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Using Ghost Tours to Explore a Historic City - Savannah, GA

(Staircases in Savannah take on a new level of creepiness,
especially when they descend into the basement.)
Dear Travel Diary,

When Nick and I traveled to Savannah a few years ago, I booked a couple of ghost tours.
Now I know what you're thinking ...
But the main reason why: access. The tours gave us access to areas of historical buildings typically off-limits to the public. I was curious. I wanted to see as much as possible. I hated being cordoned off by 'No Trespassing' signs or barricades. These tours allowed us to bypass all of it without threat of being ticketed.
(Moon River Brewery is reportedly the site of a makeshift hospital for children suffering during a yellow fever outbreak. This creepy old staircase lead to the third floor, but it was physically unsafe for us to ascend.)

(Just look at the craftsmanship of the era. This room was on the second floor of Moon River,
where employees are often too fearful to go due to a vengeful ghost.)

Whatever beliefs you may hold regarding the paranormal, I do not think ghost tours ought to be completely discredited. They can provide a wonderful insight into the city's history, the prominent figures, and stories that have turned into city legends that may explain why or how the place came to be. They are a great exposure to the past, an era folded into the passages of time, and one very different than the one you live in.

(The tree-lined path on the historic Wormsloe Plantation site was hauntingly beautiful.)

Of course, one of the tours was filled with such far-fetched claims of ghost activity, to which I responded negatively, and our tour guide was not happy to find a skeptic on HIS tour. (Side note: I'm what I call an Optimistic Skeptic - I keep an open mind, but try to find an explanation.)

The second tour was much more respectful to the fact that a claim is a claim. There is often little to no documented proof to back it up, however - there are dozens of witnesses who felt or saw the same thing. After the tour guide tells the story, she asked the crowd, what's your takeaway? The tour was an intriguing blend of history with these stories, and we were allowed to linger or explore a certain area to make our own determination.

Even Nick, who is very logical, was interested in what was discussed as we stood on the property; especially when the focus was the Revolutionary or Civil War.
(The basement of Moon River Brewery.)

... Which I think is where such tours can find their success. Get people talking about the history, what you know to be fact, show them the location, but leave it for them to decide. It all points to the notion that life is not always black and white. What lies within the gray area, is still a mystery to explain.

Especially in a city like Savannah.

How a Pair of Clogs Changed My Life

Dear Diary,

Once upon a time, a pair of handmade Swedish clogs came into my life and opened up a world of possibility.

I do not remember the "when," likely because it feels like it has always been there. I've met extraordinary people - people I consider to be my close friends. I've experienced incredible opportunities as well, from writing copy for the company, to modeling their products, to representing them at trade shows, to seeing firsthand how they are made in Sweden.

It's true, the old saying - a pair of shoes can change your life.

Sandgrens Clogs has a longstanding history of creating its iconic styles in the passed-down tradition of forging each pair by hand.

For this reason, each pair is unique. They are comfortable, versatile and incredibly durable - shoes that withstand the revolving door of fashion trends, and regular wear. In fact, I wore a pair of clog heels to my sister's wedding, and last the full day in them. I just cannot say that about a pair of pumps or stilettos.

And I'm grateful for it all, not only for the bump in my shoe collection. I learned a lot about myself, about time management, about perspective. I've learned to jump in headfirst the moment I feel myself being pulled, and never look back. It's improved my confidence, helped me grow as a creative writer, expanded my personal communication skills, and taught me to always consider the potential. Though the vehicle came in the form of fashion, the function of such lessons has benefited so many facets of who I am today. And it continues to inspire me.

Beautiful things start happening when you step outside your comfort zone.

What inspires you?

Update on Bucket List #32: Visit all 50 States

Dear Diary,

I’m almost halfway through my quest to visit all 50 states as posted on my '101 in 1001' list.

