Thursday, 30 August 2012

Capturing myself: a photographer's lot

Maybe I'm being optimistic when I call myself a 'photographer' but really I mean someone who likes to take pictures. You know the kind of people we are - we're the ones who always have a camera at the ready whether its our iPhone or the latest DSLR. We're always clicking away, 'chimping' (that's photographer speak for the habit of checking the digital display screen after taking a shot) and sharing our photos at every turn. Everybody knows one and every family has one.

I am that person in our family. My digital SLR sits on a shelf at the ready to capture fleeting moments of my children's lives, moments that I think are beautiful or that I think I can make beautiful through the lens.

In contrast, my husband is not and will not be that person. When I met him, he wouldn't let me take his picture - something to do with the belief that taking a photograph of a person steals their soul. Well, that was over ten years ago and it is a testament to his patience that he has nonetheless let me snap away. Frame after frame document our family life.

Well, I think it's probably fairer to say that I document their lives: my husband and my children's. The reality is that because I am the one taking the photos, I rarely feature in the pictures. This is the 'photographer's' lot. Sometimes I'm quite happy with this but other days, I wish that I could capture myself in the frame.

This was something I noticed as I took my photo-a-day over the summer. Over and over again, I caught my children in unguarded moments and took snapshots of them engrossed, doing their thing: splashing in the waves in the late afternoon sun at the beach or reading stories together in the cosy corner, eating pancakes with their faces covered in chocolate... snapshots and memories of their summer.

For me, catching someone in an unguarded moment, in an unstaged picture is the best. Of course, these are the most natural photos and I see more of the people I know in them than in the posed variety. This is why the photographs I ask others to take of me are, in my opinion, poor substitutes. I know what I look like when I pose - I see this when I look in the mirror every morning!

Of course, as the photographer in the family, I have mastered the art of the self portrait.... invariably involving a contortion of my not so long arm to hold the camera in such a way so as to capture my face rather than the view up my nostrils. But the good news is that my children are showing signs of being ready to take up the mantle. My son has discovered the Instagram app on my iPhone and not only has he managed to take pictures in which I actually appear (albeit not always my face appears!), he loves to flick through the various filters. As you can see, his favourite is the black and white look.

I'm thrilled with his interest in taking pictures and I look forward to making a more regular and less staged appearance in our family albums...

Sunday, 26 August 2012

My morning coffee: Kaffeladen

I love my neighbourhood. I can cycle downtown (ie Kongens Nytorv) in 10 minutes for everything I need but I never need anything because everything I need is on my doorstep! Besides busy Østerbrogade, I also have the wonderful Nordre Frihavnsgade and all it has to offer, whether that's the multiple second hand clothing stores, Pif Paf Puf, the Aladdin's cave of a toy shop, Peter Bier chocolates, any one of the little boutiques and, of course, the coffee shops and bakeries.

Perhaps the thing I like most about Nordre Frihavnsgade is the likelihood that I will bump into somebody I know. It's great to live in a foreign city and to pop out to the shops and see a familiar face. This happened to me twice this morning as I made my way to my morning coffee spot. As my bike rattled with the cans and bottles I was taking for recycling, I was greeted with not one but two friendly hellos: the lovely American lady who married a Dane and moved here with her family some years back and the Belgian guy (son of the Belgian ambassador, it turns out) that we met with his daughter at the beach at the weekend. What a great capital city it is when you can meet someone on Saturday and bump into them again on Monday!

If it was a morning for being reminded about the 'neighbourly' feeling of my 'neighbourhood' then where better to have coffee than the little place called 'Kaffeladen' that sits at the east end of Nordre Frihavnsgade. I wouldn't normally pass this far to the end of the street but we had cycled by on Sunday and I made a mental note to check it out.

It's small, quiet, comfortable and all that a neighbourhood coffee shop should be: low lighting, cosy seating, gentle music, a tempting display of home baked goods (the cheesecakes looked to be very popular) and handwritten signs asking visitors to stay a bit longer! There are even toys out for younger clientele - this is Østerbro after all.

If I had to sum up the atmosphere, I'd have to use the h-word. Yes, this is definitely a hygge coffee spot that boasts the best Lattes in town! Well, I think I was won over to the neighbourly character of Kaffeladen by the dozens and dozens of cards pinned to corkboards mounted on the walls. These were the loyalty cards of the regulars, each one bearing a name and the promise that after 9 stamps, the 10th cup of coffee would be free. Arranged in alphabetical order, I thought that this was the ultimate accolade a small independent coffee shop could boast - the loyalty and trust of its regular coffee drinkers. My only gripe was that the cappuccinos only came in one size and it was small : ( Maybe next time I'll linger long enough for a second cup.

Cost: a single shot cappuccino cost 27 DKK
Coffee hygge factor: 4 out of 5

There's no website for Kaffeladen, so you have to pop down to Nordre Frihavnsgade 76 and experience it for yourself.

Monday, 20 August 2012

My morning coffee: Baresso

Some days you want to be adventurous and try something new. Take a risk on the taste of a cup of coffee for the experience of novel surroundings. Maybe you'll discover a new favourite or maybe it'll taste like hot dishwater, the froth will float and you'll be hard pressed to find a crystal of brown sugar.

