona, Granada (the jewel of the Andalucía region), sophisticated Madrid, a trek through La Rioja (a famous wine region) and to San Sebastian, the heart of the Basque country.

Costa Rica: November 13-22, 2015 (10 days/9 nights)

This adventure through my favorite parts of Costa Rica will have you hiking through rainforests and ziplining through its treetops, soaking in a natural hot spring, soaking in the sun on white sandy beaches, learning to cook authentic Costa Rican food, experiencing yoga at the top of a mountain, learning about flora and fauna amidst breathtaking scenery, dancing to native music, and learning the history, customs and culture of this incredible country from locals.

Stay tuned, as there is more to come. This is just the beginning :)

Hugs and cheers to Living Big!



heartspark Adventures

30 Apr


I feel pretty blessed to co-host a new series of events called heartspark Adventures. If heartspark sounds familiar it’s because you might have read about heartspark’s owner, Susan Clark, in this past blog post. Susan is not only a mentor of mine, but she is also a friend, connector and the work she does changes lives on a daily basis. Mine included :)

Over the course of the summer heartspark and are teaming up to offer a series of experiences that we’re calling heartspark Adventures. The spirit of the program is to offer a series of fun activities that give heartspark alumni, friends and guests an occasion to come together to do something fun, creative and active together. 

The program kicked off last night with a  floral design class at Christopher David. Cosmin and Nicky led the group through the tips, tricks and best practices for creating a beautiful floral center piece. It was a perfect night: we snacked on delicious cheeses and charcuterie, had a few glasses of wine, made new friends, learned new skills, made great memories and left with a beautiful floral arrangement to enjoy all week long.

We lived big :)





Floral Design Tips from Cosmin #1: by cutting stems at an angle you're giving stems a chance to breathe if they are pushed against the bottom of a vase.  #2 use curley willow to fill the base of a vase by folding and stacking the stems in your hand, then releasing the stems into a vase.

Floral Design Tips from Cosmin:
#1: by cutting stems at an angle you’re giving stems a chance to breathe if they are pushed against the bottom of a vase.
#2 use curley willow to fill the base of a vase by folding and stacking the stems in your hand, then releasing the stems into a vase.

Mark your calendar for the next heartspark Adventure! The talented team at Pil-Oga-Robics will be guiding a yoga hike through Forest Park on June 14. Registration opens on May 21. Contact me if you would like to receive more details.


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Training for a Cure

21 Apr


I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but at some point in 2012 I decided to add “finish a triathlon” to my bucket list. I don’t know what kind of place I was in at the time. I must have been feeling extra ambitious (or maybe I was googleing “what should I add to my bucket list?”) Who knows – but moments that give me extra motivation to work out are few and far between, so I like to run with it when they happen.

It just so happened that a few weeks after I had this moment of fitness motivation my friend Julie introduced me to Coach Jane. I shared with Jane that it was the eve of my first big competitive race, the Portland Rock and Roll ½ Marathon. Jane asked if I ever thought about competing in a triathlon. I himmed and hawed for a moment, but then admitted that I had just recently added a triathlon to my bucket list. I explained to Jane that I didn’t really know how to swim competitively, didn’t own a bike and was absolutely not one of those über fit people that compete in triathlons. Jane laughed, reassured me that I had to start somewhere and told me about a team she was training for the San Diego Triathlon Classic.

Little did I know that within one week’s time I would be training for a triathlon, making new friends, staying physically active and most importantly – doing my part to create awareness around leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers and raising funds to find a cure through Team in Training.


Here’s the deal with Team in Training: in cities around the country a team of coaches, captains and volunteers train average-joe folks like me for high-endurance sporting events. They provide the coaching (my team met 2X/week) create the training plans and host a handful of workshops that show you how to change a bike tire, endurance running tips, teach you all about diet and nutrition while training, etc. The program also covers a handful of expenses, such as fees to use an indoor pool, a new wetsuit, your race entry fee and some of the transportation expenses. In exchange for all this training each athlete commits to raising funds during the training season for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Each race has a set minimum amount that each athlete must raise in exchange for participation in the training program.

