The one for my Trump friends.

I’m having a huge problem and I know others are, too, so I write this not for attention or to change minds, but to heal.  Looking back at past blogs, I realize I have written most when I have been upset, so, given that there’s a large pile of wet kleenex piled up next to me, it’s time to dust off the old wordpress.

Election night and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday fall-out have rendered me…barely functioning.  At first it was inconceivable, there was disbelief and shock.  Then came the anger (…still kinda there…) Now, I just have to sit here with these feelings and navigate through it, which is what I tried to do today after ugly-crying on the subway (always the most inopportune times!) reading Aaron Sorkin’s letter to his daughter.  “And three years from now we’ll fight like hell for our candidate and we’ll win and they’ll lose and this time they’ll lose for good. Honey, it’ll be your first vote.”  Cue waterfall.

So, why can’t I let the Trump thing go?  Why can’t I pull myself out of this immense feeling of Weltschmerz?  Why can’t I fake it through a day at work?  Why do I weep at the drop of a hat?

Well, it’s a feeling of personal failure.  I have failed my friends and family who voted for Trump.  Even harder for me to grasp are my teacher friends, people I worked and even lived with, who voted for such a hate-filled human being.  In the time/space that we shared, whether it was years or just a few moments, classrooms, offices or an apartment, I couldn’t reach you.  You were so scared of the world that you felt like you had to vote for a man who is scared, too.  That means I haven’t done my job.

A man who stood up in front of a crowd and made fun of a mentally disabled person.  I guess I never shared enough stories with you about the students I’ve taught with Downs Syndrome or Aspergers.  Did we never speak with love and admiration for these wonderful kids?  Didn’t I tell you it warmed my heart to watch them show up to choir rehearsal every day and sing alongside their classmates who always included them?  I wonder how the parents of those mentally disabled students are feeling now that the future POTUS thinks it’s OK to make fun of their child like that.  Will other kids think that’s OK now?  I’m so sorry you felt like you had to vote for someone who is so disrespectful, because that means you are too.  That means I haven’t done my job.

A man who said he would deport nearly 12 million people, build a wall and ban others from coming in overseas.  Didn’t we speak about the importance of diversity in our classrooms?  Did we never talk about traveling and all the wonderful individuals from around the globe?   Did I never show you pictures and videos from the trips?  Didn’t I tell you ‘don’t be scared’?  Could I never impress upon you the importance of being open-minded toward people who speak a different language?  Or worship a different god?  Or even the same one?  Or whose skin is darker than yours?  I’m so sorry you felt like you had to vote for someone who is also scared of these things, because that means you are too.  That means I haven’t done my job.

A man who chose a running mate that believes you can literally electrocute the gay out of LGBTQ people.  As a choir conductor, this is the one that kills me the most.  Was I not a good role model?  Didn’t we speak about the complexities of human existence?  About the diversity of lifestyles?  Didn’t you share some of the greatest moments of your life singing alongside someone who was gay?  Maybe you didn’t, and that’s ok.  Or maybe you did and you just didn’t realize it.  You probably know lots of LGBTQ people and just don’t realize it, because they are good and as normal as normal will ever be.  I should have told you not to be scared.  I’m so sorry you felt like you had to vote for someone who doesn’t understand this, because that means your don’t either.  That means I haven’t done my job.

A man who said he could grab a woman, anywhere at anytime.  Didn’t we speak about equality?  About unacceptable behavior?  About growing up in a society where we could never walk to the library alone at night?  About needing to buy rape whistles and pepper spray before our parents dropped us off at college?  Didn’t we speak about the ideal qualities we wanted in our partners, boyfriends and girlfriends?  About the things that would make us good parents?  We should have spoken more about self-respect, too.  I would have uplifted you, praised you for your strength, your thoughts and ideas, your kindness.  If I’d only realized you needed it. I’m so sorry you felt like you had to vote for a man who doesn’t respect women, because that means you don’t either.  That means I haven’t done my job.

It’s not about losing.  It wouldn’t be like this if McCain or Romney had won years ago.  They didn’t marginalize and disrespect so many people in the way that Trump has.  It’s about principle.  My life’s work is to make sure that we eliminate the behavior that Donald Trump not only exhibits, but condones.  His election to the most powerful office in the free world has made my chef d’oevre completely obsolete.  That sense of uselessness dumbfounds me in ways I’ve never felt before Wednesday morning at 7am.

