Observations of a Swedish Midsummer

IMG_5320Glad Midsommar!  Happy Midsummer!  It has been almost six years since I moved to Sweden!  Six years??!!  In that time I have experienced more tastes, sights, and sounds than I ever dreamed possible.

Today is one of the most celebrated holidays in Sweden, Midsummer.  It is a celebration of light, food, song, dance, family, and friends.  It also marks for many (especially those with children) the start of summer vacation.  Midsummer is the best way to start vacation.  While I normally spend Midsummer in Sweden, the past two years I have been home following my niece’s birth.  The following is Swedish Midsummer in a nutshell as seen through the eyes of this expat….

A Brief History

According to Sweden’s official site, Midsummer dates back as far as the 1500’s.   It is the Friday after the summer solstice, somewhere between June 20-26th.  It is most often celebrated outside in nature.  Every city including Stockholm and Gothenburg (Sweden’s two largest cities) becomes desolate as all inhabitants flood the countryside.

Eternal Sunshine & Nature

In some parts of Sweden, especially the far north, the sun barely sets allowing for hours of outdoor celebration and games.  We usually celebrate far north in Luleå, the city where my boyfriend is from. Tonight, the sun sets at 12:05 am and rises at 1:03 am allowing for only about 58 minutes of “darkness”.  The flowers are in full bloom and this is what makes Sweden truly one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.

 

Food

No celebration is complete without food.  Midsummer is no exception.  There are  many varieties of pickled herring to choose from.  In addition, cured or smoked salmon with boiled potatoes, dill, and sour cream are featured favorites.  Barbecuing is a must this time of year and if you are lucky and know someone who hunts moose, you may have a taste of moose filet-the greatest piece of meat on the planet.  Strawberry cake or strawberry dessert of any sort is common and my favorite part of the day!!

 

Maypole

All across Sweden, towns erect a Maypole for Midsummer festivities.  It is typically adorned with greenery and flowers and stands approximately 10 feet tall.  The origins of the Swedish maypole are thought to come from Germany.  It is said to symbolize fertility,though this is debateable among historians.

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Dance

Dancing around the Maypole is part of the day’s festivities.  The most famous dance, Små Grådarna (The Little Frogs) has participants both young and old singing and hopping like frogs in a circle around the Maypole.

Midsummer Wreath

Girls make a wreath of flowers using seven varieties of flowers.  Legend has it that after placing the flowers under your pillow at night, you will dream of the one you are meant to marry.

 

Family & Friends

Day is for family, evening for friends-at least that’s how we roll.  We usually spend the day with my boyfriend’s family on Brändön, a small island in northern Sweden.  Following a day of sunshine, song, dance, a packed picnic, and games, we make our way to our annual Midsummer party hosted by our friends, Marcus and Maria ❤  The party continues with wine, beer, barbecue, and games.

It’s funny.  Since moving overseas, I always felt like I was missing out on the birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases.  Now that I call Sweden home as well, I am really missing  being “home” for Midsummer!  Wishing everyone in Sweden a happy, safe Midsummer!!

Here is a great summary of the day in just a few short minutes…..

Swedish Midsummer for Dummies

Foreign Nurse Feature: A South African Nurse

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I developed  wanderlust at a young age, but didn’t start nurturing it until I was older and able.  The most amazing part of my journey has been meeting so many fascinating people from every corner of the globe.  In this month’s foreign feature, we meet Betina-a young and enthusiastic nurse from South Africa.  In our interview, one could not help but be infected with her enthusiasm for nursing.  It is clear Betina has found her calling and interestingly enough as we will find, it was by way of a detour.

How long have you been a nurse?

I started my training in January of 2009 and graduated in December of 2012 at the University of Johannesburg.  I started my community service at Steve Biko Academic Hospital and worked there for two and a half years. I believe that although I was not yet qualified as a student, I was a nurse, because during our training we work with patients to accumulate the needed hours to qualify as a Registered Nurse, therefore I have been privileged to touch the lives of patients and their families for 7 years.

In what area of Nursing do you work?

