Trying the Thing I Can’t Do

Hello everyone! I’ll start by apologizing for my absence last week. We’ll just call it my by-week for the year and move on. School got me a little busy at the beginning of the year!

This is the first week of September and everyone I know is out saying goodbye to summer. I’m writing to you this week from Wyoming, where I’ve been camping and biking and scrambling up lots of rocks. I’m camping in a place called Happy Jack, which is just east of Laramie. At the moment I’m sitting next to a reservoir contemplating the first streaks on my shins, courtesy of a very technical bike ride I went on this afternoon.

Jonathan, who went to school at the University  of Wyoming, spent many weekends up here and delighted in showing me all his favorite spots. The trails here are dry and a little sandy, and there are lots of sandstone obstacles. Normally the trails I ride in Steamboat are smooth and flowy and altogether very different than this!

At first I was nervous about getting up and over some of these rocks, or dropping off them. But I have a tendency to follow the person in front of me off of things that I wouldn’t normally ride by myself, and I found myself riding over all sorts of things that were initially scary but actually totally within my skill range. Jonathan is a much better rider than I am, and he’s also very good at letting me know when he thinks I might want to look at before I ride them. I learned a lot about what my bike was capable today, and I only fell over once!

Off of the trail we were riding were several “play areas” which were quite a bit more technical than the trail. They were short loops that linked back into the trail, so riders could choose to try them or not. Jonathan and I rode the first and second play area, and it was really fun! There were lots of things I couldn’t ride, but there were lots of things I thought I couldn’t ride that I did, and I learned from watching the other riders in the area. As my mom says, there is no hill so steep I cannot push my bike up  (or down) it.

The thing I loved about this was that I was in a no-pressure situation. I was riding with someone I trust a lot, and we had no schedule. Our only goal was to have a good time (and to limit any blood loss). This allowed me to try new things that I otherwise would have been afraid of trying. I also very much enjoyed the fact that the obstacles on the trail were far enough apart that I still felt like I could ride my bike successfully.

There are lots of potential applications of all of this to other parts of my life, particularly my classroom. But for this weekend, I promised myself Saturday and Sunday would be school-free days. It’s part of the balance I’m working on.

Your homework this week is to create a situation where you feel safe trying something you don’t think you can do.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Hej då,


Two Very Different Adventures

I think all the traveling I did this summer finally got to my brain, and I completely forgot to write or post yesterday. Sorry dear readers! I’ll try to make it up to you with some really awesome photos.

Today is one of those interesting fifth Sundays (this happens way more frequently than I thought it would…or perhaps this year is just particularly odd…). But rather than exploring a combination of the parts of me or philosophizing, I’m just going to straight up tell you an adventure story. Two adventure stories, in fact! Next week I’ll get a little more philosophical about adventuring and being stubborn, and when that’s potentially good or potentially bad.

In the last couple of blogs I’ve made quick references to my two biggest trips in July: the eight days I spent in and around Yosemite National Park and the Knowles Summer Meeting, which happened in Philadelphia. Today is the day I finally tell you about them!

Adventure Part 1: Learning, Hiking, and More Learning in Yosemite National Park

This year I was honored to participate in the California Institute for Biodiversity’s Sierra Institute and Yosemite Field Institute. The two programs were run back-to-back, meaning that participants could choose to do one or the other, or to go all out and do both (which is what I did). Seriously, teacher friends; this is one PD not to miss. The dates for next summer will likely go up on this website, so sometime in mid-winter check in and see if you can make it!

The Sierra Institute took place at the Jack L. Boyd outdoor school just south of the actual park. It felt a lot like summer camp – sleeping in bunk beds in large cabins and eating in a dining hall. We spent most of our time learning how to synthesize several teaching structures together into a coherent classroom plan called an activity guide. As it was defined for this training, an activity guide is a framework for around two weeks’ worth of lessons. It begins with a phenomenon and allows students to question and engage in the processes of science. In creating an activity guide, we pulled together the NGSS framework, the 5E lesson model from BSCS, HHMI BioInteractive resources, growth mindset, the Understanding Global Change Framework (website in progress at the moment, but if you Google Jessica Bean you can get an idea of it, and the other resources put out by Berkeley), naturalism and teaching nature journaling, and probably several other things I’m forgetting at the moment. It was a lot of brainpower to try to weave all those things together, but it was an incredible mental exercise and I cannot wait to try out the activity guide my group wrote!

