Hemester. Svemester. Fitting words that have entered the Swedish lexicon, derived from hem (home)+ semester (vacation) or Sverige (Sweden) + semester (vacation). Their version of the English-language staycation to describe holidaying at home this summer due to the coronavirus. I like to call it my Swecation or Swedish vacation. My family usually spends long weekends and a large part of June, July, and August at our second home in the Stockholm archipelago. For the last ten years, we’ve interspersed those months with trips to the United States to visit family and friends along with jaunts to Italy, Greece, France, and Turkey. I love the combination of having the archipelago as our base, where we can work and play, enjoying the overflowing light and fleeting warmth, mixed with exploring new cultures and landscapes abroad. However, the virus, travel restrictions, and our strict policy to avoid flying unless absolutely necessary have changed our plans. Staying in one place for an extended period has given us the opportunity to reflect and recharge and we don’t miss the stress of airports and lost luggage at all!

The archipelago in the shadow of COVID-19 has often felt like an alternate reality. One is able to social distance more effectively, the air feels cleaner, and the surroundings seem more protected. Life proceeds at a leisurely pace and sometimes I’ve forgotten, however briefly, that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. I’ve also gotten a lot done on my new novel (first draft complete!) and since the setting is a fictional island on the outskirts of the archipelago, there’s been an abundance of inspiration and fresh impressions. Above all, I’m very grateful to have this place my family and I can retreat to, especially as I think about those who have been sick with Covid-19 or lost loved ones, in addition to the devastating economic impact.

This insidious virus and its aftermath are far from behind us. If anything, it is having a resurgence and we must remain cautious and vigilant. It can strike anyone at any time. My Swecation has offered joy and solace but the summer will eventually end, and we’ll have to resume our modified form of human existence. Until then, I’m cherishing this time in the archipelago and hope these snapshots will convey moments of beauty and enjoyment amid the chaos and uncertainty.

There are so many idyllic vantage points in the archipelago; boats, beaches, and charming coves.


I can never get enough of these spectacular wildflowers!

I arranged store-bought blooms for a recent tablescape when we had friends over for lunch. Entertaining is a big part of the Swedish summer tradition since the warmer climate and relaxed atmosphere put everyone in a great mood!

We served Swedish classics: Skagenröra (shrimp with mayonnaise and dill), pan-fried perch, new potatoes, asparagus, and sugar snap peas. My sixteen-year-old son and his friend made the fish and it was perfect!

I love to read and enjoy my morning coffee outside. The roses in our garden have also exploded!

This summer has reminded us how fragile life is and gifted me with a renewed appreciation for homegrown pleasures. I hope your summer is filled with happy occasions; please stay safe and healthy!

My creative mojo has been tested numerous times during the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s been upended even further by the racial and social awakening gripping the United States in the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder. Both situations–and the general chaos of 2020–are never far from my mind and I’ve fluctuated between spurts of intense productivity and bouts of inactivity. But whenever I’m not writing, I am thinking, reading, discussing, observing, and drawing sustenance from intellectuals and creatives in my orbit. Three, in particular, are a source of inspiration: Andrea Pippins, Gina Vide, and Lola Ákínmádé Åkerström. We share many similarities as ex-pats living in Sweden; we’re married to Swedes, raising biracial and/or multicultural children, and pursuing careers that incorporate our creative passions. In this time of social distancing, I love following their lives and work on Instagram, so I asked this talented, accomplished trio to elaborate on the unprecedented moment we find ourselves in and how it has affected their creativity. I hope you enjoy this window into their minds as much as I did!

Andrea Pippins

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Andrea Pippins is an illustrator and author who has a passion for creating images that reflect what she wants to see in art, media, and design. Her work has been featured in Essence Magazine, The New York Times, and O: The Oprah Magazine. She has worked with brands such as Bloomberg, Broadly, ESPN, The High Line, Lenny Letter, Lincoln Center, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Andrea is the author of I Love My Hair, a coloring book featuring her illustrations celebrating various hairstyles and texture; Becoming Me, an interactive journal for young women to color, doodle, and brainstorm their way to a creative life; and We Inspire Me, a collection of essays, interviews, and advice on cultivating and empowering one’s own creative community. She also illustrated Young Gifted and Black and Step Into Your Power. Most recently, Andrea teamed up with Instagram to create stickers in honor of Juneteenth.