Long ago my mom ingrained the words “don’t lower your standards” into my brain every day of my teenage years.  Unluckily for all my dear Trump-supporters, I refuse to sink to your level.  Instead, I will finally succeed at the job I should have done long ago, and raise you up!  In your names, donations to Planned Parenthood, The National Science Foundation and National Public Radio have already been made!  Merry Christmas!  We are gonna talk and question and educate ourselves, because now, the Elizabeth-Reed-standards wrath has been released on you, too.  And the Drumpf-hate you perpetrate got NOTHIN on that.

Oh my blerg.

Oh my blerg.

Whaaaaaaaat is liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife???  You guys, I’m not gonna lie, it is rough trying to write this thing especially when you just spent the last 3 minutes and 19 seconds crying because you accidentally deleted a draft you’d been working on for two days.  Teachers, you know when a student comes up to you and says “the computer deleted my homework”?  Turns out, this is actually a thing that happens.

Moving on.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends and family, near and dear, close and far.  And since it’s been forever since I’ve written, Happy Easter, 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas…from 2015…oops.  Never fear!  One of my resolutions for 2016 is to be better at communicating because, although you are all constantly on my mind, worried about how everyone is surviving all this Trump bullsh*t, it’s so comforting to Facetime, skype, email, or even have a little text volley across the ocean.  Technology is the only thing that makes living far away at all bearable (well, that and a cheeky long weekend in London from time to time), so let’s raise a toast to the inventor of the micro chip, good old what’s-their-name, without whom this life (and this blog) would not be possible.

Resuscitating the blog (affectionately called  the “blahg” or “blerg” depending on my mood and/or Michigan accent) is (hopefully) a part of this resolution.  In the last 2.5 years this blog has been viewed 5,093 times by 2,790 visitors in over 40 different countries.  I need to keep pushing myself to connect and share experiences with teachers and travelers around the world, and see where this journey takes me.

But the real reason for writing again is much simpler.  The fact is, I can barely remember anything anymore (shout-out to that almost-30 crowd…), and 2014-2015 was a sensational stint that I hope to cherish forever, in exact, high-def detail.  So, in honor of that old lady with a waning memory that I will eventually become, here are some highlights of the past 16 months–a series of windows into different cultures that, 1) lead me to a deeper understanding of the world and my place in it, and 2) have rendered in me a gratitude so deep that my heart nearly bursts out of my chest every time I walk out the door.

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Above, awestruck inside Royal Albert Hall before our dress rehearsal of Mahler 2 at the 2014 Proms in August.  It was everything a Proms performance should be: sold-out crowd, standing-room-only rockstars on the circular floor and the post-concert stomp.  The energy was unforgettable.

To the right, walking by RAH in the morning and people had already started queuing for our concert that night.  If you don’t get tickets with seats, you can queue-up before the show for standing-room on the large circular floor right in front of the orchestra.

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To the right, a pre-concert shot at the Basilica superiore di San Francesco d’Assisi.  A 5-day tour with S:t Jacobs Kammarkör brought us to beautiful Assisi, Fano and San Gemini in September 2014.  We sang Poulenc’s Figure Humaine as well as newly written octavos by Italian composers for a composition competition in Assisi. The city was built of all white stone, and one of my favorite memories was walking through the markets and winding streets one morning with a wedge of Pecorino in hand.

October 2014 brought a week of fjord-gazing with high school friend Matt Miller.  Pictured below is Voss, where we were stranded after torrential rain flooded the train tracks.  We enjoyed unlimited cups of earl gray tea at our hotel where Edvard Grieg once slept!

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Living abroad is teaching me to never take friendships for granted.  Making new friends can be really tough (especially when things like January and Netflix go so well together…).  It takes time, effort and vulnerability, but, wow, there are some really amazing people out there.  Thankful for my Stockholm friends, my home away from home.

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But no matter where you go, you always have your people.  Siblings Lochlyn, Siri, Otis and me hanging out at Dad’s during Christmas break, December 2014.

img_0548Fantastic girls-hang in London, January 2015, seeing/stalking the Harry Potter Experience and Voces8 with my sister-from-another-mister, Katie!  She and her amazing husband, Colin, now live in Geneva, Switzerland, but I met them 7 years ago in Houston where Katie and I were both choir conductors.  Even though they are a 2.5 hour plane ride away, it still feels like they are neighbors!  Our hobbies now include randomly meeting up in different countries, lots of walking, drinking and speaking languages that aren’t our native tongue (obviously not in this picture because we are in England).  img_0549

 

First time skiing in Europe and getting paid to do it!  Every February, our school has a sports day where students get to choose different winter activities to do for the day.  The teachers chaperone and I was chosen for skiing!  We loaded up 5 charter busses at 6am, drove north for about 2.5 hours and spent a day on the slopes.