The second institute took place entirely within the park; we camped at Crane Flats campground and hiked all around the valley. With us (for both institutes, actually) was a freelance naturalist named David Lukas. I’m not an Instagram person, but I’ve been told he posts absolutely beautiful photos along with very short stories of the natural world. His knowledge was incredible, and he could tell stories as we hiked about anything from fungi in the soil to the natural history of the fish in the lakes to the geology of the glaciers that helped form the valley.

The most iconic hike we did was the Mist Trail. All of the trails we were on were incredibly crafted, but the Mist Trail takes the cake. It’s chiseled into a rock face next to Vernal Falls – you absolutely get soaked by the mist! You can also see a lot of cool geology on the back of Half Dome and Liberty Dome.


We continued to hike above Vernal Falls to connect to the John Muir trail, so this is looking back down at the falls. You can’t see the trail from this angle because it’s back behind the rock on the far right of the photo.


This is Nevada Falls, slightly upriver from Vernal Falls, and Liberty Dome. The water was incredibly high this year because of the massive amount of snow California received this winter. Mammoth Ski Area is closing TOMORROW!

Yosemite is one of those parks where you hear about the crazy crowds, the traffic, the impossibility of getting a campsite or a parking spot. Yep. All true. But this is also one of those places where the crowds exist because it really is that special. Someday I’m going to drag my whole family out there to experience it!

Adventure Part 2: Walking miles and miles in New York City

I was home in Boulder for a whole five days before I set off on my next adventure, which was a little bit different than the first.

Most of my adventures involve lots of time outside walking. But usually I’m doing that in the mountains, traversing meadows and winding through forests. Not this particular adventure. I had never been to New York City before, so I took advantage of the Knowles Summer Meeting being in Philadelphia to go out a little early and stay with Rebecca, a teacher from the fellowship who grew up there! She lives in the north part of the Bronx, teaches in South Bronx, and went to high school in Manhattan. We had a blast riding the Staten Island Ferry, seeing the Lincoln center lit up at night, visiting her favorite Hungarian pastry shop, wandering through Central Park, and just generally exploring. We went to see the 9/11 museum and memorial, which is incredibly well-done and very much worth a visit. I ate bagels and pizza and cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery (I had no idea this was famous until I got there).

But the crowning experience of the whole thing involved entering a dozen lotteries, running around from building to building around Times Square, and finally gambling on standing room tickets, which were 100% worth it.


Oh yes. That happened. I got to see my very first Broadway show. And it was beyond belief!!!!

I could go on and on about this experience. It was Rebecca’s sixth time seeing it, and she spent most of the time watching my reactions and laughing at me. I’ve seen the movie a million times if I’ve seen it once, so I wasn’t ever really surprised, per say. But the movie in no way compares to seeing the show. When they turn the lights on in the chandelier and the organ strikes that first chord in D minor…chills.

I think the the thing that sets Broadway apart (aside from the fantastic amounts of talent on stage and in the orchestra pit) is the sets. I was extremely fortunate to see If/Then in Denver with six of the eight Broadway leads, including Idina Menzel! But the Denver Center for Performing Arts has one main theater, and shows typically don’t run that awfully long. I’m always impressed by how they do build the sets there – they have to be able to change them so quickly between shows. But Broadway spans a ton of theaters (which I didn’t realize until I got there) and each theater is dedicated to one show. They can build so much more, and it truly makes the show that much more magical.

I also got to see Miss Saigon, which is a heartbreaking love story set during the Vietnam War. It was a very different, but still totally amazing, experience – I know the music from Phantom by heart but Miss Saigon was a completely new show to me.

As Rebecca and I drove back towards Philadelphia for our meeting, she asked me to sum up my New York City experience. I told her everything is bigger, brighter, completely overdone, and it’s a great adventure. I can’t wait to go back to visit again; I’m also very glad I don’t actually live there!

My summer is coming to a close, so my travels will also be more limited, at least until next summer. But I think I did a pretty good job seeking wonderful adventures. Thanks to everyone who hosted me, hiked with me, and put up with me talking way too fast while showing you pictures!

Your homework: What’s your favorite part about going somewhere new? Do you seek adventures that are “in your wheelhouse” or do you go for something completely different?

Hej då,


Knitting at the Campfire

Hello everyone, and sorry for the late posting this week! I’ve just returned home from a sixteen-day multi-part adventure in which connectivity services were somewhat limited. Let me catch you up on some of the craziness.

