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Get Cookying! To bake or not to bake, that is the question
christmas cookies
What is it about Christmas cookies? Is it the taste? Undoubtedly… the smell, possibly… or the nostalgia of Christmases past, and possibly, present? 

I go for the nostalgia theory, picture a warm vanilla scented kitchen with ladies (yes… seeing as we are travelling to nostalgia land folks – ladies – if you want gents in the picture stay in the present) leaning over kitchen counters wearing aprons and mixing delicious dough. All that is missing is the gentle Christmas music in the background, if you are in North America then possibly good ol´ Bing with ´Wishing you a White Christmas´ or if you are in Austria or Germany ´Silent Night`… My choice would be George Michael with ‘Last Christmas’, but hey, to each their own. 

So, what does my kitchen look like at Christmas time? Rather well tidied and clean actually – and no, not because I am a fastidious baker, but because said activity bypasses my kitchen entirely. Pick that chin up from the floor folks – I don´t do the Christmas baking thing. Actually, I do banana bread four times a year and muffins about the same, and that´s it. It’s not because I don´t like baking, I like it fine, but I guess I just like other things more – like reading, watching documentaries, walking the dog… mainly reading, really.
cinnamon stars
Cinnamon Stars
Now in the Anglo world that I grew up in, most people would accept that without blinking an eye, because everyone does their own thing… bakers bake, non-bakers don´t bake, eaters eat and vegans… well, they do at Christmas whatever vegans do. Live and let bake, or not, whatever. But not here in Austria! 
Good grief folks – Christmas might be a traditional religious festival but the baking preparation for Christmas in Austria borders on the rites of the profoundly observant.

Here is a snippet of a conversation overhead at the supermarket check-out the other day. Woman: ‘I only managed to make 15 varieties of Christmas cookies this year – I have not been feeling well.’ Friend: ‘yeah, I’m behind this year too, my mother has not been well and this year, and now that she is 85 years old she only made 20 varieties instead of 30 and my husband is terribly disappointed because she forgot to make his favourites’. I kid you not folks, I really overheard that conversation. 
Linzer Augen
Linzer Augen

With that bomb shell ringing in my ears I started to ask around – women of course, I have never ever seen a man in this province of Austria who is not a professional chef or baker make Christmas cookies… Do you bake Christmas cookies? How many varieties do you make? Do you like baking?

The answers were that every woman I spoke to made Christmas cookies – at least 3 varieties - but there was huge pride and kudos for those that made more… topping 10 varieties seems to be the goal to aim for. Especially if they have children, it seems to be important, to pass on heritage, traditions, and it’s a great bonding experience for kids. But there are those who make only about 2-3 varieties of Christmas cookies. Light weights! 

In my ladies’ circle one woman confessed to me that even though she hates baking she got so much peer pressure that she went out and bought some ready-made dough to cut out and decorate with her daughter just so that she could offer people ´home made` cookies when they came to visit during advent. 


As part of my cookie research I went to the commercial experts – Dr. Oetker – and as they have done an extensive survey of bakers in Austria I was able to elicit the following information: 

On average (on average!) 38 baked goods were created per person per year in Austria. The most popular baked items were tray bakes, marble cake and apple strudel. Austrian women still hold the fort in the baking kitchen, 50% of women surveyed indicated that they baked at the least once a month, and more if there are children in the household.

The Dr. Oetker report confirms that Christmas without cookies in Austria is unimaginable. The most popular variety is the ‘Vanillekipferl’, shortcrust cookies decorated with jam and icing sugar, ‘Linzer Augen’ or ‘Linzer Radln’ (my sister’s favourite – to eat, not make) and in fourth place ‘Rumkugeln’ (my personal favourite) (editor: Told you she was a lush!) 

People here do tut at you if you are a woman who does not live up to her Christmas cookie responsibilities. All I can say is ‘please ladies keep up this fantastic tradition we want some seriously good cookies to munch on!’ 
old cookbook detail
vintage cook book
If you enjoy baking please have a look at the attached photos from two old recipe books, one from 1938 with the traditional ‘Old German’ script and the other is from 1966 (for nostalgia purposes…). But for English speakers, who want to make a go of Austrian Christmas cookies I can recommend

And please, Gents – don´t be shy, feel free to get stuck in … we won’t tell anyone! So where did I leave my book...?

Sylvia, December 2017

lifestyle, recipes, cookies, international travel, Austria, Christmas baking

three recipes
old recipe

How Martin cooked his goose...
or why Austrians eat goose in November 
lake millstatt
If you live in Austria, in November you will find in almost every restaurant menu the item ´Martinigansl´, this is the ´Martini Gans´ or St. Martin´s Goose. 
We enjoyed a traditional ´Martinigansl´ meal today at the See Villa Hotel on Lake Millstatt and it was very nice too! The traditional goose is accompanied by red cabbage cooked in wine, bread dumplings and cooked apple with lingonberry sauce.

