On ‘The Chicken Chronicles’ by Alice Walker

The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found this book at a tiny little indie bookshop in the Cabanyal neighbourhood of Valencia when we were on holiday last December and January, which seems like a lifetime ago now. I bought this book because it was written by Alice Walker, one of my favourite writers, and because I’d never heard of the book before. It wasn’t until I started reading it that I realised it was a memoir. Despite the title, I didn’t really expect it to be about real-life chickens. Truthfully, I honestly love that she writes about her chickens, creatures I did not know she tended or owned.

This a a delightful little read. Given the weight of this very heavily burdened world, Walker offered me a brief and welcome respite from those burdens in her musings on chickens. Some of those musings are rather weird for me or somewhat silly. But, the simplicity of sitting with chickens and watching and meditating on their actions and movements is incredibly appealing to me at the moment. This book is like a very long letter or series of letters to her chickens, and that’s quite sweet in a world filled with too much sourness.

I envy her, and her chickens. And, now, I rather want my own chickens to tend and watch.

If like me, you need an escape from all that troubles you, this little book might just satisfy you. It did me.

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Nine is just fine

About a year or so after my husband—then, partner—and I moved to Helsinki from Moscow, my lovely mother-in-law Victoria spent several weeks living with us. We had previously met just after The Cuban and I met and decided we were meant to be together. And, I loved her immediately, which made her visit to our home in Helsinki infinitely less intimidating. Victoria is also perhaps the single sweetest, kindest and funniest human around, which made the days when my husband was at work easy to navigate despite our lack of a common language (she speaks Spanish, I still do not, shamefully). It also allowed me more insight into his roots and the woman who moulded him, and I loved him all the more because of it.

During that visit she remarked to my husband that he and I make a good team. He quipped back something along the lines that I was a team all unto myself, which was rather hilarious (and true?). I am nothing if not tenacious when I’m on a mission, and I’ve always be a bit more independent than is strictly necessary or good for me at times. I suspect that independence rendered it all the more shocking to those who have known me longest that I was going to marry some Cuban guy. No one, least of all myself, expected me to ever marry. But, marry I did.

But, Victoria, my lovely MIL, was and remains correct. The Cuban and I are a team. As time passes, we appear to be a single, interconnected unit, using the same phrase or reaction or even grunt of (dis)approval in certain situations and simultaneously.

And, today, as we celebrate 9 years married, I love us and what we are becoming. With each passing year, I love us, our life and this man who is my ultimate teammate even more.

The last year has been such a challenging time, not so much for our relationship, just simply as a year and a point in time. Naturally, we like all couples have had our moments of married non-bliss. But, we have endured those instances and recognised what brought us together far outweighs a single or even several unpleasant circumstances.

There are roller coasters we ride through life and there are also storms from which we all seek shelter. This past year, The Cuban and I have endured both the wildest, most terrifying and thoroughly wearisome rides and survived raging, damaging and turbulent storms, both figuratively and literally. And, we’ve done so together.

I go to bed each evening, even on those darkest of nights—perhaps more so on those when I feel most troubled—thanking my lucky stars that this man landed anywhere near my orbit. The odds were stacked so much against it ever being a possibility. And, it’s continually a source of awe to us that we landed where we did when we did. Timing was everything.

As we approached our ninth anniversary, and we both looked up precisely which anniversary it was for us, I found myself reflecting on what Team Cuba Sí, Yankee Tambíen means to me. Primarily, it just means that we bring out the very best in one another for one another. It’s not simply that we want to be better for one another, but that we genuinely are better because of the other. At least, I know he’s offered me the possibility of becoming a better person, by challenging me on my bullshit, encouraging me to grow and expand intellectually, and cheered me on as I both failed and succeeded throughout the past 15 years we’ve been together and 9 since we joined our lives legally.

I see the world differently with and through him, not because he asked me to; but, because I wanted to for him.