On June 30th, my dad picked me up and drove me to Steamboat. I spent two days enjoying being lazy and hanging out on the porch, and then my brother gave me a very special birthday present. He took me backpacking in the Zirkel Wilderness Area north of Steamboat for two nights! This is especially nice of him because he carries all the heavy stuff for me. We hiked five miles in to Gilpin Lake and spent the first night there. We didn’t anticipate how much snow was left, that’s for sure! Our original plan was to continue past Gilpin to Gold Creek Lake and complete an 11.5 mile loop, but we decided climbing the snowfield between the Gilpin and the nearly 11,000 feet high ridge line with packs did not sound like a ton of fun. Instead we stayed both nights at Gilpin. Jeff even packed in a cupcake for me!

We packed out on July fourth, and returned home for some frantic showering, unpacking, and repacking. I was trading my backpacking set up for car camping stuff, which required just enough overlap and just enough difference to be really confusing! After dinner Jeff drove me down to his house and I slept on his floor before heading to the airport early on the morning of the fifth. I spent the next eight days in California, learning about the natural history, biology, and geology of Yosemite National Park. I also learned how to tie together citizen science, NGSS standards, growth mindset, outdoor lessons, and the 5E lesson planning model in fascinating new ways.

This was A LOT of adventuring, and also a lot of being really nerdy. Only at a teacher training will you find twenty-two adults laying on their bellies on a chunk of granite, exclaiming about the striations in the rock and other evidence of glaciation! It was tons of fun and I went through lots of sunscreen and pages in my notebook.

But the gist of my birthday goals was about balance. Where was my hobbit self?

Despite the overwhelming emphasis on adventurer and nerd these last two weeks, I made sure to tuck a ball of pink and purple and grey yarn into my duffle bag (right between my tent and my camp chair…). And in the evenings when people were roasting marshmallows for s’mores and getting out ukuleles, I pulled out my knitting.

I was impressed by the amount of conversation it generated, actually. Everyone wanted to know what I was making, which I expected. But the conversation didn’t end there. By sharing my own project, people wanted to tell me about their experiences with crochet or cross-stitch, or their favorite something that someone special had knitted for them. Lost of people agreed that it seemed meditative, and thought it was a cool thing to do for someone.

There were a lot of things I appreciated about knitting in this situation. It opened up conversation, which reflected to me that people were totally cool with my knitting. Often I get insecure about the hobbit parts of myself – what hard core adventurer knits? But no one else seemed to think it was weird at all. I also liked how it allowed me to be doing something with my hands and still participate in the conversation around me. It was a nice balance between having something I like to do and being social.

What exactly was I knitting? A baby blanket for a little girl named Macy. Her mom is one of my colleagues at Longmont High School, so this project has been in the back of my head for a while now. It’s a really simple pattern – I cast on 150 stitches on my size 9 circular needles. I knit garter stitch for the first ten rows, and then for the majority of the blanket I knit garter for the ten stitches on either end and stockinette stitch in the middle. I’ll finish this one with ten rows of garter. I like the garter stitch border because it prevents the stockinette from curling up so much! And I like simple patterns like this when I’m using a variegated yarn.

The blanket definitely smells like campfire smoke now, nor is it anywhere close to done. But I think I learned something valuable by sneaking in a couple of rows here and there; these things are more compatible than I could have expected. I don’t necessarily need big chunks of time to be an adventurer or a hobbit or a nerd. I can sprinkle them throughout.

This next week will be the longest stretch of time I’ll be in Boulder since graduation (five whole days!) so I hope to indulge my hobbit a little bit more. I’m enjoying the quiet of my house and the time to get some of those nagging adult things done (renewing my passport, for example). And then I’m off on a whole different adventure – I’m visiting some friends in New York City and Philadelphia before going to the Knowles summer meeting.

Your homework: When was the last time you mixed two seemingly contradictory things? If it’s been a while, try it out! What happens?

Hej då,



Every Stitch

Today I’m writing from yet another state! I’m currently sitting outside of Penn Valley, California, at my friend Hannah’s childhood home. She grew up on a glorious five-acre property, with huge trees and vegetable gardens and a little orchard and chickens. This part of California is the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but it’s really different than the foothills in Colorado. At home, the the transition from flat to mountains is fairly abrupt. Here, I’m nestled into rolling hills of pine forests and farms. I think I found the Shire.

And when I found Hannah, I absolutely found a hobbit! Hannah grew up doing three-week backpacking trips with her family and close friends, packing all their extra food and supplies on horses. She wanders around barefoot almost all the time, and she bakes the best pumpkin butterscotch chocolate chip cookies you’ll ever have. We met in college in our leadership program, and I can easily say she’s one of my best girlfriends in the entire world. We’ve stayed up late giggling and singing, hiked and hugged trees and swam in rivers, and had some of the most honest conversations I’ve ever been a part of.