I found my passion and the area in which I wanted to specialize during my training and since I graduated I’ve been working with the little miracles in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I can’t describe the immense amount of belonging I feel when nursing these small and innocent beings. They are so vulnerable and completely powerless, yet such strong and determined fighters. I learn something new from them on a daily basis. We spend most of our lives at work, therefore finding a career where you want to get up in the mornings is of the utmost importance and I am truly blessed when I say that I am convinced I have found that, not only in the NICU, but in being a nurse.

What inspired you to be a nurse?

Since I was a little girl, I found myself playing “doctor doctor” where I would be the one taking care of the “sick patient” and being the eldest grandchild, I was always the one taking care of my sister and cousins when we were growing up. I suppose caring is in my nature. I have to be honest though and say that I didn’t always want to be a nurse, because in our culture being a nurse is looked down upon.  I wanted to become a doctor, but those doors didn’t open for me until someone told me to do nursing, get my foot in the door (so to speak) and then I could do a bridging course and become a physician.  Little did I know that in studying nursing I found where I belong and who I was destined to become. I no longer believe that nursing is a career to be looked down upon…in fact I am determined to change that perspective and rather have people realize that it is a profession where we make a difference on a daily basis, twenty four hours and that the health care system would not exist without us. Needless to say, I no longer wish to become a physician, although I respect them and love to gain knowledge from them, I feel that I have more of an influence at the bedside, taking care of my patient and knowing every aspect of their being.

What advice would you give to a new nurse?

I would tell them that being a nurse is more than just having a job to pay the bills. Being a nurse comes with the responsibility to care for another human being when they are in their most vulnerable state. Being a nurse means that you need to be passionate and professional, not only at work, but also at home and in the public, because we are looked to whether we have our uniform on or not. So my advice is to make sure that nursing is for you, because it is a life-long commitment and then to go out there and be exposed to every possible field of nursing.  Nursing is the one profession with an insane amount of fields and opportunities and places that you can find where you belong, therefore get exposure to as much as possible and then find the place where you feel like you can spend the rest of your life and make a difference there.

What advice would you give to a tired nurse?

Nursing is a physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining profession where patients and the multidisciplinary team demand a lot from us on a daily basis. It is of the utmost importance that you find something outside of nursing that you love and enjoy to do. An activity, where you can unwind and get rid of all the frustrations, turmoil, heartache and troubles which come with our career.  I find exercise and being active to be my ‘sanity’.  In the gym and jogging on the road is where I ventilate, release my emotions and find the strength to continue. I also recently found a love for obstacle racing, there is something about running and digging through mud and challenging myself through the most ridiculous obstacles that energizes me and pushes me past my own limits.  I also ensured that I have a strong support system, people to talk to. I find my best friend and sister to be my pillars of strength. But another piece of advice would be to never lose contact with the friends you studied with. There is a certain level of understanding that comes when one nurse talks to another about a challenge they faced, different to talking to your best friend in another profession and safer than sharing with your colleague.

Thank you for your honest words, wise advice, enthusiasm, and love for your tiny patients Betina!  To read more about Betina, check out my interview with her in Mighty Nurse in the link below.

A Mighty Nurse in South Africa

 

 

 

 

Easter in Norrland

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Each Easter, we fly up to Northern Sweden, Norrland, where only approximately 12 percent of Sweden’s nearly 10  million inhabitants reside.  My sambo (live in boyfriend) grew up in a small village here a stone’s throw from the Baltic Sea.  Year round, it is the most breathtaking, picturesque part of the world I have ever seen.  Even the quality of the air feels different.

We arrived on Thursday and have since tasted some of the best local fish (bleak) grilled right over an open fire, walked and snowmobiled on the sea, and had the best homemade cookies (recipe to come) for our fika, the cherished coffee break in Sweden.  We have also spotted a herd of reindeer (owned by the indigenous Sami in Sweden) that roam freely through Northern Sweden.

Luleå is a city with a population of nearly 47,000.  It is known for Luleå University of Technology, Luleå Hockey Club, and it’s steel production.  It is part of Norrland, one of the three land regions in Sweden.

They have a saying in Sweden, “det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder,” which literally translates to “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”  In other words, there is no excuse to stay in when it is super cold or overcast.  I still struggle with this from time to time, but I am a Florida girl.  Swedes have evolved to make the best of any weather conditions.