All about that teacher life…

 

Sometimes you do things that really freak your mom out, like flying to Prague by yourself for mid-winter break.  Turns out, even after traveling alone with Hallie for 4 days, I still like her.  But omg she is SO needy in the mornings stopping for coffee, like, every 30 minutes…

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First glimpses of Prague from the Charles Bridge


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Perfectly blue morning at St. Vitus Cathedral

The best choir to sing with in Stockholm!  S:t Jacobs Kammarkör before a concert at Storkyrkan in February.

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10644528_10106550069455124_6646713027616855597_nThe first week in April was pretty much spent looking exactly like this.  Liz and Jon came to Stockholm for 9 days and it was so special showing them my new home.  Excursions included Vasa Museet, the Royal Palace museums, Drottningholm, the Sea History Museum (with pancake buffet whaaat???) the Medieval Museum, a boat to Tallinn Estonia, a Final Four MSU basketball game at 2am, smörgåsor and Frozen, and Hallie’s Obligatory Fika Tour (or “Stockholm by mouth” as I like to call it).

A week after Liz and Jon left Stockholm, S:t Jacobs Kammarkör hit the road for Italy again, this time to perform in the Duomo in Florence (coincidentally over my 29th birthday).  Ever since Ms. Munn’s AP Euro class during junior year of high school, I’ve had a slight obsession with the Renaissance, so to finally make it to Florence, to sing in THE Dome of all domes…was a major #lifegoal accomplished.

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Singing Mozart’s C moll Messe in Prato, outside of Florence

Pictured below is a shot from the Stockholm Early Music Festival last May, performing with German/Turkish orchestra Sarband.  In a brilliant weaving of religions and cultures, chants from both Western and Eastern traditions were chosen based on similarities of text, meaning and even melodic parallels, and performed with various accompaniment styles from the different cultures.  This was one of the most exotic and mystical concerts I’ve ever done, and I so wish I could bottle up the essence of this collaboration and sprinkle it on people when particularly bigoted things start coming out of their mouths.

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Long-weekend trips to foreign countries are probably my favorite part about the last two years, especially when it involves meeting up with old friends.  Here’s one such trip to Geneva in May 2015, showing off its spring glory.  After a day of pouring down rain and inappropriate shoes (but also amazing quiche, chocolate, poulet, fondue, biere, vin, some madrigal sight-reading and K&C’s awesome apartment) I blissed out in Swiss-ness as they toured me around their new digs.  IMG_1245

Colin carrying all of our wine!  He is the best!  And doesn’t Katie have the greatest smile?  Enjoying lunch on a terrace in Geneva 🙂11049577_949493575350_1683150569965718538_n

And just when you thought you were done hearing about Katie and Colin, they came back a few weeks later to visit me and Voces8 in STALKholm (teehee, see what I did there?)!

 Which brings us to…the Mitten!  After school finished in June, a fast and furious week back in Michigan was made to catch up with friends and hang out with the fam.

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No U.S. visit is complete without a road trip.  Here’s Otis and me enjoying a game at Fenway Park in Boston, watching our favorite Red Sox lose…but any game that involves belting “Sweet Caroline” in the 7th inning stretch with an ice cold Yuengling in hand is a win in my book.  In addition to Boston, we spent time in Rockport, MA and Providence, RI for family reunions.  Nothing recharges the batteries more than some TLC with the Reeds and DeSimones.  They are by far what I miss most about America and I miss them every single minute.  I’ve already planned on a 6-week trip back home this summer and I can’t wait to see everybody again!

In July 2015, I embarked on the grandest adventure yet: a month in Australia and New Zealand.  It all started when one of my closest work friends, Ryan, invited a few of us to Sydney to stay with his family.  Plans erupted from there and a side-trip to New Zealand was planned almost immediately.  Dreams of marrying Legolas and moving to Middle Earth had never been so close to realization!  After 10 days of bus travel around NZ’s south island, I would meet Ryan, Emily and Erik in Sydney for another 3 weeks of travel around Australia.  There are too many amazing details and people to mention, but below are some highlights of the trip!