The first time I came to her home was for spring break during our freshman year of college. She took me cross country skiing to a cabin that some of her family friends built by hand (no power tools!), and then she took me on my very first backpacking trip at Point Reyes. I loved both of these adventures, but what I remember most about that trip was how included and loved I felt with her family. It’s been a happy place ever since in my memory.

This time, I’m back for Hannah’s wedding, and I could not be more honored and delighted and totally overwhelmed by how much love there was, not only at the ceremony last night, but as I’ve been here helping for the last several days. Hannah’s family is deeply intertwined in this community, and people demonstrated such an incredible amount of support, creating decorations and food and moving tables and chairs around in 100+ degree heat. I’ve been crashing at her house, and I’ve had so much fun painting signs and chopping veggies for appetizers at the rehearsal dinner, and carrying anything. I’ve met Hannah’s friends from all different parts of her life and reunited with some of our college friends. In the midst of everything, Hannah still carved out two hours to pick me up from the airport and to chat with me about my life and what we’ve been thinking about lately.

Another good example of the love here: Hannah and her (now husband!!!!!!!) Ben decided to opt for a less-traditional wedding theme and combine Star Wars and Lord of the Rings into a fantasy land of awesomeness. Everyone showed up in costume, including her grandfather in the Leia buns and dress. My costume experienced a bit of a setback when the green dress I wanted to be an elf archer didn’t come on time, so I rushed to grab a back up plan. What I ended up wearing consisted of my mom’s cowboy boots, Hannah’s sister’s socks, a brand new friend’s white tunic, Hannah’s dad’s bow and a pair of earrings I stole from Hannah herself years ago. Only my brown leggings, camisole, quiver and arm guards were actually mine! People gave freely and without thinking about it, and I wasn’t even the person of interest.

Yesterday, the day of the wedding, we all headed to the ranch where it was going to take place and set things up for several hours. At 11:30, we headed off grab lunch and go to one of Hannah’s favorite places: the Yuba river. After a (SUPER HOT) short hike, we jumped in the water for a bit and then ran back to the wedding site. Supposed to be back by two-thirty for celebrations starting at 4? Definitely arrived at 3:20. But Hannah has collected the kind of friends who a) will jump in a river and not worry about their hair and b) can totally handle getting ready for a wedding, in less than an hour, with only one bathroom between eleven girls. We had a blast braiding hair and gluing elf ears, and watching Hannah transform from hiking river girl to absolutely stunning bride. This is the kind of girly-ness I really do love.

The ceremony itself was beautiful and multi-part and incorporated lots of Jewish rituals (my knowledge of Yiddish had probably quadrupled in the last three days). I won’t try to explain it all, but I will tell you it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. All the cliché things people say about weddings, the radiant bride, the crying mothers, the perfect light…all of it was true last night. I cried through both ceremonies and afterwards when I got to tell Hannah how much I loved her. I danced until I had blisters and laughed harder than I have in a very long time. And after we cleaned up, we all lost our heads a bit and ended up paddling around in the pool on the property, most of us still in our dresses and costumes!

I like to write. I love stories and words. But how could I ever begin to explain how much my friendship with Hannah means to me? How could I describe how much I loved coming home with her and experiencing her community? How could I possibly capture this weekend?

I didn’t even try. At least, not in words.

A year ago, when Hannah called me to tell me she got engaged, I knit two nine inch by nine inch squares out of some left-over turquoise yarn in a basket weave pattern. And over the course of this last year, I’ve (very sporadically) worked on creating 46 more squares and sewing them together to create a blanket. There were months where I forgot about it, and a lot of frantic knitting and sewing in these last couple of weeks! (I actually finished it here, on the floor of Hannah’s guest room.)

When I knit, every stitch is a good wish, a thank you, and a promise. They’re little tiny good thoughts, but they add up. And I thought it was a nice metaphor for building a life together. It’s a series of small things.

And when I knit, I don’t do it in isolation. Mom taught me how to make cable patterns. Granny helped me lay out all the blocks so the colors were balanced. The whole thing is a work of love. And it’s a way for me to say it without fumbling around with words and clichés.

My friends are so incredibly important to me. Hannah’s given me more sunshine and support than I thought possible.

Your homework today is very similar to some other homework I’ve given before, but I think it’s worth doing twice. How do you show your people you love them? Try to find a way to demonstrate that this week!

Hej då,


To Have an Adventure

Spring break is one of those mythological times of year where everything is supposed to be perfect. For a lot of people in Steamboat, spring break meant a desire to go somewhere WARM, without snow or slush or ice. My dream week always seemed to revolve around spending the vast majority of my time in a swimsuit. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some truly spectacular spring breaks over my life.