This was easily the most difficult physical activity I have ever done. But the amazing thing about Team in Training is that you’re not alone. You have a team of people, who quickly become your friends, who are there to support you though the training and be a resource and champion with the fundraising. I’m so grateful that I met Jane that night. Team in Training was really one of the best experiences of my life. One I’ll never forget. And thanks to Julie’s introduction and Jane’s nudging I have scratched #27 off my bucket list.


The Portland Team in Training group is kicking off their fall season this month. If you are interested in training with Team in Training for the Portland Triathlon (September 21) the Portland Marathon (October 5) or the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco (October 19) consider attending an upcoming information session (details below) or contact Team in Training at

Information Sessions:

  • April 24, 6:30PM at the SE Lucky Labrador Brewing Company, 915 SE Hawthorne
  • May 3, 12:30PM t the SE Lucky Labrador Brewing Company, 915 SE Hawthorne
  • May 13, 6:30PM at Sasquatch Brewing, 6440 SW Capital Highway
  • May 21, 6PM at the Doubletree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah Street

Cheers to living big!


Travel Tip: avoiding international data charges

31 Mar


I get asked a version of this question “how do you avoid expensive international data plans when you travel outside the US” quite frequently. The short answer is that I avoid these charges by only using the internet on my iPhone when I’m connected to a wi-fi network (generally at hotels and sometimes at airports and restaurants) which makes surfing the net on my iPhone completely free (well, not totally free, but free of international roaming charges.)

I personally don’t like to have immediate access to the internet when I travel. For me, not being able to consult “the Google” is part of the adventure of travel. I find that I’m more open to exploring, and can stay in the moment, when I don’t have Trip Advisor reviews and Instagram available at my fingertips.

If you’re traveling overseas, and don’t want to pay for an international plan to surf the internet, then you want to make sure that you TURN OFF cellular data on your iPhone. Once you turn-off cellular data you will not be able to go online to browse the internet, download email or use apps that need a connection to operate. What you are basically telling your iPhone is that it can only perform these functions when the phone is connected to a wi-fi network. If out of habit you try to open Facebook or open your email (which generally will automatically download new email using data) you will receive a message saying you can’t connect until you are on a wi-fi network. And if you have ever experienced the shock and horror of a cell phone bill after using it overseas “just one time when you couldn’t find that hole in the wall Indian restaurant” then you know how big of a money-saver such a reminder can be.

Here is a quick photo-tutorial to show you how to turn off cellular data on your iPhone:

  • Start by visiting the SETTINGS section of your iPhone.
  • Click on CELLULAR
  • Under the first option “Cellular Data” swipe the green button to the left so that the green button turns to grey.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 9.55.08 AM Other connection tips:

  • If you want access to text messaging while you are overseas consider adding an international text message plan. These plans will allow you to send a set number of text messages at a lower rate. If you are an iPhone user be sure to learn the difference between iMessage and text messages so you can easily send free text messages when you are on wi-fi.
  • Use FaceTime to place calls between iPhone (or Mac) users through the internet.
  • If you have wi-fi in your hotel room take screen shots of maps, websites and other pieces of information online (on your iPhone) that you think you might want to reference throughout the day when you won’t have access to the internet.


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How to battle winter weather – and win – when you’ve got a plane to catch

8 Feb


Heading to the airport in wintery conditions? Here are a few tips to prepare – as best you can – for the adventure that will likely follow:

  1. Join the chaos and arrive at the airport early…like three hour early.
  2. Study the timetables before you get to the airport: how often do flights leave from where you are to where you want to go? What other cities can you fly through to get to your final destination? What options do you have to leave earlier or later to guarantee arrival? Bottom line: don’t rely on the airline to thoroughly vet all your options when they are getting the same requests from thousands of travelers. Be proactive about finding a solution.
  3. When the weather wrecks havoc on travel plans the airlines get overwhelmed with customer service calls.  Try to solve the problem, or get your questions answered, on multiple fronts. A few weeks ago I was flying to Chicago (where the -15 degree weather had resulted in hundreds of cancellations) and I wanted to make a change to my flight to avoid a cancellation later in the day. While I waited in line at the airport to speak to a ticketing agent I was also on the phone waiting to speak to a reservation agent, and also on my computer trying to change my flight. Think of it as the amazing race. Ready, set, GO!
  4. On that same trip to Chicago, I finally made it, but because of delays I landed at 12:30AM. By this time there was only one restaurant open, leaving the hundreds of people stuck in the airport to fight for a table at the one open restaurant and the food was running out! Lesson learned: eat early and carry snacks and water!
  5. When weather is the cause of cancellations and delays airlines will not pay for your hotel room or ground transportation. So you can choose to pay for your own hotel or stay at the airport. I am not a proponent of sleeping in airports but I understand that sometimes its just the best option. So if you need to sleep in an airport (or if it might be in your future) here are my suggestions to prepare and make the best of it: find a quiet place, generally upstairs by airline offices, meeting rooms, etc. Use your luggage lock (or pack a bicycle lock) to attach your purse, bag, etc. to something so people can’t take your bags while you’re asleep. Bring a small blanket or towel to lay on and use a sweater or coat as a pillow. If you can get a few hours sleep before you board your morning flight you’ll generally be OK.


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Ready for a vacation?

5 Feb

I’m guiding a group of nine women through Costa Rica this November. Want to join?

Here’s a brief synopsis of what this trip is all about: we will go through the jungle, mountains and spend a few days on the beach. We’re going to hike through the rainforest, go zip lining, soak in a natural hot spring, practice yoga from a mountaintop, learn to cook traditional Costa Rican cuisine, figure out what makes Costa Rican coffee so darn delicious and take a walk above the cloud forest. It’s activity – a little bit of hands on learning – but also a lot of R&R.

To read more about the trip download the Living Big Costa Rica.Complete Trip Packet.

There are just a few spots left on the trip. Do you know any women that might want to join me in Costa Rica? If so, please use the buttons at the bottom of this page to “share” this post via email or social media.

Cheers to living big!




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Looking Back at Living Big in 2013

11 Jan


*Pinch me* 2013 is the year that I’ll remember as the time I took ownership of my life and pointed myself in a direction of my choosing. I said heck no to the status quo, kicked my comfort zone to the curb and took risks in exchange for living big. Looking back at it all I’m mighty proud of myself.

  • I let myself fall in love…the kind of love that is built on friendship, trust, having fun and laughing out loud; being each other’s biggest fan and chasing dreams together.
  • I quit a cool job in pursuit of a life-long dream of traveling solo.
  • I spent five amazing months in Europe. I lived big, met amazing people, ate even more delicious food and created a lifetime of memories.
  • I came home and worked in my favorite French bakery. Granted it was only one month, but I loved every moment of it.
  • I started a business – wha? Yeah, big kid kind of stuff. The business is part marketing consulting and part travel consulting. It’s a nonconventional mix but its the variety of work I like doing. And since it’s my business, why not?
  • I organized my first international guided trip. I’m taking nine women to Costa Rica this November. Holy smokes, #24 on my bucket list is actually happening! There are a few spots if you want to join!
  • I scratched numbers 24, 34, 38 off my bucket list.

I don’t say this to be boastful or invite kudos from unlikely places. I say this in a evangelist – you can do this – why not start today – you are the owner of your life – kind of way.

Even though I still have a lot of freak out moments (just ask Nic, he knows these moments all too well…!) these are the thoughts that keep me motivated to put in the hard work it takes to chase my dreams. I hope these thoughts offer you comfort as you contemplate taking that first leap.

  • What is the alternative? Spending my time doing something I’m not passionate about?
  • No one else is going to wave a magic wand and bring me happiness. I need to first create it for myself, and then others will come along to compliment it.
  • Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to start a business and do something I’ve never done before. But once I stop freaking out, and break it down into manageable pieces, the task becomes manageable.
  • I want to set an example to my future kids. I want them to see first hand how their mom chased her dreams and its possible for them to do the same.