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Galloping around the southern hemisphere, Franz Josef, New Zealand


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Hiking in Mt. Cook National Park


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So lucky to have met travel buddy, Wes, along the way!  Sharing PB&J sandwiches and crushing mountains near Lake Hawea, New Zealand


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THESE GUYS!  After 10 days in NZ, this was the BEST way to arrive at Sydney Airport!  Ryan (far left) made the sign (which I still have) and his entire family opened up their homes to us as we traveled around.

 

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Team Austral-yeah after seeing La Traviata at the Sydney Opera House

Below, Emily’s spirit animal, a sleepy koala bear 🙂 Feeding kangaroos on our first day in Australia.  Clutch!

Below are a few shots from Cairns, a city on the northeastern coast of Australia and our home-base for 4 days while we explored the Great Barrier Reef and rain forests.

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High above Barron Gorge National Park, overlooking a wet tropical rainforest.  At one point we were 1788 feet above sea level.  Terrified and overwhelmed by the expansive beauty.  The following day we took a day trip through parts of the Daintree Rainforest and out to Cape Tribulation, where navigator James Cook had once run aground in the 1700s.

Here we are, falling in love with Melbourne!  It’s like the perfect mix of Chicago and Berlin–Great skyline, very walkable, and incredibly diverse which makes for fantastic food selection and a great arts scene.  Perfection.  On the right, a sunset picture as we watch an Aussie Rules Football game and down meat pies.

 

A few roadtripping photos…

And of course, what is a trip to Australia without a day at Bondi Beach?

On my way back to Stockholm, I stopped for 24 hours in Guangzhou, China.  It was by far my most vivid experience as an “other,” the longest I’ve gone without seeing anyone who looked like me or spoke my language.  Of course, I’ve had glimpses of it daily for the last 2.5 years, but nothing to this extent.  It gives you a real understanding of the how/what/why of racism.  The poverty and overpopulation of Guangzhou were also heartrending.  In fact, for a few days after returning to Sweden, which felt (feels) like heaven, I could not get over what I’d seen and felt while in China, accompanied with immense guilt, which turned into days of research and googling Chinese history and politics.  I still get choked up reading a story about another human rights activist locked up in who-knows-where China.  To say I enjoyed my too-short time there would be an overstatement, but very necessary to feel and experience this realm of emotions which I’ve been protected from for most of my life.  I didn’t take many pictures, but here are a few.

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Temple of the Six Banyan Trees

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So many Pokey Stick varieties.

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img_0561August was a whirlwind of preparing for the new school year and simultaneously trying to hold on to every last bit of summer.  Three of my oldest friends–Marianne, Courtney and Sars–came out for a week-long visit filled with meatballs, sun, boats, crawfish parties, great conversation and companionship.  It was like the best 7-night sleepover ever! Here we are at the ABBA museum on a gorgeous sunny day.  After this, we got ice cream and sat in an apple orchard all afternoon.  So lucky to have friends who will travel thousands of miles to be together!

At the end of August, I sang with the Swedish Radio Orchestra and Choir for a performance of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder at the Östersjöfestivalen (Baltic Sea Music Festival), conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.  I reveled in every bar of this lush music and really enjoyed singing for Salonen.  We performed in Stockholm’s Konserthuset, which is where the Nobel Prize Ceremony is held every year.

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You know you’re in the right place at the right time when you randomly run into your step-brother at a bar in Stockholm!  Joe frequently comes to Sweden for business and, most of the time, we are able to connect.  This particular time, however, I had a choir rehearsal and then a birthday party to attend, so we had given up trying to grab dinner.  Imagine our surprise when I walk into Akkurat (one of the best bars in Stockholm!) and see Joe sitting there with his colleague!  So great to see you and will always remember this night!

 

Another tour to Italy brought S:t Jacobs Kammarkör to Rome in October 2015.  Ryan, Emily, Katie and I headed down a few days early during our Autumn break to peruse the Roman Forum, Coliseum, and the Vatican.  Here we are outside St. Peters!  Later that night, the choir went on a private tour after-hours where we got to SING in the Sistine Chapel!  We also met up with Katie and Colin who just happened to be in Rome at the same time!
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A new endeavor this year is conducting Osqstämman, an ensemble of students from KTH, one of the universities here in Stockholm.  This is a shot from the 30th anniversary concert during November.  Rehearsing with them is a highlight of my week and it’s been so great working with this age group again on a diverse range of music.

