This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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My mornings, 2020 edition

I used to travel every week for two to three days. Sometimes four. For nearly a decade. Then 2020 came around, with two job changes and coronavirus. They downside is, I am losing my elite airline status. The upside is, I have gained a new morning routine for WFH and weekend mornings. They are many, and so sticking to a routine which works best for me now is easier than ever.

Why is a custom-built morning routine so important? Because it sets the foundation for a productive and energy-balanced day. What works, then? Well, I can only share what works for me, and it is not the 6 am wakeup with bullet-proof coffee followed by meditation and a workout that is favored by many.

The key to my own morning is the understanding of how my energy qualities shift during the day: I am mentally most productive before 2 pm, prefer a physically energetic workout in the late afternoon to relax, and a meditation at night to wind down for the day. This means that I pile up all writing, powerpoint slide creation, and planning before lunch and, if possible, push meetings and video conference calls into the afternoons. In the weekends, I begin my mornings with a concentration-requiring book followed by blogging, journaling, and other writing tasks until lunch.

I support my morning productivity with a protein-heavy breakfast to establish a stable energy level throughout the day. I used to do intermittent fasting for my entire adult life (and I had no idea it was a “thing”, it just felt better to skip breakfast) until just a couple of years ago. But when lunch became my main meal and I moved my dinner earlier, striving to be done by 7 pm, I realized I needed sustenance in the mornings. The overnightly fast is now a moderate 13-14 hours.

Here is my morning routine for most of 2020, version WFH:

  1. Wake-up 7.00-7.30 am (also weekend mornings. Consistency is key.)
  2. I open a window and burn incense, the fresh Japanese little sticks, to freshen up the air. A lovely Marie Kondo habit I adopted.
  3. I make a hot tonic and leave it to cool. A big glass of hot water with the juice of a quarter organic lemon, or fresh ginger or turmeric, with a quarter teaspoon honey. During more stressful times I used to go for lemon juice with salt (calms down cortisol levels) and cayenne pepper (wakes up a lazy stomach).
  4. Office worker’s stretch: Fold forward, arms hanging, to stretch legs. Grab ankle with both arms, legs straight, and pull back, stretching the hip of the other leg. Repeat on the other side. Sit down into a deep squat and extend arms forward to maximize the lower back stretch. Go down on knees and do 12-15 slow, careful scapular push-ups to prevent mouse-arm strain. Finally, stretch shoulders by standing up, interlacing fingers, folding forward, and bringing arms over head to hang.
  5. Tonic + supplements. I take a baseline of supplements supporting a woman on a meat-free and nearly dairy-free diet, along with a few performance-optimizing supplements.
  6. Reading. Could be as short as 15 minutes, also during work mornings. I usually reserve mornings for concentration-requiring or spiritual books. Right now I am reading A path with heart by Jack Kornfield.
  7. Breakfast. Plant-protein powered smoothie, or protein-powered oatmeal. Or gluten-free protein pancakes with berries if I have the time.
  8. Start the day. By now the time is around 8.30 am, leaving me enough time to get into shape for work and video conference calls before 9 am.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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When at home: microgreens

It must be winter soon, because my poor radish microgreens stretch towards the window with all their might. Interestingly, they rotate towards the kitchen light, in the opposite direction, every night. I try to keep their suffering brief.

No travel means lots of opportunities to experiment at home. I tried growing microgreens in a compostable paper wool. It looks hassle-free, but begins to smell before slow-growing sunflower microgreens are ready. I am also not convinced I get good quality nutrition and may just end up making these superfoods less super. So I went back to potting soil. Perhaps coconut husk would be another less messy option?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Any given Friday

Any given Friday one can work, or one can take the day off and check into an Oriental day spa for the entire afternoon.

I decided to do the latter – and all in. The entire shebang. With champagne, chocolate fondue, smoothies, massages (plural!), and private sauna good enough for a Finn, and a bubble bath.

Why not, as all other holidays are canceled this year?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Shrooms

Who knew? All that is required to grow mushrooms at home is some cooked, wet hay, mushroom mycelium, and alternating dark and light. And if one is even more lazy, a do-it-at-home kit involving a dressed-up milk carton filled with wet hay and mycelium. Cut a little window in it, leave it somewhere not too hot and dark, and out sprout oyster mushrooms, within two weeks.

