Saturday, March 28, 2015

I Was Fish Bait in Thailand: And Got Shot Down

For our honeymoon, Nick and I spent a wonderful month in Thailand. Once we had booked our flights and hotels, I knew it was time to research what I wanted to do while we were there. Of course, relaxation after a long hockey season was #1 priority for us. Because of this, I was quite excited to learn how cheap massage and spa treatments in Thailand were! A 30-minute foot and leg massage was a mere $3 per person. After several of these, I knew I was ready to try something new…and elected to try out one of the fish spas!

first time at the fish spa
What is a fish spa exactly? A fish spa is where you submerge (most commonly) your feet into a tank full of toothless garra ruffa fish (essentially, mini piranhas!), whom then nibble off the dead skin. Of course, if you so elect, you can choose to do an entire body cleaning. However, for my first time, I figured I would stick to just my feet! Now, compared to the $3 foot massages, the fish spa can be quite expensive- $10 for 30 minutes of feet cleaning. Nonetheless, I was quite excited to try this out and see if it was really as awesome as I had heard it could be. So, I happily paid my $10, washed my feet, and prepared myself…

And, bam! Just like that, approximately 400 little fishes swam away from me as fast as they could. And proceeded to cower in the corners of the spa, refusing to come near my feet. As I sat in confusion, Nick and the three little Thai workers were cracking up and could not stop laughing. Nick asked one of the workers what was going on, and she stated that this had never happened before. We had just washed my feet, so they should be clean…but apparently, there was something about my feet they did not like! We decided to try the fish spa next door, so I hopped over there….same thing. So, that was the day where I got completely, 100% shot down by about 1,000 fish. After failing to get my fish fix at two spas, I called it a day. Perhaps I would try again later…

success a week later!
A week later, after my ego had time to recover, I decided to give it another go. We went to a different spa, and fortunately this time were successful! I even convinced Nick to hop in the fish spa with me…but he only made it about one nibble before deciding it wasn't for him. It is a strange feeling at first, having little fishes nibbling at your toes, but over time you get used to it. After my 30 minutes were up, I hopped out of the fish spa and you could see a visible line on my calves were the fish had eaten off the dead skin up until.

The sensation was definitely weird at first, especially when the fish would nibble in between your toes. It was nearly impossible to look at my feet, because if I did I would burst out laughing! During the experience, I realized that I was actually fish bait- every time I pulled my feet out of the water and then resubmerged them, a cloud of fish would come swarming! While the fish spa was fun to try out, I'm not sure if I would do it again. But hey, when in Rome, right? Have you ever tried a fish spa or other unique treatments while abroad, and what did you think of them?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Soleil Sleep Spa

soleil sleep spa
my Soleil Sleep Spa!
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had received a Soleil Sleep Spa and was in the process of testing it out. Now, for those of you who haven't heard of the Soleil Sleep Spa, it is a product that is supposed to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and finally awaken feeling more refreshed. Without further ado, here is more information on the Soleil Sleep Spa, my experience, and complete review of the Soleil Sleep Spa!


  • NASA inspired sleep technology. Custom LED lights simulates a natural sunset at night, triggering your body to produce melatonin (sleep hormone). These same lights simulate sunrise in the mornings, triggering your body to produce serotonin (wakefulness). 
  • Three natural noise settings of Sleep Fitness White Noise, Relaxation Brook, and Rocky Ocean Shore. For heavy sleepers (like myself) there is also alarm settings of a traditional beeping alarm, or songs from an MP3 player. 
  • "Full Off" Setting for alarm clock display
  • USB charging station
  • Light switch: The sleep spa also has a switch to turn the light on or off, so it can be used as a bedside lamp as well. This is great for me at night, as I love to read before bed.

My Experience

So far, I have loved using the Soleil Sleep Spa. It does have a minimalist design, so it took a few moments to set it up and understand how to use all of the features- my advice is to be patient! If you know you want a certain setting to be activated, take the time to sit down with the manual and learn how to do it versus exploring by hitting random buttons. I do wish it had been a little bit more instantly user-friendly, but it only took a few minutes to get the hang of it. 

Because I (fortunately) very rarely need to wake up by a certain time, I have been using the natural light setting to wake up and have noticed that I have been rising earlier. Previously, I've been a huge advocate of naps and used to take one almost daily. I have not been needing a nap lately, and think it is very much due to sleeping better at night and waking up feeling rested. 

Two of my favorite features are that the LED clock display can be turned off- I like to have my room as dark as possible at night, so this is a huge bonus for me. I also love that the sleep spa has a USB charging station- it is so convenient to be able to use this and simultaneously charge my iPhone at night.  Plug in space is valuable around here!

The natural noise settings are also great. My husband always sleeps with a fan on for background noise, and as such I have gotten used to this. The sleep spa will be great both when at home and when traveling to provide this background noise.