Austrian hotel on lake
Now many of us are familiar with goose at Christmas, just as we are with turkey at Thanksgiving – but what is the St. Martin´s Goose all about? Read on folks – this is all cloaks and daggers…

Not being a Catholic, and not being particularly familiar with the finer points of the Christian calendar (I did discover the 11. November is the feast day of St. Martin) but I still had no idea what this goose business has to do with him. 

cooked goose
Hoping to find a show-stopper link between this saint and a goose I had a good rifle (no pun intended) through the Internet. Nope. Nada. No luck. I learnt all kinds of interesting things – such as St. Martin was born in 316 or 336 AD in what is now Hungary, the son of a Roman soldier. He moved to northern Italy and became a soldier himself (despite being influenced by his parent´s Christian servants at a pretty early age). But no goose – cooked or otherwise. He is famous for having given half his cloak to a poor naked man on a cold winter´s day and became Bishop of Tours, supposedly he had fame thrust upon him and was quite reluctant to take up the mantle (I assume by this time he was given more than half a cloak). 
st martin of tours
Now speaking of cloaks, the half that Martin kept for himself became the famous relic preserved by the Merovingian Kings. During the Middle Ages, the supposed relic of St. Martin’s miraculous cloak, was carried by the king into battle, and was used as a holy relic to confirm oaths. The priest who cared for the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived.
goose dish
And – finally… I found the first tenuous link to a goose! Hold onto your duvets folks –geese supposedly gave the game away when Martin was hiding from the good folks of Tours, who were determined to make him Bishop against the poor man´s will. Go on – blame your fame on geese. Bon Appetit! Or as they say in Austria: Mahlzeit!

Sylvia, December 2017

Lifestyle, Food, International Travel

Early Morning Trials in the Austrian Alps
or why Sylvia has to get up at the crack of dawn
My days start at different times, depending what day of the week it is – the beauty of portfolio working! 

When I lived in the UK I had quite a long commute, either by car into Nottingham to the office – about an hour, depending on traffic… or about an hour and a half by train to London for meetings and conferences. So my days started pretty promptly as I wanted to be in the office for 09:00 most mornings. Sound normal?

Now I live in rural Austria and even though my commute is down to about 15 minutes (in the summer) and up to about 40 minutes (same route – just in winter conditions) I still find I need to get up earlier. Even when I am working from home I need to get up earlier! Why´s that? 

It’s because Austrian life starts at the crack of dawn – there is no respect for morning sleep in this country. If you are not up by 06:00 and out the door by about 07:00 then you are a lazy git. In the winter, depending on snow conditions, we are up at least an hour and a half before we can leave the house, just shovelling our way out.

Sylvia feeding deer in snow
feeding the deer first thing in the morning
Workmen show up at the crack of dawn and school here starts at 07:45. We have an appointment for the chimney sweep to do a fire inspection of the house (legal requirement) you have to keep the appointment… at 06:30 in the morning!! 

Unbelievable. This guy is going to show up at our place at 06:30 in the morning. What time does he get up? Not sure if he will make it up to us though… we are expecting 25 cm of snow overnight, I hope he has his chains with him. Don´t think I´ll have finished shovelling by then! 

I really enjoy my ´work from home´ days where I don´t need to be up at the crack of dawn to get to school – oh yeah, sure I do… 

drive way with snow
chimney sweep
If you have strange cultural habits where you live, please let me know, we would love to hear from you! 

Sylvia, November 2017

Lifestyle, Activities, International Travel

In Vino Veritas - The day Gail helped out with the ‘Weinlese’ 
at a vineyard in Burgenland, Austria

It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to cold damp weather (at least up here in the Northern Hemisphere) and the harvest blessings of the fields and orchards. While Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on their respective dates, people in wine growing areas, celebrate the harvesting of the grapes. 

We’re not talking a posh French vineyard here, but a small vineyard belonging to mom’s friends, where the grapes get taken to the local wine cooperative to be processed into the lovely full-bodied fruity red so popular in this area of Austria – Burgenland, the province in the East, hugging the border to Hungary. 