When these mushrooms ended up in my wok, I simply poured a bit of water into the carton, closed the window with tape, and returned it to the sill. In two weeks’ time I will cut another window and watch the magic unfold, once again.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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About intentional living

Minimalism, essentialism, simple living – is it all the same? For me, these are leaves on the same tree, sharing the same root. Essentialism means focusing most of your resources on what moves the needle most for you, in the direction that matters most. However, it does not mean you should own only fifty items. That would be extreme minimalism.

Also, a minimalist may own only what is necessary and enough for a good life – which may well mean a private library.

Finally, simple living is a merger of the two: trying to live with less frills and fuss, focusing on what is most meaningful.

In my head, all three boil down into intentional living: where each decision is consciously directed towards a way of life or a life goal one values. This is not my own invention – google it and you will discover a whole host of definitions and wise words about how to practice intentional living. For some, it has a personal wealth ring. For others, it appeals because it resonates with Buddhist philosophy. In all cases, intentional living is about shaving off random busywork, meaningless consumption without a positive outcome, and focusing time and energy on intentional decisions and actions supporting a future one envisions.

For me, this funky COVID-2020 we are all wading through has been a great practice in intentional living. I have a life plan, which I update once a year. It requires a good financial basis, and to get there means deprioritizing things that I don’t really need. And so, thanks to coronavirus, I have practiced deprioritizing the following:

  1. Owning a car. I have never owned a car of my own, although I have almost bought one more than once. Again, in my new life in Copenhagen, I conclude that even during this pandemic, the only times I really need a car are when I am in Finland, going between Helsinki and the house of my parents – which requires another solution than a car of my own.
  2. Eating out. I used to eat out a lot, both because of social reasons and the 1-3 days of weekly international travel my previous employer required. And, when I lived in Helsinki, I loved a Saturday shopping break at a ramen or pho restaurant, or hot soup or gluhwine in the Kämp library bar in the winter, all by myself, with a good book. Now, in 2020, I do not eat out by myself, and I always think twice whether it makes more sense to convert a lunch or dinner with a friend to a walk followed by takeaway tea on a park bench.
  3. Buying clothes. Since I KonMari’d my apartment in 2016 I stopped buying clothes, unless they replace item types I already own and which I cannot use anymore. Basically, the one-in-one-out rule. I still own too many clothes, because I had to buy new items when I arrived to Denmark with two suitcases. It took time to transfer clothes over during various trips to Finland, and when I finally shipped the remainder over I discovered I now have way too many summer clothes and sweatpants. Time to wear them out before buying anything new (and getting into a crowded clothing store).
  4. Buying expensive clothes, unless it is an essential long-term item (like a great overcoat). I used to gravitate towards more value for fairly pricey clothes. The quality is often better, and I used to think that if I pick them with care, I can use them for a long time and thus generate value. Then I remembered L.L. Bean. And discovered Uniqlo and Muji, and Clarks and Ecco for shoes. While these are probably not the most ethical or sustainable brands, they do the job of replacing what I have with a new item that will last a long time, which in itself decreases any footprint on this planet. And sometimes I splurge, because I still have not found better suit pants than Ralph Lauren’s, or a better fall/spring overcoat material than real Harris tweed.
  5. Buying makeup I do not really need. This became so easy with 1) less space for items; and 2) knowing my seasonal color palette (which also helps reduce the number of clothes I buy). If it isn’t Soft Summer coloring and I don’t need it to replace something I already have, I’ll leave it. Besides, Sephora during COVID-times is NOT a pleasant experience. Also, I need to find an exact color match by trying it against the palette the first time I buy the product, so online shopping only works for repeated purchases.
  6. Using taxis. I used taxis a lot in my previous travel-heavy job. In Helsinki, I often noticed I was late for something and had to uber. Now, I use the bike and even avoid public transport if I can, to avoid being in confined spaces with other people.
  7. Staying in pricey hotels. Because of my job the past 9 years, I have stayed in so many sleek, pricey hotels I crave  a more original experience when I go on vacation. And now I can’t really go anywhere for the moment.
  8. Unnecessary home decorations. Again, non-COVID-related, except for that it reduces the amount of time spent in busy interior decor stores just because I feel like “I have to have something new.” Ever since Mari Kondo’s teachings found a place in my life.
  9. An expensive rental apartment. Non-COVID-related, but after living in rental apartments for the past 2 years I still feel my heart bleeds a little every month when I look at the money I waste. Some is compensated for renting out my own apartment in Helsinki, but I bleed hundreds of euros down the drain every month if I count the mortgage I have. This is the price I pay for flexibility. The balance of finding a home that is nice enough to make me feel calm and at ease, and a rental price that is not more than I get in rental income from Finland, is an impossible equation right now.