The sleep spa is surprisingly light (less than two pounds!), which is a huge bonus for me. When moving back and forth between Sweden and Minnesota, I only take one 50-pound suitcase…as such, weight is a premium, and the lightness of this means I will be able to haul it back and forth. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how the Sleep Spa will help me adjust to jet lag and time zone differences… Sweden to Minnesota is a 7 hour difference, and making this trip several times a year I can't wait to see how this will help me out! Fellow expats and travelers, definitely stay tuned for how the sleep spa helps me adjust to new time zones.

As a bonus offering to my readers, anybody interested in purchasing a Soleil Sleep Spa can currently receive 25% off their order with the coupon code Angell25 ! Thanks to this great company for providing this offer to my readers!

 **I received this complimentary product to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own & truthful.**

Monday, March 23, 2015

Trailing Spouse Advice: Something For Yourself

my hockey team, VIK Dam, after our tournament this past weekend
Hockey is a small world, and as such I receive e-mails every so often from other hockey wives who's spouses are considering making the move to Europe for their career. Beyond just being a hockey wife, these women (and myself) are what could be considered trailing spouses. A trailing spouse is somebody who follows their significant other to a new city, state, or even country, because of their spouse's career.  While there are so many benefits to this lifestyle, there are also downfalls. One of the downfalls can be a loss of identity, feeling as though you don't really fit into the new place. Especially in this lifestyle, my husband already has things set: he has his work, and with that comes his team and a built-in group of friends. For the wives, this isn't necessarily true. Personally, moving to Sweden meant quitting my job, leaving my hockey team, and leaving behind all of my friends and family. This can be a difficult transition, but there are ways to smooth it over.

One of my biggest pieces of advice to others who are in the same position as myself is to have something to do for yourself. Whether that is taking classes at a school or online, joining a team, blogging, or finding work on your own, it is important to maintain your identity as an individual. For myself, playing hockey on a team has made all the difference this past year. Find something for yourself, and have something that is yours

Ignoring the fact that I love hockey, being a part of the team has helped improve my quality of life in Sweden in so many ways. My hockey team is exactly that- it is my hockey team. Being a member of this team has helped me to create my own identity and life in Sweden, and have something here that is for me. Rather than just waiting for Nick to come home from practice, or watching his games, I have something that is my own. And of course, it's nice that Nick and I switch roles every once in awhile, and he is the one sitting in the stands cheering me on!

I have made great friends through my hockey teams, both this year and last year. This year's team has been especially fantastic at including me in everything the team does, and reaching out to help me fit in. Because with the language barrier, it can be difficult. Some of the best conversations I've had this year have been with girls on my team, and even girls on the other teams. This past weekend, I met another woman living here in Sweden who was from Minnesota as well, a town about 15 minutes from where I grew up. I had a wonderful chat with her about the similarities and differences between Sweden and Minnesota, both in terms of daily life and in hockey terms. 

I'm completely aware that this post is a bit of a ramble, and I'm also completely fine with that. In a way, this post is a thank you to each of the individuals I've met through my hockey team. You've helped me to have something of my own, and continue doing something I love. In another way, this post is advice for other hockey wives or trailing spouses: find something you love, and pursue that in your own time. Having a passion of your own will create more happiness for you, and make transitions when moving from place to place easier. 

With the other captains for the women's team!
one of my friends & fellow hockey wife,  Ashley, came to watch one of my games :)
huddled up before a game

Friday, March 20, 2015

Top of My Travel List: Greece

One destination that has always been on my travel radar is Greece. I can remember hearing about Greece from friends and family when I was younger. Over the years I have begun to hear more and more about it. I have dreamed of lounging on the gorgeous white sand beaches, sipping wine while viewing the sunsets in Santorini, and exploring the historical aspects of Greek history throughout the country. As such, there have been several occasions when I have looked into booking a trip to Greece. Unfortunately, between Nick's hockey schedule and the few months we have back in the U.S., I have not yet been able to visit this bucket list country and rather must dream of the day I do visit. Today, I'm going to look at the things I would most love to do while visiting Greece!

Santorini Sunsets
Santorini is definitely at the top of my list for Greece. If I only had one day to spend in the country, I think I would choose to spend it in Oia, one of the cities on the island of Santorini. Santorini is located in the Aegan Sea, and it is easy to imagine myself sipping wine while watching the sunset, or enjoying Oúzo by the sea.

