The Waiting Game

‘Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting’. ― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

I suck at waiting. Absolutely and completely suck at it. If you ever want to torture me, make me wait. My own version of hell is an endless cycle of waiting for other people or things to happen.

In a cruel twist of irony, I married a man who is perpetually ‘getting ready’. He can’t help it and nor can I. Mix a Cuban and a mostly East Coast American together and you get an anxious woman tapping her toes perpetually and sarcastically asking, ‘Can we go now maybe?’

Perhaps its also more than a little ironic that I loathe waiting but am also prone to procrastinatation. Of course, procrastination comes with those tasks I do not want to tackle, whilst anticipation is more about moments at which I am desperate to arrive.

Today, it’s about waiting for my darling father-in-law Medel to arrive. It’s been far, far too long since last seeing him (~3.5 years), and his visit will be all-too-brief. As we were readying to leave for the airport to meet him, Sod’s Law of course strikes and we learn that his flight is delayed 2.5 hours. That’s 2.5 hours more of waiting, but also 2.5 hours we want to spend with him! Pfft.

But, it’s not just that sort of anticipation which annoys me. Waiting for a package to arrive in the post. Waiting in a queue at the supermarket (particularly just before holidays in Finland). Waiting on the bus (although, in Helsinki, this is soooooo much easier thanks to Journey Planner). Waiting for that anticipated phone call or email.

I simply suck at waiting.

In my quest to be more patient and mostly less obnoxious when waiting for others (especially when waiting for my infinitely patient darling husband), I stumbled across this gem of ‘advice’. It’s nothing really profound or new, and all of the tips are fairly obvious and common sense, IMHO. There is, however, something about seeing them in print which helps. In particular, a gentle reminder such as ‘control what you can control and let the rest go’ is never amiss.

So, I shall endeavour to let go of the fact that my father-in-law’s plane is late, and just enjoy the fact that I can enjoy another cuppa whilst waiting. Patiently. <tap tap tap>

Dare to Defy the Impossible

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about possibilities and if anything is really impossible. A quote by Nelson Mandela has been stuck in my head for most of this week:

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

This lead me on a quest to find other quotes which speak of defying seemingly insurmountable odds and spitting in the face of the naysayers. Here are a few of my favourites:

‘Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be’. ―Shel Silverstein

‘Never say that you can’t do something, or that something seems impossible, or that something can’t be done, no matter how discouraging or harrowing it may be; human beings are limited only by what we allow ourselves to be limited by: our own minds. We are each the masters of our own reality; when we become self-aware to this: absolutely anything in the world is possible.

Master yourself, and become king of the world around you. Let no odds, chastisement, exile, doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Never be a victim of life; be it’s conqueror.’ ― Mike Norton

‘If nature has taught us anything it is that the impossible is probable’. ― Ilyas Kassam

‘Many things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.’ ― Louis Dembitz Brandeis

‘My dear, just because something seems implausible doesn’t make it impossible. Think about how long people believed the world was flat.’ ― Angela Henry, The Paris Secret

‘Start by doing what is necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ ― Francis of Assisi

That last by Francis of Assisi particularly speaks to me. There are so many moments when just starting out and doing the tiniest of tasks resulted in possibilities which then accomplished what had at one point seemed impossible. It’s a nice a reminder to us all, and can serve as a gentle reminder to simply break any larger task which seems impossible into the various necessary components. Before long, we’ll be achieving the impossible. Nice!

And, then there’s this gem, from Dejan Stojanovic, which is simply perfect:

‘Possible impossibility emerges
From an impossible possibility,
Or possibly, impossible possibility
Blooms from the impossibly possible impossibility’.

However you define ‘impossible’ and regardless of what obstacles you think stand in your way, just get on with it. Dare to dream and dare to defy the odds. Then, everything is possible. And, the possibilities are endless.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

What We Are Taught

Perhaps the best quote ever on racism and how it is perpetuated comes from Denis Leary:

“Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2 yr old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.” – Me, 1992. True now as it was then.

Certainly, none of us are conscious or cognizant of the moment we learned to distinguish ‘difference’ between us and whatever ‘other’ there is. But, taught we were. As an anthropologist, this makes sense to me. As an individual, it annoys the hell out of me.

The many, many, many reactions to the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin as well as the outcome of the trial which attempted to exact justice for his killing have reinforced the notion that we have a serious racism issue which persists in the United States. It isn’t just that George Zimmerman walked free and a young, black man died entirely too young. It’s more that a) I’m not surprised that Trayvon was shot and killed; b) I’m not that surprised by the outcome of the trial; and c) I’m not surprised that so many utterly hateful comments, posts, analyses and rants have appeared since the jury reached its verdict.

