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.
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.
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!
Listening to Grieg, touring the fjords!
Picturesque Bergen, Norway
Oslo Opera House!
There’s just something about trains…
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.
Thomas and I enjoying Italian life
Our first night together in Stockholm.
A bunch of nerds after a choir concert.
Skating at Kungsträdgården
Dinner Club 🙂
After winning “greatest fans” at Battle of the Bands!
The loveliest work friends.
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.
Fantastic 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).
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…
First glimpses of Prague from the Charles Bridge
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.
The 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).
Walking to choir rehearsal in Stockholm
Hanging out in beautiful Tallinn, Estonia.
Reeds in glasses, ready for Spartan hoops!
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.
Pre-concert pics at the Dome.
Il Duomo…a gentle giant
Singing Mozart’s C moll Messe in Prato, outside of Florence
Dinner with Katie and Colin in Florence!
Pesto. Need I say more?
Birthday dinner with friends in cute and funky Prato.
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.
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.
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 🙂
Staying up to watch the sunrise!
Really into elevator shots last summer
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.
Siri at Ham Sweet Farm!
Taking Mav for a walk.
…Oberon and hot wings.
Oberon with Katezoz!
East Lansing friends reunion at Tasty Twist!
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!
Reed family at Uncle Rob’s!
With out beautiful Aunt Patricia who passed away this past fall.
An afternoon in NYC before flying back to Stockholm.
Clams at Woodman’s.
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!
Galloping around the southern hemisphere, Franz Josef, New Zealand
Hiking in Mt. Cook National Park
So lucky to have met travel buddy, Wes, along the way! Sharing PB&J sandwiches and crushing mountains near Lake Hawea, New Zealand
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.
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.
Diving in the Great Barrier Reef, one of the best days of my life!
My new boyfriend, Sea Turtle
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.
Rooftop sangria overlooking Melbourne skyline
Feeling right at home here ❤
A few roadtripping photos…
Flat tire on our last night in Australia!
Hanging on the coast near Kiama
And of course, what is a trip to Australia without a day at Bondi Beach?
Emily awaiting burgers at Bondi Beach
Loving the Cali vibes 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.
Temple of the Six Banyan Trees
So many Pokey Stick varieties.
August 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.
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!
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.
K&C strolling through Cambridge.
Quaint and cute.
Clare College, where John Rutter conducted for years.
Love cheese, love Cambridge
It rained while we queued for Carols.
A sunnier moment waiting for Carols
About to walk inside!!
Hanging out with Bob Chilcott on a Sunday morning
London is the best!
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!
Lisbon walking tour
The old tram
Colorful, old neighborhoods
NYE at the big square
Gorgeous old church.
Great night in Lisbon.
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.