What jet lag feels like

For the last few days, lying down has felt like being swallowed up. I sink as if my body is resting on moss, compressing the springy fauna and becoming part of the forest floor. My brain surrenders to the fog of jet lag and gives my body no choice but to resign itself to sleep.

Photograph of Laura in corpse pose on a mossy forest floorHaving returned to Copenhagen from the west coast of Canada a few days ago, I’m still adjusting to the nine hour time shift and the long, sleepless trip home. I have never been able to fall asleep on planes or in stiff gate-side seats, which means the two long flights and aimless hours at airports did not leave me feeling rested!

I remember travelling in the opposite direction (from Europe to Canada’s west coast) some years ago and going to a restorative yoga class the evening I landed. I managed to keep conscious throughout most of the practice, but the moss rose up and claimed my wakefulness during savasana. I managed to re-awaken with the rest of the class after savasana, but the teacher (who is also a friend) whispered to me afterwards that a few gentle snores escaped!

Sometimes sleep is exactly what is required and it can’t be fought! Perhaps, I need to make time for a restorative practice before long.

But, for now, life will not wait for the jet lag to pass and I’m left to battle the tiredness – although I hope it will only be for a few more days. Thankfully, jet lag doesn’t last forever.

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Rest deeply

To relax is to REST deeplyIf you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, burdened, fatigued, dog-tired (hundtræt), over-extended, beat, confused, spent, exhausted, weary, over-committed or just tired and you’re in the Copenhagen-area, come join me for deep rest on 25 February from from 15.00-17.30 for a Restorative Wonderland.

This two and a half hour workshop at Hot Yoga Østerbro is a deep restorative yoga practice with gentle mantra music and a long yoga nidra (guided relaxation) that will help you rest deeply and refuel for your regular life. The passive therapeutic practice of restorative yoga provides deep rest for tired bodies, relaxation for busy minds and rejuvenation for the entire nervous system.

The workshop features gentle mantra music and deep yoga nidra (guided relaxation). It costs 250 kr. and is limited to 8 students.

See the Restorative Wonderland page for more information and registration.

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Baking in translation

Baking in Translation - Cinnamon almond oat cookies

Cinnamon almond oat cookies

Adjusting to a new kitchen, new tools and a new oven is always a challenge when settling into a new home. Add in the difficulties of a new language and new ingredients in a different country and things get even more complicated! The various measuring systems also throw in another dimension of complexity…

Fahrenheit or Celsius? Or whatever ‘gas mark‘ means? Metric or imperial? Grams or cups or ounces? Is a kitchen scale required? Or a set of measuring cups?

A few years ago my sister-in-law knocked me for a loop with the revelation that there are American and metric cups (a US cup is 240ml and a UK/Australian cup is 250ml) and now I take an extra moment to determine the nationality of a recipe author before blindly following their proportions.

While I grew up using volume measurements (cups and tablespoons) for dry ingredients, the system of weighing ingredients (using grams and a digital kitchen scale) now seems much simpler. I love the ease of plopping a bowl on the scale and zero-ing out the scale with every new ingredient I add. Although teaspoons and pinches still rule for smaller increments – measuring out a gram and a half just seems impossible!

Conversions between grams and ounces and cups (I use UK cups, being a Danish-based Canadian the commonwealth still holds sway) are inexact at best (these Cooking Equivalent Measurements can help), so I like it when recipe authors indicate what consistency or texture the dough or batter should have before baking. That way I know if I should adjust with a bit more flour or an extra shot of liquid.

Sometimes translating between languages for ingredients is a bit of work, too. Rest assured that caster sugar is the same as white, granulated sugar regardless of whether it’s spelled (or is that spelt?) with an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ (caster or castor) and most oatmeal (large-flake, rolled, Irish, Scottish or instant) will work in the majority of baked goods.

Here’s a super-simple recipe for several dozen delicious cookies using multiple systems of measurements. The batter is very sticky before it chills in the fridge, so don’t worry if it seems like the proportion of liquid to dry ingredients isn’t quite right. The melted butter (or margarine if you want to make the recipe dairy-free) cools quickly in the fridge and yields a much firmer dough.