So, a year on, this is what I know to be true:

  • There’s no one with whom I’d rather be in quarantine and be forced to spend all of my time.
  • There’s no one who makes me laugh quite like he does, at times over absolutely nothing.
  • He is still my best friend, my moral compass, my sunshine on a cloudy day and my own personal hero and cheerleader.
  • And, when the storms rage and the night is darkest, I know that he’ll help me navigate to safety and provide a light to lead me home. Hell, he’d carry me and the umbrella if necessary. Because he hasn’t let me down yet when I’ve needed him most. I can only hope that I have not nor will ever fail him.

Since all bets are off on what the next year will bring, all I ask is that our little team flourishes and endures. This is home. It may not be particularly flashy or fiery (recent escapades next door aside) or exciting from where you sit, but it is just fine by me.

Here’s to nine, bebe.

We are family. And, we all wear tie-dyes.

Teaching in the time of Corona

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, largely because it has so very little meaning these days. It passes, certainly. But, how we classify it seems all confused and out of sorts. For instance, I’m not sure if today marks the beginning of the last course to close out my fifth academic year (2019-2020) or the official beginning of my sixth academic year (2020-2021) teaching at the University of Helsinki. Why this confusion? Well the course that began today was originally planned for last spring, but was rescheduled due to Covid-19. Thus, we met for the first time today. Ambiguous time, right?

Thus, I’m straddling a weird place. Rather apropos for 2020, I suppose.

Regardless, as the time for that first ‘meeting’ of this specific course neared, I realised two things:

  1. I’ll never not be a bundle of nerves on the first day of the academic year or just prior to meeting a new group of students for the first time. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve taught the material or how comfortable I feel with it, I’m a nervous Nellie on the first day and through the first few moments of a class. Perhaps given that this was my first real-time Zoom class, I was even more nervous.
  2. This year more than most I am feeling so much solidarity with and love for every single teacher / instructor / professor I know at the moment. Whether their academic year features in-person, online or some hybrid format given Covid-19, and whether they teach the tiniest people or more seasoned and budding young scholars, educators everywhere deserve so much recognition and kudos as a special cadre of underappreciated superheroes in these times. I don’t know a single educator friend who is not a badass with the compassion of the Buddha to back up their mad skills. And, I know a fair many who are terrified for their students and themselves, which breaks my heart.

Today’s class went well enough all things considered. All of us are attempting to be a bit more forgiving and more patient with ourselves as well as with one another than perhaps we would be normally (speaking for myself here). We — students and educators alike — are all navigating strange times, and simply must deal with things as best we can and as they present themselves to us.

Hopefully, we all emerge from this surreal experience and academic year a little wiser and having met our individual and collective objectives as educators. And hopefully our students learn what we intended or planned for them and feel fortified and fulfilled, and ready to embark on whatever future awaits them.

I’m fortunate: my courses at least for the autumn term are entirely online. I would naturally prefer to meet my students in person. But, I’d much rather they and I remain healthy in these times. I genuinely hurt for those educators and students forced to enter situations in which daily they wonder if they are risking their own or their family’s health and well-being. No one should be forced into such a situation.

So, as Finnish school children and teachers across the country return, here’s to all of the educators entering the 2020-2021 academic year. In Finland, the United States and everywhere.

Be safe, y’all. And, I hope you feel supported and loved and recognised for your heroism and extraordinary efforts in continuing to inform, enlighten and educate your students. You’re value and worth are immeasurable and I for one and for what it’s worth salute you.

Google Doodle for 13 August 2020

Unintended restoration

Yesterday was weird.

It wasn’t until late in the day that I realised it had been two years to the day that we discovered our beloved feline, Cheeky Che Fufu, the Princess of Darkness, had developed kitty titty cancer. That particular gut punch was vividly relived after stumbling upon an image of her from exactly one year ago when she was still clear-eyed and sassy. It’s been roughly six months since we said our final farewell, a realisation that left me unsettled me and heartbroken all over again. Che Fufu’s been on my mind a lot lately, and her memory has thrown phantom shadows of her around my desk as I’ve worked. Whilst I am enormously grateful to our newest family member, the Tiny Terror that is Squeaky Pollito Pito Frito Fu, and his persistent play and silliness along with kitty hugs the likes of which I’ve never really known, I will forever be a member of #TeamCheFufu.

Simply put, I miss our darling beautiful girl.

