Sunshine on the Back of Your Knees

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photo courtesy of patricia green-sotos in ubud, bali

It’s summer.

For some, this might involve a long trip across many time zones. Perhaps even to geography halfway around the world.

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Yellow Flower Cafe at sunset, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Because of our overseas lifestyle, I have been flying internationally at least twice a year for the past 30 years. In the beginning, I ignored the concept of jet lag and let my body find its’ rhythm by doing a lot of sleeping. It was easy for me to fall asleep on planes. When the engines revved up into humming white noise, I closed the window shade and REM sleep took over. After reaching destination, I slept some more. Eventually day and night became right again.

Recently, I made a long distance excursion from Paris to SE Asia [Singapore and Bali] then back to Europe two weeks later. Sixteen hours of flight time each way mixed with six hours of time difference.

 

Numerous tips have been written about preventing or overcoming jet lag. Some of them are actually helpful.

Things such as a good night’s sleep before a long flight, super hydrating by consuming more water than you want, and avoiding too much alcohol or caffeine. Avoid flying with a hangover [a hydration no-no], and immediately adopt the day/night schedule of your destination geography are also good ones.

Jet engines don’t make me automatically pass out anymore, so I think about my waking/sleeping hours on a plane differently now. I diligently perform ankle circles and spinal twists in my seat. I get up to walk or stand. I drink a lot of water and only one glass of wine with a meal. I nap rather than sleep for hours at a time. All are decent strategies for realigning my body clock for east to west or west to east travel. But they never quite accomplish the whole thing.

The girlfriend who travelled with me from Singapore to Bali for a yoga retreat shared two tips that were completely new to me. The first came from a limited study done in 1998. It was quirky enough that I wanted to believe it. The study concluded that jet lag could be eased by exposing the back of your knees to light, particularly sunlight, in the first days after travel.

An instant antidote I never knew! And perfectly timed as we had two recovery days in a Denpasar hotel with a pool before the retreat. We established a base of operation in poolside lounge chairs immediately after breakfast. If our knees overheated [front or back], we obligingly cooled them by sliding into the water. When boredom or cloud cover made it silly to continue this therapy, we went exploring.

 

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retreat location, ubud, bali, courtesy patricia green-sotos

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our room

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rice field from our porch

The second jet lag therapy was more scientific to my medically oriented mind. It was the result of a hormone study by my friend’s physician brother on human cortisol fluctuations.

When I emailed him after the trip, he replied, “Jet lag is hormone dislocation.” Translation: The normal body clock [circadian rhythm] gets out of whack when you change time zones.

“Your cortisol level surges each day at awakening. It is set to your biological clock and changes only reluctantly–about one hour per day per time zone. Hence the lag.”

At the opposite end of the day, when it’s time to go to bed, the brain produces melatonin and off to sleep we go. Cortisol levels rise again with the sun. The cycle continues.

Big time zone changes mixed with fluctuating biorhythms can play out quite dramatically in young children. Our son was six-years-old the first time we flew home to the U.S. after moving to Singapore. During an early dinner in his grandparents’ home, we watched his head suddenly sag forward and plop down in the center of his plate, sound asleep in mashed potatoes and gravy.

Dr. JW suggests: “The fix [to jet lag] is in replacing the hormone [cortisol] at the right time of day. Hydrocortisone is safe and effective when you take it at 7:00AM local time for just three days. You can’t do it everyday, just with international travel. Combine that with melatonin [3-10mg, over the counter] to get you to sleep and you get it both ways. Works like a charm.”

Take 20mg Hydrocortisone for three days only, at 0700 local time, for international travel.

You need a medical prescription for oral cortisone and it may be challenging to find a physician willing to write one for jet lag, even in a small, limited dose. You could try substantiating your request by what Dr. JW says: “Simple replacement dose is not the same as a treatment dose of prednisone which overpowers your own cortisol. It’s safe and effective.”

