A Weekend in Prague

Hello friends,

It’s when you take a flight of 1 hours 15 minutes that you realize what advantages it brings of living in Europe. City trips might be the greatest thing there is to take advantage of a weekend and see a new place without traveling for hours. This time we went on to discover Prague.

I’m sharing my favorite finds in terms of food and adventures (mainly food though to be honest) in this post. If you’re interested in that, keep on reading. Also, big thank you to our great little travel group! You are the best!

Or should I say watching? There’s a YouTube channel that a dear Czech friend (hi Marketa!) recommended to me a few weeks ago and it is brilliant. It’s called Honest Guide and it actually does what you’d expect from the name, it tells you things how they are, because he doesn’t want you to fall into tourist traps. Great! I obviously watched almost all of the videos and this was one of my favorites as he collaborated with Taste of Prague, which are a duo who are doing food tours and just do an overall amazing job at promoting good places. Needless to say that we followed all of their recommendations religiously (thanks Schueli and Evelyne for sharing).

So let’s get you inspired by some (mostly not light) Czech food, because after all you don’t go to Prague to loose weight, right? 

But First, Coffee

My favorite was Original Café by far. Despite its very centric location it’s a super quiet and relaxing little oasis far from the huge tourist masses with lovely staff and delicious lemonades and coffee. Try it!

Very hipstery and highly instagramable indeed is Ema Espresso Bar.

Bakeshop is a very cute little shop with lots of delicious treats and coffee on offer (the salted caramel brownies were….delicious!).

Brunch

My absolute favorite must have been Eska. Very modern vibe and atmosphere with really really great food, I guess at any time of the day (even though we went for a veeeeery late brunch at 4pm)!

Pretty much the opposite of that with a more traditional and oldschool vibe but serving delicious food and patisserie as well, is Café Savoy. 

Dinner

We had a lovely dinner at Bottega Linka, fine Italian food. Highly recommend! If you’re more into typical Czech pub comfort food head on out to Lokál, which is an experience for itself!

Farmer’s Market

Apparently they love markets around here and we were super happy to find out that there was one on Saturday morning (more info here) on the riverside. It was hands down one of my favorite things to do as you get to see you many different foods and stalls and other things (like beautiful ceramics and other products). Had the best galette crêpe I’ve ever had I think (go get one if you’re ever there) and bought the most adorable little mug and cup.

Beer and Everything Else

Well, where to begin?

Prague without beer? Not an option.

There’s beer EVERYWHERE, no kidding. And coming from a city where it’s not allowed to drink outside it was a nice change, not gonna lie. My favorite two places by far to have a beer outside were  Letna Beer Garden, where in midst of a nice little hill park you have a great view over the city and can sit under the shade of the trees. Really beautiful! For a change of scenery and when you’re more into water, you can sit on the riverside on Kampa Island (thanks dear Ondrej for the tip!) and enjoy the view of the boats and pedalos.

The only place you will not get served a beer is Parlour. You actually go in, have a seat and explain to a very nice guy what you like in cocktails (he will roast you until he gets the information he needs). They will then create a drink based on your inputs. It’s a great hidden away little place that I really liked. If you’re into cocktails I’d say go there!

Do let me know if you have other recommendations!

Have a fantastic day! 

A Weekend in Vermont

Hello dear friends,

time for a flashback to a weekend in April that we spent in lovely Burlington, Vermont. Anyone ever thought of visiting this state up north? If you haven’t yet, do it, it’s a beautiful beautiful place! Hope you’ll enjoy the photos and little tips for a weekend’s visit.

A few facts about Vermont: The state in the northeastern part of the country is the second least populous. Vermont is the leading producer of maple syrup and is generally known for their farming products such as cheese and milk. It was also ranked as the safest state in the country in 2016. And it has been/still is Bernie Sanders territory. A good place, isn’t it?  

The nature

There are so many places to visit in Vermont be it summer or winter time. Whether you’re into hiking or skiing there is something for everyone. It’s truly a nice change to the city life seeing all those picturesque small villages, farmland and mountain. One of our personal highlights was biking along Lake Champlain, it’s the best thing you can do on a sunny day I think. There are bike rentals everywhere, we were lucky enough that our hotel gave bikes away for free rental.

The food and drinks

After all that biking we were STARVING. But fear not, Burlington has got you covered. There are a multitude of restaurants and craft breweries awaiting you. We opted for American Flatbread, which was recommended to us as a local’s favorite and it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G, hands down one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Probably being super hungry/hangry might have influenced me in that judgement. As for beers just try what they will suggest to you, they actually have a brewery (Zero Gravity) that’s part of the American Flatbread restaurant and it was really really good as well. Overall a place I’d highly recommend you go.

For coffee and breakfast breaks I’d suggest you go visit Monarch and the Milkweed. It’s a beautiful little café (right next to American Flatbread actually) where they have a small but nice menu on offer with a beautiful pastries collection as well.

And no culinary Vermont experience would be complete without having tried Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. They have a big shop on the main street of the city and it’s just dreamy. Really tasty ice cream. If you’re a hardcore ice cream aficionado you can take a guided tour in their factory close by (more info here).

The hotel

We stayed at the Hotel Vermont, which is located right next to the lakeside and the city centre. It was a truly nice experience sleeping there for a night, as they try and work with local brands when it comes to decorating their rooms (can you spot that cute flannel sheet?) and products by local producers. The brunch at their Juniper Café, which is open to the public as well, is an absolute gem. Had great pancakes and egg benedicts there. And tried an Earl Grey Latte for the first time, was delicious!

Have you ever visited Vermont? Have a great Tuesday! 