With her in my mind and an incredibly heavy heart, my husband and I set off on our evening stroll yesterday evening, me silently shedding tears behind my sunglasses and my husband also lost in his own thoughts and concerns. We decided just after setting off that we wanted to try to get in a good long stroll. I think we both needed it. So, we headed for that tiny uninhabited island not far from our flat, Seurasaari, to see what we could see. Little did we know that Finland had plenty of treats in store for us, perhaps at a moment when we needed them most.

The light. The glass-like water surrounding Seurasaari. The sun gently sliding below the horizon over the water creating a kaleidoscope of colours. The shadows cast against trees at impossible angles, both bending and expanding the light in unexpected ways. And, so many reflections and images in every direction. At times we seemed so far in the woods only to be pulled back into the city as we looked across the bay in the direction of the city centre. The deeper we traversed, however, the more our moods lifted. And, the less our worries, concerns, heartbreak and woes weighed us down.

Thank you, Helsinki. We forget sometimes just how insanely beautiful you are. On days like these, there’s a certain restoration in simply getting out and moving about. Perhaps that was your intention all along.

One step at a time, part II

I did a thing, y’all.

The Cuban and I have diligently stuck to our evening strolls for several years now, our moment each day when we step away from gadgets and the rest of the world and meander around our hood and bond, chatting about whatever tickles our fancies on that particular day. Since June and the last of my lectures from the 2019-2020 Covid-thwarted academic year, I’ve been rather committed to walking and/or running in the morning and in the evening.

In an attempt to manage my own stress and find my long-absent running mojo, I began taking walks or running in the morning as well.
It’s been awesome, and helpful, and definitely helped me learn to love running once again. (Mind, I still hate running when I’m doing i; but I LOVE it immediately upon completion, and look forward to lacing up and heading out for my ritual of cursing running so that I can declare my love and devotion to it immediately afterwards all over again. Yes, it is a thoroughly dysfunctional relationship.)

Given this commitment, however, in June, despite missing several days of walking and/or running, I still managed to log just over 200 km, one of my best months ever since I began keeping stats.

Yesterday, I topped 300 km for July. And, with a few days left in this month still to run and walk, and with at least two more runs planned, plus our daily evening strolls, I may yet reach 350 if I get out there as much as I have been. [Insert joke about Sod’s Law and/or best intentions. Go on.]

I suspect once my teaching obligations at the university resume next month, I won’t have nearly enough time to continue this little experiment. But, I’m well-chuffed at the moment. To have been afforded the luxury of time (and no injuries other than a few blisters yet, touch wood) and decent weather to embark upon, this peripatetic experiment has been a gift. Instead of the hour I’ve set aside each morning, maybe I’ll cut the time down to half an hour. We shall see. For now, I’ll enjoy the time I have.

As much as I love our evening strolls, my morning meanderings have also offered me a chance to step away from the screen and consider and process so many things on my own. And, that’s allowed me to be a bit more present with The Cuban when we are out and about. And, allowed us the opportunity to explore our surroundings a bit more together.

My next goal is within reach, although I have no definitive timeline for its completion. But, I’ll get there.

One step at a time.

A scene from favourite evening stroll and walk from July.

I am not your enemy

Several weeks ago, a friend / colleague reminded me of a band I’d not listened to in ages, a band which several decades ago was often in my daily musical rotation.

It amazes me how relevant they still are today.

Rage Against the Machine, ‘Know Your Enemy’, 24 July 1999, Live @ Woodstock ’99

I spent the rest of that day revisiting that mighty, fat sound of revolution and sense of empowerment against the system that is Rage Against the Machine and marvelling at just how much things are the same, and yet not at all.

In the mid- to late 1990s as RATM emerged and as I was awakening to the power of my own voice and exercising it in elections and through protest and civil disobedience on occasion, it was still possible to have conversations with those who represented the polar opposite of my own views. Some of the conversations I’ve had, at least virtually, recently have scarcely resembled those previous debates, either in content or tone. Yet, echoes of the past, particularly on issues of racial injustice and unfair policing a la the clip above, have become even more relevant and more polarised it seems.