Parthenon in Athens, Greece
Beyond the views, Greece has significant history to offer any visitor. With 17 UNESCO heritage sites, as a visitor to Greece you are never far from learning ancient history. The most famous UNESCO heritage site is certainly the Acropolis in Athens, featuring the Parthenon. The Parthenon dates back to 447 BC, and is known as one of the world's greatest cultural monuments.

beautiful beaches and landscapes
Mainland Greece and the Greek islands border the Ionian Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Aegean Sea. No trip to Greece would be complete without at least a day spent lounging on the beach, taking time to cool off from the sun in the cool sea water. Speaking of the water… when visiting Greece, I am sure I will want to go sailing or on a cruise, using this as a method to hop between the mainland and explore the various Greek islands. Beyond just exploring Greece, I would also love to book a trip to Turkey for a day or two. With such close proximity, it would be the perfect opportunity to explore several new countries.

beautiful sunsets
Every evening, I would have set plans to watch the sun set over the sea, and reflect on my days spent relaxing and enjoying my time in Greece. Even just writing about Greece and looking at the stunning pictures has made me crave a day in the sun. For now, I will have to be content with researching my future trips, and living vicariously through friends and family's Greece holidays!

Have you ever been to Greece? Is it worth waiting for the warmer summer months, or should I just take the plunge and go during the cooler winter months?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How to Spend 6 Hours in Riga

Riga, Latvia
The last month and a half has flown by more quickly than I could have ever imagined. It seems like just yesterday it was the first week of February, and Nick and I were off to on a quick weekend trip which included a brief 6 hours in Riga, Latvia. While researching Riga, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do and see, and then prioritized these items. Through this planning, we were able to do and see so much! It seemed like Riga was a popular destination to spend a short amount of time. Many people had layovers in Riga for 6-8 hours, and wanted to know if it was worth it to head into the city. In my opinion, yes! Today, I'll take you on a quick tour of what to do for 6 hours in Riga!

The "House of Blackheads"
The first thing Nick and I did was hop in a taxi and ask to be dropped off at the House of Blackheads. The House of Blackheads is one of the most famous sights in Riga, and is also fairly central to all of things you should do in a few hours in Riga. Our taxi driver dropped us off, we hopped out, looked around… and I wasn't seeing the House of Blackheads. Rather, there was this peculiar building with two cats perched on the spires. After a quick moment of laughter, I explained to Nick that our cab driver must have misheard us, thinking we wanted to go to the House of Black Cats. Nonetheless, the Cat House is a somewhat famous fixture in Riga…legend has it that the two black cats were placed to face the either the Riga Great Guild or the Riga Town Hall, as the owner of the house was in a dispute with these organizations. Thus, the cats 'look' angry, with arched backs and raised tails. 

making faces in Riga
After explaining the House of Cats to Nick, we located ourselves on the map and headed on to our next sight. As we were walking, we came across a strange statue park- as you can see above! While in Riga, I would recommend walking by the House of Cats, but there is no need to spend significant time there. We decided to walk towards the Freedom Monument, which is located a few minutes walk away from most of the Riga destinations. 

Freedom Monument of Riga
The Freedom Monument is located between Old Riga and Central Riga. It was constructed in 1935, and stands for Latvians singing and fighting for freedom. The female Liberty is atop, holding three gold stars representing the original three cultural regions of Latvia. During the Soviet years, the Freedom Monument was never demolished because the communist government thought it stood for 'Mother Russia' caring for the three new members of the union- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. If people placed flowers at the base, they were arrested and sent off to Siberia (fun fact: Nick actually lived in Siberia. Yes, it is as bad, and worse, than people joke about.)

After viewing the Freedom Monument, I would recommend passing by it and stopping at the Radisson Blu sky bar. While I did not have the opportunity to stop here, the Skyline Bar is 26 floors up and offers food, beverages, and views overlooking the city of Riga. Once done at the Skyline Bar, walk back towards Old Town, stopping for a moment to view the Powder Tower, featuring the Latvian War Museum, and the Latvian National Opera House. 

walking by the Riga Cat
Walking back towards the House of Blackheads and Old Town Riga, you will go past the Riga Cat. He is one of my favorites from visiting Riga! The walk from the Freedom Monument to the House of Blackheads is 10-15 minutes, and worth it just to experience some of the old streets and views in Riga.

House of the Blackheads
No trip to Riga is complete without seeing the House of the Blackheads. The House of the Blackheads was built in the 14th century for the the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a group of unmarried German merchants. It is one of the most famous sights in Riga, and is conveniently located near the Town Hall Square, Riga Town Hall, and St. Peter's Church. 

Riga Town Hall 
Riga Town Hall and The House of the Blackheads are located across from each other. Also near this square is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The museum covers the 50-year occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991. During the occupation and WWII, Latvia lost about 1/3 of it's population. Unfortunately, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia was closed for repairs while Nick and I were visiting Riga- but with so much historical significance, I would maintain that any visitors must check this museum out. 

view of St. Peter's Church peeking out behind the House of the Blackheads
Next on the list of to do in Riga is heading to St. Peter's Church and checking out the views of Riga! As you can see above, St. Peter's Church peeks out from behind the House of the Blackheads. 

views of Riga from St. Peter's Church
One of the highlights visiting Riga is checking out the views of the city from St. Peter's Church. All of my pictures can be seen here, but plan on spending 30-45 minutes in the church and checking out the city from above! After checking out Riga from above, walk towards the Three Brothers and the Riga Castle, both sights to see for a short amount of time.

