Category Archives: ramblings

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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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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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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The good ol’ hockey game

A grinning Laura in the stands at a Hitmen hockey gameJust a few weeks after landing in Calgary, I found myself at the Saddledome watching a Calgary Hitmen hockey game. How stereotypically Canadian!

I can’t say that I missed watching live hockey while in Europe (I’ve never been a huge sports fan), but it was nice to be doing something so typically Canadian with other Canadians. There were families with kids, groups of teenagers, a cluster or two of slightly rowdy young men, and couples on dates; the same demographic that show up at rinks all across the country, regardless of the league or the skill of the players.

While watching the game, I ate salty popcorn and nachos with plasticky cheese and pickled jalapeno peppers, washed down with overpriced beer; the same ‘cuisine’ available at minor league hockey games everywhere in Canada.

I cheered when the home team scored (which happened right in front of us once!) and booed when the visitors got a goal (although the visiting team was from nearby Red Deer and their fans came close to drowning out the local crowd). I applauded the little kids who took the ice between periods, bought a 50/50 ticket, and watched the zambonis resurface the ice during intermissions. Just like millions of Canadians do at hockey games in every province and territory.

Having attended many hockey games (even without really liking the sport!), I knew what to expect and how to behave. I didn’t worry about language barriers or not understanding the basics of the game or inadvertently offending those around me through my lack of cultural experience. For a few hours, I was just a typical Canadian engaged in a typically Canadian pastime. A nameless hockey fan.

There were a few things I knew missed while abroad (like natural peanut butter!), but I hadn’t realized how much I missed feeling like just another face in the crowd. I hadn’t realized how comforting it can be to be typical.

 

 

Thanks to Stompin’ Tom Connors for the post title 🙂 Another typically Canadian trait is knowing at least some of the words to his most popular work – The Hockey Song!

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Snow & settling in

Sofie the dog pausing from a deep sniff in the deep snowWe’ve been in Calgary for about a week and a half and are starting to adjust to the dry climate, cold temperatures, and bright sunshine. The windchill can be harsh, but actually seeing the sun in the winter (unlike the typically grey skies in Vancouver or Berlin) offsets at least some of the wintry pain. Sofie’s enjoyment of the deep snow also makes the winter weather more bearable!

Despite being shorter than the drifts, Sofie loves running through the snow – snuffling and sniffing as she goes. She usually winds up with a very icy beard and frequently needs some thawing time after we get back inside. At least she’s consented to wearing booties to ward off the worst of the cold, prevent ice balls forming on her feet, and protect her paw pads from the salt and other chemicals used to melt the ice on sidewalks and driveways.

She was baffled by the booties initially and it was hilarious watching her trying to lift up all four paws at once in protest, but after a few minutes Sofie figured them out and now lets us put them on without a fight.

Sofie’s proven herself to be pretty adaptable and has very much made herself comfortable… an inspiration to my and my husband!

Staying with my sister-in-law and her family has certainly helped with feeling like we belong. They’ve made us feel incredibly welcome and comfortable – even though we’re still half living out of duffle bags!

We’re both looking forward to really settling in – renting an apartment we’ll be in for longer than a few months, finding jobs, developing our hobbies (cycling, squash, and German lessons for him; yoga, volunteering, and a better command of French for me) and learning about our new city.

If you have any tips for Calgary, please let me know!

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A wish for bravery & joy

A wish for bravery and joyI’m stealing a New Year’s wish from Neil Gaiman to share this year. He posts these kind of wishes most years and they’re all really lovely!

This one rings particularly true as I step into a very unknown future! There’s a whole lot of newness to look forward to in Calgary (job, home, yoga studio, friends, climate), very little that’s nailed down, and infinite possibilities for happiness!

It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

Neil Gaiman, author
New Year’s wish from 31 December, 2011

 

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and an incredibly brave and joyful 2015!

Walk into the dark without fear

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In Remembrance

Travelling through Europe and visiting sites heavily impacted by the two World Wars makes Remembrance Day feel particularly poignant this year.

White grave markers against green grass and rich brown soil

Grave markers at the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery in Belgium.

From cobblestone memorials for Holocaust victims in Berlin to photographs of bomb-devastated German cities at the German National Museum of Contemporary History (Haus der Geschichte) in Bonn; from the massive Canadian Memorial in Vimy to the many roadside memorials in rural France and Belgium, this past year has allowed me to experience war in a highly impactful way.

My first experience with a war cemetery was last January while driving from Antwerp to Bruges. We had taken a minor highway and stumbled across the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery. I was unprepared for the emotions that came up while walking along the rows of grave markers.

My heart swelled with pride, my stomach clenched with horror, my throat choked with the sense of loss, and my eyes welled with tears. I thought of all the people who fought against fascism and Nazism. All the people that didn’t make it home to their families. All the people injured and traumatized. All the grave markers without names. All the freedoms granted to subsequent generations.

We came across many war memorials during the three weeks we spent in a camper travelling across France. Every memorial, marker, and cemetery brought on that same convoluted gut-punch, choked-up sadness tinged with appreciation.

Four flags and a long set of stairs mark the German war cemetery entrance

Entrance to the German cemetery at Mont-de-Huisnes.

And it wasn’t just the Canadian memorials that were emotional.

We stopped at a war cemetery in Normandy (Mont-de-Huisnes) that houses almost 12,000 German dead – from both the First and Second World Wars. I didn’t feel the sense of pride that Canadian or Commonwealth memorials bring on, but the feeling of loss and futility was certainly there.

So many dead. So many families broken. So many loved ones lost. So many stories untold.

War cemeteries are light on context. There might be a plaque explaining the battle or operations that precipitated needing such mournful grounds, but generally the tombstones are left to speak for themselves. Memories of high school humanities and Wikipedia searches filled in some of the details for us, but often emotion took precedence over history.