#ChallengeMeJune Week 3: Paying a Compliment to Someone Every Day

Hello everyone,

how has this summer been treating you so far (besides being boiling hot)?

Welcome to this third report of my #ChallengeMeJune series. This time I tried to pay a compliment to someone (to people I knew or to people I didn’t know) at least once a day for one week. I have to say that Americans are pretty great at giving compliments. They will stop you on the streets to compliment you on your shoes, your scarf or your hair (they will, trust me, happened to me before). I usually give people compliments anyway but thought it was fun to be more reflective about it for a week.

Read on more about why paying compliments to someone is a great thing and why you should give it a try (in case you’re not a professional compliment giver already, in that case you’re dismissed and don’t have to read this).

Why should I pay compliments to someone you ask?

#1 It takes the focus off of you

That might sound complicated at first but hear me out. If you’re having a bad day, paying a genuine compliment to someone can make their day a little nicer, and you will feel better than before as well.

#2 It makes the person you pay a compliment perform better!

Study researchers in Tokyo trained 48 adults to perform a task that required them to tap items on a keyboard in a specific pattern. Then the adults were split into three groups. One group received personalized, individual compliments from one of the administrators of the study. Another group was forced to watch as other people received compliments. The third group was simply meant to evaluate how they did, as participants, on the test. When the participants returned to the testing facility the next day, all of the participants were asked to perform the finger test once again. The group that received personalized compliments performed better on the test that day than either of the other groups. Researchers believe that the compliments made them perform better.

The researchers were able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise. There seems to be scientific validity behind the message ‘praise to encourage improvement’. Complimenting someone could become an easy and effective strategy to use in the classroom and during rehabilitation (see source here).

#3 Compliments build trust

Each one of us walking this planet has the desire to be acknowledged. When someone else notices even the slightest thing about another person, it can shout to that person, “Hey!  Someone noticed me!!” Your daily compliments to “the shy one” at work whose name no one knows can help her break out of her shyness and, who knows? turn her into the best friend you’ve ever had. We all need someone in our lives we can trust, and the more we build up others the more we’re also building up ourselves.

#4 What goes around comes around

When you give a compliment, you’re more than likely going to get one in return. As simple as that! But obviously don’t go around paying compliments expecting that people must return it.

Who I payed compliments to during this week

Day 1: To a 2 week old baby of friends I’ve visited. I just said how perfect he was and how cute his hands and fingernails were. To what the new mother replied they were quite dangerous as they grew so fast and the little one would scratch himself. Still, they were cute. 

Day 2: To an old man (he was with his lovely wife, don’t you worry) at the line before checking in at the airport. We did small talk about where we were flying to. They turned out to fly to Athens to visit family. I then said that I loved Athens and the food. He seemed so happy about it and kept on telling me about all the foods he was looking forward to eat. 

Day 3: Told Philipp that he is a great human being (just in general)

Day 4: Told my grandmother that she looked really well and fresh.

Day 5: Told my pregnant friend how relaxed she seemed.

Day 6: Told a friend how good she looked.

Day 7: Told a friend how lovely her shorts were.

I obviously didn’t limit myself to only one compliment per day, the sky is the limit if you will. I was just a bit rubbish at remembering them (should have written them down but…no). Anyway, there is no such thing as too many compliments, as long as they are genuine of course. So give it a try! You will feel better and the person receiving them, WIN-WIN! 

Try it! Be nice to someone right now and see what happens.

#ChallengeMeJune Week 2: Meditating Every Day

Hello friends,

another week of June has gone by, another little completed challenge in the books. After waking up at 6 am during the first week of June (see post here) I tried to meditate every day during the second week of the month.

To begin with I always thought meditating was a bit weird (for lack of a more elegant description) as I didn’t really understand how it worked. After reading up on the topic a little I am still by NO MEANS a specialist or anything but I start to see why people like to do it. Bottom line is, it has a ton of good effects (feeling happy and focused, decreasing your blood pressure or getting to know your mind to name a few. I am aware that the last one seems strange but WOW you’ll learn so much about how your mind and brain work). If you’re into finding out more for doing it yourself, keep reading this introductory ‘How to meditate for beginners’.

How to get started

What to bring: I’d recommend you meditate at home first, as you still need to get used to it. Obviously you can do it anywhere you can sit down on a chair or on the floor, with your hands rested on your knees, but I liked to do it at home, wearing cozy clothes.

When to do it: I tried to always sit down around the same time every day, which was in the morning after waking up, obviously what fits your schedule best, will be the best option. However, I’d recommend to keep it consistent so you really have the feeling of having formed a new habit.

What to do: Well here’s where things get interesting, I tried to compile different methods of meditation in own week, you’ll find the plan below in case you want to replicate it. If you’re totally into day 1’s program, perfect, let’s keep that up. I like to vary the exercises from day to day but that is obviously optional. So let’s get stared forreal now.

Day 1 – Breathing

Let’s start with something easy, shall we? I’m not gonna lie, it was weird when I did it for the first time….BUT it will get better, trust me.

What to do: To get used to the experience of being in the present moment, begin by sitting for five minutes, close your eyes. Take deep breaths, rather than short, shallow breaths from your chest. Continue until you feel calm. Let your thoughts come and go, without trying to hold on to them or follow after them.

What I thought afterwards: Wow, that was quick, I could have keep going on for longer. So for the next day I told myself to put the timer to 8min (adventurous, right?).

Day 2 – Mantra Meditation

What to do: Choose a calming word or phrase. Repeat it over and over to yourself silently to prevent distracting thoughts from entering.