Albert Iela
Throughout Riga, you will consistently be met with beautiful architecture. Take a stroll along Albert Iela (Alberta Street) to see some of the most famous art nouveau. 

Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia
An astonishing 40% of Riga is decorated in Art Nouveau, which is why with any amount of time spent in Riga visitors are guaranteed to see some beautiful buildings. Art Nouveau is especially important to Latvian history, as it was the cause of many Latvian artists becoming famous. 

champagne in Riga
After a busy day walking and exploring the city of Riga, with any leftover time I would recommend sitting in a quiet pub and enjoying a Latvian beer, or in my case glass of 'champagne'. Despite only having six hours to spend in Riga, I felt I was able to get a great feel for the city while still having some time to relax over lunch and drinks. The city is fairly small, and many of the attractions are located very close together which is a great benefit if you only have a short amount of time to spend in Riga. If you are going on a quick trip somewhere, check out my 7 tips to maximize your time while traveling. What is the shortest amount of time you have ever spent in a city, and did you feel like you got a good feel for the city while there?

Monday, March 16, 2015

How To Order Wine At a Restaurant (Without Looking Clueless)

tips for ordering wine

Many of the readers of my blog know that I have a passion for wine. I enjoy trying different bottles and new varieties, and of course always love reverting to my old favorites (Jordan Cabernet and Simi Cabernet Alexander Valley, I'm looking at you!). Between my personal wine tastings and years of restaurant work (serving and managing primarily), I have a ton of knowledge about wine. Whenever my husband and I go out to dinner and order a bottle of wine, he trusts me to evaluate the wine list and select a bottle both of us will enjoy. However, this process isn't always as easy for others. Often, there may be occasions such as a large business meeting, a date, or dinner with the in-laws, in which you want to appear to be knowledgeable. Today I'm going to pass on some tips on how to order wine- either by the bottle or by the glass- while at a restaurant!

1. Decide on your budget. Whether ordering by the glass or selecting a bottle, the first step is always deciding how much you would like to spend. Nicer restaurants with expansive wine lists will usually have glasses of wines priced anywhere from $8-20 and up, and bottles beginning at $30 and extending into several hundred, or even thousands, of dollars. It is not necessary to spend this much on wine and get a great bottle though! Select a price range, and then examine the bottles/glasses listed in that.

2. Know flavors you like. The first and easiest question is red, white, or sparkling, as most wine lists will be broken down into these categories. I enjoy most wines, but always enjoy a lighter, slightly fruity red wine when dining out. Conversely, my husband likes darker, full-boded reds. Knowing what each of our different tastes are helps us to find something in the middle that will please both of us.

3. Do your homework. If you know, or suspect, that you will be in charge of ordering wine, take the time to look at the restaurant's wine list ahead of time. Most wine lists are available online now, and while every bottle may not be listed, you will get a general feel for the list. With just a few minutes of research, you can select a couple of ideas ahead of time, allowing yourself to focus on conversations at hand instead of the wine list while at dinner.

4. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask your server or bartender for help. Most of the time, they have either been extensively trained in wine, or will be able to find somebody to assist you. They are the ones who have been working with the wine list for months (sometimes even years) and will likely have a wealth of knowledge they are willing to share with you. Tell your server the types of wine that you enjoy, or if you are with a group of people state that you are looking for a crowd-pleaser. Most servers will know many wines that are well-liked by a majority of people, and will go with one of these. If you don't want to appear clueless, a crowd-pleaser is always a great way to go as you know others will enjoy it!

5. Be as specific as possible, or if you are shy give hints. Remember that price range I mentioned? If you don't want to communicate in front of the group what you will be spending, feel free to find a wine in your price range, and when communicating with your server say something like "I'm thinking a wine similar to this" and point to the price of the wine. This should subtly communicate to the server the price point, without them having to guess. Otherwise, simply tell your server the price range you are thinking of. Always be as specific as possible when communicating what type of wine you do or do not like.

6. Make your selection. At some point, you will have to make your selection. Once you do this, confirm to the server the bottle you would like, and you are (almost!) in the home stretch.

7. Use your senses. Once your server returns with the bottle of wine, you have a few more steps until you are in the home stretch. Generally, they will place the cork in front of you while opening the bottle- whatever you do, don't smell it! Smelling the cork does nothing. In general, the cork is placed on the table for you to verify (with nicer bottles) that the description on the cork matches the label of the wine. Additionally, it is there for you to ensure the cork is wet- this informs you that the wine was stored correctly on it's side. The server will pour you about 1 ounce of the wine. Swirl this in your glass, and then tilting the glass towards you, smell from the far side of the glass. Assuming the wine smells nice, give it a taste, and once approved let your server know. They will pour glasses for each person at the table, and from there you are set to enjoy your wine for the evening!

how to order a bottle of wine
trust your server, they know what they are doing!
Ordering wine at a restaurant really should not be a scary experience. These are just several tips to help you, as the customer, to have an enjoyable experience and go into it knowing what you are doing (at least somewhat!) However, there are some bonus tricks from the restaurant's perspective as well. Here they are:

-If you are ordering a bottle of wine that you are not familiar with and it is also sold by the glass, don't be afraid to ask for a taste. However, limit yourself- no server wants to run back and forth, getting you a taste of every different wine.