I was reluctant to head outside yesterday as it was a bit overcast and super cold.  Today was another day.  The sun was shining in every direction, the sky was blue.  We decided to spend it the way most Swedes in the area spent the day, walking and snowmobiling on the frozen sea!!!

We celebrated Easter together with Fredrik’s family in his sister’s family’s cabin.  We ate grilled moose and reindeer from a bbq made in the snow.  Many Swedes own a “summer house” which often consists of a large open room complete with a primitive kitchen, dining, and sleeping areas.  Spring and Easter usually mark the time when Swedes open up their cabins for use.

Easter in Sweden is mostly secular.  The Easter bunny  is not as celebrated a tradition as back home.  Instead, children (boys and girls alike) dress up as Easter witches and go from house to house wishing their neighbours a Happy Easter.  In return, they are given candy (similar to trick or treating on Halloween).  In addition, parents give their children Easter “eggs” that are filled with candy.

FullSizeRender-56Food traditionally served around Easter can vary, but generally consists of boiled eggs, cured and/or smoked salmon, cold cuts (ham, moose, and/or lamb), cheese, bread, potatoes, and pickled herring.

 

Though I long for home every day (especially on holidays), Norrland and Sweden have been my second home for nearly six years.  My boyfriend’s family have always been so kind and welcoming to me.  They have made my holidays here very special.  While I recommend visiting Stockholm and Gothenburg, no trip to Sweden is complete without visiting the many wonders of Norrland.  Hoping everyone back home was spoiled by the Easter Bunny and enjoyed each other’s company ❤

 

March Nurse Feature: A Girl on a Mission

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Kristen and Faces of Tomorrow founder and director, Dr. Brian Rubinstein, making a difference ❤

Our March Nurse Feature follows a super inspiring nurse who has volunteered her way across the globe.  For those nurses afflicted by wander lust, meet Kristen.  She is an American nurse with a background in pediatric, newborn, and maternal health.  She currently lives in Romania with her husband and two adorable girls.  She is a founding board member of the non-profit, Faces of Tomorrow, and when she’s not on a mission, she’s planning the next.

I first met Kristen while working as a travel nurse in California.  She has this super infectious and enthusiastic personality like there is just not enough time to get all the things done in life one wants.  I am happy to call her my colleague and friend.

Where are you from?


I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up in Crofton, Maryland. I moved to San  Francisco in 1999 and still consider it HOME. Currently, I’m living in Bucharest, Romania.

In what area of nursing do you work?


Maternal Child Health. I started in Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I worked in various areas of Pediatrics and then started travel nursing at hospitals in the Bay Area.  During that time I worked at UCSF, Stanford Children’s hospital, Oakland Children’s and a few Kaiser hospitals.  I ended up working at Marin General hospital on a travel contract and fell in love with the staff, patients, and hospital.  They offered to train me to work in postpartum, the newborn nursery, and at times the NICU as well as pediatrics.

I love being able to work in multiple areas with women and children. It’s nice to see healthy patients and families at times unlike acute pediatrics.  In addition, I started working at some underserved community clinics with adults and pediatrics to expand my skills and work in community public health.  Being part of the birth of a child and caring for the family right after birth is magical.  However, my heart still belongs to the pediatric patients-it’s my passion.

How long have you been a nurse?

19 years

What inspired you to be a nurse?

I’ve always loved kids and helping others. I’ve worked with kids in various capacities since I was in the 4th grade.  When I was in high school, I had a chance to take a health class and I found it interesting. Then in  college I visited the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D. C. and saw all babies born addicted to drugs. I was crushed and confused. I started volunteering to be a “holder” to comfort the babies withdrawing from cocaine. It was rewarding, heartbreaking, and confusing. It was then I knew that nursing was my true calling.

What advice would you give to a new nurse?

Follow your dreams, continue your education, diversify your skills, and volunteer or work with underserved populations in America and abroad. It’s essential to understand other cultures and to understand the issues within our own cultures and systems. Truly, it can help you be a better provider and empathize and connect with your patients on a much deeper level.

What advice would you give to a tired nurse?

