Category Archives: winter

A Winter Wonderland

Here are some photos of Helsinki during this very rare and cold winter! My descriptions are lame because it is late and I am tired!

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View from my apt. window

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Dreamy

frosty trees

Frosty Tree

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Frosty Bush

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Frosty Limbs

Since I do not have a good camera with me on this trip, I am sure others are getting spectular photos of Helsinki this week. The fog created almost an inch of flat, paperlike frost on each limb yesterday, but today the fog was lighter. I hope to get more and better photos in the future and am kicking myself for not having a good camera!!!!!!!  I feel like I am in the middle of Dr. Zhivago!

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Filed under #ClimateChange, #Finland, #Helsinki, #Suomi, Global Warming, Granny Pants, nature, winter

A True Cultural and Culinary Adventure

I am not the type of adventure traveler who dares to climb jagged mountaintops with ropes and harnesses or bungee jump from ominously tall bridges. Instead, when I travel, I brave the new territory within the families of other cultures and countries by living in their homes, participating in their celebrations,  and most importantly, by observing and participating in the preparation of meals in the kitchen–where much is revealed about a culture and its values. By following this adventure trail throughout my life, I have absorbed many amazing and valuable insights, including culinary and nutritional secrets. What follows is definitely a highlight in my cultural kitchen adventures, the making of traditional Finnish Rye Bread. (If you just want the recipe, skip to the CAPS; the rest of the text is the story.)

As I reflect on my experiences to date of this Finnish Adventure, I must acknowledge that this breadbaking process has to be the highlight. Many people live a lifetime in a country, or study its history—yet never experience what it was like for early citizens.

Of course, breadbaking and dark rye bread is not the sole experience of the Finnish culture, but actually, it was and still is in many respects, the sustainence of the culture, the people! I feel so grateful to have taken part in this vital practice and am so grateful to Ulla Engestrom and her family for providing it!

Coincidentally, it seems like this dense Finnish Rye Bread we spent 3 days making will also be the new vogue in the coming era of food trends according to a story on CNN this month: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/01/04/tips.eating.better/index.html. (I have to confess that I DO have a habit of being ahead of my time!) 

But CNN didn’t say anything about the value of sour, though there is sure to be a study coming out in 5 years that shows that bread made with sour dough starter has some kind of magical, medical quality too. And this was sour, dense rye bread, believe me. Wow! The taste comes from the 5+ generations this sourdough starter has been in the family of my dear friend Ulla-Maaria Engestrom, without “breaking the chain.” (Ulla was my cohort on this brazen culinary crusade. Neither of us would have even attempted it without the other.)

*A sourdough starter needs replenishing frequently to prevent it from dying. A fresh starter in the refrigerator needs new flour added about every 12 days. The longer a starter is alive, the more sour and flavorful it becomes. So imagine what kind of magic is brewing is in this sourdough starter after a few hundred years or longer!) These Finnish ancestors didn’t watch CNN or wait for a study to come out; they just knew what was good and they knew that the secret is in the starter! Due to the cold climate, the Finns have found an easier way to maintain starter (or what they call the “root”) by freezing it. This makes it less time intensive to maintain. 

Now, we get down to business. Where did I leave off? (If you missed Part 1-Please read first:  https://grannypants.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/a-finnish-christmas-dream-come-true/  

Next, I must qualify the inconsistency of what is to follow. Not only was this process stressful from the point of the pressure we were under to make 8 loaves of bread with a recipe we had never used before in an oven we had never used before, while being surrounded by little ones, a feverish baby, as well as my lack of knowledge of the language, I found out later a few things that make it veritably miraculous that we pulled this off! 

You see, I have been baking bread for over 35 years now. In fact, I used to bake and sell my homemade bread 25+ years ago in Loveland, Colorado. I had my own sourdough starter and rye bread recipe and prided myself on the taste of my bread. 

So, you can imagine the pressure I felt when my Ulla informed me well towards the end of the process that she was receiving the details of the recipe over the phone from two different grandmothers, sisters who were each over 85 years old, and who each disliked the other’s bread recipe! The comedy of this moment was all I could embrace because I found out about this at the point when it was too late to do anything; the bread was already in its final rising. I laughed and performed my third prayer that everything would work out. I had my doubts all along because it wasn’t looking like I knew it should, because I DID know how it should look, although I admit I even felt like a newbie bread baker in the wisdom and presence of over 5 generations from the homeland! 