How did you spend your days in quarantine and/or social distancing?

We (my husband and toddler son) spent about 2.5 months at home. I already work from home, but my husband worked remotely during our self-quarantine and we kept our son home from preschool. It was quite an adjustment for all of us, but we made the most of our time. When possible, I [pregnant] worked on wrapping up projects before my due date, and my husband and I would take our son on walks or bike rides. I baked a lot with Isa and we read tons of books with him. It was challenging to keep him activated during the day, but I’m so glad we had that time with him before the new baby arrived.

Was it difficult to get inspired/motivated?

It wasn’t difficult to get inspired/motivated, my challenge was being able to act on those motivations. Because we were managing a schedule that involved juggling a toddler and trying to get work done, there wasn’t much downtime for reflection or executing the ideas that were emerging. I did try to do a little personal drawing here and there, which I shared as art prompts on Instagram, but for the most part, I collected my ideas in my sketchbook, idea book, or journal—surrendering to the fact that I would execute them later.

Why do you think innovation and creativity thrive in crisis?

A crisis often leaves us with new restrictions or a new way of being. When we are faced with those circumstances, we are forced to figure out how to do something we want to do in a new way. We use our imaginations, we experiment or improvise. In this unfamiliar state, we tend to feel freer to make mistakes and take chances. When we feel as though we have nothing to lose and don’t know what’s at stake, some of our best ideas emerge.

What is the strongest personal or general insight you’ve gained during this public health emergency (and period of social upheaval if you choose to reflect on that)?

For me, the insight I gain during this public health emergency–or what I was reminded of–has been to surrender. A lot of my frustration, sadness, and stress came from me not being able to do things the way I used to our how I wanted to do them. I was expecting my second child during our self-quarantine, I released a new book, and had to complete work before the arrival of our baby girl. I had to figure out how to manage all of this with very little time to myself. I realized the only thing I could do was just surrender by accepting the present moment and just doing what I could do. With that, the days became a little easier to navigate.

What are your goals within this new reality we will be facing for the foreseeable future?

This period has turned into a time of rest and reflection, incubating, and downloading. So I’ve been writing in my journal different ideas and projects I’d like to pursue in 2021 and beyond. They all relate to nurturing my full self. A few of them are to teach more (I used to teach graphic design on the college level and miss working with young artists and designers.), focus more on my personal work, and making sure all of this leaves space for things that bring me joy like my spiritual practice and time with my family and friends (whom I’ve missed terribly during the social distancing).

What is your advice to other creatives out there?

If possible, use this time to heal and rest, and imagine a new world.

Gina Vide

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Gina Vide possesses a lifelong passion for children, creativity and has worked professionally as a creative all of her life, including as a graphic designer, illustrator, artist-writer, photographer, installation consultant, prop stylist, and teacher on both sides of the Atlantic. These interests intersect on her blog, Willowday, and on Instagram, where she features many of her handmade projects. Gina is also the author of ABC Flower Safari. Parents and children alike will be captivated by the whimsical magical spell of Gina Vide’s enchanted flower animal world and its alphabet adventures.

How did you spend your days in quarantine and/or social distancing?

I’m a  mother of three teens and share a house between the city and Stockholm archipelago with them, my husband, and two dogs. We were all home, on-line with work or school, and found the biggest joys in the small: meals, dog walks, and Zoom calls. The gift of more free time at home meant small shared creative moments, like teaching my daughter to sew and enjoying every person in my family cooking with creative abandon. Regarding my work, I left my beautiful studio in Old Town to work from home after the birth of my firstborn. Although it had highs and lows, I work daily. 

Was it difficult to get inspired/motivated?

To begin with, it was a shock. However, I’m a “glass half full” person, am easily distracted by my own imagination, and am motivated to help others.  Within days of the quarantine beginning,  grown from an overwhelming desire to help, I co-produced an ebook with fun craft projects for parents with young kids now quarantining.  I do have a silver lining to this period: Spring and Summer are when flora and foliage and daylight are at the best for my foliage work. Daily walks are truly a part of my process and I’m thrilled to find endless inspiration in the world around me. Since we’re home this summer, I’ve even thrown myself into watching my own flowers grow. 

Why do you think innovation and creativity thrive in crisis?