two women at grape harvest
Mom has always been a keen gardener (and connoisseur of fine wines), so she was quite excited to be invited to help with the grape harvest. On a clear, crisp autumn morning at 7 a.m., friends and family met at the vineyard to start their work. Armed with wheelbarrows, gloves and clippers, the volunteers worked their way up and down the rows amid chatter and friendly banter. Schnapps was on offer for those needing fortification.
man with wheelbarrow depositing grapes
man getting a schnapps
women chatting
man standing on trailer
people harvesting grapes
Once a wheelbarrow was full, it was wheeled up a ramp and the grapes dumped into the back of a tractor driven waggon, to be returned ready for yet more grapes. People worked steadily for three hours until Heidi called people to an early repast. A hearty country style buffet had been set up on a flat-top trailer: rye bread, cheeses, soft and hard, cold chicken, meats and sausages, potato salad, olives and pickles… washed down with tea, coffee, beer or lemonade. Apple strudel and an assortment of cakes to finish off. No one ever goes hungry or thirsty at an Austrian wine harvest. 
Burgenland (land of castles) is an interesting part of Austria, not one that many tourists are familiar with. It’s mostly flat for a start, in fact so flat, that the largest lake, Lake Neusiedel, about 315 km2 is not deeper than 1.8 m. The Hungarian influence can be seen in village architecture and tasted in the cuisine. In days gone by, Burgenland was ruled by the famed Hungarian Esterhazy family, patrons of many composers including Haydn, who was born here. The area is also famed for its storks, which build nests on the chimneys of the quaint thatched farm houses. 
esterhazy palace
Joseph Haydn
         Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, Burgenland                                                     Joseph Haydn
Many of the small villages in this agricultural region have long traditions and a strong sense of community. People help each other out with their most labour-intensive farming chores. Thus, the villagers take turns helping each other with the grape harvest at their small vineyards. 

This brings us back to what’s important here, the wine. There are 36 approved grape varieties in Austria, 22 for white wine and 14 for red. In Burgenland, for reds, Zweigelt and Blaufraenkisch are popular. Check out this website if you are interested in finding out more about Austrian wines:

And if you want to find out more about the Esterhazys:

Finally, if you would like to listen to some Haydn, follow the video link below:

(Gail and Toria, October 2017)

What is a Brettljause and why is it particularly good on an Austrian mountain?
man carrying dog on back
What do you do on a crisp autumn day – when the world is just begging to be explored? And the dog is quite keen too… 

You pack up your long suffering husband (at least I did mine) put the leash on the dog (not the other way around) grab your backpack and hike up a mountain. 
We headed up the Naggler Alm in the province of Carinthia, Austria. This little mountain (959 metres above sea level) is next to a beautiful lake known as the “Weissensee”, called that because of its magical white rim all the way around – the lime stone bottom of the lake shimmers white through the clear water around the edges.

This beautiful lake is a great place for walking, swimming and boating as well as ice skating in the winter – up to 5000 Dutch people congregate on the Weissensee to skate the “Elfstedentocht” (the eleven cities tour, a skating race traditionally held on the frozen Dutch grachts between the cities) but due to warming temperatures the grachts are not reliably frozen anymore, so the Weissensee now hosts this famous race…
people skating on lake
ice skating race on lake
I digress, back to our mountain walking adventure – and I am sure you are asking where does the mobility aid come into it – and the yummy lunch? 

Well, ladies and gents, if you don´t feel up to hiking the mountain to the top you can take the chair lift. Much to the disgust of aforementioned long suffering husband, and keen excited dog, I opted for the lift. After being chair-lifted to the top (doggies allowed) we only had a 10 minute walk to the “Alm” Gasthaus for lunch, where we had a yummy “Brettljausn” that is a meal of predominately meat products (a bit like a “ploughman's”) served with home-made dark bread. And it is always served on a wooden board with a couple of knives. I was once given the unenviable task of translating the following Austrian joke into English: “What does a shark call a surfer? A: “brettljausn” (editor: snack on a board, don't kill yourself laughing)

If you want to see some of the components for what is on a “Brettl-jausn” scroll to the bottom of the blog…

woman and dog sitting on bench in mountains
cold meat and cheese platter
And after this delicious meal we just had the hike down the mountain – where the mobility aid comes into it. Check out this fab backpack for Jack, his very own little mobility aid for walks that are a little longer than his little legs and 13 grand years can take him. He even has his very own Sherpa! 

We ordered this great little doggie backpack from K9 (no dog left behind!) and we are thrilled with it – Jack´s suspicions proved unfounded and he is now a great fan, as his pack can always include him on adventures! 

So if you are a fan of mountains, autumnal colours, fresh air, good food and happy doggies our adventure is greatly recommended! 

man walking with dog
lake and autumn trees
So what´s on a typical Brettljausn?