How did we do it? I will post what we did and then I will post what I think we should have done in italics right after each step. I think these adjustments will yield a better, more edible product, even though we were actually able to eat the finished product. 

Dense Finnish Rye Bread 

Day 1 

  • TAKE 400 GRAMS (0.8 LBS.) OF STARTER DOUGH OUT OF FREEZER (If you don’t have this ancient starter, you can make your own with 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water, 1 packet of yeast, 1/4 cup of flour, and let sit for a day in a warm place, stirring occasionally. Then you would follow this recipe but consider and subtract the water content of your starter when measuring the water in day 2. Use the amount of yeast I recommend as well below  in the Day 2 step, which is in addition to your starter yeast.)  
  • LET IT MELT IN THE REFRIGERATOR (If it is frozen)
  • MEANWHILE BUY 5 KILOS (APPROX. 10 LBS.) FRESH RYE FLOUR- LIPERI GRAINERY, or grocery store, or buy rye berries and grind them yourself. (The Vitamix can do this, which is one of my very favorite, versatile and valuable kitchen tools.)

Day 2 

  • 8:30AM –TAKE UNWASHED/SALTED 5 GALLON BUCKET & RINSE SALT OUT QUICKLY (bucket comes from the grandmothers (Mummis)
  • TAKE STARTER DOUGH OUT OF REFRIGERATOR & PUT INTO
    Add 4 1/2 liters of lukewarm water

    Add 4 1/2 liters of lukewarm water

     BOTTOM OF BUCKET 

  • PUT 4.5 LITERS OF LUKEWARM WATER & 1 square of yeast (this is the equivalent of about 2 packets of dry yeast)  & MIX WITH ENOUGH FLOUR TO MAKE IT THE CONSISTENCY OF THICK SOUP (Okay, this is where we made the biggest mistake right off the bat! I didn’t have the full information at the time of Day 2. From my experience, I never put all of the yeast in the starter mix at this time. I usually put 1/3 of it or so and let that sour for the day before actual baking and then I add the rest of the yeast in the next day just before adding the remainder of the flour. But, I think the ancestors know best, so I would also add all of the yeast in this  step.  However, considering how absolutely dense the final product was, I would double the yeast. This is for 8 loaves, so I would add 2 squares of yeast or 4-5 packets of dry yeast. We actually did NOT add any yeast at this time and found out much later that we needed to add all of it. 
Eliel stirring 1st. mixture

Eliel stirring 1st. mixture

  • STIR PERIODICALLY THROUGHOUT THE DAY- SET IN A WARM PLACE- COVERED YET WITH A PLACE FOR THE AIR TO ESCAPE  Just a little background here. The stick I am holding to the left may
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    Ella, Granny Pants, and the Amazing, Ancient, Wooden Whisk

    resemble something a caveman used, and probably could have been! Today, it is actually being used as a powerful whisk, which is necessary when you are mixing what we were mixing in a 5 gallon bucket. I don’t know what type of wood it is, but it is very strong. 

  •    BY 3PM, IT SHOULD BE LIKE PORRIDGE (Now this is another place
    Sourdough Starter with Yeast, Warm Water & Enough Flour to Be Soupy like Porridge

    Sourdough Starter with Yeast, Warm Water & Enough Flour to Be Soupy like Porridge-Notice the Fine Mixing Tool!

     where cultural differences can really create confusion. What I thought was “porridge” was not what the Finnish know as “porridge.” In a comical revelation, I went to stir the mix later that morning and found it to be much thicker. Ulla and her father had added more rye flour because it hadn’t been like porridge–as they know it. You see porridge is oatmeal and the way my friends prepare porridge (purro) in Finland is much thicker than my own reference. When I heard “porridge” I thought of my own idea of a more viscous substance. Ulla’s father, Pekka was the only real witness to this process that we had available. We were in the house he was born and raised in. Who knows how many times he saw that bread being baked throughout his life. We hailed to his wisdom! Do not question authority!  Due to the science this bread baking and the fact that there is no additional sweetener for the yeast to feed off of, I assume this is the reason the mixture needs more flour added than I have added to my own mixture in the past. I usually add a little molasses to help darken and feed the yeast, but this would still interfere with the sour quality, so I guess I have learned something here. The yeast needs more flour in this bubbly, first sitting, which it will feed off of instead of any added sweetener.

