Book Review: The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

What can I say? I love this book so much I read it twice. I love it so much that when I left for Germany last year it was one of maybe 3 books I took with me. The book is Helen Russell’s memoir chronicling the year she and her husband moved from London to rural Jutland in Denmark so that he could pursue a career with Lego. Along with his new job her husband also pursued a passion for purchasing  expensive Danish design classics for their new home in the middle of nowhere such as the famed Arnold Jacobsen chair and various fancy lamps.

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A random picture of my host mom’s garden in Gevninge, Denmark. 

At first the slowed down pace of life, dismal weather and predictability of life in rural Jutland slowly drove Russell insane. As the year went on you follow as her and Lego Man (her husband) suddenly find themself adapted to life on the Danish coast. It’s a great read for an expat, a Scandiphile or really anyone who enjoys sarcasm and travel memoirs. I give this book an 11/10. Plus the cover is beautiful. Check it out for yourself.

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Book Review: Fat Chance by Dr. Robert Lustig

Though I’m not a big fan of the book title, I have to say that Fat Chance by Dr. Robert Lustig was a very informative read. Most of the time when you read books about the obesity epidemic in America, you get the feeling that you’re reading the same information you’ve already seen before in other books. I recommend reading it but if you’re short on time, skim over parts that give you trouble. For example, I had a lot of trouble understanding the chapter where he explains what leptin is and other similar biochemical processes.

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Photo by Sydney Troxell on Pexels.com

My favorite part about this book is that Dr. Lustig begins each chapter with case studies on various child and adolescent patients he’s had and their experiences in attempting to revert back to a healthier weight. As it turns out the body has several mechanisms to maintain body fat, which is why fad dieting, medications, and even regular exercise often fails to lead to permanent weight loss.

Some main takeaways from the book:

  • Fructose is metabolized in the liver which means it will almost entirely be converted straight to fat.
  • Juices and sodas are full of excess sugar which will result in rapid weight gain when consumed regularly so don’t drink your fruits. Eat them.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup and other altered synthetic sweeteners are not your friend. The substance is hidden in almost everything in the U.S. including but not limited to bread, cereal, soda, juice, yoghurt, canned fruit, mac and cheese, salad dressing, protein bars and basically anything from a fast food restauarant.
  • Low income families do not always have the luxury of eating healthy as fresh fruits and vegetables are less covered by food stamps and cost more per calorie than junk foods. Also the availability of produce in low-income neighborhoods is startlingly low, a phenomenon referred to as a food desert.
  • You should probably be eating more fiber.
  • It takes time for your body to signal that it’s full so eat slowly. Additionally when consuming a poor diet, your body’s biochemistry gets altered in ways that disturb the process by which your body will signal that you’ve eaten enough.
  • Exercise is really good for you even if you don’t notice any immediate weight loss.
  • Whenever possible try to consume “real food” , a.k.a. food you find at the edges of the supermarket and that does not come in a box with a long list of ingredients.

 

Hope you get a chance to read the book. Eat your veggies and read your food labels 🙂

Olympus 17mm f/1.8 Review

I’ve been using the Olympus 17mm 1.8 prime now for a little over a week and I enjoy the lens. It focuses quickly and the colors are generally pleasing. As others have noted, it’s not always the sharpest and focusing with the manual focus ring is not accurate. That ring is also a little lose on my copy of the lens. However I am in love with this lens because it’s extremely versatile, light, and has enabled me to start carrying my camera daily with me again.

I will say I like the colors better with the 25mm 1.8 but that lens focuses pretty slowly at times and is not a great lens for showing the background behind a subject. Here are some sample shots with this lens:

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Disclaimer: this shot ended up being cropped quite a bit. If I knew I was going to see deer I would have brought a zoom lens with me.

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Not a perfect lens by any means but I definitely recommend it for travel and general use. If you know you prefer telephoto lenses and dislike having to correct for distortion or crooked photos then go for the 25mm. Otherwise this is a great lens.