 

There is no crazier time for music teachers than December.  However amazing students and colleagues make this a magical season.  This is a photo from our St. Lucia concert last term.  You can learn more about this beautiful festival in a blog I wrote 2 years ago, Sankta Luciuh-oh.

After much inner turmoil, I decided not to go home for Christmas this year.  I may never do it again, as I discover I really need time with my family to feel grounded and stable, but that being said, a better Christmas away from home is impossible!  Katie, Colin and I traveled to Cambridge to spend the holiday with his brother, Matthew, his wife, Libbi and loving dog, Auggie.  They were the best hosts ever,preparing fabulous food and drinks daily, taking us on a walking tour of Cambridge, a 2nd viewing of Star Wars, queuing for the King’s College Carols service, singing at midnight mass…the list goes.  I will never forget this wonderful week with such special people.

On December 30, after a picture-perfect English Christmas, I jetted off to meet friend Amanda in Lisbon, Portugal for New Years.  We’d both never been before and were excited to explore a new country–little did we know just how much fun would ensue that week.  We found our niche at a great hostel in central Lisbon, taking advantage of the superb food (lots fish and pastries) and wine that Lisbon has to offer (at fraction of Swedish prices), as well as walking tours and pub crawls, and of course enjoying the company of our fellow travelers (some of whom have PROMISED to come visit Stockholm 🙂 ) Isn’t it wonderful sharing brief moments in time with humans from around the world?  Here are some highlights from our trip!

And now, on to 2016!  We’re already a month in and I hope you are all having a safe, healthy and fulfilling year.  If I’ve never said it to you personally, you are always welcome for a visit to Stockholm.  With the help of friends and family all over the world, I’ve been very lucky to travel so much the last few years, and now it’s my time to return the favor.  Plane tickets are expensive from the U.S. but you can always stay with me for free to help offset the cost.  Although, full disclosure, I may drag you to a few choir parties or band gigs.  People always say, “Oh, I wish I could travel,” and the truth is, with a little help from friends and some budgeting, you really can.  Your trip starts today, at my email address 🙂

OK, I’m done now, I promise!  If you lasted til the end of this you are either my parents or totally procrastinating.  Get back to work, people!  All of my love.  H.

 

The one about…basketball.

There is something very Scandinavian pulsing through my stream of consciousness now.  “Reed, this is silly, no one wants to read about your life…WHY are you cluttering the newsfeeds…You think your thoughts are more important than everybody else’s?  You think you’re better than the other 25 blonde girls wearing black jackets and skinny jeans sitting in this cafe?”  No, I don’t think any of those things, and I never did, but it’s such a change from that blissful, excited, can’t-stop-talking-about-it stage at the beginning of this whole adventure.  Now it’s just (a crazy, beautiful, busy, happy, sad, sunny, rainy, stressful, concert-going, bill-paying) life (although it is still more poignant and meaningful than I ever thought was possible).  This assimilation-into-a-new-culture thing is really nuts.  It slowly creeps up on you and then 18 months later you realize your entire relationship with being has changed.

But I’m not here today to talk to you about anything deep and philosophical like the metaphysical assimilation of the immigrant mind.  No.  We are here to discuss the only thing that really matters right now.

And that is MSU basketball.

Now, lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this (and why my Facebook stati have been so, well…yeah…)  “So, what, is it like The World Cup or something?”  That’s a popular question.  And no.  It is nothing like the World Cup.  It is so much smaller than that.  But that’s what makes it so much bigger.  Every year, the top16 college basketball teams from the four regions of the country are chosen to compete against each other in a tournament, now lovingly referred to as March Madness.  We die-hard fans will fill out brackets, guessing winners and losers of every game in every region, ultimately hypothesizing your pick for the national championship.  If you’re REALLY die-hard you look up President Obama’s bracket every year to see how far he puts Michigan State…but we won’t get into that right now.  But seriously, man, you’re killin me. Anywho.

Then the games begin.  And it’s NUTS!  The upsets!  The last-second triumphs!  The sudden death!  The #14 team taking down the #2 team.  That feel-good Cinderella story that everyone can relate to because it reminds you of that time that you or someone you know overcame all odds to take down that metaphorical Goliath.

Basketball is already a fast-paced, quick-scoring game where that delicate morale/energy balance can shift between teams in a split second.  It’s not like watching soccer where nothing happens.  Ever.  Seriously, Europeans, I love you and I got super into the World Cup, I admit it, but most of the time…it is freaking boring.  Yeah yeah, say what you want about American football, I’ve heard it all before.  But soccer has got nothin’ on American college basketball.  When you see a 7 foot tall massive dude, with arms the size of my thighs and legs like tree trunks, defy gravity and go up for a dunk, it is awe-inspiring.