  •  Day 3

  

  • MORNING- ADD (3 Tbsp.) SALT & ENOUGH FLOUR TO BE STIFF. LET   SIT FOR 2 HOURS- COVERED WITH CLOTH (This begins the process when you really value the strength of this wooden whisk. Actually, Jyri-Eliel’s father had to step in and help with this mixing while I held onto the bucket. The grandmothers had been concerned with our ability to handle this process and at that moment, I understood why!) 

    3rd. Day after adding more flour

    3rd. day after adding more flour

  • ABOUT 1 1/2 HOURS AFTER THIS LAST STEP, IF YOU ARE USING A BRICK OVEN, START
    Eliel

    Eliel helping mix the flour on 3rd. day before mixing required 2 adults

    HEATING THE OVEN WITH A LOT OF WOOD-BIRCH IS HOTTEST 

  • TWO HOURS AFTER SITTING. THEN, TURN OUT ONTO FLOURED BOARD. This was not as easy as one would think.
  • TAKE OUT A ½ LITER approx.(1 1/2 c.) OF THE DOUGH & PUT IN FREEZER TO SAVE FOR NEXT BATCH
  •  KNEAD THE BREAD UNTIL IT IS BOUNCY (This is kind of a joke because rye flour doesn’t really have as much gluten as some other flours and because our dough was so dense, it never really got bouncy, though we tried. It takes about 15 minutes. Maybe this is another reason that rye bread is so good for you because it doesn’t contains a lot of the gluten that seems to irritate the bowels of so many people these days. (However, if you want a bread that is a bit bouncier and lighter, use some white flour at the time of kneading, but not too much; maybe 2 cups. This will produce a lighter bread as well, though not as original.)

  

Kneading

I really upped my game with this ball of dough! This is how women used to keep their guns packed!

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Someone had the brilliant idea to split the work in 2. Partners in crime while Ella supervises.

  • FORM LOAVES AND SET ONTO PARCHMENT, COVER AND SET TO RISE IN WARM PLACE-NO DRAFTS (Divide dough into 8 equal parts and make each loaf a similar shape for even cooking.)  I was so nervous about this step and just praying that the loaves rose properly. I didn’t feel as if there was nearly enough yeast to do the trick. 

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    Rising loaves on parchment

  • ABOUT 15 MINUTES AFTER LOAVES HAVE SAT, CLEAN-OUT THE OVEN TO PREPARE FOR COOKING LOAVES. (The brick oven retains the heat in the bricks, which eventually bakes the bread. This was a very interesting process I had never experienced. In fact, when the larger oven was stocked properly, it kept the house warm for about 3
    coals

    Scoop coals into bottom compartment of oven to retain heat and make room for loaf pans. P.S. I am not THAT heavy, just layered with winter clothing!!

    days, even in the 20 below temps we were experiencing at the time! Of course, this also has to do with how incredibly insulated these homes are to keep this heat in. How’s that for saving energy!!!! Once again, the wisdom of the ancestors is worth learning from.) 

  • WHEN LOAVES HAVE RISEN, PRICK EACH LOAF SEVERAL TIMES
    beautiful

    The loaves actually rose with that familiar crackly look!

     WITH A FORK TO ALLOW AIR TO ESCAPE WHILE BAKING. (Okay, this is where we really messed up once again! We forgot to prick the loaves before we put them in the oven. Because the heating of the brick oven is so 

    ulla

    Ulla carefully picks up the loaf pans with the traditional woden paddles

    choreographed with an exact temperature needed to form the hard crust and cook the inside slowly, we ruined our heating mechanism when we pulled the loaves out of the oven to prick them properly with the fork. When we checked the temperature after returning them to the oven, it had dropped significantly. (Because I was not raised with this brick oven method of baking bread that obviously dictates much of the breads wonderful, chewy, crustiness, I was taught to spray or lightly brush water onto the crust of the loaves a couple of times throughout baking after the crust has formed, which gives the bread a thicker, chewier crust as well. This is recommended if you don’t use a brick oven like this. I would also add a little salt to the water for a salty crust if you like that.) 