What I thought afterwards: 8min went super fast like on the day before, it’s crazy how time flies once you close your eyes.

Day 3 – Mindful Meditation

­ What to do: Take a break and make yourself acutely aware of your surroundings. Take deep breaths and feel your lungs swell. Allow yourself to think about your feelings, but do so without  judgment.

What I thought afterwards: Loved that one too, it hit me how much more you listen to your surrounding’s noises if you’re eyes are closed.

Day 4 – Safe Space Visualization

What to do: Think of a place that makes you feel safe. It can either be a place you’ve visited before, a place you’ve seen but never been to, or a place that exists only in your imagination.

Close your eyes, and start taking deeper and deeper breaths. Picture yourself in that safe space, look around you, and visualize your surroundings. How the sky looks like, how the air smells or what you feel. Build every detail in your mind. Walk around your safe space until you have explored as much of it as you want to. Continue walking until you find your perfect place—the place that makes you feel most at peace. Visualize yourself sitting here, in this place, and begin to breathe. When you’re ready to leave your safe space, slowly open your eyes and come back into the room. Hold onto those feelings of peace and safety, and know that you can revisit them whenever you need to.

What I thought afterwards: I found that one to be rather hard as it requests you to think a lot about a certain space. I guess I’ll have to do it more often in order to get better at it.

Day 5 – Concentrate On a Simple Visual Object

What to do: In a similar way to using a mantra, you can use a simple visual object to fill your mind and allow you to reach a level of deeper consciousness. This is a form of open-eye meditation, which many people find easier when they have something to focus their gaze on.

  • The visual object can be anything you wish (candles, flowers, pictures etc.)
  • Place the object at eye level, look at it and nothing else, until your peripheral vision starts to dim and the object consumes your vision.

What I thought afterwards: I found it hard in the first place to find something to look at that wouldn’t distract me too much. In the end I chose to go for a plant, which worked out fine. Still I prefer the closed-eye version to this open-eye one.

Day 6 – Do a Body Scan

What to do: Doing a body scan involves focusing on each individual body part in turn and consciously relaxing it. It is a simple meditation technique which allows you to relax the mind as you relax the body.

  • Close your eyes and pick a starting point on your body, usually the toes. Concentrate on whatever sensations you can feel in your toes, and make a conscious effort to relax any muscles. Once the toes are fully relaxed, move on to your feet and repeat the relaxation process. Continue along your body, moving upwards to the top of your head. Take as long as you want.
  • Once you have completed the relaxation of each individual body part, focus on your body as a whole and enjoy the sensation of calmness and looseness you have achieved. Focus on your breathing for several minutes before coming out of your meditation practice.

What I thought afterwards: Good one! Especially when you’re lying down on the floor.

Day 7 – Breathing

I went back to the first exercise of the week, which was the breathing one, which I really enjoyed. I just did it for 15 mins this time and it was great.

Do let me know if you give it a try yourself, have a great week everyone! 

Meet Fernanda, Ly and Mattias (Part 2)

Hi people,

how are you? I guess you must be doing well, as it is F-R-I-D-A-Y! Yay! Happy weekend!

Join me today for the second and final part of the interview I did with the phenomenal trio Ly (Vietnam), Fernanda (Brazil) and Mattias (Sweden). We’re going to talk about adjusting to a life in a new country and looking back on their experience in the US. As applied for part 1 if you’d rather like us hear speaking, click on the corresponding audio files below.

Settling in

Sandra: What was the easiest or the hardest part in adjusting to your new life here in the US?

Fernanda: I’m going to say that the best part of living here is that it is very convenient. Especially living in Cambridge. It has a bit of a small town, suburban feeling to it, still you have Boston close by. You don’t need a car. Also, I really like being able to head down to CVS at 2am in the morning for ice cream. In Rio, shops close very early. On the other hand, things here are very expensive compared to Rio.

Sandra: What do you find to be most expensive, the food, the cost of living?

Fernanda: I wanna say health insurance. It’s painful how much it costs…

Sandra: Yeah, that’s true, I think that both Switzerland and the US are two of the countries within the OECD that pay most for health insurance.

Fernanda: The hardest part was maybe speaking to people. I wasn’t too confident in my English when I first arrived. I’m very shy and have some trouble speaking to people anyway, so talking in another language I don’t feel so comfortable in, was even more challenging for me.

Sandra: What do you miss the most?

Fernanda: Besides my family and friends it has to be the food. I miss being able to go to a café and have something savoury and not always sweet stuff with my coffee for example. I have to do it myself that’s frustrating (laughs). Also, people in Rio are very warm and open and you can basically start a conversation with everyone if you’d like to. It’s not that I particularly like that but now that I’m gone I miss it. Same goes for music. I never used to be into Samba music but for some reason, now that I live abroad, I love it! I listen to it every day to wake up.

Sandra: Does Mattias also listen to Swedish music to wake up?

Mattias: No, not really. Every now and then I will listen to a Swedish jazz orchestra. I don’t do lots of Swedish things I guess. I came here for the American music of course (everyone laughs).

Sandra: Of course. What was the easiest or hardest part for you in settling in here in the US?

Mattias: It was mostly easy to adjust ourselves to the new life here. Having moved a lot and having lived in a lot of countries has influenced us in the sense that there’s only a few basic things we need to buy to make us feel at home.

Sandra: What are those?

Mattias: Something like a good kitchen knife for example, kitchen stuff basically. Back in China and a few other countries it used to be a window scraper. Those are multi tools for getting water away from showers in the bathroom, the kitchen and stuff.

Sandra: Do you have one now?