Happy baking – and translating!

Cinnamon almond oat cookies

Ingredients

  • 85g (3oz or a heaped 1/2 cup) almonds
  • 100g (3 1/2oz or just under 1/2 pound) unsalted butter or margarine
  • 100ml (3 1/2oz or just shy of 1/2 cup) maple syrup
  • 140g (4 1/2oz or 1 cup + 1 tbsp) all purpose flour (regular white flour)
  • 1/4 tsp (1/25oz or 1.5g) baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarb)
  • 110g (4oz or 1/2 cup) white sugar (also known caster/castor sugar or berry sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp (1/2oz or 6g) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp (1/25oz or 1 1/2g) fine sea salt
  • 140g (5oz or 1 1/2 cups) rolled oats (the kind you’d make porridge with – not oat flour)
  • 1 egg
  • A small spoonful of cinnamon & a large spoonful sugar for rolling, if desired

Method

  • Toast the almonds in a pan over medium-low heat; when they are fragrant, but before they brown (about 8 minutes), remove from the heat and cool slightly before chopping
  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F, using the convection setting if your oven has it, and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Place the butter and maple syrup in saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted; stir together and set the mixture aside to cool slightly
  • In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, salt and oats
  • Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk with a fork; add a tablespoon of the butter/syrup mixture to the egg while stirring
    • This raises the temperature of the egg and ensures that it won’t turn into scrambled eggs when mixed with the warm butter and syrup – also known as tempering
  • Mix the tempered egg into saucepan with the remaining butter and maple syrup, stirring continuously until well-combined
  • Pour egg/butter/syrup mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and gently combine
  • Stir in the chopped almonds until evenly distributed; the dough will be soft and sticky
  • Refrigerate the cookie dough for about 10 minutes to allow the mixture to firm up and become easier to handle
  • Roll teaspoons of the batter into balls (they should be about the size of unshelled walnuts) and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture if you want
    • I like the extra cinnamon sugar, but the cookies are good without the extra step (and additional dirty dish!) of rolling them in addition spice and sweetness
  • Place the balls on baking sheets at least 2cm (1 inch) apart and gently flatten with a spoon or your finger
  • Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes (15 minutes if not using a convection setting) until the cookies spread out and the edges are firm
  • After the cookies come out of the oven, allow them to cool on the baking sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool
  • Makes about three dozen, two-bite-size cookies
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Dark days, inner light

Your inner light lights up your outer world. - Matshona DhliwayoIn the long, dark days of February, it’s worth remembering that we can create our own light. The greyness in Copenhagen is sometimes oppressive (the clouds hang so low!), but we can tap into our inner light and allow it to illuminate our outer worlds.

“Your inner light lights up your outer world.”

~ Matshona Dhliwayo
Canadian-based philosopher, entrepreneur and author

Thankfully, the days are starting to get longer and the promise of Spring is creeping closer! And, even more thankfully, I have the joys of chatting with family, teaching yoga, spending time with friends, walking the dog, enjoying food and drink, practicing yoga and loving my husband to fuel my internal light until the Earth’s rotation around the Sun brings on more daylight!

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Meringue over meditation

Easy hazelnut chocolate cookiesMy commitment to daily meditation in March faded almost immediately after my mid-March update – and my commitment to posting seems to have ended with it 😉 I have, however, been making an inordinate number of meringue-based treats! Spring has been all about whipping up egg whites to use in pavlovas or cookies.

These Nutella-inspired confections are based on an Italian recipe for Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but delicious) cookies that has just three ingredients (egg white, sugar, ground hazelnuts). I’ve added a bit of depth with vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar) and amped up the deliciousness by covering them with chocolate.

These really aren’t that ugly (especially when topped with chocolate!), but they sure are easy – and delicious! 🙂 If only committing to daily meditation was as delicious as meringue!