I think innovation and creativity coexist in a crisis because our senses and purpose are heightened when constraints or issues materialize. Superfluous is cleared away and the things that matter stand out. 

What are your goals within this new reality we will be facing for the foreseeable future?

With the pandemic, I’ve started more local work than I’ve done in years. I feel the importance to cultivate creatives and community locally while always remaining a “citizen of the world.” As an ex-pat, I think I can be no other.  Since Instagram is a visual medium, I love it as a place for connection and armchair travel with my art and as a place to richly discover other talents, voices, and positive ideas. During the pandemic, it’s been such a lively community. During the recent social Black Lives Matter crisis, I find it to be an incredibly rich resource to find exciting Black artists, musicians, and voices to learn from and to support BLM and issues I care about.  

What is the strongest personal or general insight you’ve gained during this public health emergency (and period of social upheaval if you choose to reflect on that)?

Use your voice. Be kind. Small things matter, say hello, read, discuss, support others, and push yourself to walk what you talk and to do things you’ve maybe not considered doing before. Voice, literature, art,  music, and facts are important.  When we simply see one another, we can have conversations and connections; conversations lead to truths, solutions of differences, and dismantling our fears whether it’s racism or how the pandemic is being handles and/or solved.

What is your advice to other creatives out there?

Continue to show up for your work and also be forgiving of yourself. Small steps every day are important to long-term growth and serve as a daily commitment to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others and walk away from the voices that bring you down. I’ve gone so far as to save notes of kind notes of support into a file to read on the days when I need a boost. 

Lola Ákínmádé Åkerström

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Lola Ákínmádé Åkerström was born in Nigeria, educated in the United States, and is now based in Sweden. Her photography and travel writing are often characterized by vibrancy and hope. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, Slate, Travel Channel, Lonely Planet, Forbes, Fodor’s, AFAR, National Geographic Channel, Adventure Magazine, several in-flight magazines, and New York Times. Some of her articles and photography have been syndicated on MSNBC, Slate, Yahoo, New York Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Huffington Post, and Time Warner. In addition to contributing to several travel books, she’s the author of award-winning DUE NORTH and international bestselling LAGOM, available in 18 languages. Soon she’ll be sharing some exciting news about her debut novel, Afroswede, which follows the lives of three Black women in Sweden tied to the same man.

How did you spend your days in quarantine and/or social distancing?

I arrived back in Sweden mid-March when borders were beginning to get closed and countries were going into lockdown. So, I was grateful to be back in town to spend quarantine with my family. In terms of social distancing, I’ve been running bi-weekly group check-in calls with friends in Sweden to check in on them and how they’re adjusting to the new normal.

Was it difficult to get inspired/motivated?

The first three weeks were challenging. I had zero creativity and didn’t even touch my camera for weeks. Then I started taking better care of myself, clearing my mind, doing some morning rituals of silence, prayer, meditation, and affirmations. I also started getting a bit of exercise. Then my creativity slowly started seeping back in. While in quarantine, I was able to complete an online course through Harvard Business School online and I’m now about to launch my academy:

Why do you think innovation and creativity thrive in crisis?

Beyond thinking of creative ways and solutions to battle a crisis, I think innovation thrives when we’re forced to stand still and distractions are reduced. We begin to focus on the essential and deep work we need to be doing in the first place. We begin to realign and recenter ourselves to our purpose. And we gain more clarity on the most important aspects of our lives.

What is the strongest personal or general insight you’ve gained during this public health emergency (and period of social upheaval if you choose to reflect on that)?

I think the strongest piece of insight, beyond letting go of control, is realizing how much time I wasted on nonsense distractions in the past. And how, with laser focus and routine, I can accomplish so much more than I ever could in the past. The general insight showed me just how deeply interconnected we all are. I work primarily within the travel industry, which was the hardest hit and it was traumatic witnessing the ripple effect of the crisis tear through our community. 

What are your goals within this new reality we will be facing for the foreseeable future?

A friend of mine told me that as a freelancer, you have to be awake to make money, but as an entrepreneur, you make money while you’re asleep. That is what this crisis has really solidified for me. So, I’ve been investing in more ways where I can provide value digitally. 

What is your advice to other creatives out there?  

Beyond diversifying your income streams, start looking into ways of sharing your knowledge and getting paid for it as passive income.