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    Properly pricked rye bread

  • PUT LOAVES IN OVEN AND COOK BEFORE OVEN COOLS, ROTATING AS NEEDED. Thank goodness for the modern oven! We actually used the small electric oven in the house for the 2 loaves that couldn’t fit–just in case we really messed up the others.
    img

    Not decorations, but useful wooden paddles for moving objects in the oven

    It turned out we had to use this electric oven for all of the loaves eventually, as we rotated them between the two ovens to get the brown effect of the bricks too. 

    loaves

    Loaves cooling

    That was the stressful part for me, to make sure all of the loaves were cooking evenly and thouroughly without burning completely. While Ulla cared for little Ella, who was sick with a fever, I diligently focused on this rotation process. 

  • AFTER THE BREAD HAS A HOLLOW SOUND WHEN TAPPED, IT IS READY TO REMOVE FROM THE OVEN. TAKE CARE TO CHECK BOTH BOTTOMS AND TOPS THROUGHOUT BAKING TO ENSURE EVEN COOKING OF ALL LOAVES. The brick oven as we found out has many hot spots that produce a dark bottom crust, which is good, as long as it is not to burnt.
  • AFTER THE BREAD COMES OUT AND THE TANTALIZING SMELL OF BAKING BREAD HAS INCREASED EVERYONE’S APPETITE, ABOUT 5 MINUTES OF COOLING ON A RACK IS NECESSARY TO PREVENT THE BREAD FROM BINDING UP INSIDE WHILE CUTTING, even though no one will want to wait.
  • TIME TO SLICE & ENJOY!!!!

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    After about 5 minutes of cooling, slice & enjoy!

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Enjoy your fresh-baked Finnish Rye Bread with real butter, of course

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Eliel is the first taste tester!

  • HAPPILY, THIS BREAD CAN NOW BECOME THE MAIN PART OF THE CHRISTMAS EVE FEAST- which it did! We found that due its sourness, it is best savored by cutting the sourdough rye bread very thin. Wonderful with freshly churned butter or salmon roe & cream!!!!! Yummmm…..

For me personally (after breastfeeding), breadbaking has become one of the most endearing ways of nurturing my loved ones. I suppose it does stem from these ancient Finnish roots of mine. There is no other comfort food quite like freshly baked bread; especially after it has taken 3 days to make! Making the sweet cardamom bread (pulla) has been a tradition in my family that I learned from my own grandmother and mother. Now, I have another Finnish breadbaking tradition to pass on to my family. (Psst. Wish me luck getting some of that ancient starter back to my home in the states!) 

This experience would not have been possible without the wonderful support, partnership and encouragement of Ulla, Jyri, and Ulla’s dear family, and her father Pekka, who helped us retrieve the starter, the salt, the famous bucket and whisk, and who kept the coals going in the oven. Also, I personally want to thank the grandmothers (Mummis) who gave us the use of their starter and their recipe/recipes! It was funny that in the middle of the rising, we actually had to heat the oven some more and one of the Mummis showed up to help us out with advice. She was so sweet and I only wished I could have understood her, but I was there listening and watching, and questioning everything she said afterwards like a curious child. Her warm and supportive eyes and smile are a priceless memory I will always cherish. 

After the baking was all said and done, we shared a loaf with each of these Mummis. And of course, the one who likes a denser loaf said the bread turned out perfect, while the one with a different recipe said the loaf was too dense! This was worth a chuckle, now that the stress of making sure it turned out at all was over. What an incredible experience immersed into the culture of people who are not my blood relatives, but from the country of my blood relatives.  I highly recommend it for anyone who really wants to understand the Finnish winter culture!

  • OOOPS!!! FORGOT THE LAST STEP. WHEN THE MIXING BUCKET IS EMPTIED OUT, SPRINKLE IT WITH SALT AND LET IT DRY. DO NOT WASH THE WOODEN WHISK EITHER. WIPE IT OFF, DRY IT, AND COVER BOTH THE BUCKET AND WHISK AFTER THEY HAVE DRIED TO KEEP THEM CLEAN. Evidently there are some magical ingredients to be maintained in these items that magnify the savory qualities of the bread. (This is my favorite part!!!!)
  • PLEASE COMMENT ON THIS POST!!!!!!!

Thank you!!!!!!!