I’d be curious to know if there are things you deprioritize and which you think I could add to the list. Naturally, I also have a list of the things I actually value and prioritize – which cascade down into a life plan – but that is for another time. (Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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A temporary home

I am used to living in modern spaces. My apartment in Helsinki has elegant gray hardwood floors, a top-notch kitchen, a glass sliding door to the bedroom, and a tiny but top-notch bathroom. I love minimalist, airy, monochromatic, and timeless.

This year I have lived in three old houses in Copenhagen. My current home was built in the 1850s, the kitchen is from the 90s, and the walls could use a layer of paint. But the floors are quite new, the general feel is neat and clean, and I love the soft indirect light.

So here it is: my temporary home until next summer or so. The bedroom hosts a few last boxes of things to be sold. The ceiling lights are the landlady’s, and my wonderful huge design lamp is stored in the attic, along with most of the artwork as new holes in the walls should be minimized. The bathroom is large for Copenhagen standards, and for me it’s it’s the first bathroom ever with a window.

Can you spot the screwdriver in the living room? I used it to screw the glue-enforced door hinges back into the sideboard. I am surprised the door is still sitting there, two weeks later. Good stuff, that glue I got.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Party dresses for life

Lovely ones, still a few weeks of slow living here in Copenhagen, before everything changes once again. Meanwhile, I am unpacking my boxes and discovering things from past lives.

I used to have an academic career, in biomedical research. In Finland, such a career requires several full-length evening gowns. Oh yes, doctoral thesis defenses and other appointments are serious events. When I moved to the business side of things, I recycled most of my gowns – save for two. The soft purple one is the one I wore on my own PhD defense dinner (can you tell my color season is soft summer?).

Instead, I doubled up on cocktail dresses for all the business-related evening events. I packed them all in a box before moving to Denmark. The past two years I have managed more than well with just one dress, bought at Copenhagen airport one morning, in a hurry before a flight to Rome.

Lessons learned? One dress is manageable. Two or three is sufficient. And watching all these hang side by side, I conclude I now have party dresses for life.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; August 2020)


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About inspired living

Some years ago I made a vision board. For months I hunted for inspiring images and tore them out of magazines. Finally, I tacked them all onto a cork board, added a few handwritten words to define exactly what I was calling forth, and my vision board was done.

Then I discovered that I had systematically left out the most wonderful images of them all: images of strong, creative women in the most amazing places or moments. I had been so focused on selecting those pictures that illustrated the goals I wanted to envision, and these women just… were, themselves. Most often, the image size was too large: a full A4 magazine page. These women did not fit in – rather, they stood out. So I stored them neatly in a plastic folder, in my sideboard. I forgot about them.

Years later, while unpacking my boxes here in Denmark, I encountered the folder again. I spread out the women on the floor. Together, they were still magical: strong, purposeful, creative, doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. Even if in reality most of the photos were staged for a fashion shoot (the center photo is actually an ad for Zalando), the impression they give off makes my heart sing.

There, on the floor, the women just…fit. I made a collage, easily a meter tall, and took a photo. This time I won’t forget. I won’t forget what I aspire for. And I will hunt for another cork board or cardboard, big enough to accommodate these women, because I now have the perfect place for them inside my walk-in closet. This is where I will greet them, first thing every morning.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; August 2020)


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Midsummer in the country

midsummer-1No shoes were not quite appropriate for the summer photo above. But you see, the grass was still a little cool and dewy from the nightless night.

The sun did not set until nearly 11 pm here in the South of Finland. We ate at a long table out under the apple trees. There were macarons and calvados for dessert. And it never quite got dark. midsummer-2(Loviisa, Finland; June 2020)


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Stilleben with a lamp

apt-2A still life with my landlady’s lamp, a meditation pouf, and a new book case from Ikea. Save for a few pieces lent by my landlady, this case, a new couch, and my Double Bubble lamp, I am living out of a suitcase and a few boxes. Here’s to hoping I will finally get my belongings out of storage in Finland and over to Denmark, after two years of gathering dust.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; May 2020)