I have yet to use cortisone therapy for jet lag, but I hope to try it. In the meantime, I researched that back-of-the-knees-light-study from the ‘90s. It was debunked, not too long afterward, as nonsense.

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On a personal note, though, for the first week after returning from Bali, I took 45 minutes each afternoon to lie on the floor by my dining room window and expose the back of my knees to sunlight. At a time of day when I really needed a jet lagging nap, I found that sunny knee time seemed to warm up my brain and nourish it, too. I became more alert and avoided the nap.

Fact or fiction, back-of-the-knee sun works for me. It’s now on my list of travel “dos”.

Regardless of “dos and don’ts” for recalibrating your body clock, you can simply live out your lag. With time, day and night cycles eventually return to “normal” wherever you are.

Just try to avoid falling asleep at the dinner table. Or make sure your meal is finished before you do…

Bonnes vacances à tous!

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double tree pose

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ohm in flowers

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rice field yogi trees

 

 

Cocoa Cake With My Curry, Please

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It is almost impossible for the average person to prepare authentic Indian curry. That is, unless you were born into the culture. Or, if you grew up in India as did my American friend, Patricia.

On the other hand, you can learn to love to eat curry anywhere in the world at any stage in life. “Curry Love” began in our family when we moved to Singapore 30 years ago, in 1987. This is also where I met Patricia. It was our first overseas living experience. We left Denver, Colorado with two young children in tow for an out-of-country family adventure.

Patricia was born in a high ceiling-ed colonial bedroom in a remote village in central India. Two generations before, her grandfather built the hospital there. Infrastructure was limited because it was a tribal area, but the local people had medical care. A generation later, her father returned to India as a Village Extension Worker with a specialty in agriculture. His job was to bring clean water, air, and other forms of conservation [soil, sewage] to rural India. He moved his young family to a different village with a local population of 500. This is where Patricia and her siblings grew up.

From the age of five, each child in their family was sent to Woodstock, a boarding school, since 1854, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It took three days and three nights on a third class Indian train to get there. One carriage held all the students rounded up going to Woodstock, with many stops and re-hooking to different trains along the way.

Patricia graduated at eighteen and moved to the United States for the first time. At the University of Iowa she double majored in East Asian Languages and Literature [Japanese was her language] and Archeology. Four years later, she went back to earn a bachelor’s degree in Nursing [BSN]. She received her ESL degree in Singapore after moving there with her teaching husband and young family. When they returned to the U.S. after six years in Singapore, she worked as a neonatal ICU nurse for more than 25 years. Now she teaches yoga, with a 500-hour teacher’s certification. Oh, and Patricia speaks fluent Hindi too.

During school holidays, back in the village, Patricia and her local friends entertained themselves creatively. After collecting dried dung patties for fuel, they cooked rice and curry in primitive little outdoor picnics. Later, in university years, her older sister began the tradition of weekly family curry night.

Many curry-themed parties were enjoyed in Patricia and Bart’s Ulu Pandan apartment. Sometimes we dressed in traditional garb purchased in “Little India”. Little India is also where we ate “banana leaf” curry, with our hands. The heady smell of open containers of Indian spices intermingled with the overpoweringly sweet fragrance of jasmine flowers, woven daily into necklaces, is an enduring memory of Singapore.

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Patricia and Bart centre stage on curry night, circa 1988-89

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our try at authenticity, Indian style, 1988-89

In May 2015, Patricia came to visit us in Paris. Of course she wanted to set aside a day to cook curry in between sight seeing, yoga-posing photo ops, and eating delicious French things.

Fresh ingredients were purchased at the Indian grocery in the 10th Arrondissement. Green beans, tomatoes, eggplant, green chili, garlic, ginger root, potatoes, onions, spinach, and okra. [This is also the location for the best Indian restaurants in Paris.]