Teachers love spring break as much as their students do. I’m currently writing this in the afterglow of my most recent spring break, which was absolutely fantastic. Last weekend, I wrote about how I got to go home for a couple of days and play in the (rapidly melting) snow. But I spent the second half of my spring break in LA!

There was a lot of sun. I ate quite a lot of tasty food. I got to hang out with some of my favorite people and stay up way too late telling silly stories. I saw a really cool IMAX film. Sounds like an awesome spring break, right? It totally was!

So now you can laugh at me when I tell you all of these things happened while I was at NSTA 2017, the National Association of Science Teachers annual conference. I know, I can’t help it – there will be a little bit of nerdiness woven throughout this story. But it is, at its heart, an adventure story. So what makes a good adventure?

First, I must confess that I love packing. There is something really satisfying about deciding exactly what I need and fitting it all neatly in my bag. I have a very little suitcase I use so I don’t have to check it, and getting everything in just right is one of my favorite games. I love the anticipation of laying out my things and setting my bag by the door. This is true no matter where I’m going.

I also love airports. I like getting to watch all the different people and make up stories about where they’re going. I wander up and down the B concourse in DIA, looking at where all the flights are going and imagining I was going there. I like how I feel efficient when I can get smoothly through security and boarding the plane. Airports mean I get to go somewhere far away!

Once I was in LA, I got to spend three days learning about and experiencing new incredible things, even though I spent most of my time in the LA convention center and not wandering around the city. (I did not, at any point, see the Hollywood sign. I’m not sad about this.) NSTA is a huge conference; there are usually between nine and twelve THOUSAND people! There are teachers from all kinds of science – biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space science – and at all levels, from kindergarten to four-year colleges. There are representatives from assessment companies, textbook publishers, companies who create educational resources, and scientific organizations like Smithsonian. Being at NSTA is being in the middle of science education as it evolves and grows and changes.

I also got to do my very first presentation at a national conference, which was a source of huge gratitude, excitement, and terror all at the same time. I was invited to help represent Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive project, which provides some of the most amazing resources to educators. Seriously, if you’re a teacher and you haven’t seen them, go check it out. Or if you’re just a nerd and you feel like learning stuff, go check it out! They tell really fascinating stories about all sorts of life science.

My presentation was ten minutes of me being super excited about a virtual lab showing how stickleback fish have evolved in lakes in Alaska. I gave the talk twice, and each time I had about twenty people who stopped by our exhibition booth to listen.

It was a huge learning experience for me; teaching teachers is really different than teaching students. (Also, presenting with little microphone thing that hooked over my ear is way different than just projecting my voice across a classroom!) I also got to hang out in the back of everyone else’s presentations, and I learned a lot about teaching I want to try out in my classroom now.

Another important part of adventuring for me is who I’m adventuring with. The other HHMI ambassadors are, as a whole, some of the most fascinating, dedicated educators I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Getting to hear and listen to their stories was hugely rejuvenating, informative, and hilarious (usually all in the same story!). I feel like I got adopted and I have a whole community of mentors. But I also got a lot of positive feedback on the work I did, so in addition to having mentors, I’m also seriously honored to feel like a contributing member of this incredible group.

Now, teachers are good at meeting people. A significant chunk of what we do all day is build relationships, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we also met some new people completely randomly. These kinds of stories are some of my favorite; chance encounters that end up having huge meaning. Let me tell you a story of Saturday night walking back to the hotel.

HHMI has a dinner on the last night of each conference to celebrate everyone’s hard work. There was a group of five of us walking home together telling stories and giggling. One of the ambassadors and I were laughing about all of the ridiculous things we’ve had to say, completely seriously, in our classrooms (“Do not take your pants off!” is one example). Another lady on the street corner overheard and started laughing with us. It was also at this moment that we realized we only mostly knew where we were going. The lady who’d been laughing with us was walking home from work, and offered to walk with us to our hotel since she lived nearby.

We all promptly introduced ourselves and folded her into our group. When we explained what we were doing in LA, she delightedly exclaimed “I knew y’all were teachers! I could just tell!” Her name was Saj, and she was a tax code lawyer. She shook her head at us and told us a story that absolutely melted my heart. She’d been born to a teenage mom and, in her own words, had been a problem kid. She told us that teachers had literally saved her life by pouring hours of extra time into her, and she turned out just fine. She’d taught middle school for a year in Washington D.C. before she gave it up to be a lawyer. We all swapped stories of the best and worst parts of our jobs as we walked.

We got back to our hotel, and she continued on her way. We didn’t trade contact information or anything like that – it was just a moment of a couple of lives coming together and veering apart again. But I’m not going to forget her story any time soon.