Sasaka is made from pork lard and flattened underbelly. Both of them are seasoned in a cellar with salt, pepper and some wine where white garlic had been previously soaked. After a week, the meat loafs are first left to dry and then smoked. The second phase of the production consists in mincing lard and underbelly together with raw onion. The whole mix is stirred for a long time, so that it is well mixed and reaches the right level of homogeneity. Packed in glass jars or tubes, sasaka is now ready to be consumed. Usually spread over rye bread, it can also be served as an appetizer, perhaps accompanied by sour ricotta. Sasaka has always been produced in the area of Val Canale, especially in the municipalities of Malborghetto, Pontebba and Tarvisio, all in the province of Udine (in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia), in Carinthia, Austria, and in Slovenia. 
pork dish
There are loads of different ways of making speck but a common way to make speck is to use a boned pork leg which is cured in salt, and spices like laurel and juniper, then intermittently slow-smoked, using pine or juniper wood for several months

Liptauer (spreading cheese) 
This Austro-Hungarian spreading cheese is made from: 
1. 18 ounces cream cheese.
2. 2 1/4 cups cottage cheese.
3. 4 to 5 tablespoons capers.
4. 8 cornichons, chopped.
5. 3 teaspoons paprika.
6. Pinch of salt.
7. Good grating of black pepper.
8. 2 teaspoons caraway seeds.
Mix it all up and be happy. 

smoked pork
soft cheese
´Bauernwürstl” – Farmer´s sausage. 

No Austrian Brettljausn is complete without it. 
A gently dried and cured sausage made from beef, pork, uniodized salt, pepper, garlic, spices, preservative: nitrite pickling salt.

Serve your “brettljausn” with pickles, handgrated raw horseradish root and homemade dark bread. Borage flowers strictly optional. Yumm!

Sylvia, October 2017

Do you want to lose weight and be fit? Easier said than done?

Marion, my Zumba Gold instructor, is also a nutritionist and fitness instructor - my go-to person for advice and inspiration when it comes to weighty matters! 
Marion with fitness ball

Marion, I gather you lost a lot of weight yourself. How did you do it?  

I was managing a pre school and we needed to raise funds for new equipment. I did a sponsored walk / jog. I felt so much better, I invested in a Weight Watchers recipe book and cooked for the whole family from it. I continued with the walk jog which eventually became JOG. We raised £550. 

Then I joined a gym but fell off the treadmill and no one noticed or helped me (Toria - I guess it wasn't a friendly gym), so decided to open my own ladies-only-gym to help other women like me.
How long did it take to lose weight and get into shape?

It took me around 5 years to really feel fit, but to lose weight 16 stone (224 lb/101 kg) to 9 stone (126 lb / 57 kg), about 18 months.
Wow, that's amazing! Do you have to watch what you eat now?

All the time, especially since hitting the menopause. I also love food! 

photo of Marion
two Zumba teachers
How does exercise tie in with weight loss?

To burn fat you need to regularly raise your heart rate into the aerobic training zone. Fat burns in the presence of oxygen. So exercise is key but at the right level. If you exercise above your level of fitness, you will be too stressed and won't necessarily get results, especially as a beginner.

However, what you eat and drink has more influence on your weight. Most people diet too severely or eat the wrong things, e.g. Yoghurts - Low in fat but high in sugar. Too much sugar raises blood sugar too quickly and encourages the body to store fat. 
What are some exercise myths? 

Big one is, 'I am too old to exercise'. Muscles will respond to exercise forever if they are used. They get strong quite quickly but waste and weaken even quicker when not used.

It's about finding the right exercise for you. The first muscles to waste in the body are the quadriceps, the 4 large muscles on front of the upper leg. They help you get up out of a chair, stand and walk. The trick is to get motivated with the right class or system that is the right level and safe and effective. 

New Paragraph
pilates poster
                      Joseph Pilates - (1883 - 1967)
Have you got any diet or exercise tips right that might help us to motivate ourselves?

If you like music, a Zumba Gold standing or seated class is great fun and provides everything from cardio to strength and flexibility. Sometimes it's easier to have a specific class to go to rather than just trying on your own. 

Pilates is fantastic and not just for women but for all. Joseph Pilates was a genius. Google him. His story is very interesting. If you suffer from back issues or osteoporosis for example, clinical pilates is best.

It's got to be fun, after all to have total fitness it needs to be : social, emotional, nutritional, strength, cardio vascular, flexibility, mobility and stability. 

You need to know your instructor's qualifications and experience to find out if it's right for you. 

Ask for a trial session so you can test if it's right for you.

Thank you so much for chatting with us again, Marion. You are an amazing role model.

(Marion was in conversation with Toria, September 2017)

Do you find yourself asking ´what day is it`?
What is it about the media? And why can´t they ever give you a heads up? What on earth am I talking about?

International days. That’s what.

Do you ever wake up and find yourself right smack in the middle of ´international woman´s day´ or ´give oldies a laugh day´ (that one I`m not sure about…) and wonder “where did that come from and why did no one tell me early enough so that I could do something about it”?