Hazelnut crunch cookies

Ingredients
  • 1 large egg white
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (if you have it available, use 3g vanilla sugar and cut down the regular sugar by 3g)
  • 100g (2/3 cup) ground hazelnuts (ground almonds also work)
  • 80g (1/3 cup + 1/2 tbsp) sugar
  • 80g (1/2 cup) baker’s chocolate (most chocolate chips contain wax and won’t melt well, so stay away from those)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F) and line baking sheet with parchment
  • Beat egg white and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form
  • Combine sugar and nuts; then gently fold mixture into beaten egg whites
  • Spoon teaspoons of batter on baking sheet, making sure they have a little room to spread
  • Bake until golden brown – about 30 minutes
  • Remove cookies from baking sheets and cool on wire rack
  • Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave
  • Dollop each cookie with a bit of melted chocolate and allow chocolate to set, which takes at least half an hour – you may need to hide the cookies in a cool location to keep from eating them while the chocolate is still soft 😉
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Mid-March measure

Laura sitting cross-legged on a bench, meditating at nightI’ve been successful thus far in my commitment to meditate at least once a day in March. In fact, I’m at 16 consecutive days of meditation because I jumped the gun by starting on February 28 😉

So far I’ve done my Om Shreem Mahalakshmiyei Namaha meditation mostly at home, but I’ve also sat and silently chanted in an airport, an empty hotel conference room, and my brother’s guest room. I’ve meditated with my dog, Sofie, curled up next to me, while lying down in savasana (corpse pose), and with my legs up the wall. I’ve meditated in yoga gear (stretchy pants and a tank top) and in jeans. I’ve meditated in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. I’ve meditated as part of a yoga practice and as a quick 10 minute stand alone.

I have not sought out a regular meditation routine (like a specific time of day or location), but have been able to fit it into my life without feeling like it’s an imposition. I have embraced the idea that there’s no wrong way to meditate. Simply sitting and being mindful is enough.

And it’s even been warm enough in Calgary to meditate outdoors in March! (Although winter has made its return after a few days of 15º+ temperatures – it’s currently snowing!) I suspect I’ll be meditating indoors for the rest of March 🙂

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Haircut!

A very fluffy Sofie dog (before a haircut) in the snowNowhere is the amazing transformative power of a haircut more visible than with my dog, Sofie. From sedate shaggy fluffball… to puppy-like sleek (almost scrawny!) in a few short hours.

We let her coat grow a little longer than usual to cope with the snow and cold in Calgary, but last week it warmed up a bit and Sofie’s fur started to seem like too much to manage.  While she consents to being brushed (with periodic snaps at the brush), it’s certainly not her favourite activity and we weren’t able to keep up the thrice weekly grooming sessions necessary to keep her coat from matting.

Sleek Sofie dog after her haircutSo I pulled out the clippers, slipped Sofie a little Rescue Remedy, and got to shearing.

A couple hours later, an entirely new dog emerged!

After the mild trauma of a serious grooming, Sofie tends to embrace her short coat with a puppy-like attitude. Her outlook on life always seems lighter after a haircut and she appears to revel in the new sensations that come with less fur. She also rediscovers how much she loves getting pet, which leads to lots more Sofie snuggles 🙂

Unfortunately, Calgary’s weather slipped back to winter immediately after Sofie’s haircut, but the forecast is calling for warmer temperatures – and her non-fur coats to kept her toasty in the meantime!

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March is for meditating

Laura sitting in easy pose meditatingLarge-scale change has been a constant for me over the last year and a half (new languages! new cities! new places to travel! new residences!) and, despite being somewhat settled in Calgary, there are still many more changes coming. To help me manage this upheaval, I’m undertaking a personal meditation challenge and committing to daily meditation for the month of March.

I’ve selected a Sanskrit meditation for abundance; partially to encourage my levels of energy and enthusiasm and partially just because I like the way it sounds 😉 I’ll be chanting 108 repetitions of Om Shreem Mahalakshmiyei Namaha along with Deva Premal for the next 31 days and hoping that the regularity helps me feel content and calm.

The words are relatively simple (no long complicated Sanskrit phrases!), it takes under 10 minutes, and Deva Premal’s version is well-paced and easy to follow (take a listen on YouTube, if you’d like). I’ll have very few excuses not to stick to meditating for abundance in March!