So let’s take a look at the things that make an adventure. Did I get to go somewhere new? Check. Meet interesting people? Double and triple check. Learn and do new things? Absolutely. Do I feel refreshed and ready to go back? Well, refreshed at least!

My homework for you is this: what makes an adventure for you? I usually prefer quite a lot of outside time, but I definitely think my journey to NSTA counts for me.

Happy adventuring, wherever you go this month!

Hej då,


The Art of Fika

I’ve seen a lot of articles and Facebook posts in the last couple of years about the idea of hygge. Hygge is a Danish word (koselig is the Norwegian version) that means a sense of coziness, comfort, and warmth. It’s a mindset that many people in Scandinavian countries have in response to the very dark winters. It is particularly prevalent in Tromsø, one of the farthest north towns in the world. Tromsø is 350km north of the Arctic circle, which means the sun remains below the horizon for a portion of the winter.

Over the winter of 2014-2015, Kari Leibowitz, psychologist from Stanford University spent 10 months in Tromsø studying the effects of light on people’s psychology. She devised a ‘winter mindset questionnaire’ to assess people’s attitudes about winter. She also administered the assessment Oslo area, which is one of the southernmost points of Norway. Her results were fascinating. The farther north they went, the more positive people’s mindsets towards winter were. People in Tromsø make a point of creating light – whether floodlights on the sledding hill or an incredible number of candles – and of enjoying the soft colors of twilight at midday.

In many ways, this reminds me quite a bit of the other bit of Norwegian wisdom I shared with you: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Rather than  falling prey to circumstances outside their control, many Scandinavians simply do their best to adjust and move on. One town called Rjukan, Norway adjusted by building giant mirrors to reflect the sun to their town, which is at the bottom of a deep canyon. (This being said, a lot of Swedish literature, songs, and humor have fairly dark and depressing themes, so make of that what you will.)

But wait, you’re thinking. Didn’t you study abroad in Sweden? Why are you talking so much about Norway? Truth be told, I never learned the Swedish word for hygge or koselig. But one of my favorite words and ideas that I did learn about in Sweden is the idea of fika.

Fika is one of those awesome words that really doesn’t translate. Even though Swedes are known for having some of the best English in a non-English speaking country, they don’t bother to translate it and just use it the way it is. Literally, fika translates as a verb: “to coffee.” But it’s used in a lot of different ways. People have said to me, “Let’s have a fika,” “It’s time for fika,” and “Would you like to fika?” Fika can mean to take a break, to grab a cup of coffee on the go, or to meet up with coffee and pastries and friends. Fika could be at a coffee shop, on a walk, or at someone’s home. (I keep saying coffee even though I don’t drink it. Even under many, many evil eyes, I stuck with my tea. Swedes are coffee OBSESSED.)

One important distinction that was made clear to me very early was that fika was a personal, intimate invitation. Asking someone to get coffee was much more formal. Especially in the winter, fika is a really important way for people to create a cozy, comfortable space where they can reconnect with important people. Sound familiar? Even though fika is an activity rather than a mindset, it feels a lot like hygge and koselig.

Fika is central to Swedish life. In my neuroscience class, we had four hour lecture blocks scheduled. At first, I was a bit worried about focusing for four hours, but our professor quickly made it clear that there would be frequent fikas, and we could bring our drinks and snacks back to class. My apartment was on a corridor with four Swedish girls and we all shared a kitchen; they were almost always having a fika when I got home. Perhaps it has something to do with Swedes’ constant need for caffeine (and in the winter, warmth), but I loved the constancy of people connecting with their friends.

I feel like fika is an art form that not as many people have discovered in the US. We have a huge coffee shop culture, that is true, but it feels really different to me. For one thing, we don’t often have fika at home. And when we’re in coffee shops, we’re there to work or to meet people for various productive purposes, rather than to get together with an old friend. It doesn’t have the same intimate feel as fika did while I lived in Sweden. And the US has a very interesting culture surrounding breaks and productivity, which could be a whole different blog post.

I recently read this article on the BBC. It’s about US cafes that are removing their WiFi and/or banning screens. In the article, the writer describes current cafe culture as feeling “more like open-plan offices than centres of community.” Some of the cafe owners interviewed cited the need for relief from technological imbalance as the reason for getting rid of WiFi, while others cited the desire to create a place of discourse and connection. The article explores societal, psychological, and economic impacts of creating spaces like this. It is a completely fascinating article (and links to a 69 page history of the purposes of cafes!) so I highly recommend reading more than just my little summary here.