But some days all I want is a familiar and comforting ritual. A place where I'll know what I'm going to get and rather than worry about the coffee, I can find my challenge in other things - like reading a Danish newspaper. (Yes, although in those early days I thought it would be the Politiken making my fingertips black, it turns out that I love Berlingske!).

Well, there's this place I know where I can do just that. In fact there are loads of them all over Copenhagen. It's the coffee shop chain - Baresso. When I first landed on these nordic soils, with Starbucks caffeine still coursing through my veins, I turned my nose up at the burnt red logo of a roasting bean that popped up on many a street corner. Now, however, I have a special place in my morning coffee routines for Baresso with the side order of free Berlingske (far better for me than a free morsel of brownie or cake). It fits perfectly in the slot between school drop-off and food shopping at 10 am.

On this particular morning, Leonard Cohen's huskiness wades heavily through the chatter of those around me; as I'm at the Waterfront in Hellerup, my fellow coffee drinkers are mainly on their way from (or to!) the gym, expats like me who've stopped off at the first pitstop on the international school run and groups of office workers from the surrounding businesses demonstrating Denmark's hailed business model: teamwork and round table discussions, coffee cups in hand.

Baresso served its first cup of coffee in May 2000 in Højbroplads, the first coffee bar in Denmark's first coffee bar chain. Now, they are all over the country and apparently abroad too. Baresso's mission is to provide a 'better coffee experience'. It prides itself on the motto that hver eneste kop tæller or 'every cup counts' so that there is 'no compromise when it comes to quality'.

Quality is prized above all else, including the use of organic or Fairtrade coffee. Baresso says that they try to use such products where they can, but only when they reach their quality standards. They also very fairly point out that quality generally trades at a higher price, usually higher than the prices guaranteed to farmers who participate in the Fairtrade and other schemes.

Cost: a cappuccino (single shot) costs 38 DKK
Coffee hygge factor: 3 out of 5

Find out more (and a Baresso near you!) at (bare på dansk)

Friday, 17 August 2012

My morning coffee: Coffee Collective

Its the start of a new school term and one of my first days on my own again. Everyday starts with a coffee but today it started with a coffee and the time and space to enjoy it. It wasn't a necessity, it was a pleasure. I had an errand to run at Torvehallerne (the foodie mecca near Nørreport) and an hour to spare before a long overdue hair appointment back in Østerbro and so this morning's coffee was at Coffee Collective.

I always order the same, if I can, a large cappuccino with a single shot of espresso. Some days this is more difficult than others - a large cappuccino sometimes comes with a double shot - but the process of ordering is good Danish language practice! (The upside to any questionable customer service experience).

A seat in the sun alongside the busy cycle lanes on Vendersgade. The whirring of the bikes drowning out the sounds of building works across the street. Time to myself again.

Coffee Collective prides itself on its 'direct trade model'. Working direct with the farmers who grow the coffee and paying them 'above Fair Trade' prices for the extra work involved in growing the 'premium quality beans'. Its philosophy is that a better quality of life for the farmers leads to better quality of coffee. The farmers, the roasters and the baristas each play a part in delivering a coffee collective cup of premium quality coffee.

Cost - a large cappuccino (single shot) costs 35 DKK
Coffee hygge factor - 4 out of 5

Find out more at                                   

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

When life gets in the way

Earlier this summer I was on Nordre Frihavnsgade, a bustling but lovely street of shops not far from where I live in Østerbro. I was in the bike shop on one of those missions that I love most about being a mum - buying a birthday present for my son. (Yes, he turned 5 this summer - the birthday he had been looking forward to for about 6 months and seemed to take forever to finally arrive).

As I left the bike shop, a stranger approached and asked, 'Don't you write the Sublime Days blog?'. I had a somewhat delayed reaction and my brain took a second or two to process the fact that Sublime Days and blogging were things that could fairly be attributed to me. Far from feeling like a celebrity(!), I felt ashamed. If I have readers, then I've let them down.

Maybe other bloggers don't feel like this but I sit here and type my thoughts, share my days, my minor triumphs over the endless battle with mundane domesticity not knowing whether anybody out there ever reads them. Well, one guy does and if he is reading this then he will know that I have him to thank for the wonderful feeling of 'hey, someone reads my blog!!' that carried me home on a cloud of happiness and made me vow to get back to the keyboard.

Its been a loooong time since I have written but the fact is that life got in the way. For the past couple of months my blog has had to shuffle down my list of priorities. I could list the reasons - Danish language exams, school holidays, sheer exhaustion from running around and having fun - but don't want to give excuses. Its what happens.

Back in June as the days started to tick by and time filled the space between me and my last blogpost, I decided that I wasn't going to fret. Instead I set myself a photo challenge - I would take a photo a day to capture something sublime until I had time to write again. That was 76 days ago! My iPhone and my DSLR are chock full of pictures, I am bursting with ideas for new blogposts and I've even been inspired to re-design the blog layout (hope you like it, by the way).

And so, as a new term begins (always a favourite time of year for me, the return to school for a new year, rested and ready to face new challenges) - I am ready again to let my blog bob back up to the surface. In truth, I've missed it.

And to the lovely gentleman on Nordre Frihavnsgade, thank you for helping renew my inspiration and held og lykke with your own blogging journey but don't fret if life gets in the way!