-If you order a bottle of wine, you can't send it back because you don't like it (in general). Bottles of wine can only be sent back if they have actually gone bad, not simply because you don't like the taste. As such, trust both your judgement and the server's judgement.

-Order what you like. If you aren't a wine person, chances are one more glass will not change your mind. Stick to your beer, martini, whatever it may be- this will keep you happy, after all!

-Restaurants and servers want your business tonight, and next week. As such, if you ask for a recommendation, your server will give you the best recommendation they have. After all, they personally want you to enjoy your experience and tip them- perhaps even order another bottle. Both the server and restaurant want you to come back, so they really will do their best job to provide you with a wine you like. Don't worry about them just selecting the most expensive wine available- after all my years in restaurants, I have never seen or heard of anyone doing this to a customer.

Those are all of the tips and tricks to ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant! Keep in mind, these are general guidelines. What are your best tips for ordering wine at restaurants?

Friday, March 13, 2015

SEO How To: The 7 Best Image Optimization Tips You Must Know

how to optimize images
7 ways to optimize images for SEO
The more I have learned about blogging, the more work it becomes. Any blogger reading this has likely realized this as well. When I first began blogging, I thought it was simply putting some words and images in a post, clicking publish, and being done. Now I realize how nice that would be, and that if that was true everyone would be blogging! While I’ve learned a lot of great things about the importance of the content of posts, the images you choose to publish will have a big affect on your success as a blogger as well. As such, here are the best things I’ve learned in order to optimize your images!

1. Pick an appropriate image. For an example, no matter how cute my English bulldog Lily is, she just doesn't fit into this post. As such, I probably shouldn't have a picture of her on this post- she simply will not enhance the content of this post, and likely could turn readers off. Make sure your images correlate with the content of your posts. 

2. Name your images. On your computer, is your image called photo-68.jpg? This does not do a very good job of helping Google to read what your image is about- unless it is actually a picture of the number 68. Rather than leaving your images named as is, take the time to go through and rename them relevant things. For example, for this post the image above is named "SEO_image_optimization_tips". This way, when Google is 'reading' the image, it knows what the image and this post is all about!

3. Use image titles and alt tags. While Google is doing it's best to read every word and sentence you have posted, it simply can't read images. As such, it is incredibly important to use both titles and alt tags to help Google know exactly what your images are. 

4. Properly size your images. While editing images on your computer, make sure that you go through and adjust the image size. Not only will this help your blog to have uniformly sized pictures, it will also help reduce the file sizes, which in turn helps your blog to load more quickly!

not-so-pinteresting Image
5. Make "pinterest-ing" images. Compare the image directly above, with the one at the top of this post. While they both do a fine job of telling readers what this post is about, the image at the top is much more user-friendly, and more likely to get readers to pin it for further references. While you are thinking about Pinterest, also make sure you have a hover button installed!

highly edited image
slightly edited image
6. Edit your images. Often, an image may be the exact reason someone lands upon your blog, so you definitely want to put your best foot forward. Make some small tweaks to your images, so that they look the best possible. At the same time, don't go overboard on the edits- nobody needs to see 100% saturated images with orange faces! You can compare the two pictures above, where the first picture has been highly edited, between adjusting the colors, sharpness, brightness, etc. The bottom photo has slight edits, so a viewer would hardly notice. While the top image may be brighter and pop more, it has been so edited that to most viewers it simply looks fake and overdone- plus, look at those orange faces! Take some time to lightly edit your images, but do not overdo it.

7. Utilize captions. If people land on your site because of an image and quickly hit the back button, this will increase your bounce rate and decrease the average amount of time users spend on your site. Using captions can help users to know what they are looking for, and draw them in to see more images on your site. 

Of course, there is always more to learn about optimizing images for SEO purposes, but these are just some of the best tips I have come across and try to follow! What do you use to improve your images for SEO purposes?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Currently: Life Update!

Well, it is time for another currently post around here. It has definitely been a busy couple of weeks here, and (unfortunately) things are only going to get more busy as the weeks go on. Between studying for my MBA, blogging, my hockey, Nick's hockey playoffs, and getting ready to head back to the U.S. in just a few weeks, I have been feeling a lot of pressure lately. As such, I'm going to be taking the day off today. I've got this post done, and other than that, I'm giving myself a break. That's the problem with blogging and school- I really, truly, never take a day off to relax. First thing I do when I wake up is usually checking my email and my blog performance over the last day or so. Then there is reading other blogs, writing content, editing pictures, researching new posts, responding to comments, and a million other things. Of course, this is not to say I don't love it...but, it all gets to be a bit much at times. Other bloggers, do you feel this way at times too?