Thus far, I’ve crossed off:

1. Wisconsin – I was born and raised here, and Madelyn was born here
2. Minnesota – current residence
3. Illinois – got married there
4. Iowa – where I met & got engaged to Nick, graduated college & had Landen
5. Michigan – but wish to explore Traverse City soon!
6. New York
7. New Jersey
8. Georgia 
9. South Carolina – but wish to explore Charleston
10. Texas
11. Montana
12. Wyoming
13. South Dakota
14. Tennessee
15. Washington – but wish to see more of Seattle
16. Colorado – where we honeymooned
17. California
18. Nevada
19. Arizona
20. New Mexico
21. Hawaii – but wish to explore more of the islands
22. Missouri
23. Florida

And I've traveled to 3 countries so far (#worldtraveler, ha!) - Canada, Sweden and Denmark.

Reviewing this list only fuels my wanderlust further. I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list!

Bourbon Butcher Cocktails - Farmington, MN

Dear Diary,

After the ONE Walk, I took my grandmother and mother to Bourbon Butcher for Happy Hour.

I was excited to share it with them - first for the ambiance; second to make a "3 generations" memory.

I ordered the same delicious New Zealand-born Sauvignon Blanc as last time. My mother ordered an Old Fashioned, and my grandmother chose a frozen Gin and Tonic.

Apparently, it was a two-step process to enjoy:

The mug's contents had the consistency of a margarita, over which she poured a sweet concoction we assumed was grenadine. She had to pour slowly, pausing to stir and blend the ingredients. She seemed to enjoy the taste of her fancy drink!

(The family matriarch - 3 kids, 10 grandkids and 8 great-grandkids! I'm certain my grandpa, who passed away in 2001, was cheering her on in this moment.)

We also ordered cheese curds.

For my readers outside the Midwest (and especially those outside the state of WI - which I can differentiate since I was born and raised there), not all cheese curds are created equal. Luckily, Bourbon Butcher nailed the just-right combination of melty cheese, air-fluff fried crispiness and a sweet dipping sauce that perfectly complemented our cocktails.

More than a treat savored at a State Fair, cheese curds have come to found a heritage, thereby symbolizing and entire region of a nation - the Midwest.

We stayed for 3 hours before reuniting with my husband and kiddos back home.

It was a fitting stop to our day - while the JDRF ONE Walk fills us with the hope that a cure is eminent and we feel like we are contributing to its discovery, we wish such a thing wasn't necessary to pray for. Always choose to look for the good though, and in this case - I have a healthy T1D warrior and a new story to tell about our time together at Happy Hour.

First, visit their Web site and peruse the posted sampling of their menu. Specials change constantly, so it's best to browse in-person, but you still get a delicious idea of what the kitchen prepares. Truth? Bourbon Butcher's speciality is their bar menu of unique cocktails and vintage sodas. The food merely helps to clear your palette and fill your stomach. I would however, consider their lunch menu for a fulfilling meal.

Then, arrive - and might I recommend a table close to the bar? It is the restaurant's design and conversation-starting focal point.

Peruse the page-upon-page of signature cocktails (our waitress referred to the menu as "the library"), selecting the one that best appeals to your taste buds.

And pair it with the cheese curds. Though you are in the Twin Cities, you're a mere 45 minutes from the WI border, so it's influence is apparent within its taste. You won't regret the spike in your cholesterol levels.

9 Things That Surprised Me About Sweden


Dear Travel Diary,

Nick and I had the absolute privilege to travel to Sweden during the Midsummer holiday. It was my first time visiting the country, my first time traveling outside North America and my first time experiencing 24-hour daylight. Being such a newbie, in addition to getting a little too excited about my passport stamps in Copenhagen, I must confess to a few things that surprised me about my experiences:

(Our train car en route from Copenhagen to our final destination in Sweden.)

1. You have to pay to use a public restroom
After a 10+ hour flight overseas then a 4-hour train ride after downing the largest cup of to-go coffee I could find in the Copenhagen airport, I was faced with a dire emergency when we arrived at our destination. So while waiting for our ride I ducked into what I thought looked like a public restroom, only to discover the door was locked. It would not open until I deposited 5 Krona into the coin box. I was nearly in tears when I told Nick. He suggested I try talking with the clerk in the convenience store across the street. I walked in, I smiled, and I explained my situation. Without knowing exchange rates, I offered him a couple dollars of American currency. He became very excited, proclaimed he loved Americans, and gave me 10 Krona so Nick and I could use the restroom. I insisted he keep my money offering - perhaps out of desperation, perhaps because he was genuine; but it was really hard to read the conversation. 