Incredibly saddened, yes. Surprised, no. And, that just makes me angry.

And, then, there is Jane Elliott. A third-grade teacher from an all-white town in Iowa in 1968 struggling to process the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. also struggled with what she viewed as racially charged coverage of a national tragedy. In attempting to deal with her own grief and confusion over those events in 1968, she designed an experiment to teach her students the meaning of discrimination and bigotry.

What happened over the next two days surprised her and also provided a valuable lesson her students would carry with them throughout their lives.

As documented by Frontline in a special 14 years after her students were subjected to the blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment, the lessons learned and the feelings each student felt when they were a part of the ‘inferior’ group have stayed with them into adulthood. That is, Mrs. Elliott was able to capture the feelings of helplessness those who are discriminated against feel on a daily basis. And, in turn, her students learned to empathise with that and learn to not discriminate in the process.

For anyone who hasn’t watched the programme, watch it. Now. Share it. And, repeat. The lessons from 1968 are still very much needed today.

What’s perhaps further important to note about that experiment is discussed in the full-length programme. Results of tests taken before, during and after the experiment document ever-so-eloquently just how profound an impact discrimination can have on individuals. Those who are part of the ‘privileged’ group perform better on tests whilst those who are discriminated against perform poorly.

Imagine waking up every single day of your life and knowing that you are looked down upon, expected to perform poorly or somehow viewed as ‘different’ (and most definitely not equal nor entitled to the same opportunities) by others around you. And, imagine having that view reinforced again and again and again throughout your life from the time you are born until you die.

The heartbreaking fact of life in the US today is that we do not imagine. If we did, things would be very different. Whether it be based on race, class, sex, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, we look at members of ‘the other’ differently and make assumptions about those individuals based on what we think we know about them and how we expect them to behave. In many aspects, this inventory of characteristics now includes political leaning. (I recognise my own prejudice here and I am trying to work on it.) And, largely, we support our own prejudices with whatever spurious evidence we can. Rather than ask ourselves the difficult questions, we continue to make assumptions we are comfortable with and life continues in much the same fashion. Discrimination and bigotry persist.

Perhaps the most eloquent and gut-wrenching reminder of just how far we have yet to go in removing discrimination and prejudice from our own society came from a piece posted to New York Magazine’s website by Questlove. It’s a powerful essay on just what it means to be a black man in America today. Even one who has ‘made it’ is not entirely accepted or exempted from the painful stigma of discrimination, and as you read his piece, you know that he understands this all too well. The entire piece is well worth a read, but he ends with this, talking with a friend after just hearing the verdict in the Zimmerman trial:

It hurts to hear it, and I say, “I’m not surprised, but who wants to be reminded?” What fat person wants to hear that they aren’t pleasing to the eye? Or what addict wants to hear they are a constant F-up? Who wants to be reminded that — shrug — that’s just the way it is?

I guess I’m struggling to get at least 1 percent of this feeling back, from all this protective numbness I’ve built around me, to keep me from feeling. Because, at the end of the day, I’m still human.


Imagine what it takes for an individual to even ask if they are ‘human’.

We are all ‘humans’. Whatever outward characteristics we are pigeon-holed into, whatever consequences of our individual genetic make-up have created that uniqueness that is ‘me’, we are all humans. But, we are taught how to interpret those visible signals. And, yes, we are taught that there are less worthy humans.

Here’s hoping that we can all one day enjoy interpreting those signals as positive and worthy and equally valuable in their uniqueness. Or, at the very least, perhaps we can simply teach that to those around us and to future generations.

Maybe, then, we’ll all just hate naps.

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

I like to be busy. Not to the point of feeling the need to spend very long days chained to my desk without breaks and not so busy that I feel like I can’t just be for a few moments. But, being busy keeps boredom at bay and makes me feel like I’m doing ‘something’, for lack of a better descriptive. Idleness and the devil’s hands and all that. Being consistently occupied keeps me out of trouble and on ‘track’, whatever that track may be at a particular time.

Recently, however, I took an inventory of the many various little ‘things’ on my to-do mañana list. This list ranges from closets to sort through which have become too cluttered, the recycling mess, sewing curtains for our office, cleaning out my desk (which is daunting), and all the various admin tasks that I just put off because I don’t want to do them. When a friend posted an article about productivity, I started thinking more about my inability to stop procrastinating and resistance to start doing.