Well my dear boldies, our time has come. I now have a link to the calendar of `international days´. Never again will I wonder how `International Bacon Day´ (September 3rd), `International Eat an Apple Day´ (September 17th) or `International Day of Radiant Peace´ (September 22nd – my sister´s birthday…) crept up on you without warning.
From now on, dear readers, I will make it my mission to keep you informed of all vital international days – several weeks in advance – so that you may make your preparations for celebrations in adequate time.

Just in case you think I am making this up (as I am sure my sister will be convinced I am) here is the link:

Now `International Bacon Day´ hmmm…. I wonder…. Suggestions welcome.

Sylvia, August 2017

Laugh Yoga? You've got to be kidding
Imagine the girl you sat beside in school in Austria when you were 14, contacts you on Facebook after over 40 years and imagine she tells you she is a laugh-yoga instructor in Ecuador.  I was certainly surprised, pleasantly surprised. A vet with a PhD in lama research, Annelie has agreed to tell us all about Laugh Yoga and what it’s like to live in Ecuador.

Annelie, why did you emigrate to Ecuador and how long have you lived there for? Did you learn Spanish before moving to Quito?

Hello Toria, halli hallo hahahahaha! With my family, I visited Ecuador twice for two lengthy holidays in 1991 and 1992 and after that we decided to emigrate to Ecuador. I was a vet and my husband had retired after 40 years as cellist in the ORF Symphonie Orchestra. He still works as a cellist in Ecuador, but I had to cut back working after my last two sons were born, because by now I was raising four children.
I only started learning Spanish there. I had a few private lessons and bought some language learning CDs. European Spanish is very different from the Spanish spoken here, so it didn’t really matter.

When did you first encounter laugh-yoga and what is it?

We call it “Laughter Yoga”, but any word is ok, it can also be called laughter therapy, laughing yoga....

Laughter Yoga is a unique exercise routine developed by Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria. It combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing (Pranayama) which brings in more oxygen to the body and brain, making one feel more energetic and healthy.

I always felt that laughter could help me when I felt depressed, angry or lonely. So I searched the internet and found the homepage of Dr. Madan Kataria ( with a lot of information and videos.

I learned that anyone can laugh without relying on humor, jokes and comedy. In Laughter Yoga laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group but with eye contact and childlike playfulness it turns into real and contagious laughter. It is based on the scientific fact that the body cannot tell the difference between fake and real laughter.

Based on these videos I practiced some time laughter yoga at home alone. Soon  the idea was born: I want to be a laughter yoga instructor!

Where did you train to be an instructor and do you teach a class?

In 2012 Dr. Kataria came to Mexico for a 5 days Teacher Training and a one day seminar. This was in May, exactly on my birthday! So I made myself a gift to travel to the training to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I spent a wonderful time with many new Laughter Yoga teachers, with Madan Kataria and his wife and some other experts who travelled from the U.S. to the training. When I came home to Ecuador I not only was a new Laughter Yoga teacher, but also knew that I would practice it every day and open a Laughter Club to get enough practice until I could do seminars for other persons.
Since this training I am laughing every morning for 15 minutes and do breathing exercises for another 15 minutes or so. I founded 3 Laughter Clubs in Ecuador, two of them are still meeting once a week.
I did four more trainings on laughter, wellness and gibberish (nonsense). One in Ecuador with a master trainer from the U.S., one in Austria and one in India (Bangalore) with Madan Kataria and the last one was this year in Athens, a training with the gibberish and nonsense professor Alex Sternick. In 2014 I visited for 7 weeks the Laughter University where every laughter professional shares her knowledge and gets to know new routines and ideas from others.
In Ecuador I did many sessions with seniors, school children, with employees, children with special needs, choirs and so on. I did three certified leader trainings and some of my leaders are members of my laughter clubs and lead sessions, when I am not here.

What are the benefits of laugh yoga, both physical and mental?

There are five benefits of Laughter Yoga:

1. Personal Life: Laughter Yoga will help to add more laughter to your life,
develop a sense of humor and a smile. You will feel more self confident, have a positive outlook, hope and optimism. It changes your mood within minutes and if your mood is good, everything seems good and you are at your best everywhere.

2. Health Benefits: Laughter Yoga is a powerful cardio workout; in fact 10 minutes of hearty laughter is equal to 30 minutes on a rowing machine. It decreases the negative effects of stress on your body which is the root
cause of all illnesses. LY is a single exercise that deals with physical, mental and emotional stress simultaneously. It also strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, controls blood sugar and keeps your heart healthy. It is a powerful antidote against depression – the number one sickness today.

3. Business life: Your output and performance depends on your energy level. For optimal functioning of the brain, you need 25% more oxygen than any other organ of the body. LY increases the supply of oxygen, not only to the brain but
to the entire body.

4. Social Life: Laughter Yoga is a positive energy which quickly connects you with people and helps to make friends easily.