Mattias: No. In general it’s cooking in a place and then everything will feel at home. That’s how it has been the last couple of times we moved anyway. And in Cambridge everything feels very nice. I really like that it feels like a small place that is connected to a bigger place like Boston. I’d even say that out of all the places I’ve lived I feel most at home here.

Sandra: Why is that? Besides the home cooking.

Mattias: Cambridge kind of feels like the village I am from in the north of Sweden, just bigger. It’s more spread out. The lushness of the trees, the smell of the bushes, how it looks. It kind of reminds me of my hometown that makes me feel a bit nostalgic.

Sandra: What about you, Ly?

Ly: I love to explore new cultures and Boston happens to be such a melting pot of different cultures. So I’ll have Korean food on Monday, Vietnamese on Tuesday, American Food on Wednesday, maybe Swedish next…

Mattias: Swedish fish maybe! (everyone laughs)

Sandra: That’s as Swedish as it can get here (red. Swedish fish is a gummy candy in fish shape, probably not Swedish at all).

Ly: We’ll also have cheese fondue often, even in summer time. We prepare it in our rice cooker.

Sandra: So you like the variety of cultures coming together in one place?

Ly: Yes, that’s right. What I also really like is the wide offer of events and activities in the city. I have pottery and salsa classes, everything is quite close and it’s just so exciting.

Sandra: So you really like the that you find a lot of things to do here.

Ly: What I miss is the Vietnamese language. Maybe because I don’t really hang out with other Vietnamese people. I still text my friends. I also try to listen to more Vietnamese songs. Before coming here, I didn’t like Vietnamese songs too much, they seemed too cheesy and romantic to me. But now I love to listen to them as they make me feel good.

Looking back on the US experience

Sandra: Picture yourself as an old person. If someone were to ask you about your experience in the US, what would you tell them, what would your main take aways be? Let’s start with you Mattias, what would you say as old wise men?

Mattias: How inspiring this is as a place. And how many great people are here and how open they are. They are passionate about what they’re doing and will share that with you. I’ve been also been going to seminars here and people are always so nice. I’d say this is the main take away that is different from other places.

Sandra: What about you, Fernanda?

Fernanda: I think that the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that everybody everywhere in the world is very similar. You don’t have to be afraid to interact with others and start a conversation. It’s fascinating to me how people from different cultures can communicate and talk to each other. They’re just people. And I used to be afraid of that. I have friends from all over the world now and that is something Boston gave to me.

Mattias: That’s the nicest thing I’ve heard so far.

Sandra: That’s so nice. The pressure is on now for you Ly.

Ly: Boston really is kind of a global village. There are people from all over the world here. The diversity is great and it’s just such an exciting and innovative place to be. I also appreciate how open people are and how they will be open to new opportunities as well. They want to make things happen. That’s so different from Vietnam or even the UK. That’s one of the things I like the most, besides living with my husband of course.

Happy weekend everyone!

Meet Fernanda, Ly and Mattias (Part 1)

Hi friends,

I’m keeping the interview mode on until the end of the week and am really happy to share part 1 of an interview I did with three great humans about their own experiences of arriving and living in the United States with you today. Meet Fernanda (Brazil), Mattias (Sweden) and Ly (Vietnam).

Also, if you’re a lazy bum and prefer to listen to the interview instead of reading it (I totally understand, no judgement here), just click on the corresponding audio files below (bonus material included, please excuse the wind in the audio).

The Arrival 

Sandra: Do you remember the day you first arrived to Boston?

Ly: My husband picked me up at the airport and I was just so happy to see him. On our drive back home, I was just amazed by how big it all seemed, especially the buildings and how pretty the light was during that time of day. It was in the evening during the golden hour and the sky had that beautiful purple color, it was so romantic. The next day was a different story though. Without the romantic lighting the buildings just looked like concrete.

Sandra: That’s a nice first impression, what about you, Mattias, as seen from a Swedish perspective?

Mattias: I actually had the opposite experience. It started out really bad and turned out to be a really nice experience.

Sandra: How come?

Mattias: When we decided that we were going to come to Harvard, I had actually no idea where Boston was. I didn’t know it was that far up north. And I read that it rains and snows a lot, which I didn’t know. But I thought, ok, it’s going to be fine. The day we arrived, however, it was raining like crazy.

Sandra: What time of the year was it?

Mattias: The 28th of December.

Sandra: Wow, that’s a hardcore time to arrive here.

Mattias: Everything went well, we came to the apartment that we rented and then we needed to go to the supermarket. So we figured out that the closest shop was something called like Trader Joes. So we started walking there, and there were no sidewalks. Even though now we know that there are sidewalks everywhere, just on that particular patch there was no sidewalk. Then there was this sleet coming down, this mix of rain and snow, it was really cold and we came into Trader Joes and everything was super expensive. We were used to Chinese prices (red. before coming to the US, Mattias and his wife were based in China). But if we’ll go back to Sweden we might think s***, everything is so expensive. So on our first evening here, we didn’t really want to buy anything to eat because it was expensive, we came home totally drenched and cold…

Sandra: Did things get a little better the following day?

Mattias: Yes, the next day everything was a lot better. Blue skies, pretty nice.

Sandra: What about you, Fernanda?

Fernanda: When we got here, about two years ago, it was summer. It was my first time in America during the summer. And I seriously didn’t know it could get this hot. I had this idea in my head of Boston being so far up north that it couldn’t possibly be as hot as in Brazil. So I was a little disappointed in a way.

Sandra: Would you have preferred a crazy winter scenario like Mattias had when arriving here?