Anyways, let's take a quick look at life currently for myself!

Drinking: Lipton forest fruit tea with just a bit of honey. Honestly, this tea smells and tastes so good, I am definitely drinking more of it than I should be!

Watching: Scandal. With Nick having been gone five of the last seven days pretty much, we are two episodes behind on Scandal! Other shows we have been loving are Suits and The Blacklist, but with all these shows ending soon I'm in need of a new series. Any recommendations?!

Enjoying: the sunlight and spring weather! Spring has finally started here in Sweden, and I am really enjoying have more than four hours of sunlight a month (grey skies get so old!)

Testing out: My new Soleil Sleep Spa! I received one of these to review, and am so excited to see how it works! Once I've had a few weeks to test it out, I'll definitely be letting you in on the full details! Essentially though, the Soleil Sleep Spa works by simulating natural light at dusk and dawn to help your body fall asleep and wake up more naturally. I'm hoping this will be a fantastic product, especially when adjusting to so many new time zones over the next few weeks!

Dreaming: of the Dominican Republic! I absolutely cannot wait for a few weeks of warmth, relaxation, and adventure!

Worrying: about finding a job for this summer! Last summer I had a great gig waitressing a few day shifts during the week, and am now hoping to find something where I can do a few day shifts and a few night shifts. Of course, with weekends spent traveling and up at the cabin, it will be interesting to see what I can find!

Anticipating: the next round of playoffs starting. It is a best-of-seven series, with games played every third day, starting on March 17. So, games could be done as early as March 26 or as late as April 4. After that it'll be packing, cleaning, and getting ready to head home!

Craving: some family time. It's been way too long since I've had a chance to hang out with my family, and I can't wait for this time to come once arriving home!

Exercising: or not. I've been going to my hockey practices, and had a few bike workouts with Nick, but other than that I've been totally lazy. I really need to get back on my running game- hopefully this warm weather will give me the inspiration!

Shopping: Online. I've been doing so much online shopping lately and ordering things for this spring and summer back home…not going shopping while in Sweden (everything is so expensive!) has definitely started to burn a hole in my pocket.

So that's my life update for the past few days & weeks here! What have you been up to lately?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cuba: The Hottest Travel Destination of 2016

Now, I am fully aware that we are less than 3 months into 2015. However, I've always been a planner, and as such am already looking ahead to the best travel destinations for 2016, and right now Cuba is at the top of my radar. Today, I'm going to provide you with just some of the reasons why you should consider going to Cuba, and why Cuba is going to be one of the hottest travel destinations of 2016!

Location, Location, Location
why visit Cuba
Cuba, an island located in the Caribbean
Firstly, Cuba is located in a prime region for tourists. The Caribbean is well known for it's gorgeous beaches, white sand, and stunning blue ocean water. Cuba is located a mere 90 miles from Key West, Florida. The proximity of Cuba to the U.S. and the ideal location in the Caribbean makes it a perfect vacation destination! Now, if you are in the U.S., you may be wondering- why haven't I thought of traveling to Cuba before?

"Forbidden Fruit"
Until recently, Americans have largely been unable to visit Cuba. This is because of the  U.S. embargo set against Cuba, dating back to 1960s and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Largely, this meant it was illegal for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba. Of course, there were ways to circumvent this- by entering Cuba through a third country and not having your passport stamped- however, it was quite difficult to achieve travel to Cuba. Recently, however, there has been a "people to people" contact, where with the approval of the U.S. State Department U.S. travelers could go to Cuba through chartered trips. However, largely these trips were strictly monitored, on the grounds of political or religious grounds, and heavily organized so visitors were not able to partake in such activities like going to the beach or swimming.

However. On December 17, 2014, President Obama began the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba. Currently, there are now 12 categories of authorized travel in which Americans can visit Cuba without purchasing specific licenses, including educational activities, public performances, athletic competitions, and support for the Cuban people and humanitarian activities. While these activities don't currently include straight tourism activities, the ease of current restrictions has made it easier for Americans to begin traveling to Cuba. Because Americans have largely not been able to travel to Cuba, it is now almost the forbidden fruit, and is certain to become more and more of a hot travel destination as the restrictions are further lifted! In 2014, Cuba hosted 3 million travelers, with 92,348 Americans visiting. So, now that you have decided you want to go to Cuba…what exactly does Cuba offer to travelers?

Stunning white sand beaches & Ocean views
why travel to Cuba

One of the perks of traveling anywhere in the Caribbean is bound to be your proximity to stunning white sand beaches and gorgeous ocean views. With a view like this, how can you go wrong? Beyond just relaxing on the beach, there are countless other activities to be done, including snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, and surfing.

