South River Falls in Shenandoah Park

A week after visiting Lara, I was back in Shenandoah, this time with Simon instead of on my own. We went for a hike along the South River Falls trail because the park ranger promised waterfalls. We weren’t disappointed.

Afterwards, we picnicked on leftover Afghani food from the day before and ate pie before heading north and back to real life.


Drive through Shenandoah

I went to Roanoke and Blacksburg last weekend via the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and despite the torrential rain and low visibility that persisted for the first half of my seven hour drive, I still saw beautiful nature. For example…

I also felt pretty lucky to be driving through Shenandoah in the clouds because almost no one else was on the Skyline. 35 mph?! I’ve got a better idea.

Round Two

That happened…

Blue skies in DC

I had a headache all morning yesterday, so I took a break from work around 1 pm to walk around a little and get some fresh air. I went through the canal areas and down to the Georgetown harbor.


Gazing at Rosslyn from the Georgetown harbor area.

It was all bright sun, blue skies, and business lunches, with the occasional yacht floating by. How amazing is it to have this green space (or blue, I guess) so central in DC? I love this city.

What non-Swedes should know about Sweden – according to ABBA

Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA

Since I work at the Embassy of Sweden as a tour guide, I get a lot of questions about what I thought of the country and my experiences living there. I tell them the truth — that I had a great 2.5 years there, had a satisfying job, really amazing friends, and a very comfortable, good life.

Most people leave it there, but there are always a few who press me for further information: yeah, but what about the winters? Isn’t it really cold and dark there? 

I struggled to find a diplomatic answer for awhile because honestly, yes, it is really cold and dark during the winters, but the summer — once it arrives — is like paradise. I don’t want to sound too negative and scare people off, but I also don’t want to lie. My stock response now is that if I were to make a list of the positives and negatives of living in Sweden, the list of positives would be very long and encompass nearly all aspects of my life there, while the list of negatives would have just one big item on it (weather).

With all my efforts to put the impact of Swedish weather in perspective, it made me really laugh to read “A Dancing Queen Extends Her Reign” in the New York Times today. It’s an interview with Agnetha Faltskog of the legendary ABBA, talking about her new album, A. This is the first exchange in the interview:

David Itzkoff: Everything I know about Sweden, I learned from your songs and from Stieg Larsson novels. What else should I be aware of?

Agnetha Faltskog: To start with, the climate. It’s awful. We’ve still got snow here, and winter, and we’re waiting for spring. It’s getting on our nerves right now, really.

HA! So there you have it… even ABBA gets tired of Swedish weather! Although I probably won’t be incorporating this comment into my tours.

Lenten sugar cravings

I gave up sugar for Lent again, which is easier than it was last year but STILL NOT FUN in any way. (Just to impress upon you the hardcore nature of this promise, I’m not eating anything with honey or artificial sweeteners in it either, which means no flavored yogurt, no lattes, and no processed bread.) I’m still drinking wine, though, because a girl’s got to have her limits. Right? Right.

In the last two weeks, I had more or less gotten past the point of feeling intense cravings, which was great. Until this past Saturday, that is, when I made an exception to my Lenten promise so that I could taste wedding cake with Simon and my parents.

Four tiny, delicious sample wedding cakes… and so pristine in their as-yet unravaged state.

So much sugar… so much deliciousness. There is nothing like tiny cakes in the middle of Lent to make me feel like a crack addict on a mission. And once I got a bite, I was totally off the wall for the next hour.

Post-apocalyptic wedding cake.

And as you can see, devastation was swift and merciless. We all had tiny pieces so that we could taste each flavor combination, so there’s more left in the refrigerator, taunting and beguiling me with its sweet song: mmm, delicious sugars, must eat the cake!! 

I really need Simon to come home from work so that we can finish it off for good. Not because of my own selfish purposes, of course, but so that we can make final decisions about wedding cake. Obviously.


How do I say this in a way that doesn’t reveal my inner super geek…

A combination adult spelling bee and happy hour is undeniably — and shamefully — really tempting to me.

Look at the excitement… the tension… the drama! [screenshot from living social]

And it’s only $5… a small price for a night out in the city, a large cost to my effort to not be a total nerd all the time.

