Why I Walk…

Today was the annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. This event takes place each autumn and is used to raise awareness and much-needed funding for research on breast cancer in Finland. I’ve taken part in the walk physically three years now, and at least supported the walk if I wasn’t able to attend it every years since 2008.

I won’t be missing any future years if at all possible.

One of the reasons it was a special day both this year and last revolved around sharing the event with dear friends who are breast cancer survivors. One of friend was in the middle of her chemotherapy treatment during last year’s walk and bravely and courageously walked the longer route through Helsinki despite not feeling at all at her best. This year she’s doing fantastic, she’s finished chemo, and she continues to amaze and marvel providing endless amounts of inspiration to many. This year was additionally special as another dear friend celebrated the official notice that she is cured of her own battle against breast cancer which started five years ago.

I honestly can’t imagine life without either of these two brilliant women, and I’m incredibly grateful and humbled to share the day with them.

The day was even more poignant when I arrived home to find a message from an old friend who is now beginning her own battle against breast cancer. It may have been years since I’ve seen her, but this news hit me hard and brought home once again just how precious life and time are. I hope she knows I’m with her, even if not physically there.

For the three women above, and for the other women who have fought and won, as well as those who have sadly lost, their individual battles against breast cancer, I will walk. With hope and the dedication of those who dedicate their own lives to finding a cure, may we be a few steps closer to eliminating it finally and definitively.

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My tribe

family

A sign I spied in a local coffee and cake shop got me thinking about the meaning ‘family’.

I’ve lived the life of an expat for more than 13 years now. It’s a transient existence, and has afforded me the opportunity to meet amazing people from literally all over. But, seeing those nearest and dearest to me on a frequent or even regular basis is, thus, not entirely possible nor realistic.

I was reminded yet again of how truly fortunate I am to be surrounded both virtually and in everyday reality by an amazing collection of not just good people but good friends. Weeks, months and at times years may separate one gathering from the next. It doesn’t seem to matter much in terms of those who are my ‘family’—that special category of individual who represents more than a mere ‘friend’, but someone to share the good, the bad, the mundane and everything in between. They call me on my bullshit, and revel in my successes. They provide that extra bit of a push when I really need it to make a goal or get over a ‘hump’, and they’ll either sit and cry with me or provide the endless stream of tissues when things are just entirely too much to bear.

It was whilst having something as simple as a cupcake at the end of a rather tedious week that I spied a simple sign in a shop. What made it all the more poignant was the company I was in at the time. It nearly brought me to tears thinking about all those amazing people in my tribe (including those at my table at the time) and how much they mean to me. It wasn’t a sense of sadness, but a feeling of overwhelming joy and humility. I’d never have imagined ever being so lucky as to have friends like all those incredible individuals in my virtual tribe who are my family.

Anyone who knows my husband and I knows it hasn’t been the best of times this past year and a half or so. There have been flashes of bliss (e.g., our wedding a little over a year ago was a particularly bright spot in an otherwise crap year). But, still, the uncertainty we occupy in our never-ending immigration woes has certainly been of primary importance and, at times, taken over every aspect of our existence. Throughout this process, though, the outpouring of concern, brainstorming for ideas on ‘what next’, and the continual stream of positive thoughts and reinforcements have lifted our spirits immeasurably. And, that to us is what ‘family’ is all about.

Our country of residence may change; our postal address may need editing a few more times; and, the general backdrop of life will shift and be altered as well. Not distance nor time nor elevator music will diminish the love we feel for those in our tribe. And, that is precisely what family means to us.

Calling out prejudice

We live in a relatively quiet little residential neighbourhood, filled with families who largely keep to themselves. The neighbourhood features two bus routes running through it and a small little shopping centre, along with schools, playgrounds and parks throughout. It’s not in the city centre, but close enough to not be in the ‘sticks’. It’s a fairly typical Finnish neighbourhood as far as we can tell.

Today, my husband looked out the kitchen window to see a couple of gentlemen obviously trying to get into their car after locking their keys inside. The car was parked just across from our building on the main road running through our neighbourhood. They were not being furtive, did not look suspicious, and certainly didn’t look to be hiding what they were doing.