So what are you waiting for? Why not start today to pursue the life of your dreams? How can I help you take that first step?

Life is too short to not life the life of your dreams.

Cheers to living big, friends!



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Snapshots of the Week: a yurting adventure

17 Dec


Have you heard of yurting? In my mind it’s the perfect combination of a tent (connectedness to the great outdoors) and a cabin (heated space with a padded bed above the ground), especially when you’re looking for a winter camping get-away.

Last weekend Nic and I went to the Oregon coast for our second-annual yurting adventure and crab feed. Even though it was cold outside we enjoyed walking along the beach, chowing down on fresh crab with melted garlic butter, the ‘excitement’  of cooking live crab on a small camp stove, defending our crab from lurking raccoons and endless laughter while playing card games inside our warm and cozy heated yurt.

Enjoy some of our photos from the weekend. And if you want to book your own yurt-getaway visit this website to find a campground that has yurts and make a reservation.


The yurts can sleep 5 (if needed) but I’m not sure if would be comfortable with more than 2 or 3 people. You can’t see it in these photos but there is a small heater inside that keeps the yurt nice and toasty.


The crab was wiggling in the white plastic bag while we drove him back to our campsite. He sure didn’t like being out of the water!


In the future I highly recommend you buy crab that has already been boiled, cooked and cleaned. Then all you need to do is warm the crab up when you get back to your yurt. We didn’t have that option on this trip so this was our alternative cooking method. The crab fought Nic the entire way!


The feast! Crunchy french bread, garlicky butter, salad (yes, I served the salad from the bag because I forgot a bowl!) white wine and a few Reces cups for dinner. High class camping :)


Yum, yum, yum, yum……

No trip to the Oregon coast would be complete without a trip to the Tillamook Cheese Factory!

No trip to the Oregon coast would be complete without a trip to the Tillamook Cheese Factory!


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TOP 10: Locally Made or Homemade Holiday Gifts

29 Nov

LBcoverWith turkey day behind us it means just one thing: Christmas. And shopping and lines and mall parking garages and receipts on receipts on receipts. Not for this gal. Last year was the first year I just said NO to manic holiday shopping. Instead I either made homemade gifts or purchased gifts from local companies.

This new approach completely changed my attitude on Christmas shopping. I spent more time focusing on each person to think about what they would want to receive; the gift that would surprise them with delight and make them smile. This approach might not meet the needs of everyone on your list, but if in the process of Christmas shopping you can support your local economy, pursue that craft or food gift you’ve always wanted to try and give a few unique gifts I encourage you to give this alternative approach to gift-giving a try. Take a peek at my top 10 ideas for locally made or homemade holiday gifts listed below for inspiration. Happy holidays!

Top 10 Ideas for Homemade and/or Local (Portland) holiday gifts:

1. Bacon: I made my Dad and others homemade bacon last year. Suffice it to say, I think my father (who is known for being the hardest person to shop for) was surprised to hear that I bought a pig and cured him up some bacon. You can read about the process on this blog post. If you want to give the gift of bacon this Christmas its time to get going! The process takes a few weeks.

2. Books by Local Authors:
on Sunday, Dec. 1 the Oregon Historical Society is having a book sale/signing event with dozens of Oregon authors. You can buy everything from books on Oregon history, cheese, beer, hiking, ecology and cookbooks by Oregon authors such as John Gorham of Toro Bravo and Kyra Bussanich from Kyra’s Bake Shop.

3. Candles: pay a visit to Mr. Green Beans, an all-things-DIY shop on Mississippi Avenue to pick-up supplies to make your own candles. Check out this blog post to see how I made candles last year.


4. Holiday Six-Pack: some of my favorite gifts to give are those that can be consumed among friends. Wine, beer, spirits? Duh. Create a six-pack of unique local beers or wine from your local bottle shop, make or buy a few snacks and include an invite to have a date with a good friend. Check out John’s Marketplace and Belmont Station for a huge selection of beer and Hop and Vine and Zupans for Oregon wine.