I’m a big believer in self-care. There is a high burn out rate in nursing and without self-care it’s inevitable. I would recommend yoga, meditation, massage, and travel!  It’s not healthy to constantly do shift work, live with sleep deprivation, stressful situations, and the emotions involved with nursing and healthcare related jobs. Actually, I would give the same advice to anyone with any job…self-care is a must!

Thank you Kristen for your contribution!!  See more from my interview with Kristen and on her mission work in my upcoming Mighty Nurse Feature.  There is need everywhere in the world, even in our own cities.  What can you as an individual do to be of service to someone else?  There is an increasing epidemic of drug babies plaguing the U.S.  Find your local volunteer cuddle program and hold and love these babies.  Visit your local nursing home and spend a few hours with an elderly resident that has no family.

“The dedicated enjoy supreme peace. Therefore, live only to serve.”

 Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

 

February Nurse Feature

DSC_0002I am super excited to start featuring an amazing group of nurses from around the world.  I have always loved to travel and explore.  In my own travels, I have met some truly inspiring people.  For any adventure seeking nurses out there, this is a post for you.  Today’s feature is a nurse that has made her way around the U.S. and is now living and working in the U.K.  She proves that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.  If you’re contemplating working as a traveler, here is your inspiration.Meet Tonya.  She is a neonatal nurse originally from the U.S.  She started working as a travel nurse,making her way from Florida to California, and has been since somewhat rooted in London, England.  Her next adventure leads her to Belgium.

Where are you from?

I’m originally from Florida.  I did my training in Gainesville at Santa Fe College and my first job was at Shand’s Hospital at the University of Florida.

In what area of nursing do you work? 

I’m currently working in Neonatal ICU, but have previously worked in PICU (Pediatric ICU) and PCICU (Pediatric Cardiac ICU).

How long have you been a nurse? 

14 years

What inspired you to become a nurse?

When I was in high school, my grandmother was diagnosed with Lymphoma. I visited her in the hospital and saw the nurses caring for her.  I was inspired by their compassionate and caring nature.

What advice would you give a new nurse? 

#1  And most important!

Take time to renew and recharge yourself. Our jobs are stressful and heart breaking and no one really prepares you for life as a nurse. Have nursing friends (because they will always understand and be able to commiserate), but have non nursing friends too (because they will keep you sane and stop you from talking about work so much).

#2  

Don’t let old tired nurses get you down or pick on you, tell them where to shove it! We eat our young in this profession and I don’t know why. Find experienced nurses that you trust and feel comfortable asking for advice and guidance.  They are there in your unit and are more than happy to pass on their knowledge.  And just ignore the grumpy bitches that are always complaining.

#3  

Drink Wine!!

What advice would you give a tired nurse?

Take a break because you’re not doing anyone any good by hanging around and possibly making mistakes.  Back to my advice for new nurses, take time to renew and recharge.  Patient safety is always our priority and we make mistakes when we are tired and run down.

How did you end up in London?

So England happened by chance. I met my friend Kate in Boston. She had done her registration for Australia and I had been looking into going to the UK. I kind of talked her into traveling over with me. So we did all the paperwork to get registered in the UK and found the travel company to sponsor us, and the rest is history.

What are some big differences between working in the U.S. and England?

I can’t really remember the differences, it’s been a long time since I’ve worked in the US.  As far as NICU is concerned I think taking care of the babies is the same. The nurse responsibilities and doctors responsibilities are different.  The doctors draw blood and start all the IVs and Picc/Long lines. It’s a different kind of work load. They do weird things like hourly feeds and nurses are responsible for cleaning. It is just all a little different from home.  It’s the equipment and processes that are different. The most annoying thing is working within a public system. At home we are used to efficiency and organization.  It just seems to take so much time to get anything done here.  I do have to say that the follow up care here is excellent. Our unit has an outreach team that follows the babies home which sometimes allows them to go home earlier.  There are also Health Visitors that follow a newborn from birth to 5 years old, so the hospital system is frustrating but the community services are great.

Where to Next?

My next move is to Belgium, for my fiancé’s new job.  I have to learn the language first, but may eventually look into working there.

