Career Dreams Do Come True

brisAs an undergrad, I never really felt much pride for my school.  With plans to attend college on the east coast, staying in my hometown couldn’t have been more unexpected and while I know now that it was the right decision for me (it enabled me to study abroad in Norway, volunteer in Africa and graduate early), at the time I felt a bit like a misfit.

My experience at the University of Bristol, where I earned my MA in English, couldn’t have been more different. I found a lovely group of friends right away, fell in love with the city of Bristol and loved (almost) every one of my classes. Since graduating in 2012, I’ve enjoyed keeping up to date with Bris and these recent interviews from Bristol alum, who are now world-class journalists, really struck me. I wrote for Epigram, the student newspaper, while at Bris and long considered a career in journalism, and while I’m still sorting out my real interests and skills, writing has remained at the top for me.

Not only is it encouraging to read about people who are fulfilling their career ambitions, which often feels  impossible in today’s market, but their passion for their respective fields is palpable. It made me pause and consider if I’m on the right career-path and what I hope to be doing in five, ten years from now.

Are you happy where you’re at career-wise? Any advice for pursuing job success in today’s tough climate?

Travel Mondays: Stylish Sweden

swedenAs difficult as it is to pull myself out  from under the covers on a grey Monday morning, waking up to a fresh start and brand new week is satisfying, especially when I’m finally starting to feel better. Thank you all for your kind words last week regarding my sweet Grandma. I never ever expected to say goodbye to her so soon. In some ways, none of it feels fully set in…this week’s Travel Monday will honor my Grandma and a country she loved very much: Sweden.

Stockholm's Old Town

Stockholm’s Old Town

My Grandma was one hundred percent Swedish and, with her blonde hair and bright blue eyes, more than looked the part. Although she was raised on a small Minnesotan farm, she visited her Great-Grandparent’s home in Sweden, along with Stockholm, on a special trip with my Aunt Susan. I wish I could go back and ask my Grandma dozens of questions about this trip, but I do know it was momentous for her. Even if she did leave six days early because she missed my Grandpa so much. In some ways, being drawn to Sweden runs in both sides of my family. My Aunt Melissa and Uncle Dave moved from the States to Göteborg when their family was very young and were quickly smitten. My cousin, Leah, moved shortly thereafter to help nanny.

I’ve visited Sweden three times now and would jump at the chance to go back. My first visit was to Stockholm and the next two to Sweden’s second-largest city, dreamy Göteborg.

Stockholm's moody and dramatic bluffs along the Baltic Sea.

Stockholm’s moody and dramatic bluffs along the Baltic Sea.

I think Stockholm-and Sweden as a whole-is one of Europe’s most underrated destinations. Unlike Paris and London, it’s not ridiculously overpriced and with easy to navigate public transportation, getting around is easy. What struck me most about Sweden, however, is its class. My first (and thus lasting) impression of Paris is of crowds and the fume of cigarettes and exhaust, and in Stockholm I experienced none of that. In my experience, the Swedes were courteous and quiet and, true to European form, very well-dressed. Stockholm itself  seems to achieve that rare feat of balancing old architecture and traditions seamlessly with the new. And the shopping! Ask me for my idea of a perfect afternoon and it would have to be fika (afternoon coffee and cake) and shopping in Gamla Stan.  Göteborg, with its wind-swept views and sweep of tiny islands, could easily be among Europe’s most romantic cities.

A view of city center in Gothenburg

A view of city center in Gothenburg

Why else visit Sweden? Here’s my reasons:

The café culture. First off, Swedish coffee is rich and strong…what other country could create coffee as delicious as Gevalia’s? Stopping for a coffee and fikabrod (a sweet) is also central to Swedish culture. When visiting, I found this really comforting. Unlike a tiny cup of espresso or diminutive Italian cappuccino, a mug of coffee was substantial. I didn’t feel like I had to leave the cafe in ten minute’s time.