Nonstop excitement at the Embassy of Sweden

For the last two weeks, it has been nonstop excitement for me at the Embassy of Sweden. Right now, the Kennedy Center is hosting a gigantic festival called Nordic Cool focused on Scandinavian culture: theater, dance, music, visual arts, literature, design, and film from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden as well as the territories of Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Åland Islands.

At the same time, the Embassy of Sweden has planned a jam-packed schedule of events in conjunction with Nordic Cool to support the Swedish cultural offerings and to tie into this year’s theme for public diplomacy, which is Globalization and Migration. So awesome. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to work with the Embassy’s cultural department on public outreach to connect with people who would be interested in our events.

Monday was the grand opening for the Embassy of Sweden’s public diplomacy theme, so the day was spent finalizing the installation of the exhibits and preparing for the gala party later that evening.

This is one section of the Dressing Swedish exhibit, which was being installed and finalized on Monday. So exciting!

Dressing Swedish is an amazing exhibit about folk costumes in Sweden: how they create and express different visions of Swedish identity, how the folk traditions are being incorporated into modern fashion, and how they are re-imagined by descendants of Swedish immigrants in the United States. I had seen sketches of the exhibition layout earlier, but seeing it set up was a totally different thing.

One of my favorite parts of the Dressing Swedish exhibit: an example of the Swedish national dress, and an image of an updated version with hijab on the display. So cool!

There are four exhibits in total: Dressing Swedish, The Enduring Designs of Josef Frank (a furniture and textiles showcase), Memories of Stone (a drop-dead gorgeous photography exhibit), and The Third Room: a Sound Walk (an interactive radio theater program for children).  Last fall, we had only two exhibits, so as a tour guide, it’s exciting to have so much more to present from Sweden, especially since the exhibits cover such different areas of culture.

Just a little taste of the items on display in The Enduring Designs of Josef Frank.

The Josef Frank exhibit was probably my favorite to research ahead of time since there are so many amazing images on the internet of different rooms decorated with Josef Frank’s furniture and textiles. I am sadly now filled with lust for very expensive interior design.

Finally it was time for the opening party. After one last job — escorting a journalist through the Josef Frank exhibit — I got to slow down, relax, and enjoy the party. Our welcome drinks were oh-so-Swedish (elderflower and Absolut vodka) and very Nordic Cool with the glowing ice cubes.

Glowing ice cubes made our welcome drinks so beautiful – and maybe even more delicious.

I didn’t think to take pictures of the food, but I should have. The Ambassador’s personal chef was responsible for the buffet, and it was delicious. I think my favorites were the wild game meatballs, the pâté with pear chutney toasts, and the lobster soup. There was also an ice cream bar outside, but I didn’t get to try it, thanks to my Lenten resolution to give up sugar.

If you’re in DC, you should come on by!

You can find details and sign up for all of our events on Eventbrite at We also have open hours on Thursday evenings, 5:30-9 pm, and on weekends, 11-4 on Saturdays and 12-5 on Sundays. I’ll be your lovely tour guide and do my best to answer all your questions!


My life as an entrepreneur

Something I don’t talk a lot about on this blog is what I’m trying to do as an entrepreneur. I think part of why I’m having such a hard time sitting down and writing for this blog is that I haven’t been sure how much of my entrepreneurial journey to share here when I have an online business taking place in another corner of the internet ( I haven’t wanted my goofy, ridiculous personal side to undermine my calm, cool, and collected professional side.

I think I’m over it now.

As I blogged about my experiences in Sweden, I found that I created a two-way street between readers and myself. People had great advice and tips for me, and I was able to share the lessons I had learned with other expats new to Sweden. So why not do the same thing with my ups and downs as a small business owner?

Here’s where I am today: my business is doing ok, but not great. I feel like I’m constantly struggling to get new clients. Once I have clients, I know exactly what to do: both my Business English and translation customers have given me outstanding testimonials. But how do I get new people in through the door? I still don’t know.

My other challenge is maintaining my energy and drive throughout the day when I work by myself. I start out the day great. I have my to-do list full of actionable items, I have a good breakfast, and I get started. By about 2, 3, 4 pm, I’m totally worn out. I’ve lost focus. I try to get back to my to-do list but everything seems too hard, so I do things halfway. Then I move straight to the death knell of my day, which is despising myself for not being more productive.

I’m sick of this pattern. My first experiment is going to be to reconfigure my day. For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to schedule the hard stuff for the morning so that I have the energy and motivation to tackle it. I’ll leave the easy wins for the afternoon so that I can keep up my momentum even when my energy dips. Maybe I’ll even do some chores or run errands around 3 pm as a break from all the mental work.