Once I get started on something, I am more likely to finish it and do so efficiently. It’s the process of starting that it is hardest for me. From cleaning out the refrigerator to writing a manuscript, I always find the first step (that is, beginning) the most challenging and the easiest to put off.

I’ve been experimenting lately with my time and trying out ways to just get going.

Routines help. Carving out a specific time and devoting that time slot to one task is working well for me. I tend to schedule my runs through our neighbourhood sometime between 13.00 and 15.00. Between 12.00 and 13.00, I’ll tend to plants on the balcony, read that paper that needs reviewing or spend a little time reading for me if I have the free-time available. Mornings with coffee are for responding to and filing emails. Afternoons and early evenings are reserved for administration and random tidying up around the office / home.

Not every day is the same, and certainly depending upon scheduling demands, etc., plans are likely to change to accommodate others. But, finding a routine and carving out times for specific tasks is helping me to not procrastinate quite as much. And, it allows me to get started if I know there is a start and end time to a particular task.

Mañana is great. But I’m rather tired of putting off for tomorrow what I could be doing today. And, I’m thoroughly enjoying the elimination of some stress and anxiety associated with that old bad-habit friend procrastination.

Besides, who knows when we won’t have any tomorrows left?

Hooray for moms!

I am continually amazed at just how awesome today’s moms are. Since moving to Finland, we  met some pretty amazing people, including talented and intelligent women and their incredibly inquisitive and lovely children.

This is my homage to them.

Perhaps it is because we live in the best place on the planet to be a mother or simply a consequence of age, but most of the women I know here have children, many of whom are young kids. (As I write, I’m anxiously awaiting news of the arrival of one friend’s baby girl!) From the newest editions to the planet’s population to young adults embarking on epic journeys, each of these families have enriched our lives and our time in Finland immensely.

Finland is a pretty fabulous place to have kids. From the incredible landscape and clean, well-organised environment to the impressive system of health and social services, families are well provided for and supported. Recently, the Finnish tradition of providing a box of clothes, baby supplies, and other necessities which in turn can serve as a baby bed was spotlighted in the media, and even sent to the royalist of families before the arrival of their own little bundle of joy. Finland makes it easier to be a parent and evens the odds for all as much as possible for each new life. Those are all great things.

But, that doesn’t mean that being a mother is at all easy or without its challenges. The demands of contemporary life—busy social calendars all situated in a foreign land and/or in multiple languages—are enough to exhaust (and at times frustrate) anyone. Add into this mix children particularly young ones, and I honestly don’t know how today’s expat moms survive with their sanity in tact! What’s more, many of the super moms I know either have husbands who travel a LOT and/or also have their own careers and jobs to juggle as well.

Nevermind the cape — I often imagine these women with two heads (to accommodate what I’d imagine as the necessary brain power to keep everything in its proper intellectual place) and more tentacles than a school of octopi!

Mutants they are not. They’re just fabulous women who love their children, and are shaping amazing little people. It’s an absolute honour to spend time with all these amazing moms and children. Whilst I don’t have photos of them all, I’ve included a few of the moments I’ve been fortunate to share with these fantastic families. Thank you for all that you do and for sharing your lives with us!

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Six months from now….

….I shall seriously miss this weather on my near-daily runs.

There is an enormous contrast between seasons here. It’s difficult in winter to remember what summer feels and looks like. If only summer were a bit longer. Alas, for now, we’ll enjoy the long days, need for fewer layers, and the ease with which we may get out the door and on our way. In winter, we’ll remember the lazy days of summer (or try to). And, when we can’t recall what summer looks like, at least we have photos.

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The ‘List’

A few weeks ago, a fellow expat living in Holland posted her wish list of goods she missed or wanted her sister to bring from the US. Every expat I know has that ‘list’ of items that they want and simply cannot find wherever they live. Doesn’t matter which country they call ‘home’ or which country issued their passport, they have a ‘list’.

It’s been a month or so shy of 14 years since I ‘moved’ overseas and I’m now in the second country to be ‘home away from home’. My list has changed over the years (mostly in length), and changed significantly from those first few years when I was going home for long stretches at a time a few times a year.