Visiting the Juno Beach Centre, at the site of the Canadian D-Day landing in Normandy, and the privately funded Canada War Museum (which also had a Polish contingent) near Adegem provided some necessary background. As did the small info centre at the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

Two Canadian grave markers

Dual grave of Canadians who died in the same plane at the Dieppe Cemetery

Sadly, there was no such context for our stop in Dieppe as the 19th August 1942 Memorial Museum is open very limited hours in the winter.

On our trip to France last week, we specifically visited Dieppe to learn more about the predominantly Canadian raid on German-occupied territory that took place there on 19 August, 1942. Almost 60% of the over 6,000 men that went ashore in the Dieppe Raid were killed, injured, or taken prisoner. And the loses in the skies and at sea were calamitous as well.

The magnitude of the operation was clear as marker after marker gave the same date of death – 19 August, 1942. A few pairs of brothers were buried beside each other and there were a number of dual graves with Air Force members who must have gone down in the same place.

Imagining the process of sorting out human remains and respectfully interring them brings up that stomach clench of reality again.

How horrible must that have been. How awful to see your comrades fall. How tortuous to identify the dead. And how dreadful to convey the news to their families.

The limestone Monument at Vimy Ridge

The Vimy Memorial Monument.

After Dieppe, we stopped at Vimy – the site of a major Canadian battle in World War I, which has since come to symbolize Canada’s coming of age as a nation. In addition to the giant limestone monument honouring Canadians who risked or gave their lives in the First World War, the Vimy Ridge site contains graveyards, smaller memorials, and preserved tunnels, trenches, and craters from frontline fighting.

Seeing the proximity of the trenches and the deep craters from shells, bombs, and mines was a harrowing sight, but that distress was trumped when we reached the giant limestone monument erected in the mid-1930s (and pictured on the back of Canadian $20 bills).

The lower walls of the monument are inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France whose final resting place was unknown. Thousands of unidentified bodies buried in nameless graves. Not being able to identify soldiers after their deaths (for whatever reason… all the scenarios I can imagine are simply awful) deeply troubled me.

One of the cemeteries at Vimy has a plaque inscribed “Their Names Liveth Evermore.” But many of the tombstones have no names; they read “A Soldier of the Great War | Known Unto God.” Sometimes a regiment name as well, but often just a country – and occasionally not even that basic detail.

Dieppe Cemetery

Rows of grave markers at the Dieppe Cemetery.

I was more upset leaving Vimy than after any previous war memorial or cemetery. The monument eloquently expresses the grief and sadness felt after the First World War, but yet the Second World War arose out of the reparations of what was presumed to be the only Great War. The sheer volume of tombstones inscribed with ‘Known Unto God’ clearly reflects the chaos and horror of war, but we are unable to stop repeating it.

The scope of all the cemeteries, all the memorials, all the monuments shakes me. It’s one thing to hear the figures (more than 17 million civilian and military deaths in WWI and an astonishing 22-25 million military deaths and 38-55 million civilian deaths in WWII) and quite another to stand amongst the rows of gravestones commemorating the real human sacrifice. The white stones carved with maple leaves mark the final resting places of some of my countrymen – 61,000 Canadian soldiers killed in WWI and more than 42,000 in WWII. Part of the over 118,000 Canadians who have died while serving our country in uniform.

Visiting war memorials, monuments, and cemeteries has really driven home the enormity and incredible loss of war for me. The quiet moments spent walking along the aisles of white stones are among the most profound I’ve experienced in the last year.

Remembrance. Sorrow. Gratitude. Pride. And above all, the fervent hope that war will be no more.

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Book overboard

Bookcase with 'begone writing guilt' textI came back from the yoga retreat in the Czech Republic feeling relaxed and happy. Maybe a little too relaxed as my drive to write entirely disappeared.

The perfect balance of scheduled activities and free time at the retreat left me a lot of thinking space, which included pondering my ambition to write a book. I’ve been mulling over writing about breath and breathing from a variety of perspectives,1 but haven’t buckled down and gotten much of anything done.

No solid outline, nothing drafted, just a bit of research, some scattered ideas, and a few bookmarked websites. My initial goal was to have an outline complete by the end of 2013, but almost 10 months have passed and I have found all sorts of other activities to occupy my time.

With the space to think about my nebulous dream to write a non-fiction book as enjoyable and informative as Mary Roach’s Stiff, I realized that I don’t have the necessary ambition – at least, not right now. I’m unwilling to muster the motivation and discipline to make it happen, which is making me feel guilty and delinquent. Those feelings, in turn, make me less willing to commit to writing and less likely to produce anything meaningful.

So, I’m tossing the idea of writing a book overboard. I’m abandoning my thesis on breath and breathing… and letting go of guilt.

Perhaps I’ll circle back to the idea of writing a book later on, but for now I’ll content myself with posting travelogues and recipes!

 

 

 

1 Possible perspectives on breath and breathing:

  • physical – drawing on my own experiences with blocked breathing and nasal surgery
  • spiritual – informed by my religious studies and yoga background
  • athletic – tapping a network of athletic experts and high-level athletes for insight
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Permission to be yourself

You need no one's permission to be yourself.While at an isolated yoga retreat, I read an article in Quartz about a three-day work week. In this very business-focused publication was a gem that fit in perfectly with all the self-help peace-love-and-happiness philosophy that a yoga retreat implies:

You need no one’s permission to be yourself.

Mohit Satyanand
Entrepreneur, mountain-dweller, actor

At least in this instance, the business and spiritual worlds agree: discover who you are and don’t let anyone prevent you from being true to that.

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