 

 

Thank you so much, Tonya, for contributing!!  Looking forward to sharing our next feature, a nurse on a mission in the Philippines.  Thanks for taking the time to read!!  Now for some wine ❤

Observations of a Homesick Expat or Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving to Another Country

FullSizeRender-21I moved overseas for love.  My boyfriend was born in the far northern reaches of Sweden, as far as nearly The Arctic Circle and frequent host to the Aurora Borealis.  When I approached the idea of moving there, it felt like such an adventure-the adventure of a lifetime.  I was moving to one of the world’s most progressive, innovative, and environmentally aware countries on the planet.

I’ve always embraced new endeavors with intense determination and childlike excitement.  It’s just who I am.  Moving to another country has tested the limits of these qualities and while I’m still standing, still determined, it has been no walk in the park.  It tests who you are at the very core.  I’ve read endless articles on life as an expat, have bonded for life with expats and natives alike, and found there is a common path one winds down in the process of integration.

There Truly is a Honeymoon Period

Every possible thing about your new country is perfect.  It’s like a scene from Travel Channel and you’re the host.
You’re enthusiastic about learning the language, trying the foods, embracing the customs.

You Wonder Why They Can’t Just Do Things Like They Do Back Home??

As weeks turn into months and you try to settle in to your new life, frustration ensues.  You have to take a number and get in line for everything, even at the doctor’s office.  The only number you take at home is in line at the deli at Publix.  You don’t understand why any decision in Sweden requires a group meeting of intense discussion and counter discussion even if it’s something as simple as what to eat.

Longing for Familiar Makes You Eat and Do the Strangest Things

You find yourself standing in line and paying the equivalent of $20 for a measly pancake breakfast at one of the only breakfast places in town.  Said pancakes are delicious and worth every penny as they temporarily fill the void in longing for home. The ethnic section in the grocery store now applies to you.  You consider buying that jar of marshmallow creme (that you haven’t eaten since you were seven) in the American section.

You Become an Ambassador for Your Country

You now (reluctantly) represent your country everywhere you go.  You are known as “the American” and with it comes all the clichés and assumptions.  You hope to leave a positive image of Americans and disprove the cliché that we are all loud, lazy, know it alls.

No One Else Cares That it’s Thanksgiving

That special, warm feeling you get when you wake up on Thanksgiving in anticipation of your mom’s delicious stuffing and the annual Macy’s Day Parade?  You’re the only one that feels it.  It’s just another Thursday in Sweden.

You Become a Smuggler

You start filling your suitcase with your favorite shampoo, skin care line, even canned pumpkin and turkey bags while home because it either costs twice as much in Sweden or you think you won’t find it there at all.  Your closet starts to look like a mini super market.

You eventually Find the Replacements

Your first year you talk your mother into shipping two cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce bearing in mind that it has now cost her at least ten times the amount in shipping.  Must have the cranberry sauce!  Your second year you opt for lingonberry jam and are pleasantly surprised that it is actually as good if not better.

You Begin to Feel at Home

You start understanding and speaking the language more and more.  You find your tribe of people and they become your parallel family.  You begin to add Swedish traditions and customs into your own life.

You Wonder Why Can’t They Do Things That Way Back Home???

After about a year you start criticizing your own country.  You find chaos when waiting in line and wonder why they don’t have a number system.  You notice everyone is in a hurry, stressed and all you want to do is fika.  You are the one who now initiates intense group discussions before making any decision.

You Smuggle the Other Way

You start bringing home coffee, bread, cookies, and other Swedish staples.  Family and friends  demand said items on every future return.

You Learn to Embrace the Best of Both Worlds

You grow with leaps and bounds, often unknowingly and reluctantly.  You learn that people are the same wherever you go.  You learn to embrace new traditions, foods, ways of thinking and add them to who you are.  You crave cured salmon, sandwich cake, and long Sunday drives in the beautiful Swedish country side.  Your expat friends anticipate your annual Thanksgiving dinners.

You still long for home every day in your heart

You go home to remember who you are, where you come from.  You long for a taco salad at Taco Shack, Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels, and Sunday night Walking Dead marathons with your sisters.  While you love your adopted country and all that living there has taught you, you know deep down in your heart there’s no place like home.

 

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