This is day one of the new plan, and I started off the day by doing things that I always want to fit in at the end of my day, “if I have time.” I’m reading a book that I took out of the library called The Startup Playbook and blogging.

The Startup Playbook is full of succinct advice and tips from successful entrepreneurs. It’s been really interesting so far – a great mix of technical advice like keeping track of metrics and holistic advice on what kind of mindset you should have as an entrepreneur. One quotation that really jumped out at me today was from Matt Blumberg, Founder of Return Path.

“One of the challenges of being a CEO is that you have to be the most optimistic person in the company and the most pessimistic person in the company at the same time. You celebrate when things go well, but you also worry that things are never going to be so good again.”

The reason why this resonated with me is that I feel like I’ve got the optimist and pessimist thing down – but I haven’t mastered being both at the same time. At the beginning of the day, I’ve got so much positive energy. Even the slightest hint of a new client can send me over the moon. By the end of the day, I’m tired, and small setbacks are blown totally out of proportion and interpreted as signs that I’m never going to make it or I’m not cut out to be a business owner.

Alright, blogging and learning about being a better business owner have gotten their fair share of the day. Onto the next thing!

The month of January: gone!

And bang! In the blink of an eye, January was gone.

The highlight of my month was definitely my trip to Colorado to see Maura, a long-lost soul sister, who I hadn’t seen in approximately one million years (otherwise known as since New Year’s Day 2011). Maura lives in Denver now, a city that is much farther away from DC than Simon had ever imagined. So much so that he spent about 15 minutes measuring the length between the two cities with his thumb and forefinger and comparing it to the distances between different cities in Europe to put it in perspective.

“It’s like going from Stockholm to Crete! It’s like going from Lisbon to Krakow!” 

You get the idea.

I left early in the morning on Saturday with the blinding sun at my back and returned early in the morning on Tuesday with the blinding sun in my eyes. With a new appreciation for just how much distance I was covering (thanks, Simon), it was really wonderful to watch the scenery change beneath me from city to mountains to farmland to serious mountains once again.

The best part about my trip to Denver was having so much quality time with Maura so that we could really catch up on the last two years. Two years! In that time, she met a special guy and gotten engaged and I never even got to meet him until now. Crazy.

We spent one day in the mountains, one day in Denver, and one day going to Maura’s favorite places in the areas around Denver. I went snowshoeing for the first time. The sun was shining, and Maura brought German chocolate cake in her backpack to eat at the top of the trail.

I also love that Maura, who is not super interested in food in general, took me to one million delicious places to eat and drink. We had Vietnamese pho, Nepalese dumplings, Cuban coffee and toast, and classic Colorado microbrews at the Wynkoop Brewing Company. Who knew that Denver is so multicultural? (Not me.)

Hanging out with Maura also got me started on the activity that has consumed the second half of January: WEDDING PLANNING. All this time, I’ve been like, ”Yeah, the wedding’s going to be awesome, but the last time we planned everything within six weeks, so… you know… it’s going to be fine.”

Now I am totally psyched for wedding planning. Like: what are we going to eat?! What color dress do I choose for my bridesmaids?! Who will take the photos?? You know, really life-altering stuff.

We even went to a wedding expo – my mom, Simon, and me – to get inspiration. Simon was one of two men in attendance. (More on that later…) Suffice to say that while stuff like the photos below are totally cute, we will be putting our money on the food and the booze rather than the decorations. Because that’s the way we are.

And then the last thing that I have been totally obsessed with (related to wedding planning, not that we can ever get off of that subject again, sorry!) is the wedding dress. I have two amazing options: wear the one I had for my wedding in Sweden, or update my mom’s and wear that? I took them both to the tailor this morning to see what she thought (I’d need some minor alterations on the one I wore in Sweden, too) and just got so excited by them both. Decisions, decisions!!

February’s going to be huge for me: lots of work coming up on the horizon for the Swedish Embassy, more wedding planning, and hopefully a lot more writing than what I’ve been doing in the past weeks.

Here we go, February. Ready, set, action.

I am writing a guest blog for the the Swedish Institute! It's called The Expat Blog. Check it out for articles and updates on life as an expat in Sweden... one fika at a time.
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