Now, I spent a quite ridiculous amount of time sitting in Brewing Market throughout my college career. One semester I totaled it up; I wrote over 100 pages of graduate-level education papers in that coffee shop. The guy who worked on Wednesday mornings, my favorite time to go, started recommending teas to me based on what he knew I usually ordered. My other favorite place to work was in the engineering center, which also had easy access to tea and snacks. I still go to coffee shops sometimes to grade or plan because I like having the energy of other people talking and working around me to help keep me motivated.

But when I think about fika, I also think about this description of the original purposes of cafes. From that same BBC article, the purpose of cafes was “to act as places for lively debate and intellectual discussion and, above all else, social interaction.” In fact, the idea of a cafe without any technology is hugely appealing to me. If people actually talked to each other, I feel like it would ameliorate quite a lot of loneliness, feelings of being disenchanted, and isolation.

I still have lots of questions in my head about this kind of a cafe. I certainly don’t want to lose the ability to work coffee shops; some of my most productive work times have been in coffee shops around Boulder. And I also wonder about notebooks and books. When newspapers came out, people bemoaned the lack of connection lost to reading on the subway or time not spent listening to the radio. Will these older technologies (yes, printing is ABSOLUTELY a technology) still create gaps between people and isolation?

All that being said, I would welcome a “No-Fi” coffee shop in Boulder. I think perhaps it might be more popular than most people would expect. And I think it might help give us a way to start learning the art of fika.

Your homework: Have you ever experienced a cultural idea that you wished you could bring home? How do you connect with your most important people? What do you think about “No-Fi” coffee shops?

Hej då,



See Forever

I’m sure most of you have seen the famous mountain silhouette on the Coors cans. Turns out that’s an actual mountain from Colorado! It’s called Mt. Wilson, and it’s near Telluride. (That’s my leading picture today. Thanks, Dad for taking that one!) One good way to see the mountain is to get to the top of the Telluride ski area and ski a run called “See Forever.” Mt. Wilson definitely isn’t the only mountain you can see from there; on a clear day, it’s one of the most incredible views in the state.

I absolutely love being up high and being able to see for a long way. It’s one reason I like mountains so much; I feel like I can literally see forever. It makes me feel small and like a piece of something so much bigger than me. I love the ecological patchwork of conifers and meadows and deciduous trees, and I love wondering what’s behind the next set of peaks or around the bend in the valley.

But it doesn’t just have to be mountains. I like getting up high just about anywhere. In fact, I’ve made a point of getting on top of something tall in nearly every new city I’ve been to. I helps me to get a sense of direction and put landmarks in relation to each other. I like to watch so many people go about their lives and wonder what their stories are. So here’s a few things (in no particular order), natural and man-made, I’ve climbed on top of.