Those first few months in 1999 in Moscow, I gave a lecture in one of my classes about culture shock, something which became quite meaningful on a deeply personal level. Who knew it was possible to discuss half-and-half alongside one of those most basic of anthropological terms. Not only did it help my students understand the concept, but they also provided tips about a substitute (сливки or ‘slivki’, which is basically creamer and widely available) to help ease my discomfort, but I also found a kitten in the process (I had also discussed how sad it was to come home to a flat without my darling kitties). Thinking about that particular lecture now is rather mortifying but also reminds me of just how different ‘my list’ is now.

When we still lived in Moscow, many of my trips beyond the Russian border to any country outside the Iron Curtain involved mad dashes to the nearest book store, stocking up on clothes which fit, and coffee—fresh, luscious, dark roasted coffee. My freezer never had space for much more than large ziplocks stuffed with 1-lb coffee bean bags for the first few months after a trip home. During those years, in addition to coffee, I would normally come back with any combination of the following: books, clothes, cold medicines, ibuprofen, and, as vain as it sounds, Aveda and Origins products. When visiting the US, I would eat all of the TexMex / Mexican food I could find. And, steaks. The bigger, the better. Many a mad dash through airport shops before leaving the familiar ended in what was affectionately labelled ‘Duty Free Shit Happens’, that inevitable panic that ensues when leaving the borders for months at a time.

When we moved to Helsinki in 2007, that whole process of culture shock took over once again and I found myself missing items from Moscow. Mostly, we missed our life and friends desperately. Rather ironically, both my husband and I missed our beloved сливки. We missed the birds that sang outside our flat every morning. We missed the pet shop near our house with the lovely people from whom we bought cat food. We missed Moscow. We missed the familiar.

But something strange has happened over the last few years here in Helsinki. There aren’t many items that I’m desperate to get that can’t be found here or for which substitutes do not exist. Mostly now, I miss friends and family. I miss driving on highways across the US. I miss NPR — Yes, it’s all available online and via podcasts, but I miss turning my radio on in the morning to my favourite station and leaving it there.

But, I do have ‘a list’, in no particular order than:

  • Coffee beans from Java Joint (which sadly no longer exists)
  • Vintage fabrics for quilting and sewing
  • Freshly made tamales (I’ve learned to make them, but it just isn’t the same!)
  • Bigelow’s Mango Green Tea (thanks to a fellow expat friend living in Amsterdam)
  • NPR live from a radio
  • Big bottles of 200 mg ibuprofen tablets
  • Friends and family.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. All but one of those items have been on my list for the past 14 years. I’m pretty sure they will remain there no matter where I call ‘home’ and no matter how long I live beyond the US borders.

Is everything inherently political?

Recently, whilst discussing a future yarn bomb with some fellow crafters, the issue of combining politics with knit graffiti was raised. Without intending any flippancy, I made the off-hand comment that everything I do tends to be steeped in politics. I’ve been thinking about that a lot in the last few days, and I wonder if everything I do does have a political element.

That is, is everything inherently political to those more politically inclined?

Obviously, the things I do at home and outside my ‘day job’ are not necessarily political. Or not intentionally so. If that were the case, not only would I drive my husband and cat absolutely mad, I’d do my own head in (more so than I already have)!

Certainly though, because of my career choices, much of what I do for work tends towards the political sphere and can’t help but carry controversy amongst some. And, given how I work as well as where my ‘home office’ is, it’s difficult at best to separate work from everything else. But, did I choose my career because of my political interests? Or am I interested politically because of my own career choices? Does it really matter?

I don’t have any answer, and I’m not sure that it really matters. What I have noticed as I’ve bumbled along that merry-go-round called life is that I recognise the political in the mundane more often then not. Certainly, engaging in policy debates and discussions, working out how to make my own little corner of this gigantic world better and the outcomes of my own work all carry consequences, most often political.

But, perhaps more meaningful are the the products I consume, the small businesses I support, the news items and outlets I read and share, and the organisations and agencies with whom I work all of which speak more about my own ‘community’ and tend to reflect the sort of world I hope we can all eventually live in. If an agency has questionable ethics or a product was produced through less-than-admirable conditions, is it worth it? Not really, at least not to me. There is a human cost which has nothing to do with money in any currency, and recognising those costs is one aspect of the choices we make each day.

Perhaps that is political. Mostly, though, it’s more about hoping that each of my actions and those of my own small family have a positive impact on the world around us, and, in particular, support policies which are just and humane and place value on each individual rather than a particular class or ethnicity or gender. Or even place more value on one individual over another. We may not have all been given the same opportunities in life or born into similar circumstances, but we are all worthy and deserving.

If that makes everything I do inherently political, I’m okay with that.