I find myself increasing thinking ‘I am not your enemy’ to strangers and those within my own social network, particularly to those with whom I share very little in terms of ideological leanings. Yes, some conversations have been productive and continue (even if I am woefully behind in my own correspondence). And, labels such as socialist and Marxist, don’t really bother me, just as liberal, progressive or left-winger seem rather silly even if lobbed in a way that suggests denigration or condemnation. But, the increasing frequency with which I see, read and hear individuals suggesting that anyone who seeks criminal justice reform, restraint in the face of ongoing BLM protests or is in any way critical of the current occupant of the White House as American-hating or intent on destroying the US leave me bereft and rather heartbroken.

I may not support the current administration and certainly lob my own harsh criticisms at him and many a Republican. But, it isn’t from any hatred or malice for my country.

I am proud to be from the United States, although admittedly perhaps less so at this particular moment given our current alienation from allies and how much we appear to be failing our own nation. As a living document and despite its inherent flaws, the US Constitution offers much to be proud of, as does the Declaration of Independence, two documents I revisit in my own act of patriotism each 4th of July. More than anything, I’d like to see the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness equitably and equally available to every man, woman and child in my own country, a simple reality we have yet to achieve except largely for those born white, rich or male. I want to a better life for all in the US (and elsewhere), and I’d like to create a just space for all, without fear of financial ruin if one becomes ill or infirm or without fear of prosecution or persecution simply because of one’s outward appearance or being born into a particular position and station.

We have work to do, y’all. And that won’t be possible if you view me as your enemy simply because I am a progressive, liberal, far-left-leaning woman who thinks black lives matter and that wearing a mask or vaccines are sound public health policies. I can simultaneously love my country whilst also wanting to improve it. I can advocate for a Green New Deal and climate action, as well as Medicare for All / universal health care whilst simultaneously liking to shop (you have seen my Marimekko obsession, right?) and travel. I can be your ally whilst not agreeing with you on every single issue. I can be a decent human being whilst not believing in your god. I can be a crazy cat lady and still love dogs and playing with puppies.

But, I am not your enemy. And, don’t let the powers that be make me out to be. I’m fairly certain, that there is more that unite us than that which we allow to currently and persistently divide us.

One conversation at a time

NB: Like many, I’m genuinely struggling to put into words what I feel or to process what we’re collectively witnessing and experiencing in this moment. This is my own first step, based on a personal experience from this morning and how it might help me, at least, move forward and do something — anything — to affect positive change within my own network. The specifics of this morning’s experience are anonymised in order to protect my friend’s identity. This is my own perspective and reflects that alone.

Uncertain future. Illustration: Chris Riddell

I am not necessarily good at difficult conversations. I have never have been, and it’s perhaps the flaw I recognise as most unfortunate about myself. And, the flaw I struggle with the most.

If I am completely honest, I see the ugliest parts of myself surface during those moments. Specifically, I do not deal with criticism well at all, despite being more critical of myself than anyone else could ever hope to be. Contrary to understanding its necessity in helping me do and be better as a wife, friend, instructor, writer, [insert descriptor/role here], constructive criticism makes me exceedingly uncomfortable in the moment. I have no problem questioning my own beliefs on my own, but publicly I find such instances particularly painful and typically shy away from them whenever and as much as possible. I am also working on this. Because I want to grow as a person and be a better person for those in my life as well as my own community. But, it’s damn hard work.

Given the current backdrop of various bits of chaos that has become 2020, and the unreal events unfolding in the United States specifically, difficult and uncomfortable conversations are necessary. So, when a friend with whom I share very little ideologically reached out to ask me about a sensitive topic, I took a deep breath and dove in head first.

And, you know what? I regret nothing. It felt good. It worked. It was respectful and honest. Unresolved, but solid and a step in a direction we both welcomed. And, that’s something.

Because neither of us approached this conversation from the perspective of needing to be right or correct or proving our point, it worked.

To me, this moment provided an opportunity, not only offering the chance to reach an understanding of a perspective and the thoughts of someone with whom I do not share a world view. But, also, a chance to help someone I know understand a bit more about where to find resources and perhaps look at their own world view in a slightly different way, one which might prove more beneficial to those unlike us who desperately need allies who look like us. This moment hearkened back to a time when liberals and conservatives / Democrats and Republicans / blue states and red states could discuss the issues of the day and find a way forward rather than ripping one another apart.