5. Inner Spirit of Laughter: Laughter Yoga will teach you how to keep your spirits high when you face challenges in life. It promotes a positive mental attitude to help you cope with negative situations and deal with difficult persons in a much better way than a normal person.

Are you a happier person since starting laugh yoga and is it something you can practice alone as well as in a group?

Yes. I am definitely happier since I practice Laughter Yoga. The effect of joy remains for more or less 24 hours and since I laugh every day for more than 10 minutes, the “hormones of happiness” (endorphins) are reinforced every day. I experience more joy and have learned to sing and dance at home or with laughter buddies.
Of course, I also will be sad, angry or frightened sometimes as every other human being. When this is the case, I allow me to feel these feelings, and cry if I want to cry. Crying and laughing are something very similar in our body and both of them are healing.
The best way to practice Laughter Yoga is in a group. This is because laughing is very contagious and eye contact helps a lot, if someone does not feel like laughing in the beginning. When you are a “trained laugher” you can also learn to laugh alone. In the beginning it feels strange to laugh alone in your bedroom or bathroom without any reason. Knowing the benefits of laughter on your body and mind when you laugh every day, we will not stop trying and do it eventually (“Fake it until you make it”).

Are there many laugh yoga groups around the world and is there an international federation of laugh-yoga?

All around the world there are actually more of 12000 laughter clubs in many countries in all continents. Some meet daily (mostly in India) some weekly and some on irregular basis.
Most of the laughter clubs are connected to Laughter Yoga University (Laughter Yoga international) in Bangalore/India and also the certified leader training is recognized by Laughter Yoga International. Certified Teacher Trainings are done by Master Trainers in their countries or by Dr. Madan Kataria.

What are some of the best bits about living in Ecuador and what are some of the challenges?

Hahaha, this is a very good question! When you live in Ecuador (or in any South American country, I think) you will have to learn that everything will be slower and not so accurate done, as in Europe or the US. This is an advantage and also a disadvantage – depending on what you like. The stress level is much lower here and you have more time for your hobbies and your friends (and your friends will have more time for you!). But you also will have to wait more time for things to be done and they will not be done accurately. Perfectionists will have a hard time in Ecuador!
I love the nature and national parks in Ecuador. As Ecuador is a small country you can travel in one day from the coast of the pacific ocean (Costa) to the high Andes of Ecuador (Sierra) with many peaks above 5000 m sea level and going on east to the basin of Amazonas (Amazonía). This is unique to Ecuador.
Only by plane you can reach Galapagos Islands, which are well known all over the world. It is a little expensive, but when you live in Ecuador you will find a chance to spend some days on the islands and it is only a 2 hours flight away.
When you live in Ecuador you must not be afraid of earthquakes, volcano eruptions or revolutions. All this can happen tomorrow. As Alexander von Humboldt said once:

Ecuadorians are strange and unique beings,
they sleep peacefully
amid smoking volcanoes,
they live in poverty
amid incomparable wealth
and they cheer up with sad music.

I hope, my answers will help you, knowing Laughter Yoga a little better and you will have an idea, how it is to live in Ecuador. I am happy with both, Laughter Yoga and Ecuador, hahaha.

Thank you for sharing with us Annelie, hahahahahahahahahaha…
Toria, August 2017

If  you would like to find out more about Annelie's Laugh Yoga group, you can watch this video clip:

Who says the English don’t have a good food tradition?

The one and only English afternoon tea experience.
Yorkshire may be God’s own country (as the Yorkshire people will be quick to point out) but the weather is miserable most of the time. (it’s pouring rain outside and I’ve just put on a pair of warm socks as I write this). There is no getting around that. When people in London are sunbathing in High Park, I’m bundled up in at least a long sleeved top and a cardigan or sweater. And when the temperature reading hits a balmy 25 C (77 F) Yorkshire folk will start complaining: ‘It’s sooo hot today… ‘. I’m sure you get the picture.

This north / south divide continues in other areas as well, but the one unifying delight is afternoon tea, a delectable English culinary contribution to the world of gluttony, sugar and carbs. So, if you are depressed, have a sugar low, troubles or anxieties, nothing cheers more than booking afternoon tea at a lovely country house hotel. You can kid yourself that you have walked-off some calories by taking a stroll in the gardens while showing off your knowledge of Capability Brown or just admire the gentle views of a time when everything was alright with the world (we tell ourselves).

goldsborough hall
Last weekend, I got my husband to tear himself away from the cricket, and we soon found ourselves sitting in the orangery of Goldsborough Hall, a lovely old country house which was built over 300 years ago, old and bold indeed. It has survived, endured, persevered, lasted, … gracefully. Now it’s a posh hotel that serves up luscious afternoon teas capable of triggering hypoglycaemia in those who insist on clearing their plates. Did you know that the word ‘posh’ was invented by British travellers to India during the Raj? Wealthier people booked their cabins on the shady side of the ship – port out and starboard home.