Fernanda: Yes, I was a bit disappointed but now I enjoy it especially after having spent two winters here. I’ve really learned to appreciate the seasons, which is pretty cool because we don’t really have changing seasons in Brazil, at least in Rio it’s always very hot. It’s been a while since I first got here and so I don’t really remember every detail anymore. I think we were very excited to be here. We had just gotten married, were living in our first home together and were doing everything together as a married couple for the first time. So it was a really special. And I think I associate this newlywed feeling with Boston. It was a good first impression.

Sandra: And if you think back, when meeting new people, what were people’s reactions when you told them that you were from Brazil?

Fernanda: I remember some people finding it strange that I was so pale. Because they have this idea about Brazilian people, especially from Rio, that they are tanned and enjoy the sun. Speaking of Americans, I can hardly say that I’ve met one. Like everyone that I know isn’t from here. I guess the most American friends that I have are Canadians (everyone laughs).

Sandra: Well I don’t know if they’d like you to say that about them…

Fernanda: It’s just very hard to meet locals.

Sandra: What about you Mattias and Ly? Would they know that it is Sweden and not Switzerland for example?

Mattias: Yeah, exactly that’s what I was going to say.

Sandra: No actually, you always win. It’s Switzerland that people here mostly confuse with Sweden and not the other way round I think.

Mattias: Maybe because you’re a woman. I think Americans associate Sweden somehow with women. But like Fernanda, I have only met very few Americans. When I went to buy fabric recently, they asked me where I was from. And then they said, ‘Ah Sweden’, that’s that tiny country with the nice chocolate.

Sandra: That’s so funny, it’s actually the opposite from what always happens to me. They will always end up meaning Sweden and NOT Switzerland.

Sandra: What about you Ly?

Ly: It’s a bit of a similar experience to Mattias and Fernanda. As Boston is such an international place, I haven’t met that many real Bostonians up until now. Most of the Americans I meet are actually my Uber drivers.

Sandra: Interesting, what about them?

Ly: First off they think I’m from China. But when I say ‘No, I’m from Vietnam’, they’ll say ‘Oh, you’re from Vietnam, I love phở’. I think phở seems to be very popular, so everyone seems to know and like it.

Sandra: That’s so interesting, so the first association people have is with phở.

American Food

Sandra: From the top of your head, what’s your favorite American food or drink item?

Fernanda: (very fast response) Mac and Cheese.

Sandra: That was very fast. Any other foods?

Fernanda: That’s the only American food I’ve discovered. All the other foods I’ve gotten to know here are not American, like Vietnamese food, which I really like.

Sandra: In terms of drinks any favorites?

Fernanda: Well, something I like is that craft beers are a huge thing here. My husband and I are really into it and it’s very easy to find specialty beers.

Sandra: Nobody says doughnuts, I’m so surprised. You don’t like doughnuts?

Ly: No, not really. It’s quite difficult to tell if a food is American because their cuisine has so many influences from different places. I actually really like Avocado toast.

Sandra: That’s very healthy.

Ly: I’m not quite sure if it’s a special dish but I really like it.

Fernanda: I think it started off as an Australian thing.

Ly: I think they put Avocado on everything here.

Sandra: Yeah, it’s trendy.

Ly: And it’s quite surprising for me. Even though we have a lot of avocados in Vietnam too, I never eat in a savoury dish, like on bread or in a salad, we eat it as a sweet. Normally we prepare it with milk and sugar or in a smoothie.

Mattias: I pretty much always eat at home, so I couldn’t say. The most American I do, is that I drink a lot of Diet Coke, which I don’t do otherwise.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview where we’ll cover American daily life. It’s a good one.

Have a fantastic Thursday everyone!

Meet Ares (Part 2)

Hi friends,

as we’ve been talking a lot, here comes part 2 of our interview, which might be my favorite part of the two. Hope you’ll enjoy! If you have any questions regarding music therapy do let us know in the comments below and I’ll make sure to answer them together with Ares, who actually knows about it.

Have a great day!

Sandra: How do you see the current state of music therapy as a field? Are there differences between Europe and the States?

Ares: That is really difficult to say. Generally, the States are pretty far ahead, it’s a bit more established as it has been around for longer. I’ve been lucky to have been trained by great music therapists in Spain that themselves have been trained in the US.

Sandra: What’s the situation like in Spain especially?

Ares: It’s becoming a bit more popular, as there’s a growing public interest in complementary types of therapies that don’t use medication. What I also observe is that programs targeting children will usually get more attention and more funding. Then there are also music therapists in major hospitals in Madrid and Barcelona that have a fixed position, which is great. However, as a music therapist you’ll often be confronted with financial restrictions and a lack of resources. What is also really important in my opinion is that music therapists still have to make a big effort to be involved in the medical network. Teachers, doctors, nurses etc. have to know what music therapists do, vice versa and work together.

Sandra: Could this be due to being a relatively young profession historically speaking that it still isn’t fully established within the medical world yet?

Ares: Yes, that could be a reason why.

Sandra: How did the profession came to be anyway?

Ares: The profession of music therapy in the United States began to develop during W.W.I and W.W. II, when music was used in Veterans Hospitals as an intervention to address traumatic war injuries. Veterans  engaged in music activities that focused on relieving pain perception. Doctors and nurses witnessed the effect music had on veterans’ psychological, physiological, cognitive, and emotional state. I like to compare the history of nursing with that of music therapy as they both started off with the World Wars and despite of being so important never really get the attention socially and politically they deserve. 

Sandra: Are there certain ideas or music therapy concepts that people can apply in their daily lifes without having any therapeutic need?