This friend and I conversed with the intention of listening and gaining insight rather than being heard and judging one another. We challenged one another (I hope), but we also chatted aiming to help one another rather than selfishly and myopically support and validate our respective viewpoints. We did not approach the conversation intending to pick apart everything; instead, we tried to unpack one thing. We asked probing questions and patiently waited for responses. We left labels aside, placed pins in other important topics which were tangential to this specific topic and focused instead upon the meanings we might have missed by using various labels previously.

And, we left the conversation with points to think about and consider, with an agreement return to our discussion later. We did not leave feeling frustrated, angry, hurt of belittled.

We provided ourselves with a way to move ourselves as well as our communities forward. And, that’s huge.

So many of us right now are hurting, whether we agree on what pains us or not. So many of us lament and despair the loss of innocent lives and the inhumanity we are collectively witnessing, all in the middle of a global pandemic that demands social distancing and has impacted our social and economic realities if the not the very fabric of our lives. We may not necessarily agree on what causes the pain or anguish, or indeed upon on what specifically what must change. But, we agree that the wounds run deep and divisions are killing us. And, that change is necessary.

To me, we must also confront continuing injustices such as institutionalised racism and a system rigged to maintain the status quo and extreme power differentials in place. Doing so requires finding common ground and understanding wherever and whenever we can. It won’t be easy, and perhaps might result in more than a little blood, sweat and tears, for some real and for others allegorically and metaphorically. But, the difficult, sensitive and hard conversations and discussions must take place.

So, here’s an invitation: Come talk to me.

I will listen. I will do my best to be open to those difficult conversations, without judgement or justification. I will do my best to be respectful and less reactionary or defensive. Primarily, rather than shy away from them, I invite those discussions and conversations, welcoming them and genuinely consider them. I may not always agree, but I will seek out ways to reach consensus where possible and check my own biases and privileges and assumptions as necessary. I hope all of us will do likewise. Otherwise, nothing will change.

On being 50

5-0. Fifty. Five Zero.

Yesterday, I turned 50 years old. And, I am fabulous. I do not mean that in a boastful sort of way, but in a way that my life, as simple as it is, is truly good. And, I cannot quite get my head around that simple truth.

My life at 50 provides me with more than I need, and exceeds my expectations in surprising ways, particularly when I compare where I am now to the dreams of a young woman with no earthly idea what lay ahead. There is no flash or needless drama, but there is a peace and serenity, qualities lacking not so long ago. My life at 50 resembles nothing I envisioned for myself at 25. Yet, this life is far better than I dared hope it would be.

I am beyond grateful every single day to have found a partner who constantly and continually amazes me with his kindness and his patience, his talent and his intellect, and his love, his boundless, unconditional love, even on my worst days. I have a job that challenges me and rewards beyond expectation, and colleagues who lift one another up with support and compassion, and feature friendships forged by fire in many ways, particularly over the last several months. My family and friends scattered literally everywhere across this crazy world still manage to make the girl inside feel special without physically meeting-up and instead popping the champagne bottles virtually. Another cheeky cat entered my life whom I may spoil and annoy and who will keep me entertained and humble. And, to house it all, we have created a place to call home filled with reminders of every aspect of this little life for which I am enormously grateful and at times in awe of because it is mine.

Yesterday was a weird day given the the current pandemic-altered world we currently inhabit. But, the day itself also reflected the quiet and calm my life has become at the half-century mark. A few tasty treats thrown in to remind us what truly matters: health, laughter, light, good food with a bit of rich decadence when possible shared with the two creatures I call my family. And, that’s rather perfect. Life isn’t perfect, but there are moments that echo a perfection we all seek.

Reading the messages and reminders from individuals and moments throughout my life filled me with a sense of enormous gratitude. I am so, so fortunate in ways measured neither by wealth nor material goods. It’s overwhelming at times.