It’s the fact that Tom Izzo spoke at my 6th grade graduation from Pinecrest Elementary School when he had just become the coach of the basketball team.  It’s about attending Kindergarten all the way through your 5th year of university in the same town, wearing those colors fall after fall, singing the fight song on the answering message when you were 3, riding through town in a convertible when you were elected on to Homecoming Court your senior year of high school, playing in the Spartan Marching Band for two years including the season they fired the head football coach halfway through the year and yet still marched every damn Saturday for a losing team.  Because you grew up eating ice cream made with milk from the university cows.  When you set your alarm for 3am in Stockholm (with help from your brothers and sister texting you to make sure you’re awake) to watch the legacy continue, screaming into your pillow because, I’ll let you in on a little thing about Swedish neighbors, they don’t really appreciate you singing “GOOOO STATE GOOO clap clap clap” probably ever.   When you travel around the country, the world even, with the same sweatshirt you bought the day you got accepted to college, wandering around the center of London when somebody yells “GO GREEN!” from across the street.  To which, anyone lucky enough to know the reply would shout back :

So, yeah, it’s a lot smaller than the world cup.  It’s personal.  And I will personally be offended if you have not all converted to Spartan fans by now.  Because there is no better spirit in any other college town in the world like ours.  And now we’re takin’ it to Indy.

The one about House of CarYOUKIDDINGME?? (may contain spoiler).

Awake…alert…hungry…sweaty…and no sign of sleep at 5.28 GMT.  I blame House of Cards for all of this.  Luckily, I have one more day off tomorrow.  But Wednesday…Wednesday will be bad.

“You GOTTA start it,” they said.  “You’re gonna LOVE it,” they said.  “OK, I’ll start it when I go back to the Dark Place, where one can so easily hide their nearing-30 tendency of sneaking into bed at 6pm with cereal and a laptop, screening calls and texts with diligence, ne’er to surface again until the alarm goes off 12 hours later at which point you have to change out of your work clothes just to put new work clothes on that weren’t yesterday’s.”

But, what’s a girl to do when, on an international flight with such a plethora of viewing options and her first 7 hours of uninterrupted time in weeks, she sees the entire first season right there at her 40,000ft-high fingertips?  Hell, I’d bet she even put the kibosh on airplane-chitchat with a slightly attractive seat buddy who literally asked, “have you seen the stars out there?”  And that is saying A LOT for a nice midwest girl.

Come on, buddy.  DON’T YOU SEE WHAT I’M WATCHING, HERE??  Don’t you recognize a teenager that grew up with President Bartlett, swearing in the National Cathedral, putting out his cigarette on the marble floor after a one-sided conversation in Latin with God???  You cannot step between her and this long-awaited replacement!!!!

It’s all downhill after that.  Impromptu Netflix-subscription (or is it prescription?  I can’t really tell the difference right now), Facebook-like IMDB searches of the actors and actresses that lead you down Facebook-like stalker-y paths, fast-forwarding through the theme song and credits (something not even possible the last time I watched a TV) just to get to the action, gasping when you realize that Frank Underwood is trying to kill MY NEW BEST FRIEND!!!  my NEW!  BEST!  FRIEND!  and shaking your head “please no please no please NOOOOOOOOOO.”  If he EVER goes after Taylor Swift I will literally have no one left.

Somewhere between jet-lag and lifestyle crisis, lies that midwest girl in Stockholm, curtains drawn, smuggled Pumpkin Delights on the adjacent pillow, addicted to the conspiracy of American politics.  Thanks, Obama.

(PS–Christmas was great, family and friends are the best, I love and miss everybody more than I ever thought was possible, sent a man to jail one night, watched one of my best friends get married, cried, laughed, sang, danced, and above all, continued to be eternally thankful and grateful for…well…everything.  Will try to be better about blog posts in 2015.  But if not, you know who to blame.  And what to watch.)

The one about being American and frustrated.

One fall evening during my third year of teaching, I left work in the early evening to grab dinner with a friend.  The drive into town was its normal, traffic-y self except that something on my back windshield kept distracting me when I’d look through the rear-view mirror (it appeared to be writing, but trying to read it backwards through the mirror while driving and pumping Beyonce…well…damn, I miss that).  After pulling into the restaurant, I get out of the car to get a closer look.  A feeling of true violation rushed over me as I read “COMMIE PIG” across my windshield in black permanent marker.