TACK SÅ MYCKET, ANDREA, GINA & LOLA! Your words of wisdom resonate and it will remain exciting to follow your creative endeavors! 

Express Yourself 70's Social Post

Like so many others, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be serious, focused, and productive during this period of stay-at-home and social distancing. While I’ve made major strides with my new novel, being hyperfocused also left me feeling drained and depleted. The tipping point came when my nineteen-year-old daughter, Yasmine, remarked I seemed downcast and grumpy. Aside from bouts of pandemic melancholy, I blamed it on my writing woes, but ironically, I was experiencing forward momentum and should have been in a better headspace.

In deference to Yasmine, I analyzed my situation directly after her comment: papers scattered on the kitchen table, hair coiled and uncombed, outfitted in plaid pajama pants from Costco, snacking on bags of plantain chips yet sensing I was getting out of shape–all with the distressing din of news reports in the background. Whatever writing progress I had made was overshadowed by my solemn, desk-bound routine. It’s not like I hadn’t read articles about the importance of self-care during quarantine. Putting on real clothes. Incorporating one hour of physical activity into your day. Maybe even topping it all off with a glass of wine in the evening. But I was writing. Being productive. I didn’t have time to indulge in these simple pleasures and mood boosters.

Nevertheless, it was becoming clear amassing words on paper wouldn’t be enough to bolster my morale when the world was turned upside down. I’m grateful beyond measure to be safe, healthy, and surrounded by my family, but even under the best of circumstances, being “productive” does not guarantee peace of mind, sustain that creative spark, or inject a bolt of energy to your day. I was in a rut and needed a pick-me-up.

Along with silver lining, the word “joy” has popped up a lot as a coping mechanism to deal with pandemic anxiety: the Joy of Missing Out, the joy of staying in, the joy of small things, Arianna Huffington’s joy triggers. But I had retreated into survival mode for the first two months of #stayinghome and in the spirit of solidarity, denied myself the possibility of delighting in joyful experiences, no matter how little.

Unfortunately, our status quo is no longer temporary; co-existing with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future is our new reality. With that in mind, I’ve adopted a more proactive, optimistic approach. I’m still very humble and cautious in the face of this insidious virus, but I’ve also been making a conscious effort to steer my daily schedule and create “pockets of joy” in the midst of uncertainty. I define these “pockets of joy” as self-generated activities to nurture my mind, body, and soul. I’ve also included things I may have considered unnecessary and self-indulgent when the coronavirus outbreak began.

My daughter’s observation prompted some self-examination, and since then, I’ve been cognizant of filling every day with “pockets of joy”–even if the writing gets backlogged and I’m not as productive.

Lately, I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from:

Lengthy discussions with my kids about everything from Drake’s spectacular mansion in Architectural Digest to what my daughter might want to major in at university.

Taking short writing breaks and putting the manuscript aside on weekends. Coincidentally, glitches have been easier to spot after I’ve let the words incubate!

Stretching, working out (elliptical machine), or going for a walk in the morning. It’s an empowering start to the day and I feel the endorphin rush for hours afterward. Post-exercise, I also have better writing sessions and a brighter disposition :).

Mindful eating. Spending the extra time to consider what I consume has given me more control over my choices and increased my energy. My latest obsession is flatbread pizza–but in moderation!

Dancing with abandon in my kitchen! Our family is loving the old school 90s soundtrack from “The Last Dance.”

Organizing those messy drawers and cupboards. Going through my closet and donating what I no longer need. Decluttering has been cathartic, like shifting to a new phase with more clearly-defined priorities.

Watching/listening to IGTV videos. I’m hooked on cooking tutorials and author interviews. They make it look so easy!

Forcing myself to stay awake and read before I go to bed. I can’t wait to dive into These Ghosts Are Family, A Good Marriage, and Rodham.

Zoom Birthday Celebrations and Happy Hours with friends from around the world. I’ll put a festive top on or don a funny hat and open a bottle of something bold or bubbly. Sometimes we all talk at once, the audio is scratchy and the screen freezes, but seeing their faces and hearing their voices make up for it!

I’m sure my “pockets of joy” will evolve but at their core, they’re about finding balance. Balancing productivity with room to reflect, laugh, and live responsibly. I hope you’re finding your own “pockets of joy” during these challenging times.