A little while later, he was horrified to see not one but two police cars surrounding the car and gentlemen. Why? Most likely, simply because the gentlemen were black.

Anyone could have seen immediately had they cared to that these gentlemen were not simply trying to steal the car. For one, it didn’t seem particularly theft worthy (e.g., several newer cars were parked on either side of it!). In addition, this didn’t happen during the dead of night, but in the middle of the day. That isn’t to say that thefts don’t happen during the middle of the day. But, they guys were in no obvious hurry. Buses and cars and people are traversing the route upon which the car was parked. Finns may keep to themselves, but I doubt they’d turn a blind eye to an obvious car theft. This was obviously not an attempted theft.

Using the infamous coat hanger / wire trick to get at the locking mechanism, laughing and smiling whilst doing so, these men posed no threat to anything other than their car’s own paint job. Maybe, had the person who felt it necessary to phone in to the police stopped to observe the demeanor of those gentlemen rather than to simply note their skin colour, the two police vans called to our neighbourhood could have spent their time more effectively fighting crime.

I wonder, would they have called the police had those gentlemen been white? Would they have given them a second glance?

(Addendum: The gentlemen did get their car door open and were happily on their way once they got the doors open. No windows or locks were broken in the process.)

Misogynist 0; Activist 2

Yes, we are useful.

We’ve recently had incredibly bad luck with our various means of connecting with the rest of the world. In our dealings with customer service representatives and repairmen, we’ve been amazed at just how misogynistic and condescending some of these individuals continue to be.

To be fair, customer service is not exactly understood in precisely the same way here in Finland as it is in the US for example. Almost a year ago, I had an unfortunate experience with one of my formerly favorite local yarn shops when a pair of knitting needles I know to be guaranteed for life had an obvious flaw, rendering their continued use impossible. After exchanging emails with the European headquarters, I received not just one but three replacement sets and the store no longer enjoys my patronage (their loss, given just how much I had previously spent in that particular store). It amazed me at the time, however, how utterly unconcerned the manager was with pleasing a customer and a regular one, and how brazenly she showed her contempt for me as a customer merely wishing to exchange an obviously flawed product.

Perhaps then I shouldn’t have been as surprised by recent experiences with our internet and mobile service provider. I certainly wasn’t expecting outright contempt and disdain. Nor was I expecting to be treated as a technology neophyte who didn’t understand how to turn on a machine let alone discuss the possibilities regarding what had gone wrong in any meaningful and intelligent way. That is, I was expecting to be treated as an equal. Not an idiot.

First, our normally insanely fast cable internet failed us miserable over a one-week period. This is virtually unheard of in Finland, a country which considers access to broadband connections a fundamental human right. In the various calls I made to our provider, I was told it was a) a building-wide problem; b) a network issue that had been sorted; c) they had no idea but would send a repairman anyway; and d) all of the above.

My patience wore out completely when, during our fourth for fifth consecutive call, the unhelpful twit at the other end of the line told me to simply reset the modem, and then proceeded to explain to me what a modem was. (At that point, my husband sensing I was about to go postal took the phone and explained to said twit that we are not neophytes to technology, thank you very much.)

The first of two repairmen arrived, tested the modem, the wall fitting and the cables, and came up with the explanation that it was a problem with the splitter. Fine. But, why the smirk and smugness? He then said a previous technician misspoke and there had not been building-wide problem. It was only a problem in our flat. That evening, our internet connection was lost again.

Given how reliant we both our on our internet service for, you know, our work and livelihoods, this gave us serious reason to consider switching providers. Our next phone call was not to technical support but to customer service. For the first time in this ordeal, we received ‘customer service’. Another repairman arrived, carefully checked everything, told us that the previous repairman had been out of line and explained what and why he was doing everything. He did not speak to either of us as if we were beneath him, but as if we were equals and partners. In other words, we felt he was concerned for our experience and that he wanted nothing more than to help fix the problem. He also reassured us that he would check various things out for the building, since obviously nothing was awry in our flat. Since then, our internet connection has been stable.

Fast forward to yesterday.