Back to what this blog is really about – food. We started our tea with dainty sandwiches (no crusts) – four varieties: chicken salad, smoked salmon, ham and mustard, and egg mayonnaise, on both white and wholemeal bread. This was followed by freshly baked scones (still warm), with butter, clotted cream and strawberry jam. The desserts included miniature chocolate mousse tortes, red velvet cake slices, white chocolate and red berry mousse, macaroons and cream, and a miniature custard and raspberry pie. And there’s one I can’t remember (you know getting older and memory …) I had tea, Linden had coffee (the English are nothing if not flexible), both delicious.

view of country house from gardens
country house
It would be too decadent to do this often, but autumnal storms are looming and what better way than spending a dreary October or November Saturday taking afternoon tea - next time in the country house library perhaps, next to a roaring fire.

If you want to find out about the origins of afternoon tea follow this link:

Toria, August 2017

Walking back in history along the Lungomare
A word of warning – if you are an extreme trekker or an adrenalin junkie stop reading now. Yeah, just don´t bother, go check the clips on your rock climbing gear instead. This article is for those who enjoy a little light exercise in nature, just enough to enjoy the scenery and justify a great seafood meal and a glass or two of local wine to go with it. If this is you – read on!
Lungo mare

The Lungo Mare is a gentle 12 km coastal walk that stretches from the Croatian fishing village of Volosko to the fishing village of Lovran, linking the Riviera resorts of Opatija, Ičići and Ika along the Croatian coastline. Walking the Lungomare in Croatia means walking back into history.

The walk was started in 1889 and completed in 1911 by the ´Scenic Improvement Society´ for Austro-Hungarian Empire tourists to enjoy. This time of empire was the golden era of tourism here; with nobility from across the European continent congregating to enjoy the sea and sea air. It is safe to say that people enjoyed more than a little socialising, hob-nobbing and probably (judging by the opulence of the villas lining the walk) financial one-upmanship.

cliffs by sea
Nowadays you don´t see too many people in full length dresses and parasols, rather people of all ages enjoying the warm water in the coves which stretch along this walk like pearls on a necklace. Every few minutes you will spot a little pebble or rock sheltered cove with crystal clear water and a sprinkling of people enjoying the warm sea.

On the upper part of the walk, near Lovran, even dogs are allowed onto the little beaches and nothing is more fun than watching a few dogs frolicking in the sea!

And after a cool glass of white wine, or two, you can also take the water taxi back to your accommodation. Sheer luxury!

Sylvia August 17
dog paddling in sea
view of sea from boat

So what really is Zumba? or Meet the inspirational person in my life!
group of ladies
Very rarely someone inspirational comes into your life at exactly the right time. This happened to me when I met my Zumba Gold teacher, Marion.

Marian, what gave you the idea to take up teaching Zumba and how long have you been doing it?

I started teaching Zumba when I owned a ladies-only gym.  I was already teaching aerobics and had the idea to offer a 1960s aerobics class.  This was very popular so when I was invited onto Zumba training, I decided to give it a go as I love latin music and felt it would be very well received in the gym.  People then heard about my classes and asked me to come out into the community. No more boring 32 count structured aerobics!  I have been teaching Zumba for almost 10 years.  Now at the age of 57, I mainly teach Zumba Gold.  I love my Goldies!  My next goal is to train to teach Zumba Gold as a seated class for people who are less mobile.

Can you tell our readers what Zumba is and how it came about?

Zumba is a latin inspired fitness class that was started by Alberto Perez from Columbia.  It was born by chance.  Alberto was inspired as a young child to become a dancer when his parents took him to see the film ‘Grease’.  The family worked hard to put him through dance school, but to make ends meet he also taught Aerobics.  One day he forgot his aerobics 32 count music and had the idea to use the traditional latin music tape he had in the car.  He taught a more relaxed style class that day and they loved it.  The rest is history!

Some exercise classes can be a little intimidating and people may be worried about ‘getting it wrong’ or feeling silly if they have not exercised before.  At a Zumba class ‘anything goes’. Alberto wanted people to feel as if they were at a ‘party’ enjoying themselves.  That’s why we call Zumba classes ‘exercise in disguise’.   It’s all about the music, ‘feel the music, feel the rhythm’ and as long as you are moving, that’s great.

How does Zumba differ from Zumba Gold?

First of all, you don’t have to be a dancer to do Zumba/Zumba Gold.  There is quite a difference between a Zumba Fitness class and a Zumba Gold class.  It mainly has to do with intensity.  In a Zumba Fitness class the instructor won’t stop (even for water).  There are usually high impact moves, more complex choreography and faster changes.  The music is faster, very loud to create atmosphere and can be of a more ‘modern, hip-hop Reggaeton style.’  The instructor will cue without words so you have to watch like a hawk.  You sweat a lot and burn a lot of calories. Its wild!