Now, it probably doesn’t even need to be said where in the country I was living at this time.  Just like it doesn’t need to be said where I was when the Obama sticker was ripped off, or when I politely declined Chik-fil-a and people scoffed.  The point is that there is a culture in the United States that makes it’s own people feel more like foreigners in their own country than they do when they are actually living halfway around the globe.  And I am saying this as a white person.  The only diversity points I could posssibly attain are for being a woman.  Just try to imagine how others are feeling.

The United States of America oppressed an entire population for over 200 years just based on the color of their skin.  After that, we said, here ya go, fend for yourselves in society with no education, no ability to read, no ability to write.  160 years later we are still suffering, just like Russia, just like China, just like every other country that thought or continues to think that you can treat people in this way.  There are long lasting effects.

This is not “their” problem.  This is not “their” cause.  It is your fight, too.  It is our collective struggle.  If you do not understand why people are looting, if you do not understand the anger, the rage, the rioting, the generations of suppressed emotional energy that has now erupted, then you have some meditating to do (…dare I say praying?).

A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr, the epitome of peaceful protest:  “I think we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard and what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the economic plight of the poor which has worsened over the last few years.”

No one is saying the looting and rioting is right, but we should be ashamed to not understand the current reaction to Ferguson that was indirectly scripted by our forefathers (yes, those amazing forefathers that you always hear about, who founded the country based on these incredible ideals…well, they also enslaved Africans AND pretty much exterminated the indigenous American people…so…)

The funny thing, America, is that we think we’ve arrived.  That in 1776, we p0wned the universe and never looked forward again.  We have SUCH a habit of saying we’re the greatest country in the world.  The problem with this mindset, is that you automatically shut down any room for growth.  And we need to grow.  We had 50 million Americans without healthcare until a year ago.  Immigration is a nightmare and the scariest group of people in the civilized world are about to take control of the congress in January.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am increasingly grateful for education.  I believe in education like some people believe in religion.  Knowledge is power.  In fact, it is one of only two powers that actually matter in this crazy world (kindness/compassion would be the other).  A high school diploma is still the largest factor in keeping kids out of jail, and a college degree is still the largest factor in getting kids out of poverty permanently.  Not religion, not money, not politics.  Education.

So, get educated.  Take the time to empower your mind and reflect during this incredibly difficult time.  We need people at their best to get through this one.  Best of luck.  I’ll be rooting for you every single day from across the pond.

Edit:  Yes.  There is racism in Europe and, yes, it is palpable in Sweden, especially considering refugees and the recent influx of immigrants.  But it’s different than in the US.  When we speak about racists in the United States, these are people who are racist against other Americans.  Not saying it’s better or worse.  Just a thought.

The one about Un

From a journal entry dated September 30, 2012.

“It still happens, 3 months later.  I still wake up missing Europe.  Still wake up missing being in a place I love.  About a month ago, my mind decided that we had to live there (but my body is stuck in Texas for the time being).  We have to try.  Mind, body and soul.  It will take everything in my being to get there; to find a job, to pack up my life and move.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…I must find a job.  I will not move without one.  And I have to move…so I have to find a job.  There is no other option–I can’t be in Houston another year.  I love everyone here, but I just can’t do it any longer.  I have three more years in my 20s and they won’t be spent here or studying.  It’s getting to the point where I can barely stand it any longer, yet there is no way for me to secure a teaching position abroad at this moment for the 2013-2014 school year.  I am not sure what the best path is for me to take, so I am trying everything I can, contacting everyone I know.  It makes me feel unfocused, like the future is too foggy.  I feel unsettled and unstable and I just want to know that I can in fact make this happen.  I want to tell myself ‘a year from now, you’ll be living in Europe.’  It must be so.”

Dear Unsettled 2012,

It’s September 2014.  Tomorrow you will be singing in Italy with an incredible choir and group of people, after having just returned from singing in London last weekend.  You will be a little nervous leaving a substitute teacher with your students for a week at a wonderful school in Stockholm where you now teach.  Packing seems difficult tonight because you’re just so damn thankful for every single day.

Patience, Unsettled. It will be so.

The one from day 363

Hi friends and family,

Apologies for letting nearly 6 months go by without writing!  Stockholm is keeping me very busy bagging my own groceries, riding backwards on public transportation and having more conversations about the weather than I thought was humanly possible!  This morning the sun woke me up around 4:00 am (I mean, full sunlight, guys) and even now as I type it is still a little light outside (11:00pm).  So bizarre!