Olympus Premium Primes: 12mm vs. 17mm vs. 25mm (also a few iPhone shots for reference)

I have recently acquired the Olympus 17mm f/1.8. It’s a lens I’ve been meaning to pick up since last year when I sold off the 12mm f/2. I absolutely loved the 12mm and it’s probably my favorite lens I’ve ever owned but due to its fixed wide-angle of view it became impractical in most situations so I sold it last summer.

The Olympus 17mm does not disappoint. While the build quality is not as solid as the 12mm, the color profile of this lens sits somewhat in between qualities from the 12 and 25mm Olympus primes. It’s also much more versatile than either the 12 or 25mm lenses, or at least for my own personal style of shooting. I thought I’d share some of my favorite shots from these three focal lengths so you can decide for yourself which one is for you.

Olympus 12mm f/2 (24mm full frame)

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Olympus 25mm f/1.8 (50mm full frame) 

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Olympus 17mm f/1.8 (35mm full frame) 

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Personally I felt like in the last year my photographs have become more technically pleasing but even when using my zoom lens I find myself stuck in what I choose to photograph and how I frame my subjects. Through extensive use of my lovely but somewhat limiting 25mm lens (50mm full frame eq.) I have developed a sort of tunnel vision where the only compositions I make are face on close-ups of things with the background pleasantly blurred.

While these photos have their place, I don’t want to look back in ten years and have my only keepsakes be boring photos of aesthetically beautiful plant life and pretty shots of my coffee. So while I end up taking less overall photos when shooting with wider focal lengths and less of those photos end up as keepers, I want to make more of an effort to shoot compositions and stories, instead of chasing after bokeh.

The great thing about the 35mm eq. focal length (17 on Olympus) is that it is similar to a focal length familiar to a lot of millennials, the smart phone camera focal length of around 30mm eq. I consider this to be the prime lens of the people, widely available, versatile, easy to use and already included in a device a lot of us already own. So with that in mind here are a few of my favorite iPhone shots.

Iphone 5 and SE (~30mm full frame eq, 15mm micro 4/3) 

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Hope you enjoyed this post 🙂

 

 

Book Review: Beartown by Frederick Backman

My name is Adri and I’m addicted to Scandinavian fiction.

All kidding aside I just finished up reading Beartown by Frederick Backman, a book about a dying town, hockey, and the consequences of a crime committed against a girl by someone she trusted. There were a lot of small truths in this book and Backman shows us yet again the sometimes crushing realities of ordinary life.

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I appreciate that Backman took the time to use his literary talents to highlight the modern reality of sexual assault and the trouble that victims go through to get people to believe their ordeal and support them. It takes a truly talented author to write about such a grim subject and still get the reader to laugh and smile from time to time. Backman floats gracefully between seriousness and lightheartedness in the way a maestro takes an orchestra from piano to fortissimo and back again.

Would I recommend reading this book? As long as it isn’t going to be a trigger for a previous negative experience, I highly recommend this book. If you have assault in your personal history I would ask someone you trust whose read the book whether they think it’s okay to read. I didn’t find the book to be very graphic but actual found it difficult to read about the main female character’s subsequent depression having dealt with depression so just make sure that you’re ready to confront this particular story before you start reading because the book is truly so good that you won’t want to put it down.

Book Review: Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All by Jonas Jonasson

Last week I finished up another great novel by the Swedish journalist Jonas Jonasson. I put off reviewing Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All because it’s difficult to summarize the plot. In short, it’s the story of a former criminal who upon meeting a receptionist at a 1 star motel and an atheist priest, suddenly turns to Jesus. You’ll laugh the entire time you read this lighthearted book.

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Even though, like other Jonasson novels, the plot makes little sense and the story seems downright silly,  Jonasson has a way of tackling serious subjects in his books with dry humor and over the top scenarios. Examples of themes include greed vs. generosity, actions and consequences, misinterpretations of the bible, scandal in religious organizations, the balance in giving and receiving, and last but not least sensationalism in the press. Give the book a read and stay tuned for a future review on Frederick Backman’s Beartown.