Ares: For sure. Music is beneficial to everyone. Obviously, if you feel healthy and fine you won’t need any form of therapy. However, that music be part of your daily life is super beneficial to everyone. It activates all of your brain, your whole body actually. If you’ll go for a run and put on fast rhythmic music, it will activate you even more. What I also would like to add is that we will usually talk about music that has lyrics. The lyrics however greatly influences how we perceive music.

Sandra: Do you really think that the lyrics are that important?

Ares: Absolutely. We once did a little experiment in Spain, playing a group a song, once in French and once in Spanish. And even though it was the exact same song despite the lyrics, people perceived the songs as very different. If people approach me saying that their kid has trouble sleeping, I will always recommend them to listen to music but always, always without lyrics. That is super important.

Sandra: Even for a kid?

Ares: Yes. Because without lyrics, even for a kid, it will leave room for your own imagination. And thereby you’ll create your own dreams and will fall asleep.

Sandra: That’s actually a good transition to my last question. I have quite a lot of friends that are either pregnant at the moment or have little kids. In what ways could they ideally “use” music in their respective situations according to music therapy?

Ares: Well that’s a field where there’s a lot of research. You’ll often find a paper saying one thing and another contradicting it. Generally speaking, your baby has ears from week 12 on, from week 14 or 16 on they’ll hear you perfectly. So talk to them, they’ll feel the vibrations of the mother. That’s the first stimulus. Studies will often suggest putting on classical music. I would just recommend the mother to listen to the music she likes, because her feeling good will transfer to the baby. In regards to kids: What most studies agree on is the fact that music as having an effect on all of your brain influences your state of mental health and in the end your abilities and your intelligence. The fact of playing an instrument itself is a huge exercise in developing all different types of  capabilities, coordination and motoric skills. So I would definitely recommend signing up your kids to music. But very important, let the kid choose the instrument it wants to play.

Sandra: Noted. Lastly, is there anything you’d like to tell people out there?

Ares: Well, what I’d like to tell people is to make a personal collection of songs that mean something to you.

Sandra: How do you mean that?

Ares: I used to sit in in sessions with Alzheimers patients. Patients that hadn’t had an appetite for days or didn’t want to talk to anybody. Or maybe had been feeling angry all day. If the music therapist would play a song that had been hugely popular in their generation, however, they would start eating, talking, moving, even dancing. This effect would keep on for about a half day. There were even situations where family members would come and visit their relatives during or shortly after those music therapy sessions and they wouldn’t believe what they saw. Especially in the times that we live in now with such a huge selection and variety of music, it would be hard to know later on when you’re older which music you were enjoying. So compiling a personal list is a good way to go. In my personal collection for example there’d be a song by the Spice Girls in for sure. It brings me back to a time where I was 11, 12 years old, where I was super happy listening to them in my room. It doesn’t mean that I still think it’s great music (laughs) but it transports me back to a younger me. If a song means something to you, put it in your personal repertoire.

Meet Ares (Part 1)

Hi everyone,

one of the things I am most grateful here in the US is that I get to know interesting people with lots of different backgrounds from all over the world. One of those people is Ares, a 27 year old Catalan girl that happens to be a music therapist. I overheard her talking about it a few times at our weekly get togethers with the Harvard group and wanted to know more. What it is, how it works (if it works) and why it is so important. So I thought why not create a new segment on the blog where we (as in you AND me) meet interesting people and talk about interesting stuff.

So there you go. Without further ado, I’m happy to introduce you to Ares and her work as a music therapist (because let’s be real, you probably don’t know much about it, do you?). 

Sandra: What is your favorite song?

Ares: Wow, that is a difficult one. I can’t give you an answer from the top of my head for one particular song. I for sure have songs I love when I hear them, it also depends greatly on what mood I’m in.

Sandra: Do you think that you consume music differently compared to a person that doesn’t have a professional background as a music therapist?

Ares: Music is really powerful. It affects us all, in our way of being, feeling or behaving. I am no different in that sense. When preparing for a therapy session I will have to obviously put my personal emotions behind and think about what choices will benefit the patients condition and his wishes best. And sometimes it’s difficult, because your background in music might be really different than the one from the patient. To sum up, yes, I think that I listen to music differently. But mainly due to the fact that I grew up with taking piano lessons and being very involved with music from an early age on.

Sandra: We’ve already jumped into the discussion but let’s maybe quickly explain to everyone who has never heard of music therapy before, what is it,in a sentence or two?

Ares: Put very simply, I’d say it’s a form of therapy using the means of music in every possible form to make the patient feel better. The therapy part implies an engagement with the patient, a therapeutic agreement, the patient recognizing his needs and what he needs to improve on. Without those elements it’s making music in a group or alone, enjoying music but without the therapeutic aspect.

Sandra: You used to be a nurse before becoming a music therapist. Why did you want to change careers?

Ares: I actually always had this thought in the back of my head that I wanted to study music. But I also always liked helping people. So life happens and I chose to train as a nurse. After finishing my undergraduate studies I had to choose which specialization I wanted to pursue in a Masters. I somehow didn’t feel like pursuing a Masters in nursing so I ended up with music therapy as it is the perfect combination of all the things I love. It wasn’t easy for me as people kept telling me it’s a hard field to find work in. What also was nice was that I knew if things wouldn’t work out as a music therapist I could still apply a lot of my knowledge in my day to day work as a nurse in a hospital.

Sandra: How?