I never realized just how much you can get for free (bathrooms, refills, etc) in America until I left the country.

Also - the toilets in Europe are like a closet rather than a stall. Full walls. On all four sides. 

2. Grocery shopping was an adventure!
Sweden bans the majority of the crap on the shelves of American grocery stores because it doesn't meet their high health and quality standards. We recognized very few brands; Lays and Doritos being two (side note: Cool Ranch Doritos are called "Cool American" overseas). And unfortunately, save for a very slim Swedish vocabulary, Nick and I do not speak the language. We were, however, able to find a store employee who spoke English, understood Nick's dietary needs, and helped us select the best gluten-free products. 

All of their bottled water is carbonated! It is very hard to find still water (key label wording there) because their tap water tastes exceptional.
(There wasn't any air conditioning - we'd open the windows but with 24 hours of daylight it made sleep difficult; and we'd blast the hotel-supplied fan. It was hot and bright trying to sleep.)

3. Bigger is not always better
This emphasis was especially seen in the size of the living space and our hotel room. We had a very nice room at a historic hotel in Kalmar - a queen size bed, a sitting area, a wardrobe, kitchenette, and bathroom was configured into a space no bigger than Landen's bedroom. You take only what you need and nothing more. 

4. The Swedish consume a lot of coffee - like, A LOT 
... And that's coming from someone who enjoys coffee! One night, while Nick and I sat on a patio (during midsummer, so at 10 pm it was still broad daylight) drinking cocktails to unwind, patrons at tables nearby sipped coffee. It was too late for me to consume caffeine because it'd keep me up all night. 

While in Europe, I got to drink Cuban wine. That trade embargo really closed Americans off from incredible things. Now, I don't intend to sound insensitive to the plight of the Cuban people under dictatorship and what the revolution did, but I also believe the embargo benefited no one. It remains one of my dreams to travel and explore the island of Cuba.
(As you can see, Nick and I did the majority of our exploring at night. Or at least, what you call "night" during midsummer ...)

5. That there was life prior to 1776. 
We explored the grounds of a castle built in the 1300s in Kalmar with its cannons still pointed into the bay to safeguard its harbor. It makes you realize just how "young" a country America is. It also makes you realize how isolated North America is from the rest of the world, considering we are separated by a major ocean. The castle we toured had incredible architecture and engineering considering the centuries it withstood.

6. They're fluent in multiple languages, and are so humble regarding their English. 
I felt like such an asshole for only speaking English, which is more a reflection on me than them. Americans view the English language as superior, and therefore close their minds off to learning others. However in other countries and even specific business sectors like aviation, English is considered universal. Do you see the difference there? I fully intend to learn a few more basic phrases in Swedish before my next trip.

7. Wine is cheaper than soda at restaurants.
8. Everything is within walking distance, or people ride their bike. 
The highways were EMPTY - no one used a car until it was time to retreat to their summer homes for the Midsummer holiday. We had an electric Prius in Sweden that we drove around Kalmar and Påryd and were often the only car on the road. 

Also - Celsius and the metric system really threw me off. Why does America insist on being so difficult?! Again, it's the whole superiority complex ...
(We happened to be in downtown Kalmar when the Swedish soccer team played its elimination match in the World Cup. They unfortunately lost, and I've never seen a major city go from bumpin' to ghost town in 5 seconds flat. This photo was taken just before midnight - look at how bright it still is.)

9. You savor. 
I confess to overscheduling my day into oblivion, so when I experienced Fika in Sweden, I felt out of place. Fika loosely translates to "take a break," and I witnessed an entire factory shut down at 2 pm for a coffee break that included sweets and a lot of conversation. Yes, people need to work in order to afford their essentials but their emphasis is on living life to its fullest with the people in it.

I cannot wait to take my children to Sweden. I believe allowing a passport to help raise them will unlock their minds and their curiosity.

Traveling cashes a cultural paycheck we all can benefit from.