Book Review: Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free is unquestionably the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read. Most of us probably remember the story of the Chilean Miners who were rescued in a difficult but successful operation in 2010. I never thought much of the story back when it happened since American News networks have a tendency to move quickly from story to story, but as it turns out the men were trapped for more than two months from August 5, 2010 to October 13, 2010. Tobar, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, spent 4 years collecting interviews from the 33 miners that were trapped when the hard stone of the San José mine split in half, sending a piece of mega rock crashing through the only entrance/exit point to the mine.

Most writers would have relied solely on the drama of the collapse and rescue but Tobar did the hard work of collecting every detail about both the exciting and mundane aspects of surviving underground. As one reads further it’s hard to remember that the reader isn’t also trapped in the mine. I found myself overly invested in the family life of 33 strangers, portrayed not as larger than life figures but as real, flawed, macho yet vulnerable men who must grapple with their own mortality and the limitations of their human body and spirit.

Had the men decided to keep to themselves instead of coming together and organizing their limited resources they probably would not have lasted so long. It was interesting that there was more solidarity between the men in the 17 days that rescuers were unable to send them down food than in the following days when a small drill hole made it possible for the miners not only to be sent down food but also luxury items like electronics, a projector, and for one miner, running shoes. The absence of scarcity combined with the realization that above ground fame and donation money awaited them made it harder to stay sane as they impatiently awaited their ultimate rescue. Such was the psychological distress these men suffered that one man was actually afraid to leave the mine once it was finally time. He claimed he didn’t know if the rescue pod would really hoist him up safely and that he should perhaps stay underground where he would be certain he’d be alive. Nevertheless all 33 men are saved, at least physically, from the wrath of the mine, reborn back into the world of sunlight and fresh air.

Tobar did not stop the story at the heroic rescue but chose to delve further and highlight what life was like after the rescue. All the miners suffered post traumatic stress syndrome, though some dealt with it better than others. Some quit working and had a really hard time recovering mentally from what they experienced. A few actually went back to underground mining jobs, putting their lives back at risk but facing head on their fears through a kind of exposure therapy. Edison Peña, who had once attempted suicide before the mining accident, unfortunately relapsed into alcoholism and had to be institutionalized in a hospital in Santiago. Most of the men were somewhere in a mental state between complete recovery and complete mental collapse. All were thankful to still be alive. Ultimately Deep Down Dark is so relatable because it’s more than just an account of a mining collapse and rescue but an exploration on the human psyche and what happens to a person who has all human comforts stripped from them and must therefore confront the fragility of their own body.

Book Review: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life by Ariana Huffington

Thrive is Ariana Huffington’s 14th book, a remarkable achievement. While it was easy to read and informational I found a lot of overlap between this book and her more recent book, The Sleep Revolution. Huffington begins this book by sharing a moment in time where she was so overworked that she had physically collapsed. She regards this is her wake-up call and the start to her journey for balance and the development of a new standard for measuring her success in life that she likes to call the third metric.

This book was well written and contained personal anecdotes from Huffington’s life. She shares her daughter’s struggle with addiction and an eating disorder and charming tales of her Greek mother’s generous nature. Though I found the book great to read before bed to wind down from the day, I don’t actually recommend reading it cover to cover if you are busy as the text begins to repeat itself over time. Most of the time while reading I ended up paying more attention to the inspirational quotes she leaves throughout the book from famous authors.

Here are my main take-aways from this book:

  1. No matter how perfect or successful someone looks from the outside, we are all human and have our own limits and personal struggles.
  2. While it’s good to be ambitious and have goals, pushing yourself towards success to the point of unhappiness and burnout is not ideal.
  3. At the end of our lives we are remembered for our personal relationships and our character, not by who can stay the longest in the office.
  4. Don’t let your smart phone and your email inbox take over your life.
  5. Consider taking up meditation.
  6. Volunteering and helping other in general helps us to turn outwards instead of mulling over our problems over and over in our heads. It’s a win-win for all involved.
  7. If you are able to accomplish things on 6 hours of sleep, imagine how efficient you would be with 8!