The museums. I didn’t visit Gothenburg’s museums, but visited as many as I could in Stockholm (about six) and the variety kept things interesting and worthwhile. After purchasing the Stockholm Card, I could get in free to over 80 museums and other attractions and in four day’s time I visited the Abba Museum (!!), the Vasa (amazing!), the National Museum,  the Stockholm Museum, the Skansen Museum and Zoo (where a lemur brushed up against my nose) and the Music Museum.  Many of these museums were interactive and very hands-on–I think Stockholm would be a great destination for those traveling with kids.

The design. By now, Swedish design has been lauded the world over, but it still felt special to stroll through boutiques and furniture shops firsthand…including the original Ikea! Anyone with an eye for design will feast here.

Window shopping. Both in Gothenburg and Stockholm, so many of the shops felt really special. Being on a tight budget on every trip, I really appreciated that I never felt pressured to make a purchase. I could just look and feel comfortable.  The birthplace of H&M, fashion boutiques really seemed to cater to what was practical and workable in day to day life. On my next trip, you can bet I’ll be doing some serious shopping (I have three visits to make up for!).

These are just a few reasons to visit this Scandinavian gem, but there are many others. Those looking for outdoor activities will find them in abundance (think dog sledding in Lapland and fishing in Malmö).

Have any of your visited Sweden? What did you enjoy most? Do you think Sweden is underrated?

 

Saying Goodbye to my Beautiful Grandma Gotta

 

I apologize for my silence this past week. Last Wednesday I received the sort of phone call you never hope to answer. And my world stopped. I rushed home in time to have three final days with my dear, precious Grandma before she went to Heaven. These left few days have left me numb, hurt and sad, but finally, last night I was able to put words down on paper and the process was immeasurably cathartic. If you like, here’s why my Grandma Gotta was so indelibly special to me:

grandma

When I think of my Grandmother Fern Ann I can’t help but feel warmth, comfort and remarkable joy. Joy strong enough to lift my heavy heart as I remember the gentle force of her presence. Her blonde curls, sparkling blue eyes and quiet step. Her enviable beauty mark and her genuine smile which could brighten the darkest room. Some say we bear a resemblance (the greatest compliment I’ve ever been given) and I can only hope to grow in beauty like she did.

As a shy and quiet child, trips to Grandpa and Grandma’s were a special treat; a time where I felt more like a woodland sprite than a little girl who still wet the bed. After a day of swimming in the blue-green water, catching minnows and maybe a sunburn, Grandma would wrap Maria and me in towels and take us up to the bathtub to get clean. Sudsy, sleepy and wholly content I’d trace the blue-tiled walls with my wrinkled fingers, not fully aware of just how preciously I was cared for. Next, it was time for stories and, dressed in our favorite nightgowns with our hair still damp, Grandma would read us stories in her soft, crackling lilt. I’d choose the same stories again and again—The Town and Country Mouse and The Three Little Kittens—but Grandma never seemed the least bit impatient or hurried.

When I think of Grandma, the aroma of fresh from the oven blueberry muffins fills the air and I can easily picture her precisely-set table. The blue-rimmed plates resting in perfect symmetry, the blinds open to views of her beloved garden and the green sweep of the yard. The delicious sense of anticipation as we waited for the bountiful feast she had so lovingly prepared.

When I think of Grandma, twenty-five years of birthdays, Christmases and football games come to mind, blurring into an almost indescribable feeling of lightness. Born two days and 58 years apart, Grandma and I would celebrate our birthdays together, sitting side by side, blowing out our birthday candles with expectation for what could only be a golden year ahead. Septembers with Grandma always felt rich and full. With football games starting and Gotta birthday parties peaking, we’d knew we’d see lots of each other. A happy secret we shared with relish.

grandma and me
I wish I could bottle the tangible magic of Christmases on Pelican. The glory of Grandma’s tree, bedecked with the shine of precious ornaments and silvery tinsel, filled the whole upstairs in beauty. The tenderly-wrapped presents were always almost too pretty to open, but I managed somehow and always opened exactly what I had hoped for.