Seriously, y’all. I want for nothing (well, aside from wanting to actually hug you all once again, damnit). And, I thank you all for every text, message, good thought, kindness, shoulder, laugh and gesture. My cup truly runneth over.

A welcome visit

Like everyone else in the world, Covid-19 has altered our world. We have socially isolated ourselves since 13 March, which seems like a lifetime ago. A friend who lives in our neighbourhood has stopped by a few times briefly for visits reminiscent of Romeo & Juliette’s balcony scene without the drama. But, aside from those chats, we have interacted with no one other humans beyond the supermarket staff and each other, our darling kitten and nature for the last 8 weeks or so. The uncertainty and weight of these times, along with various reactions to it are, overwhelming at times.

Yesterday, this guy visited one of the feeders we hang from our second-floor flat’s balcony. Our views largely consist of other buildings. But, we are close enough to woodlands that many birds visit our balcony daily. This gorgeous creature is a more recent and our most precious guests.

A family of woodpeckers visited our former flat daily throughout the spring and summer months. Since moving about 1.5 years ago, our only real regret was not seeing or hearing those woodpeckers outside our balcony, despite moving less than ~1 km from our former flat. We’ve missed that family, and their lovely little chirps as they fed on the treats we left for them. The appearance of this guy last week made my heart sing. And, was so utterly random. At one point as I watched the tits and finches feed whilst sipping coffee, he just appeared. Time stopped. And, the weight of the world lifted. For whatever reason, hope was restored. At a time when I needed a reminder of the good in this world, I was reminded that the tiniest of joy can and often do appear when you least expect them.

Yesterday, Woody — because all woodpeckers are ‘Woody’ to us — showed up to delight The Cuban, who quietly gasped, quickly ran to grab our fancy-ass camera and then crept as close as he could to snap this and many more pics. The look of pure delight on his face nearly made me cry.

Moments like these are so, so precious. And, we are beyond grateful for them. I’ll be taking a few moments each day now to simply sit at our table stare out the window and watch the birdies. No wonder Pollito Pito Frito Fu does this daily.

Covid-19 has not impacted us directly. The curve here in Helsinki and Finland remains relatively flat. But, since most of our families and friends are scattered across this world and far from us, we feel that distance more acutely these days. As accustomed to this as we are, the knowledge that we can do absolutely nothing to help those we love or be there for them is crushing. At least we have the technology now to stay in touch with everyone. And, to share our concern, unease and uncertainty as well as our hope with all those we hold near and dear as well as all of you.

Solidarity, y’all. Be safe and be well. And, thank you for sharing your views from across this gorgeous world. We are all in this together

Nothing but time

I am acutely aware of time at the moment.

The Cuban, ever my greatest cheerleader and most attentive sounding board, has reassured me again and again that I remain a spring chicken. As I enter my 50th (HOLY SHIT) year, I am reminded that we have but one life and a limited amount of time during which to live it.

I want for nothing this year, except more time. More time to spend with those whom I love. More time to explore areas near and far, known and unfamiliar alike. More time to read and understand more about this world in which I live. More time to stop and smell the roses and daisies and lilacs and all the other flowers. More time to face the judgement of my darling cat. More time to run and see just how far I can push myself physically. More time work with talented students and young researchers. Time. Just time. I want more of it.

It amazes me how crazy fast the years pass now. In the blink of an eye, we’ve journeyed around the sun yet again. To me, the foolishness of youth believes in the notion that each of us has all the time in the world and and endless supplies of tomorrows. Or maybe that is the consummate procrastinator who sits upon my shoulder whispering, ‘later’ and ‘tomorrow’ and ‘mañana’ again and again and again. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one; yet, knowing this and living its reality are two entirely different things.

As I reflect upon the passage of time I want more of it. But, I also realise that I realise just how good I have it in this specific moment. I may work too much, and spend entirely too much time obsessing over the idiocy of others (as well as my own). But, this little life I’ve enjoyed over the past 49 years has been a fantastic ride so far. And, welcome whatever comes next and for however long I have to enjoy it.

And, as The Cuban says, ‘I got your spring chicken right here!’

 

spring chicken - 01

The Cuban’s traditional birthday chicken. Just for me.