Cultural & Historical Experience

Visiting Cuba offers the chance to visit a Caribbean island with rich culture and history. There are nine UNESCO world heritage sites in Cuba, all of which are generally well preserved. With the tourism industry just beginning to boom in Cuba, many of these sites may begin changing…thus, the need to get to Cuba now!

A Preserved Nation
classic cars from the 1950s preserved in Cuba
The streets of Cuba are literally lined with classic American cars from the 1950s. While you might think this is just because Cubans are avid car collectors, it is actually because of a restriction placed in 1959 by Fidel Castro. After 1959, Cubans required government permission to import new cars- thus, the majority of the cars you will see lining the streets of Cuba are classic American cars.

Architectural Beauty
streets of Havana, Cuba
Cuba is home to many gorgeous cities, including Havana, Trinidad, and Santiago. The bright colors of the buildings all look simply stunning. Wandering the streets of Cuban cities, you will see many different architectural styles decorating each and every building, combining to create truly unique cities.

Natural Beauty
Viñales, Cuba
As Cuba has largely been untouched by tourism, there are many stunning natural views and sights to be seen. Above is the Viñales Valley in Cuba, just one of the UNESCO heritage sights preserved on the island.

Of course, there are many more reasons to travel to Cuba. On any trip, it is almost a necessity to experience a Cuban cigar, and the taste of a Havana Club mojito. The music, dancing, and general creativity of the Cuban people is certainly a highlight as well. Combining all of the highlights of Cuba, with the fact that Americans will soon be able to travel to Cuba more easily than ever, and Cuba is certain to be one of the top travel destinations in 2015 and 2016!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Travel Tips: What You Should Do The Day Before Vacation

day before traveling

In just a short month here, I will be headed off to enjoy a few sunny weeks in the Dominican Republic with Nick. While our vacation will be a combination of relaxation and adventure, there is always so much to do before a vacation to ensure that you have the best time possible, without worrying about anything that may happen- either while on vacation, or once arrived home. As such, today I will talk about all of the things you should do the day before a trip to ensure you have the best time ever!

Print out all relevant travel info. I always take the time to print out any copies of my reservations. Even if you have e-mail confirmations of this, you never know when you may not have access to the internet (or a battery to even use the internet!) Having hard copies of the information will be incredibly helpful as you travel to your new destination. Even if you don’t use them, you can always simply recycle the paper and be glad you had it available as a backup! 

Clean out your purse/bag. This is an essential step to ensuring you only bring things you actually need. The pile of change at the bottom of your purse? Get rid of it. Same thing with any cards/memberships in your wallet you will not need while on the trip. Not only will this physically lighten your load, but it will also help you in the unfortunate case if your wallet/purse gets lost, as there will be less to replace. 

Do laundry & clean house. While this may seem like an unnecessary step, often when arriving home from a trip, you will have loads to do anyways. Arriving home to a clean house, with fresh sheets, will make the transition between vacation life and regular life much smoother. Make sure to take out the trash too!

Check in for your flights & confirm what time you need to arrive at the airport. Most airlines now allow you to check in for your flights 24 hours before. Check in so that you can confirm you have the right seats on your flight and travel information. When Nick and I most recently traveled to Berlin, if I had not double checked our travel information, we would have headed to Schönefeld airport instead of Tegel- a huge mistake that could have resulted in us missing our return flight! 

Working? Set up an automated e-mail, let your colleagues know you will be away, and decide upon 'rules of engagement' while away. If you are traveling, make sure your colleagues know that you will be away, and communicate to them if/when/how you will be available. Chances are, you don't want to be boggled down with work your entire vacation. Communicate to them if you will be checking e-mail at all, available by phone, etc. Make sure to set up an automated e-mail stating that you are away from the office as well; this will help remind clients and coworkers. 

Fully charge your electronics. This is especially helpful if you have a long flight ahead. Nobody wants to sit on an 8-hour plane ride with a dead iPad/phone/etc, so make sure to fully charge all of these before you leave the house. Bonus tip: as soon as you are doing using the wifi on these devices, shut this off. It will save battery life as you are using these devices on the road. 

Unplug appliances. Take a look around the house, and figure out a few things you can unplug to save on electricity while you are gone.

Check the weather. Hopefully, at this point of the upcoming trip you have already packed and planned ahead for the weather. Do one last check to make sure you have packed the proper clothing, and that your day-of outfit is appropriate!

Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is important any day, but especially before you embark on travels and any type of flight. This will help you feel more rested, recharged, and ready to vacation.

Get a good nights sleep & get excited! Once you've made your list and checked everything twice (or twelve times, if you are me), get to bed early and get excited for your upcoming trip. Everything that needs to be done is done, or if it isn't- chances are, it can either be taken care of or wait until you are home. 