Above all, when I think of Grandma, I think of a woman with a servant’s heart, endless love and the self-confidence to live her best life. She knew the elusive, rare art of living well and shared it with her family and loved ones in great abundance. She understood that the little things are the big things—the perfect slice of blueberry pie on a hot July day, hours in the garden pulling weeds to let her marvelous snapdragons grow; the thrill of a new dress and, most importantly to her, the weighty love of the handsome husband beside her.

Anyone who knows my Grandma knows she was an excellent cook and gifted gardener, but what I hope most to emulate is her joie di vivre. Grandma was interested in my life, in all her grandkids’ lives. She was never less than present, engaged and interested. She made me feel important and valuable. She knew that life could be beautiful and fascinating and hard and she never shied away from it. Many people would call my Grandmother busy and, active though she was, she was never less than generous with her time. Whether enjoying a cup of coffee together or drinking in sunshine on the porch, time with Grandma had a limitless, expansive quality. She was as efficient and studious as they come, yet lavishly gave of her time.

May 10th, 2014 was, to my earthly wishes, much too soon to say goodbye, but I know that the richness and depth of Grandma’s legacy will make the difficult days and weeks ahead easier to bear. I know she has already found a patch of land in Heaven and is rolling up her sleeves to create a garden that, like her legacy, will never fade.

Thank you for listening, everyone. 

Planning the Perfect Bachlorette Party

toastAs any of you married women know all too well, planning a wedding is time-consuming and inevitably stressful. My engagement was significantly shorter than most at six months and as I wasn’t actually back in the country until just three months before the wedding, my to-do list was immense. Finishing my dissertation and waitressing on the side didn’t help. In the end, though, everything came together and the things that didn’t hardly mattered as I walked down the aisle towards B looking handsome and nervous in his black suit.

My older sister is in this same situation now with less than three months remaining until her big day and she’s definitely feeling the stress. So I really want to make her bachlorette party as relaxing and memorable as can be. She planned such a fun and lighthearted party for me, which alleviated so much stress, and I really want to do the same for her. So, after thinking back to my bachlorette and other parties I’ve been to, I’m keeping these tips in mind:

#1: Keep it personal. Maria, my older sister, planned several personal touches that made my bachlorette special. Specifically, making me carry a Prince Harry cut-out everywhere. And I mean everywhere! She also did a brilliant job thinking of things that I would appreciate–like having dinner at my favorite lakeside restaurant, popping open my favorite bottle of Rose and creating adorably thoughtful gift bags for my friends.

harry#2: Get out of town. B went with his buddies to Chicago, but you don’t need to go that far to leave your worries at home. My girls and I went to my future in-law’s lake cabin and had a blast. There was no hotel bill the next day and we didn’t have to worry about being too loud. I plan to do something similar for my sister.

#3: Plan silly activities. A bachlorette simply isn’t a bachelorette without silly games and girls-only activities. I like to keep things classy and a few ideas I plan to use at Maria’s party include: having each guest bring a bottle of wine for a wine tasting, playing “Name the Celebrity Spouse,” creating a fun photo booth area, and (just maybe) dancing on the bar top.

harry2

#4: Have a back-up. As the host, it’s my job to come prepared. That means having a good arsenal of snacks, treats and other goodies to keep guests having a good time. I won’t disclose what time we or didn’t go to bed at my bachelorette, but! in case your guests or the bride is just too tired to stay out, make sure you have a good chick flick to fall back on.

Okay ladies, what am I missing? What do you think makes a great bachelorette party?

First photo courtesy of Her Campus

 

Travel Mondays: The World’s Most Amazing Street Art

An original Bansky I snapped on Park Street in Bristol

An original Bansky I snapped on Park Street in Bristol

When I was studying in Bristol I had the pleasure of accidentally walking past provocative street art just about everyday.  As the hometown and stomping grounds of world-renowned street artist Bansky, I really couldn’t have chosen a better spot than Bristol for becoming acquainted with ‘sidewalk art.’ Fast forward to my trips to London, Paris and Amsterdam and, once again, I found myself delighted to discover art in the least expected of places.

So, of course, I had to write about this for DPG. See which cities made my list of The World’s Most Amazing Street Art right over here.