5. Coffee: for the coffee enthusiast in your life considering buying them a gift certificate to join Third Wave Coffee Roasters for one of their educational walking tours and tastings of Portland’s artisan coffee scene. I recently went on one of the tours. Check out this post to learn more. And if you want to try making your own coffee this holiday season spend a few minutes learning the tips and tricks from Nic, who wrote about his experience making homemade coffee in this post.


6. Vacation to Costa Rica: next year I’ll be guiding nine women during a 10-day trip to Costa Rica. As a gift to yourself, your wife, your daughter or a gift to each other consider singing-up to join me! Visit this page to learn all about the trip and sign-up. FYI – as of this post there are just five spots left!


7. Leather Bike Accessories: I’m slightly obsessed with the creations coming from Walnut Studios. They make high-end leather accessories, many for your bike, that not only make you life easier but finds a way to do it in style. I mean who doesn’t need a fancy leather bike holder for the six-pack of beer you want to buy on your way home from work? Genius. Photos courtesy of Walnut Studios and Erin Berzel Photography.


8. Distillery Row Passport: Portland is home to some amazing craft distilleries, and thank goodness they have teamed together to not only offer a “passport” so you can try them all but they have placed themselves conveniently near each other so you can safely walk between many of them. Pick-up a bottle of my fav, Aviation Gin, buy a Distillery Row Passport at House Spirits or another distillery in town and get tasting.

9. Happiness by the Jar: this concept is awesome. Give someone the gift of monthly happiness in a jar. Each month the recipient receives two mason jars. One is filled with something that will make you happy on the inside (such as pumpkin spiced almonds) and the other jar will be filled with something that will make you happy on the outside (such as a lemon-poppyseed body scrub.) Every thing is natural, made in Oregon and delivered to doorsteps around the country.

10. Neighborhood Day Date: one of my favorite dates with Nic was when we left our house and tackled the city by bus, max and streetcar to visit the farmers market, Oregon Historical Society, Powell’s Books, the street cart pod, brewery, etc. It was an awesome day. We were able to experience new parts of the city together sans the stress of driving and parking. Pick a corner of the city you want to explore and use to map out your route. Discover new restaurants, movie theaters, coffee shops and shopping en route with someone you love! 


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Snapshots of the Week: the Portland coffee scene

26 Nov


The Portland coffee scene is undeniably cool, and its more than just the national love for Stumptown Coffee, our hometown hero that made it to the big stage in NYC and boutique coffee shops across the country. Lora Woodruff, owner of Third Wave Coffee Tours, understands this trend and has recently started a company that offers educational tours and tastings of Portland’s artisan coffee scene. Last week Lora invited me to join along on her Pearl District/northwest coffee tour to learn more about the award-winning micro-roasters and nationally acclaimed baristas that are in my own backyard.



Lora offers tours in the Pearl District/northwest Portland, downtown and on the eastside. On each of the walking tours you will visit about 5-7 coffee shops to meet local roasters, learn about different roasting and brewing methods and sample espresso and/or coffee drinks at each location. The tours last about three hours and cost $40/person. You can sign-up for tours and purchase gift certificates online. Lora is offering a “shop small” promotion for the holidays and will extend a 20% discount for gift certificates purchased and/or tours booked by Dec. 31, 2013.




Third Wave Coffee Tours is more than just a way to explore the cool coffee scene in Portland. Lora is a dynamic women that knows her stuff, and what really impresses me, is that she has taken a time-out from corporate America to pursue a passion, share it with others, spend time at home with her young daughter and start a business. Its women like this that deserve our support in Portland.

Lora – thanks for Living Big and inspiring others around you to do the same!


PS: ready to find your own way of Living Big? Consider joining the Living Big vacation to Costa Rica! Mary will be guiding a group of 9 women through the best parts of Costa Rica  in November, 2014. Download trip details by visiting this page.


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