Granny Pants

P.S. If you are interested, please sign up to receive regular posts on the adventures of my life, both in thought and form.  You can also visit my book website to learn more about my book about children: http://TheNewPhysicsofChildhood.com

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Filed under #Finland, #Suomi, 1, babies, Bread+Baking, Breastfeeding, children, cooking, culinary, culture, environment, Grandchildren, Grandparents, Granny Pants, mother, The New Physics of Childhood, Travel, winter

A New Year’s Eve Surprise a la “Tina”

Tina; who is it? What is it? Why am I writing about Tina on New Year’s Day? Tina means “tin” in Finnish, plain and simple. However, the event I experienced last night was far from plain and simple.  

Blue moon

A Blue Moon New Year's Eve over Koivula 2010

It happened on Koivula, a farm outside of the town of Kontiolahti in the Northeast Center of Finland, about 50 miles from the Russian border. By 10:00pm the kids were finally asleep, though this didn’t happen without a group effort.  While we were waiting for the last one to drop-off, someone cleverly dismantled the “tic-toc” clock so her one-year old awareness would not jump up at the next “tic-toc”.  As I anticipated what was about to happen in this traditional Finnish New Year’s Eve ritual, I relieved myself by producing a deck of cards to pass the time before the little ones slumber was secure. However, my efforts to play cards with my primarily Finnish speaking friends did not work.  Wanting to keep things lively as we guarded our champagne taking sip-by-sip to make it last,  I volunteered to have my fortune read by the one person who spoke fairly good English.  

This helped time fly by with fascination as I watched my past, present, and future unfold, fairly accurately, in fact. Then, the moment came for the real divination! It was time to do the “Tina”. I was completely in the dark about what we were about to do. I had never heard of this ritual before.  

The only ritual I knew that had to do with the future and The New Year was the one that my family does where we create our year the way we want it to be by making a poster of what we want to accomplish. (BTW-I still need to do this.) But, this Finnish ritual was very different, as I would soon find out.  

It starts with a little tin horseshoe about 2×2 inches.   

The "Tina" Horseshoe

You start with the "Tina" Horseshoe

Already we have a promising start because we are using a horseshoe, the symbol of good luck.  

Next, you need to make sure you have a metal bucket of cold water with paper underneath that is close to the heat source for melting the horseshoe.  

New Year's Tina Ritual

The bucket for cooling & shaping the tin

New year's

Melting the tin horseshoe on an electric burner

Then, pipe up the heat source and put 1 horseshoe in the heat-resistant, flat-bottomed metal spoon.  

Melting happens fairly quickly, so be careful and pay attention. The tin will become a scorching, thin liquid.  

At the time the tin turns to liquid, THE FUN STARTS!  

New Year's

In My Finest Duds, I am pouring the tin into the bucket of cold water

 This is when, with great precision and the power of intention, you basically thrust the melted tin into the bucket of cold water, taking care that it makes it into the bucket while shooting the liquid to the bottom for the best effect.  

new years

Pull your unique cold water sculpted object out of the bucket & discover the coming year

Voila!!!!!! What have the ethereal powers created to symbolize your coming year? This is now the mystery to unfold with those around you, but it isn’t as simple as just looking at what you pulled out of the bucket in the palm of your hand.  

Everyone’s object foretelling their future New Year is completely different from the next. It is said that if you have a lot of pieces, that means a lot of money in the coming year. (I hope that 3 pieces qualifies for this prediction, because mine is actually in 3 pieces I have kept together for the sake of the overall design integrity.)  

New year

We're not done yet! This is my object

Looking at your object, your “Tina”  from all angles doesn’t quite hold the same divination of the future as the next step.  In this next and final step of the ritual, you find a blank space on a wall and a lamp or candle that can be used to focus on the object.  

Each person now takes a turn holding their “Tina” up to the wall, allowing a shadow to emerge, which is when the real fortune-telling takes place. Those gathered around share their ideas about what the object symbolizes.  

tina with shadow

Interpret your future in the New Year with the shadow of the "Tina" & the perspectives of others

 The process of interpreting the shadow of the “Tina” is so fascinating. It becomes a collective interpretation with a clear meaning that quickly evolves into a consensus at the end. And of course, the interpretation of the shadow is always positive because who wants to have a bad new year.  

Each person keeps their “Tina” in a safe place through the year until the next year’s ritual. Here are some of the other “Tinas.” I did not want to spend too much time snapping photos of the shadow interpretation process that needed focus, in order to respect the future of the person involved, not a photographer trying to get the best shot.  

shadow

Another shadow left to interpretation

new year

Although unfocused, the "tina" beauty still comes through

tina

Sometimes you get more than one future!