The future is also bright approaching my one-year anniversary in Stockholm.  A month ago we finished the 2013-2014 school year and I am ecstatic to say that I will be continuing for 2014-2015.  The school has offered me a permanent contract, which isn’t anything terribly different, but makes being an immigrant a bit more like a citizen–I’ve applied for a long-term VISA and will not need a new one every year; it helps make my job and life here more stable.  For this I am so honored, grateful and relieved, all at once.  Although it was a huge transition from conducting in Texas, the opportunity to collaborate with teachers and staff from 13 different countries and adapt lessons to teach entire classes of bi-, tri- and quadrilingual (spell check is telling me this is not a word, but, I’m telling you, these kids exist!) students was an enlightening experience.  The importance of a global education has never been greater–thank you to all who have been so encouraging as I delve deeper.

Oh, this is funny.  So, a few months ago at a choir rehearsal, our PR member told us she’d been contacted by “Rolling Stones management.”  Something about singing a song with them when they came to Stockholm on tour.  At the time, she wasn’t really sure if it was a scam or not, but promised to keep us posted on what developed.  But you know what?  I feel as though this deserves a post of its own, so…stay tuned.  To be continued… (this is totally just a ploy to keep you interested in my blog…is it working?).

And now, it’s been a year.  A year ago on July 31.  Leaving the US with two suitcases and a head filled with what-ifs.  People will tell you you’re brave.  Well, over the last 363 days, I’ve been terrified, angry, I’ve cried, sobbed, doubted everything, been far away when bad things happen, wanted my parents, wanted my friends, wanted old childhood pets that have been gone for years, paid $10 for a beer (…every weekend), criticized, questioned, been homesick and heartbroken.  That doesn’t make me brave.  I’ve also learned, loved, discovered, expanded, compacted, absorbed, read and reread, taught and retaught, moved and moved again, sung, played, imbibed, eaten, cooked, danced and dreamed my way through it.  No, that doesn’t make me brave, it just makes me stubborn as hell.  Learning that life as this type of a person can be tough, lonely even at times, is a funny part of the mystery. Embrace it.

The reward is worth it.  Your potential to contribute is worth it.  There is beauty that only you can bring to this world, so be generous.  It is worth it.  That particular student’s “Oh, I get it!”; meeting new co-workers; making new friends; singing for the king and queen, The Rolling Stones, The Proms, that one person in the audience who really needed to hear it that day…it’s all worth it.  (This entry is turning into a bad motivational speaker from L’Oreal).  Of course you wouldn’t think that you’d be able to move halfway across the world and carve out a new existence if you didn’t just try.  So, don’t ever give up, kids!  (Sorry)…

So, Stockholm.  Another year awaits us.  Except this time?  I’m a redhead 😉

Biking around Brunnsviken, lake near new apartment

Biking around Brunnsviken, lake near new apartment

Biking to Djurgården

Biking to Djurgården

View from new apartment

View from new apartment

...lots of biking...

…lots of biking…

Making sushi

Making sushi

Homemade, handrolled.

Homemade, handrolled.

Church on a hill

Church on a hill

Sometimes boys sing to you in Sweden :)

Sometimes boys sing to you in Sweden 🙂

A little after-work at Humlegården

A little after-work at Humlegården

Drinks with a view in Södermalm

Drinks with a view

Chillin' on Skeppsholmen after work.

Chillin’ on Skeppsholmen after work.

Evening stroll on Kungsholmen

Evening stroll on Kungsholmen

Rockin' out with The Edukators!

Rockin’ out with The Edukators!

Rockin' out with The Rolling Stones @ Tele2 Arena on their European tour

Rockin’ out with The Rolling Stones

On our way to Jagger's after-party!

On our way to Jagger’s after-party!

Livin in bikinis

Livin in bikinis

Panorama from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Panorama from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Just a little beach party in Hvar

Just a little beach party in Hvar

Beautiful evening on Hvar, Croatia

Beautiful evening on Hvar, Croatia

Goodbye, Dubrovnik!

Goodbye, Dubrovnik!

There's nothing like coming home to Stockholm

There’s nothing like coming home to Stockholm

Breakfast picnic

Breakfast picnic

Stockholm by canoe

Stockholm by canoe

Lake day in Nacka with friends.

Lake day in Nacka with friends.