 

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Flammable-Environmental Suffering in an Argentine Shantytown

Flammable , an ethnography by Javier Auyero and Débora Alejandra Swistun, chronicles the daily struggles of residents of an Argentinian slum located next to a large Shell refinery. The area residents inhabit is technically deemed as “unsuitable for human life” by outsiders. A few families have been living there for over 50 years and others were newer to the neighborhood. Those who have lived there longer yearn for earlier times when they say the waters were cleaner, nearby farms grew fruits which smelled sweet and one could sleep with their door open.

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Most residents showed consistent symptoms of lead poisoning: skin rashes, convulsions, lethargy, anemia. Mothers worry for their children and their danger to become contaminated. However, due to misinformation spread by the media, nearby companies and among the residents themselves, there is much disagreement and confusion over the extent of the negative externalities of living in the village. Government officials and workers at Shell tend to use the “culture of poverty” argument, saying the residents have lead poisoning because of personal hygiene issues, the fact that many don’t wear shoes when they walk outside and that those living in the shantytown pay trucks to dump garbage into their backyards to stabilize the swampy grounds around them. This is contradicted by the claim that Shell considers the area to be so toxic that humans should not be inhabitting the space.

Journalists and lawyers frequently come into Flammable making promises that cannot be kept and giving residents false hopes of being able to get compensated and move to another place. This constant influx of authority figures and prospective saviors creates a state of uncertainty and waiting for the residents that increases their lack of agency and ability to organize together to improve their situations. Because the suffering and contamination became worse slowly and gradually over the years, most did not feel the urgency to leave, some even doubting that they have any contamination in their bodies even as noxious fumes are frequently blowing through the neighborhood, making it impossible to be outside.

Reading this book now for the second time in 2018 reminds me of parallels between the sustained confusion about contamination in Flammable with the confusion and disagreement in the American media which has divided citizens and distracted us from taking action on important issues in the face of uncertainty of the facts. One of the coauthors of Flammable, Débora Swistun, grew up in the shantytown. For many years she felt powerless against the contamination in her town and wondered if she should get out herself and leave others behind or find a way to create a collective solution to the problem and help relocate everyone. Through her research she has brought a lot of attention to the problems in her home village, a testament to the power of well done research, activism and strong will. Her book is a reminder that though it may take time, change is possible even in the most dire situations and in our very own backyards.

Glyphosate: What it is and Why it should Concern you

Before concentrating in Agricultural Studies last semester I was unfamiliar with the chemical herbicide known as glyphosate, but as it happens glyphosate is the center of a great controversy in modern agriculture. This herbicide is non-selective, meaning it kills all plants indiscriminately. It is generally applied before seeding to rid fields of pests and weeds. When farming with little to no tillage (plowing) many farmers say it is almost a necessity to apply it. Glyphosate is frequently sold under the name Roundup. Glyphosate is persistent in soil but usually breaks down eventually. In the E.U. there were recently efforts to ban the chemical, but last winter it was approved for use for the next 5 years.

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Companies, most notably Monsanto, insist that there are little to no health risks associated with glyphosate when used as instructed. However there are several documented cases where excessive exposure to glyphosate through the skin and/or lungs caused severe irritation and birth abnormalities especially when farm workers apply it without using gloves or protective clothing. Glyphosate residues can also be commonly found on produce grown in fields where it was applied, which means there is a small risk that it could accumulate in the body over time. The easiest way to protect yourself from this risk would be to wash your produce before consumption.

For further information on the subject I recommend this documentary(Glyphosate: The Sick Children of Argentina). It was originally from Deutsche Welle News though I am currently unable to find it on their site.