Ares: When I lived in Oxford, I used to work with rehabilitation patients that had suffered from strokes, cerebral palsies or car accidents. During the week it was impossible as they were busy with their physiotherapy and other occupational therapy sessions. But on the weekends they were free and I would occasionally do some exercises with them after my nursing work was done. At the school of music I used to work in Barcelona I started doing music therapy with little kids. I remember one boy that suffered from cerebral palsy, all of his right body side was paralyzed. He loved to play the drums. I encouraged him to use his right side to play even though at the beginning he really didn’t want to. He obviously wanted to play with the side he was able to play with. And you know what? After a year I saw real progress.

Sandra: That is fascinating. What does a normal day in the life of a music therapist look like?

Ares: It all really depends on the target group you’re talking about as music therapy is practically applicable to everyone, be it pregnant women, babies, toddlers, kids, teenagers, seniors etc. What is also very important is the type of therapy that you’ll apply in your sessions, there is a variety of schools. Norton-Robbins for example is an approach where there are two therapists, one playing the piano and one minding the patient. There are other models where you do everything in groups, some where you never talk during your sessions, others that only do improvising, some that only listen to music and don’t do anything else…the list goes on.

Sandra: So from what I understand there’s no typical day in the life as the whole set up and context varies greatly according to your patient and the type of therapy model that you’ll apply, right?

Ares: Correct. Generally, however, I will plan a session of 45 minutes. My main focus will usually lie on improvising and on the fact that patients should enjoy themselves and the music. What I love to do at the end of every class, if the patient’s condition allows it, is a feedback round. They are asked to reflect on what they’ve done and created during the session, if they had been improvising for example and created a song only using their body as instruments. Of course it’s not compulsory. But it is a beautiful way for the patients to reflect on what has happened and what they’ve experienced and created.

Sandra: What have been patient stories that you like to remember?

Ares: I used to work with a group of teenagers that mostly suffered from conduct disorders. There was a girl in the group that was a bully a school and another kid, they didn’t know each other, that was a victim. Two personalities that in a normal school setting would never have talked to each other, respected each other and heard each other, which is really important. Feelings of mutual understanding were able to be formed, which in my opinion never would have been possible to be formed in a psychologist’s office in a more conventional therapy set up.

Sandra: Does the music help as a connection maker?

Ares: Yes, it definitely does! And the interesting thing is that while they are in the session they really aren’t aware of what’s happening. It just happens. It’s actually at the end of the session, when I do the feedback round where they’ll understand what happened to them.

Sandra: What were things those teenagers said in the feedback round?

Ares: The girl that used to be a bully would say things like “I heard the sound that the other kid was making”, or “When you sang that part, I really liked it”. Those were sides of her personality as a bully that she never had shown or expressed before, actually listening to others, sharing something with others. That was fascinating. Also, a psychologist was always present during those sessions and she really was surprised to see certain aspects of that girl’s personality that she hadn’t seen before in sessions with her.

Sandra: How long does such a transition take time to happen?

Ares: It really varies a lot. In this case we did the sessions for about a year. Generally I’d say it takes about 10-12 sessions in minimum to see a change. The first sessions are needed to build trust, the fact of making music is difficult, the matter of reflecting on it is challenging as well.

Sandra: Have you also seen cases where the therapy just wouldn’t work or wouldn’t be the right choice?

Ares: Yes, that can happen. Especially when a person is very closed-off. If you offer them exercises and they will block any attempt. Or if parents for example don’t see the value in the therapy sessions and will transmit that feeling to the kid coming to class. That will also be difficult.

Sandra: Will you leave those cases be?

Ares: There will always be an attempt to try and upkeep the therapy. But it doesn’t always work. Which is ok. There are also cases where you just can’t do music therapy due to the conditions of the patient. As listening and engaging with music will activate all of your brain parts and will animate the visual and imaginative part you’ll have to be very careful with patients that have bipolar or schizophrenic problems for example. You’ll have to be very mindful and know what the limits are.

Sandra: So that also requires you to have a lot of knowledge of physical and medical conditions?

Ares: Yes! You definitely need to know what conditions there are and how they’ll most likely react to music. During your training you’ll have to have medical backgrounds.

Stay tuned for tomorrows continuation of part 2, where we’ll talk about Spice girls, babies, instruments and lots of other things. And listen to some music today, ok?

Happy Monday!

#ChallengeMeJune Week 1: Getting Up Early Every Day

Hi everyone,

how are you doing? It’s getting summery over here, I’m loving it. Hope you’ve had the opportunity to catch some sun where you live!

So, it’s Monday. I know, I know. When brainstorming for new blog posts a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d like to challenge myself in June with a special challenge every week (#ChallengeMeJune if you will, genius hashtag I know). Anyways, the first week’s challenge was to set my alarm to 6 o’clock every day (for some that might be not early at all or totally normal already, in which case I salute you. Others will look at me like, whaaat?).  Some context here: I never used to be an early riser, really I wasn’t. I would stay up rather late, watch series, read, scroll through the internets. In the morning I’d have a hard time waking up and would keep hitting that snooze button many (many) times.

But you know what? Getting up early was amazing.

Yes. And I’d even go as far as saying that it changed my life. I’m getting a bit dramatic here, it’s true though.

Why should I do that, you ask? (or in other words, “you crazy, I ain’t gonna give up my precious sleep time“). I’m going to try and give you some good arguments here, ok?

Let’s be honest here for a minute. You can’t convince yourself to wake up early just because. If you’d like to try that challenge,  ask yourself, “What would I get if I wake up early?” Whatever you answer, make sure you really want it because that’s what will be your motivation to ACTUALLY get up in the morning. A few answers why you’d like to consider getting up early.