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It takes many spices to cook proper curry. We accumulated black mustard seeds, yellow mustard seeds, sambar powder, garam masala, turmeric, coriander and cumin seeds, dessicated coconut, dried curry leaves, cumin powder, fenegreek, red pepper flakes, sea salt and black pepper.

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The menu was all vegetable curries, as those are our favorites, with fried pokora, an Indian fritter made with graham flour and veggies and coriander chutney on the side.

I busied myself taking photos of the beautiful array of ingredients and spices, in between some chopping prep work. When it was time to begin cooking, Patricia talked me through each step, one by one.

Suddenly, I developed an uncontrollable urge to re-arrange my spice cabinet. Each spice purchased in a plastic bag from the grocer now needed its’ own tiny jar with homemade label taped on. Simultaneously, old spices on the shelf were carefully considered or weeded out. It was detail work I knew how to do.

Admittedly, I abandoned learning curry prep from the beginning. I simply could not focus on the endless micro-steps of ingredients and spices from start to finish. Apparently I can’t write them down coherently either. Rereading my notes, I see only a list of words. No amounts or explanations. I have not one clue how to cook any of the delicious dishes we enjoyed that day.

The truth is, you have to feel it. I wasn’t kidding when I said you had to be born into Indian cooking to do it justice.

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our parisian curry feast, sans pokora, consumed long before in the kitchen

From the opposite end of the food spectrum I learned to replicate a different Patricia recipe. In the Green family Singaporean kitchen you could always count on two things. One was about food and the other was about tropical living. Ever-present on the countertop was a dark cocoa chocolate sheet cake. Everyone was welcome to dig in, anytime. The second thing was the house gecko that lived under the refrigerator. He scurried out, usually under cover of darkness, to eat mosquitoes or ants, and certainly food crumbs off the floor. In the beginning he was small, perhaps two or three inches in body length. Over the next four years he grew substantially longer–and wider.

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One day, Patricia came home and noticed that someone had left the lid off the chocolate cake. Not a good idea in a tropical climate. On closer inspection, she saw the gecko, now a robust eight-incher, floundering on his back in the thick, gooey, chocolate icing. Unable to re-right himself, wiggling wildly, he was going nowhere.

She picked up the cake pan and ran outside. Using a spatula, the gecko was flipped onto the grass in the apartment common area. Fearing fire ants would attack his sugary skin, she carried out pitchers of water and tried to rinse off the chocolate-y coating. Then left him to his fate.

Back in the kitchen, a bit of icing scraped off, the surface re-smoothed and the cake pan recovered. That evening her husband said, “What happened to the cake? The icing is so thin.” In the end she told him because, after all, the gecko was part of the family.

Miraculously, that chocoholic gecko found his way back to the five-star-under-the-refrigerator hotel. He remained part of the household until they left Singapore.

Deliciously fragrant Indian curry, moist dark chocolate cake, and a loyal lizard are another part of my memories from Singapore. Unexpected and offbeat combinations of people, places and food have richly colored our overseas life.

Many of my most vivid remembrances started with friendships forged in exotic locations. We laughed and we learned, as we leaned toward each other.

Luckily, we still do.

PATTY GREEN-SOTOS’ COCOA CHOCOLATE CAKE

Butter a 9×13 inch cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ingredients and Preparation:

  • 1 ¾ C. flour
  • 2 C. sugar
  • ¾ C. cocoa [best quality cocoa recommended]
  • 1 ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 ½ t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C. milk
  • ½ C. vegetable oil
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • Mix the wet ingredients into dry. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes.
  • 1 C. boiling water
  • Add this last, stirring just until combined. Do not over-mix.

Bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

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out of the oven, cool before frosting

Icing:

  • ½ C. butter
  • 2 C. powdered sugar
  • 4 T. cocoa
  • 3-4 T. milk or chocolate liqueur
  • Beat with mixer until light and fluffy. Spread over cooled cake and cover.

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friends anywhere in the world–here in paris-may 2015