Our mobile phone service is provided by the same company as our internet service, although the accounts are separate. For the most part, we’ve had very little to complain about in relation to 3G services. The only thing better than internet connections in Finland is the mobile phone service. Data transfer is free and unlimited, our monthly service fees are a pittance, and coverage is available everywhere. It’s incredible really. (I’ll refrain from mentioning roaming fees; they suck for everyone in the EU.)

That said, I’ve been having issues with a connector cable for my lovely Samsung Galaxy S III, which is a relatively recent addition to my gadget collection. If the cable isn’t positioned just so, it won’t charge. Not exactly a great thing to have go wrong with your phone. I suspect it is a problem with the cable’s connector, and just need a replacement.

Armed with my phone, cable, the original box and receipt, I visited one the many sales and service points for my mobile service provider. I’ve been to this shop on several occasions, and whilst it is normally quite busy given it’s location, the staff are generally quite friendly and helpful. Not yesterday. Not at all.

First, Snarky Boy, as he is now known, told me that the cable wouldn’t work when connected to a computer since there wasn’t enough ‘power’. (Then, why did it work just fine up until a week or so ago? And, why does it not work any better when plugged into the wall?) Then, he tried to tell me that it wouldn’t charge now because it was completely charged. (Really? Then, why when we got to settings and to the battery settings in particular does it show the charge at 65%?) Upon learning that the phone would then need to go to repair (‘even though there is nothing wrong with it’), I asked about what I would do for a phone whilst mine was in repair. ‘Well, I don’t know what you will do while your phone in is for repair,’ in a voice which was dripping with disdain, contempt and a ‘not my problem’ attitude. (I learned later from a friend and via the company’s website that if your phone requires service, the company gives you a loaner until you get your phone back. This was never mentioned at all by Snarky Boy.)

What was even more disconcerting given this entire experience was the attitude not just of Snarky Boy, but of his colleague. The two exchanged several glances during the above exchange and, at one point, the other employee laughed. He sat in his chair with another customer and laughed.

Utterly pissed off and fed up, I asked for Snarky Boy’s name, packed up and left. His parting question was, ‘Don’t you want your phone to go for repair?’ My response was simply, ‘I’m not dealing with you nor this store. I will call customer service to explain to them a) what has happened here and b) what the issue is to get it sorted.’

Customer service again came through. Perhaps it was speaking with another woman, but…she was helpful, kind, apologetic, and interested in solving my particular problem with a minimum of fuss and hassle. She took the time to make note of Snarky Boy’s name, the store I visited and the approximate time events occurred, and reassured me that some sort of reprimand would be issued. She also checked with her supervisor to make sure she knew how it would be handled before ending our call. My confidence in my provider was restored, needless to say.

Will it make a difference? Probably not. But, maybe it will. And, maybe, if more people would stand up to this sort of behavior, things would change. Ultimately, if we all want a world free of misogyny, then we must take a stand, confront it as it occurs, and demand better treatment, whether it is directed at us or at those around us.

One thing is certain: if we remain silent, the misogynist wins.

Food, glorious food

There is no doubt about it—I simply do not function well when I skip meals.

My graduate school mentor was the first to gently point this out to me. Never mind how I was progressing on my master’s thesis, ‘when was the last time you ate’? was one of the most frequent questions I heard from her. It had nothing to do with an eating disorder—I would simply become so focused on what I was doing that all sense of time and sustenance would cease to matter. A bit of fruit, a cup of yogurt, or whatever, and I’d realise just how hungry I had been. (Thanks, Kathy! And, belated apologies for my food bitchiness!)

Those days are long gone, and my eating habits are more regulated. I’m certainly not as svelte as I was in graduate school (which I’m sure some would applaud). But, I wouldn’t mind losing a few inches here and there. My husband and I recently watched the BBC Horizon programme, ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’ and have been intrigued ever since.