  1. Mt. Werner Ski Area, Steamboat, CO. This one might seem a little obvious, and I’ve reached this summit a million and three times in my life. But whether I’m riding my bike, snowshoeing, or riding the gondola, I love the perspective on town I get from up here. I can see everything that’s important to me: the Yampa river, the high school, my house, and Howelsen Hill. I can see Sleeping Giant , Emerald Mountain, and the Flattops. I spent thirteen years admiring that view nearly once a week, and it’s still not old.mount_werner
  2. Stadhuset, Stockholm, Sweden.Stadhuset” means city hall in Swedish, and that’s exactly what this giant tower is. It’s a cool climb through narrow stairways and halfway up is a little museum. And of course, the view from the top is totally worth it! Stockholm is built on fourteen different islands, so when you’re in the middle of it all it can be a little confusing. But Stadhuset gives a great perspective on how water connects the city rather than dividing it.stockholms_stadshuset
  3. Altare della Patria, also known as Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, Rome, Italy. This giant white building is a huge focal point looming over the ruins of ancient Rome. I loved feeling like I could hold Rome in my hands from up there. It’s a huge city, and this monument is rather in the middle of everything so I could get a good grasp on where things were relative to each other. I loved staring out over the terra cotta tile roofs and wondering at the incredible amount of life that poured out of everyone.national-monument-de-emanuele-rome
  4. Holmenkollen, Oslo, Norway This is slightly outside of Oslo itself, but it was one of the nerdiest skier places I’ve ever been! Holmenkollen is the biggest ski jumping area in Norway and they recently rebuilt the jump. It’s a giant steel monolith rising above the skyline of the city. And underneath is the ski museum! There is a ski there from 500 BC, which is crazy. Skiing, particularly jumping and cross country, are huge parts of Norwegian culture. But alpine plays a role too; I got to touch one of Aksel Lund Svindal‘s GS skis! And yes, the edges were still sharp. I checked.holmenkollen
  5. Ancon Hill, Panama City, Panama Ok, so when you start at sea level, even 654 feet feels like a long way up! Ancon Hill rises above Panama City and gives a wonderful view of both the new and old downtowns and the port where the canal goes back into the Pacific Ocean. Panama City is definitely a patchwork of different neighborhoods with wildly different characters, and it was cool to see how they intermingled. I also got to see a toucan while we were up there!view-from-ancon-hill-panama
  6. Faulhorn, Grindelwald, Switzerland Grindelwald is an absolutely amazing town! The mountains there are about the same elevation as in Colorado, but they start so much lower that the elevation change is incredibly dramatic. On one side of Grindelwald, the Eiger tends to hide in the clouds. On the other side, a gondola called “First” takes you up to Bachalpsee, one of the most beautiful high alpine lakes I’ve ever seen. From there Mom and I climbed to the top of Faulhorn, which is known as “The Lady’s Alp.” There is a restaurant at the top (the Swiss are extremely good at putting buildings where it feels like it should be impossible to put one) but it was closed for the summer. Like many days in the Swiss alps, that day was foggy and a bit snowy, but it was beautiful all the same. This picture is from part-way up, looking back at Bachalpsee.part-way-up-the-faulhorn
  7. Calanque National Park, Cassis, France I got to visit this national park with my friend, Henri. The Calanques sort of reminded me of the fjords of Norway, except the pale and red streaked rock and the dryness reminded me of southern Colorado. Henri and I hiked all day through the Calanques and swam in the Mediterranean in the second Calanque. At one point we got way up above the second Calanque; you can still see people swimming waaaaaay down there. I loved this trip a) because I was hiking with a good friend b) I got to swim in the ocean and c) I got to see a part of France that was completely different than Paris. 2nd-calanque
  8. Grossmünster, Zurich, Switzerland If you want to get on top of something in a city, churches are usually a good call. Grossmünster is a large church near where the Limmat River flows into Lake Zurich. Across the river is another church with a shorter tower. You can climb to the top of one of the bell towers and see over the whole of the city. When Mom and I were in Zurich, we had taken the overnight flight from the east coast and landed that morning, and we though we were way more coherent that we really were! It was nice to get my legs and heart moving going up the narrow stairs, and then it was good to give my mind a chance to adjust to the new place from somewhere I could see it all.july-2015-018
  9. Mt. Hood, Oregon From the age of eleven to the age of eighteen, my family and I spent at least one week a year in Government Camp (which we fondly called Govy) at the base of Mt. Hood. Ski racers from all over the country flock to Mt. Hood every summer to train on the snow field at the top. To get up there, we would drive for a half hour to the Timberline Lodge. Then we would take two lifts from there to get up to the top of the snowfield. Some days it would be raining in Govy, foggy at Timberline, and then we’d ski all day in the sun above an ocean of clouds. Some days the weather at the top was absolutely miserable. And then there were the days that it was all the way clear, and we could see orchards and forests and green as far as we
  10. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain The first time I went to Europe I went with an EF Tour through Spain. While in Barcelona, one of the things everyone wants to see is La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous cathedral. It was under construction while we were there, and it was the oddest experience. The outside is dark and convoluted, but the pillars inside are white and seem to rise effortlessly to infinite heights. Despite the jackhammers, there was a sense of peace inside the church. We spent the extra time to go up one of the bell towers. I hadn’t realized until then how hilly Barcelona was! And in the distance, we could see the Mediterranean glittering in the sun. This was one of my first experiences being up high looking over a big foreign city, and I was
  11. Domkyrkan, Uppsala, Sweden I could tell you stories about Domkyrkan for hours and hours. It is, by law, the tallest building in Uppsala, and it was instantly one of my landmarks when I arrived and felt totally lost and adrift. It was halfway between my apartment and the university building where I had class, so on really cold days I would pause my bike ride home and go inside until I could feel my fingers again. I absolutely love that cathedral. But it wasn’t until my mom arrived in the last two weeks in Uppsala that I climbed one of the bell towers. After six months, I was pretty familiar with Uppsala. And I can’t say the view was outstanding; the window we had was really tiny. But nevertheless, I loved getting to see the Fyris river winding through downtown, spanned by innumerable bridges.002

Lots of people have something they typically do in every new place they go to, or a pose they strike at the top of every mountain they climb. For me, it’s all about getting up where I can see. I hope you enjoyed city-hopping through all these places with me!

Your homework: Do you like to be above everything so you can see it, or down in the middle of the action? Is there something you always do in a new place?

Hej då,