This last photo shows how utterly unpredictable the “Tina” magic can be. These two completely differently shaped pieces came from the same throwing of the liquid metal and the receiver was more than happy with the results, as you can only imagine!  

In Japan it is tea leaves, in some circles it is cards or Tarot, and in Finland, it is “Tina.” Even with the subjectivity of this ritual, you cannot help but to become immersed in the power it holds to produce the possibility of an interesting new year ahead! We are all hoping for brighter futures and this is just one more example of whether you are in one of the coldest and most isolated areas of the planet, or in the middle of Times Square New York City, a new year always brings new possibilities.  

The real final step is to toast the bright future of each participant as they say in Finland, Happy New Year or Hyvää uuttavuotta!! (Which actually gets easier to say with every subsequent glass of champagne!)  

After we completed this “Tina” ritual, we headed outside just in time to toast the New Year, 2010 and watch the brilliant display of fireworks in the crisp, cold snow along with the Blue Moon that brought an end to the last decade and the beginning of the next! Yeah!!!!!!  I have to say that even though I missed my loved ones, this was a most spectacular and unexpectedly wonderful way to start 2010!  

blue moon

The Lucky Blue Moon of New Year's Eve 2010

What are your dreams and intentions for 2010???? Do you have a New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day ritual? For any Finns out there, please correct me if I made any errors or add more history and insight to this post!  

Granny Pants

*BTW- Here is another blog that describes the “Tina” http://tin-mhjk.blogspot.com/2009/01/blog-post.html  

*FYI- You are invited to explore the website for my book, The New Physics of Childhood: Replacing Modern Myths with Simple Strategies at http://TheNewPhysicsofChildhood.com  Author discount still applies!

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Filed under #Finland, #Suomi, 1, 2010, Granny Pants, New Year's Day, New+Years+Rituals, winter, Writing

GOOD-BYE JET LAG, INSOMNIA, & AMBIEN, I hope!

That was delicious…….a full night’s sleep without the need to drink myself into oblivion.  

After 11 straight days of insomnia, save one brief night of a 5 hr. stretch, I actually slept for almost 8 1/2 hrs. last night without waking. I silently celebrated when I finally opened my eyes this morning to discover it was 7:50am. Not 1:30am, or 3:30am, or 4am, but 7:50am!  

Then, with a bit of rebellion, I went back to sleep, because I could. My friend had recommended not to sleep-in but get up and take a siesta later because it was better. However, after 11 consecutive days of tossing and turning and waking and reading and writing and nonsense of all sorts, it was difficult to resist the temptation to doze off into the most wonderful dreaminess for two more hours, so I did.  Now it feels like a holiday!  

What was the secret to my successful slumber last night?  

I have to confess that I was on the verge of hunting down a sleeping pill if I experienced one more restless night. Me, the anti-pharma activist was actually considering a sleeping pill! Perhaps this experience was important to allow me to step into the shoes of the insomniacs I know. But I knew I wasn’t sleeping for a variety of reasons, which I addressed quite faithfully yesterday as a personal vow to try before I resorted to pharmaceuticals. (I already knew that alcohol didn’t work because I tried it without too much success.) Lack of the following factors contributed to my insomnia:  

  • Exercise- 2 times
  • Fresh Air and natural light
  • Sunshine

These are the three things I got yesterday that I had not had previously. The sun actually came up yesterday, even though it was 20 below zero in this Finnish heaven.  

I practically ran outside to seek the sunshine on my face last morning, after adding an additional 3rd. layer to my clothing.  

Due to the winter darkness here in the north, the sun rises ever so slightly above the horizon for what seems to be a brief moment. Knowing this urged me to rush to capture it, even if it meant stepping onto someone else’s property, which I did after crunching down the icy driveway and road.  

Seeing that glowing ball of light peaking through the dense forest was like the end of  

Here Comes the SUn

Here Comes the Sun!

  my treasure hunt. Naturally, the people who owned the property would understand if they found me. They would know exactly why I was standing in their driveway. I was an authentic sun worshipper.  

There I stood, eyes opened, with just the top half of my face peaking out from my thickly wrapped layers. From my studies and research, I knew that light into the iris stimulates the hormonal responses that regulate normal sleep cycles and I knew that I needed at least fifteen to twenty minutes of the sunlight to produce the changes I needed. I also needed more of the natural light, the reflective light from the snow to help me sleep better. Natural light is extremely important for sleeping as is sunlight and exercise.  