Both of us are at an increased risk for Type-2 Diabetes, and we are both concerned about our risks for cardiovascular disease. We’d be foolish not to think about various types of cancers as well. We generally exercise on a regular basis (him, walking; me, running). And, my long love affair with nicotine has ended once again (if this quit sticks is anyone’s guess, but I don’t plan on smoking today). Both of us would like to trim down a little, but we are not the sort of people to ‘diet’ in the traditional sense. We love our foods and cutting out one or another item let alone food group would be hell on our food habits. Just a few of the foods we would have extreme difficulty in eliminating include dairy of all sorts (especially cheese and eggs), bread, and rice. Hence, the BBC’s Horizon programme on fasting and its appeal.

Basically, there is an entire body of research being carried out on the short- and long-term benefits of intermittent fasting and restricting caloric intact. Some research suggests that eating less on average will lead to a longer life and one in which the individual’s overall health status is quite good. Others claim that intermittent fasting (such as a three-day fast every few months, a 5:2 fast, etc) are just as effective. The primary benefit of fasting (whether you choose the three-day variety or a 5:2 diet) is that it lowers you IGF-1 levels, which have been associated with diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers.

The Cuban and I decided we’d like to try the 5:2 diet. Here’s how it works: Five days each week, you eat whatever you want. Whatever you want. (‘Great!’, we exclaimed!) Two days a week, however, you limit your intake to no more than 500 kcal (for me; 600 for The Cuban). The two days do not need to be together (thankfully). You just need to restrict your intake to 500 kcal on two days out of each seven.

Yesterday, was my first fasting day. Here’s what I ate:

Food item & amount Caloric value
Coffee (my standard cup) 2
1/4 tsp sugar 3.75
1tbsp milk 9
Coffee (my standard 2nd cup) 2
1/4 tsp sugar 3.75
1 tbsp milk 9
Tangerine (120 g) 64
Kiwi (93 g) 58
Cup of Asparagus Soup 80
Pot of ginger-lemon green tea 4
2 eggs, poached 137.75
Tangerine (135 g) 72
Kiwi (92 g) 57

Total:                                           502.25 kcal

And, loads and loads of water.

It wasn’t so bad. But, it wasn’t that easy either.

First and foremost, yesterday was not a day that I ran (which is now at least a 5-km route). I scheduled it that way. Normally, I have to eat something (usually a piece of fruit) before and after I run. So, I had a relatively lazy day in terms of physical activity.

Thankfully, I finished up work by noon so that I didn’t have to worry about thinking in the afternoon. Even simple tasks were more difficult. I usually spend a little time each evening knitting, quilting or crafting of some sort. It was not simple and it was incredibly frustrating, something which doesn’t happen very often anymore. My current project, however, a relatively simple knit square that I’ve done dozens of time so far was incredibly difficult. I simply could not keep track of where I was in the patten.

The afternoon was the most difficult time for me. This isn’t surprising at all. Normally, every day between about 14.30 and 16.30, I am useless. My blood sugar drops and focusing is difficult at best. If I could take a nap, I would. If possible, I schedule my work out time for this block or some other mindless task. Working or doing anything which requires higher brain functioning is a waste of time. It’s always been that way and it is unlikely too change. I’ve learned how to cope given the demands of my professional life, and most of my colleagues know this about me (it’s actually quite obvious to anyone paying the least bit of attention! I’m an absolute idiot at that time of day!). When fasting, this was infinitely worse! There was a point yesterday when I was only capable of staring off into space not really thinking or doing anything. Sad, really. Tea helped. A nice big, bacon cheeseburger would have worked better!

Alas…Dinner of two poached eggs and fruit was divine. I was full when I finished and I swear they were the best eggs ever. Of course, an hour later, I wanted another cheeseburger. Ah well.

Still, day 1 of fasting was alright. I woke up this morning and wasn’t ravenous, as I expected I would be, and I didn’t dream of food all night. I normally do not have breakfast until at least one cup of coffee has been downed and the second is brewing. I’ve been up now for about an hour and a half, my second cup of coffee is sitting in its standard spot, and my toast and tangerine are ready to be eaten. (NB: They were damn tasty this morning!)

One thing is certain: I love food. And, I shall enjoy every single morsel today.

Chickpea enchiladas

One of the many reasons we are reluctant to try various other ‘diets’. Foods like this would no longer be on our menu, and that just isn’t right.