Of course, there are tons of other things you may want to do the day before traveling to help make sure your travels go more smoothly. Depending on how much you travel, you may want to alert your credit card companies. If you will be gone for a long time, arrange to either place a hold on newspaper/mail delivery, or for someone to pick it up. My golden rule of traveling: anything you don't want to do immediately upon coming home, get done before you travel so you can put it off for a little while once returning home! Vacations are about relaxing and enjoying your time away from home, so do whatever you can in the days leading up to departure to make sure you can maximize your time while on vacation. What are the things you always do the day before you travel?

Friday, March 6, 2015

One Thing You Should Know Now

I spend a lot of time on the internet. Truthfully, between blogging, homework, research, and social media, a good portion of my days are spent online… and it seems like almost daily, I see a new article stating the "25 things you should know before you are 25", "the 30 places you should visit before 30", "20 mistakes not to make in your 20s"… I could go on forever with these sample articles, but chances are that you have seen these, and likely read them.

I won't lie, I have too. Part of it is the comparison game- I want to see where I stack up in comparison to others. Especially now that I have hit the mark of 25, and half of these articles are either things I should have done, seen, experienced, or they are things that I should do, see, or experience in the next five years before the not-so-dreaded 30.

However, sometimes these articles just don't make sense to me. Specifically, I can recall an article saying the 23 things you should do instead of getting married at 23. And the 25 things you're too old for now that you're 25. See, if I were to listen to everything I read online, firstly I'd be majorly confused on what I am supposed to do in life, and secondly, I definitely wouldn't be married, living in another country, and still choosing to eat whichever food I darn well please because to hell with those five pounds. So, with that rant almost over, choose to listen, or not listen, to the one (1!!) thing you should know/do/see/realize before you age another year. I say another year, because I hope this message reaches people who are 16, 18, 22, 25, 30, 35, and even older…although, I'll be honest, I don't read the articles telling me to do/see/etc things before 40/50/60. Because I'm not yet thinking about that. But if you are still reading, here goes with the one thing you should know:

It does not matter what other people say you should be doing or have accomplished, because each of our hopes, dreams, and accomplishments are different. Find your passions and chase them. That is the only thing that will make you happy. 

If you want to get married because you love the person you are with, do that. If you want to drop everything and move halfway around the world, do that. If you want to stay in your hometown, do that. If traveling, learning, athletics, family, whatever it is that makes you happy, is your passion- identify it, and do that. Because we are all different. I am completely, 100% happy being married, living in another country, not working, getting my MBA, and traveling the world with my husband. I have friends who think I am crazy, and can't imagine having done (or be doing) the same things. Conversely, I have friends who are completely happy with their lives, and I can't imagine being in their shoes. Some of them are single with their dream job, some are living in our hometown, some have switched jobs every 3 months, some have kids and mortgages, and some are still working to discover what makes them happy. But you know what? I can't tell them what the keys to their happiness are, just like I can't tell you what the keys to your happiness are. As long as each person in my life is happy, I am happy for them- even if I cannot envision myself in their shoes.

Robert Frost two roads
excellent poem by Robert Frost
And at the end of the day, if there is one lesson I have learned in my albeit short 25 years of life, it is that. That each of us are different, and it is finding our passions and chasing them that will make us happy. Because what makes me happy, may not make you happy. And what makes you happy, may not make me happy. So whenever you receive this "advice" from the internet, telling you to do this, see that, or not experience this…ignore it, and forge your own path. That is what makes each of us unique!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Currently: Hockey // Guest Posts Wanted // Camera Advice

This has been (and likely will be) one of the craziest and busiest March's in my life. Let's take a quick look at what is going on in my life!


Right now, both Nick's team and mine are in the midst of playoffs. Both of our teams have won our first games (yay!) and have upcoming games this weekend. Thus, why there has been a little bit of radio silence on the blog here this past week- busy cheering both of our teams on! Stay tuned for more updates on hockey life over the next week or so here!


My birthday was on Tuesday, and I had such a terrific day! I made peanut butter patty bars  to celebrate with my hockey team at practice. Nick and I went for lunch and a coffee in the city, and then relaxed at home for the rest of the day while I was home- until hockey practice, of course. Then, yesterday, some of my friends here spoiled me with cards, flowers, wine, and homemade ice cream cake (just when I was craving DQ cake from back home!). While I will celebrate my birthday more when I return home to Minnesota, I have already found out that I will be getting an awesome birthday gift…


Yep, for my birthday I am going to be getting a Nikon D3300! I've been wanting a nice DSLR camera for awhile, and this seems like the perfect beginner DSLR. It seems pretty user-friendly, which is great that both Nick and I will be able to figure it out quickly! For those of you with this camera, what do you like about it, and any special tips and tricks to share? What are your must-have camera accessories?

Guest Posts Wanted!

Lastly, I am planning on taking a little break from blogging while I am in Punta Cana in April. As such, I would love to feature a couple of guest posts from any travel bloggers out there! If you are interested, please get in contact with me via e-mail and we can definitely chat about the details!
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