A gentleman I met on the plane over to Helsinki illuminated me about the importance of snow in the northern hemisphere. Rainy winters without snow are dark, whereas when you have snow, you have light reflection and brightness, which is necessary for well-being. (Could climate change affect our mental health as well?) And is this why everyone in Finland seems to be so happy about the snow this year after years of rainy winters due to global warming?* 

Is this also why the Finnish people do not care how cold it is; they are determined to get outside for as long as they can every day, even the children and the elderly. I have enjoyed their appreciation for fresh air and exercise. Just another affirmation regarding what I know we all need no matter our age. 

So, I had the three factors to kick-start once again, which has been my lifelong pattern of solid sleep regardless of my enviroment or conditions (minus the years of babydom, which don’t count). You can’t really separate these factors because all are important, though the actual sunlight had been the one missing link for me for way too many days. The below reference from just one of many studies proves that we do not need to be addicted to pharmaceuticals for restful sleep during winter months or any other time for that matter. This study in the Lancet on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) confirms what I knew to be true:  

“These findings support the use of morning light for treatment of SAD, and are in keeping with the “phase-shift hypothesis”, says Lewy. “People get depressed in winter at least in part because of a delay in their body clocks”, he proposes. In summer, exposure to bright light occurs on waking. In winter, dawn is later, “and since we cue mainly to dawn, our other circadian rhythms drift later, and get out of phase with sleep”. Morning light pushes the rhythms back into phase with sleep, reducing SAD by “removing the internal dysynchrony”. Alternatively, people could simply be more sensitive to light in the morning, he notes.” (Benefits of phototherapy on SAD illuminated by Marilynn Larkin. The Lancet, Volume 352, Issue 9136, Page 1289, 17 October 1998)  

With this morning’s cloudy sky, it gives me a thrill just thinking of that glorious feeling of sunshine on my face yesterday. I hope it was enough to carry over because sunshine does not look like an option today!  

In the past, if I ever find myself ruminating over my thoughts at night, unable to sleep, I can almost always attribute it to lack of exercise and/or natural light. Insomnia doesn’t have a place when the body is in balance. Unresolved issues can be resolved better in the morning after a good night’s sleep, though I have always felt that writing my thoughts down in a journal or on a list of “to-do’s” so I don’t forget them, also helps me release them before bed so I can sleep. Then, I have no excuse. But it almost always stems from lack of exercise first, which prevents my body from shutting down; it is as if there is a clock wound up inside that just can’t stop because it hasn’t wound out yet.  

Yesterday, I was able to get those three necessities to a good night’s sleep in one morning walk: exercise, sunshine, and natural light. How easy it actually was to cure my insomnia! I just wish it wasn’t so darn difficult to find the sunshine around here! 

Today, after posting this, I will bundle up again. It is a little warmer, yet the wind is blowing and I don’t want a chance of cold air sneaking into my bundle. I will head out for my ritual brisk morning walk and enjoy the natural light at least, while it is here because it will be gone in a few hours. 

Wish me luck and remember that natural light and sunshine are highly underrated! Generally in the U.S., we need more of it than we get and perhaps we can give big pharma a run for their money if we take the free stuff instead: sunshine, exercise, and natural light! If it works for me here in the dark winter north of Finland, couldn’t it also work for you.  Bye-Bye Ambien, hello Sun!  

SUNSHINE- EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS

Please leave your thoughts on this subject! I want to know there are more people out there that actually know that we have choices that are much healthier and necessary to our well-being without side effects. 

Oops! I forgot to credit the power of a good piece of literature, the fiction variety; books that take you away from your world so you can actually let go of your attachments enough to slumber!  absent-mindedly, I committed the cardinal sin while packing for my 2 1/2 month-long trip, forgetting to include a good story or two or three to read! I finally bought some books yesterday and will be using these as well to help me sleep better. 

Granny Pants 

*Naysayers on global warming can ruminate on this thought: With several warm winters and the escalation of icebergs falling into our oceans, isn’t this winter just an example similar to a piece of ice being dropped into a glass of warm water? It produces a chilling effect for a short time period and then warms up again. Doesn’t this hypothesis make sense and aren’t we just experiencing the effects of a briefly cooling ocean this winter from this “ice-cube” effect?

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