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Jewish Museum Munich

Jewish Museum Munich sign at entryA recent post on The Local.de about Stolpersteine in Munich explained why I saw lots of these brass plaque commemorating Holocaust victims in other German cities, but none in the capital of Bavaria. Munich has a lot of Jewish culture and history, which made me think it was odd that they didn’t have these cobblestone-sized memorials on the streets.

Before we left Munich, I visited the Jewish Museum and really enjoyed their collections. I probably have a greater interest in Jewish culture and history than the average person (my undergrad studies focused on Old Testament literature and its historical Judaic context), but I suspect travellers curious about Germany’s history would be able to spend an hour or two wandering this four-story institution.

The heart of the permanent collection (located in the basement) features artifacts from Jewish life – things like Torah scrolls, Seder plates, Tefilin (small wearable prayer boxes), and Shofars (horns) – along with replicas that visitors are welcome to touch. An interactive map of Munich shows important Jewish sites (many destroyed during WWII) and there’s a touching floor-to-ceiling graphic novella.

My favourite bits of the lower floor were the items selected from the vast Jewish Museum holdings by individuals; each piece gave its historical importance and provenance along with the reasons that person picked it. Stand outs were a gorgeous embellished Torah cover from Munich’s Nazi-destroyed synagogue and a section of a cupboard from a concentration camp survivor. It was very interesting to learn why the artifacts were selected and examine their respective intricacies.

The top two floors house temporary exhibits and a permanent library. The exhibit on Jews between the two world wars (entitled WAR! Jews between the fronts 1914-1918) spanned both floors and described how Jewish Germans fought for the German side in WWI, contributed to the war effort in general, and how Jewish veterans were treated in the lead up to WWII. It was eye-opening and moving and gave me insight into the anti-semitism that pre-dated Hitler’s rise to power.

A shelf of books at the Jewish Museum MunichGiven my love of the written word and my Masters in Library and Information Studies, it’s no surprise that the library captivated me most of all. Despite being a relatively small collection (likely under a thousand volumes), it was very diverse; novels, old encyclopedias, art books, graphic novels, pamphlets, poetry, magazines… in a range of languages – German, English, Hebrew, French, Czech, Russian – even Arabic!

Rather than following a standard classification system, the library was arranged by subject matter (noted on the spine label by a letter) and then accessioned. This system made for great thematic browsing as all the works on a particular subject matter were clumped together regardless of format or language.

Perhaps because it was so academically interesting and well-curated, my visit to the Jewish Museum Munich was rewarding and enriching – not depressing or anger-inducing as I’ve found at some Holocaust-centric exhibits. If you’re in Munich and want a break from Bavarian culture and beer, Jewish Museum Munich offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s Jewish-ness.

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Happy birthday, dad!

Happy birthday, dad! Thank you blood donors!Today is my dad’s birthday. A birthday he likely wouldn’t be celebrating without the generosity of blood donors.

Last spring, my dad had a health incident which required extraordinary life-saving measures, including multiple blood transfusions. He received exceptional medical care, but probably wouldn’t have survived without replacing at least some of the blood that he lost.

My dad was a blood (and platelet) donor for decades before health complications made him ineligible and there was something poetic about the system he’d supported for so many years paying him back in kind. Even more poetically, there’s the slight possibility that my husband’s blood made it to my dad. My father and husband share a blood type and we donated blood just a few days prior to my dad’s hospitalization.

Be nice to me - I gave blood today!

My sticker from donating blood last week

If you are eligible to donate blood (and not terrified of needles!), I urge you to do it. It takes about an hour, it’s relatively painless (although not entirely, I can’t lie about that), they give you cookies and lots of ‘thank yous’, and it’s the easiest way I know to directly help save a life.

The basic requirements to donate blood in Canada are being over 17 and in good health. (There are more eligibility restrictions on the Canadian Blood Services website, which don’t apply to most people, but sadly mean that gay men can’t donate.) It’s easy to find a nearby clinic through the Canadian Blood Services website and use their 1-800 number to book an appointment.

I am so appreciative of all the donors who gave of themselves (literally!) to help save my dad’s life. Several months after his health scare, my dad is doing really well, but I shudder to think of what would have happened if my dad had been unable to receive those transfusions.

If you can donate blood, please do! 

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