You’ll Get More Time (D’oh)

I read somewhere that if you were to get up just one hour earlier each morning, you’d gain 15 days in a year. How crazy is it to think about it like that. So you better want to use this time than sleep, right?

Get Active, Quiet or Creative (Whichever You Prefer) 

I found that the morning is a great time to exercise. You’re body is well rested and it will set you up for the day with energy and motivation. Overall I felt more productive getting up early this week, it made me feel calmer and happier. If you’re not into sports in the early morning hours but rather into meditation, do it! I’m going to give it a try this week. Also, if you have some tips in that department, do let me know. Others like to use this time to read the newspapers in silence, to be creative, paint or write.

You’ll feel One Step Ahead

Having that one to two extra hours in the morning will undoubtedly make you feel calm, prepared for the day and chill, when everyone else around you is rushing around. When you wake up early, you’ll have more time for planning and getting organized. Getting to the office early means no distractions and getting things done (and then hopefully leaving early in the evening).

I’d really like you to try getting up early, I think you will like it. NO, SERIOUSLY. Don’t laugh at me.

Go to bed an hour earlier so that you won’t be too tired the next morning. It may take a couple of days to adjust your body and mind to it but once you’re in it you’ll most likely not want to go back. Obviously a lie in every once in a while is GREAT (not gonna lie) but overall it’s a great new habit. Start tomorrow and let me know how it went!

Happy week!

A Sunday at The Lake

Hello dear friends,

I’ll keep the travel and touristy vibe going in today’s post as I will show a few photos of a recent trip we took to the Bodensee. As someone from Zurich it’s a difficult statement to make but I think that the Bodensee might be the prettier lake…

I was lucky enough that my brother’s lovely girlfriend and her mom invited us over to their little house at the lake for a lazy and cozy Sunday. It was a GREAT day. If you ever happen to have a weekend free, just take an hourlong trip to the eastern part of Switzerland and enjoy the beauty that is the Bodensee with all its picturesque little towns on the lake shore. So pretty!

 

My Summer Capsule Wardrobe And How To Make Your Own

Guys,

remember how I had talked about kind of having a capsule wardrobe in this post a few months ago?

Well, I wanted to give it a go again (forreal this time) and do my first ever summer capsule wardrobe. Before I jump in, here’s a refresher on capsule wardrobes, in case you want to read about it in more detail again. Without further ado, here comes how I did it and how you could attempt to do your own little wardrobe summer experiment!

Step 1 – Make a huge pile

What’s the classic first move of all decluttering action? Yes, taking out everything and spreading it out on the floor. Move warm sweaters and the like out of the way on a store away pile as well as trousers, “thick” jeans and flannel shirts. It will help you figure out what has to be stored away for fall and what to keep and use for your wardrobe in summer.

Step 2 – Separate tops from bottoms from shoes

It’s interesting to separate your clothes along those three categories as you will very quickly see where your priorities lie. My obsession definitely seems to be tops, while I have less bottoms and even less shoes. What about you? Which category of clothes is your favorite one?

Step 3 – Go through each category and sort out what you don’t want to keep

What helps is seeing what type of colors, patterns or materials you have lying around in your bottoms or shoes pile if you’re going through your tops pile for example. While you don’t really know what you have in your crammed closet it helps seeing it all in one pile. Seeing all my stuff on a pile made me realize that my color scheme is rather neutral, monochrome, with the odd pattern and color dash. It also made me realize which brands I tend to always turn to (in my case Cos, And other stories, Uniqlo, Zara and H&M).

Step 4 – Count your tops, bottoms and shoes

I ended up with a total of 36 pieces in my summer wardrobe including tops, jackets, bottoms, dresses, and shoes (meaning I’d get to have one extra piece, which will most probably be comfortable Birkenstock sandals, which I’m currently missing in my selection). Disclaimer: As we’ve moved here I obviously couldn’t bring all of my stuff, back home I’d have to get rid of way more stuff.

Step 5 – Plan on what you need to buy/get rid of

If you’ve got your total down you’ll most likely realize that you don’t need any new things. But if you feel like you want to replace a top/dress or shoe go for it. As mentioned below I’ll most likely invest in one new pair of comfortable every day sandals.

The Overview

Tops

18 t-shirts and shirts: As mentioned above, I seem to be a total t-shirts and shirts kind of girl. They’re so easy to wear, you can dress them up or down and they’re just comfortable. Most of my shirts are from Uniqlo as I really think the quality is very good for the price you pay. Most of those shirts are already a few years old and they are still in pretty good shape. Highly recommend! Most of my t-shirts are from Cos and H&M. Simple but good. 

2 special shirts: For lack of a better description. Those are a black top and a white silk top with a cutout in the back. Also, yes, I don’t currently own an iron. No judging here. Thanks.

2 sweaters: For the odd more fresh day in summer I have a white ripped cotton and slightly cropped sweater from Cos as well as a light grey cashmere sweater by Zara.

2 jackets: A white blazerish jacket and a more funky bomber to throw on a t-shirt or a shirt.

Bottoms

6 trousers and shorts: A mix of my trusted Wedgie Fit Jeans, a black linen trousers by And other stories, dark navy jogger pants, shorts in navy and print and a midi skirt.

3 dresses: I’ve got a casual stripy cotton dress, back home a green coppery Cos dress (see featured photo of this post) as well as a denim shirt dress by Uniqlo are waiting for me.

Shoes

3 Sneakers, silver sandals and black loafers: That’s it. I’m shocked myself to write that. But hey, it’s really not a huge deal. In fact it’s really nice having a manageable selection (#firstworldproblems).

Do let me know if you give the summer capsule wardrobe experiment a try, ok?

Have a lovely day!