Zumba Gold is a class where you can work at your own pace.  The class is either standing or seated and moves will take into account less mobile joints, inflexibility, core strength and balance.  The instructor will offer alternatives and will often do a ‘preview’ of any new routines.  The music is still Zumba and will include all the rhythms from Salsa to Tango.  A bit like Strictly Come Dancing for dummies!  It is aimed at 50+ but is also a good place to start if you wanted to go to a Zumba Fitness class and practice the moves first at a slower pace.  Our mantras ‘Move at your own Pace’ and ‘Gold is Bold.’
What is your favourite Zumba music genre? Have you got some favourite tracks?

I love all the Zumba rhythms but Calypso, Salsa, Flamenco, Tango, Mambo, Bollywood and Country are my favourites.  My all-time favourite tracks are Baila Pa Emociana (Calypso) and El Tango de la Bodega (Argentinian Tango).

What are the benefits of Zumba sessions for the older generation?

So many benefits as it’s fun and it’s not complicated.  In the fitness industry, we say for someone to have Total Fitness it must include :- social; emotional; mental; nutritional; cardio vascular, flexibility, strength and balance.  The thing is, it’s not that easy to get motivated to start and what a lot of people struggle with most, is sticking to it.  I have found that out of all the classes I teach, the more fun it is, the more results people tend to get because they look forward to coming and they make friends.  It’s also a great ‘feel good factor’ after the class, the buzz of coming together and having fun, but exercising at the same time.

When I think of people and fitness, I don’t tend to think of their age so much.  Of course,  age does influence our level of fitness, but when you think about it you can have someone in their 20s who isn’t fit at all and someone in their 70s who is very fit.  Exercise helps with so many things whatever your age, especially social, mental and emotional.  You could categorise fitness as follows:- Physically frail, physically active, physically fit, physically elite. Which category do you fall into?  It’s never too late to get active.  Even in your 90s the muscles will always be trying to get stronger, you just need to give them a reason to do so.

Our readers come from all over, how would they find a Zumba class near them? Are there Zumba classes in other countries too?

Zumba is worldwide now.  It’s truly amazing how it has grown.  Zumba raises so much for charity too through Zumbathons and different events.  To find a Zumba or Zumba Gold class near you, just log onto and type in your area post code.

Thank you for sharing Marion, as always, it’s a pleasure talking to you. I hope you will talk to us again soon on fitness and nutrition.

Gladly and thanks so much Toria for inviting me to talk about my passion and for being such a wonderful Zumba Goldie!  Gold and Bold.
Here is a youtube clip of a different Zumba Gold class, this time with a male instructor

If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much. (Mark Twain)

The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man's. (Mark Twain, 1899)

book cover
Book Review
‘How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free’ by Ernie J. Zelinski.

‘Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.’ Seneca

Any successful venture requires planning, preferably planning in advance. It is a well-known fact that those who plan their retirement, are happier and adjust better. With my own semi-retirement in mind, I bought some books on retirement planning. One of them has been a particularly good read. ‘How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free’ by Ernie J. Zelinski.

The subtitle says it all: ‘Retirement wisdom that you won’t get from your financial advisor.’ Retirement planning is not all about money. It is about fulfilling our potential in ways we couldn’t when we were too busy working and / or raising families. It’s about learning and growth, rediscovering our sense of awe and wonder.

Now you might say: Awe and wonder, rubbish, it’s all about haemorrhoids, IBS, and bad hearing, loneliness and lack of energy. The Internet has information on pretty much everything under the sun, and I bet if you did some research, you’d find that deafness or haemorrhoids never stopped some people from doing amazing things, or from contributing in a worthwhile and rewarding way to their community.

How about Zelinsky’s title for chapter two: ‘A time to become much more than you have ever been’, or chapter three: ‘So many worlds, so much to do!’

Most of us are privileged enough to have lots of opportunities (and I’m not just talking about those lucky enough to be retiring on a final salary pension scheme), and while we might complain or worry about our reduced financial circumstances, just being able to retire from paid work is a privilege which many people around the world don’t share. What is so positive about Zelinski’s book is that he doesn’t presuppose a fat pension or investment portfolio to have fun. His book is full of examples of people who make do on little, yet live interesting and fulfilling lives. I'm hoping that in Old & Bold we too can offer up a variety of examples of enriching activities.

Next time I'll tell you all about Zelinski's 'Get-a-Life Tree'.

Published  by 10 Speed Press, Berkeley and Toronto., 2011.

(Toria June 2017)
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