The old world, anew

It’s that time of year when we spend more time outdoors in the light than indoors hibernating. And, the world is coming alive.

Yesterday evening’s traverse through and along well-familiar paths in our old neighbourhood was lovely. We’ve walked (and run) those well-worn paths hundreds of time in all kinds of weather and at various times throughout the year. Yesterday, those paths offered multiple views with perhaps fresh eyes, resembling some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopian landscape against a dramatic, grey sky. It was somewhat surreal. Both old and new. Perhaps that was simply our perspective this particular spring.

The trees are just beginning to bud. The ferns and grasses and low-lying vegetation haven’t begun to spring and shoot up. And, few flowers have yet to break through the surface of the just-unfrozen topsoil. Water flows through various creeks once again, with signs that everything was covered in a thick layer of snow not that long ago a distant memory.

Spring is springing in southern Finland once again. Even if things look a little weathered and weary, the old world is looking a little fresher and new.

A new world

After our move last autumn, we haven’t really had the time or the energy to explore our new-to-us surroundings. Even though we are less than 1 km from our old ‘hood, it’s like we’ve moved to an entirely different city in some ways. And, one in which we feel oddly much more at home.

Our flat itself is indeed home now. It felt comfortable that first night we spent here, despite the chaos of boxes and mess. But, we nested quickly and effortlessly. Beyond our front door, we’re still exploring and understanding this seemingly different Helsinki. Our shopping habits have changed. And, we now rely on entirely different bus routes, which are surprisingly much more convenient and more plentiful.

Given the weather, as well as schedules and other nonsense related to simply living, we are only now finding our daily groove and rhythm, and resuming our evening strolls. Yesterday, we explored a new route I stumbled upon earlier this week when out on a run.

And, oh my. We are so, so happy. There will be many an image from future strolls and runs, I’m guessing. As much as we loved Munkkiniemi at sunset, this is something else entirely.

Now, we’re closer to an island called Seurasaari, an unpopulated and rather underdeveloped little gem here in Helsinki.  Below, I’ve put together a selection from our evening stroll yesterday evening.

We knew this was going to be a fantastic outing relatively quickly. Just after we crossed over and approached the water’s edge, we heard a familiar sound: the tweets of a woodpecker. Much to our delight and awe, we witnessed a tiny little fledgling woodpecker in flight and then chipping away at a branch just over our heads. The pictures here suck. Apologies.

But, y’all, it’s moments like these that take our breath away and make us happy to be alive and here. In this place.

Vote. Please.

I voted weeks ago.

The process as an overseas American voter was relatively easy and straightforward for me. My biggest concern was that my voter registration information made its way to the Voter Registrar’s office in Connecticut by the deadline, and that I’d receive my ballot with plenty of time to mail it back ensuring its arrival before election day.

My registration arrived. My ballot arrived (via email—a first for me). I printed it off that day and mailed it back in early October. My civic duty was fulfilled.

This process is not new to me, given that I’ve voted via absentee ballot in every election since 2000.  I miss the I voted stickers, naturally. But, each year, I complete and fill in the overseas voter registration forms, mail them off and wait. It’s a pain, but it is necessary. Particularly now.

Please, vote. Far too many individuals do not take the time to exercise their right and civic duty by voting, particularly in mid-term elections. Far too many individuals assume that their one vote doesn’t make any difference at all. Far too many individuals think that politics has absolutely nothing to do with their daily lives.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t think of mid-term elections or my one absentee ballot as all that important. That changed in 2012, when I watched my husband vote in a municipal election in Finland.

Because we are residents in Finland, who have lived here for more than two years, we are granted the right to vote in municipal elections — not national elections since we are not citizens. But, we can exercise our voices on matters related to community-level issues, issues which perhaps affect us more. Those elections coincided with elections in the US, and I found myself researching candidates on both sides of the pond for both of my homes. But, I also watched as my husband took his civic duty incredibly seriously.

It wasn’t until after he voted that I fully understood how meaningful that experience was for him. Immediately after he voted, he said to me, ‘That’s the first time in my life that I’ve voted and known that my vote would be counted and it mattered.’ He was 52 years old at the time.

As a Cuban, who lived at times in the US and Russia, he was never able to take part in elections other than those in his home country. Cuban elections are not exactly ‘elections’. Given this experience, he understands perhaps more than most just how important showing up and exercising that privilege is. And, he understands voting as a mighty powerful privilege granted to few. He has not nor will he miss an opportunity to vote in Finland since being granted that right.

[To give you an idea of how seriously he takes this, during the last municipal election, he again researched candidates and platforms, discussed it at length with me, and then voted, and helped me get to the local polling station before they closed. Those elections coincided with a particularly awful bout of the flu which had me bedridden. As much as I was ready to blow off voting, he all-but offered to carry me to the polling station. I ended up voting about 30 minutes before the polling station closed.]

Voting is a beautiful thing to witness. That democratic process carries immense power, if only we exercise it. It conveys even more meaning and power to those who enjoy it later in life and do not accept it as a given. Voting is precious and can just as easily be taken away. We must exercise that right and we must protect by making informed decisions which matter not just for our own personal selfish reasons, but also for our society as a whole.

Please, vote. Encourage your friends and family and strangers to vote. Take the time to help someone vote if they need assistance finding or getting to their polling station. So, so many individuals wish they had the opportunity, right and privilege so many of us take for granted.

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Changes

Same desk, different feel.

On the last slide for my last class meeting in all of my classes, I include a picture of my desk. It’s messy. It’s filled with crap related to teaching and my work at the university and beyond. It’s also filled with non-work stuff, which I use to take various type of mental health breaks.

Fundamentally, it’s a reflection of me, with bits of nonsense peppered across the surface featuring the necessary and obligatory giant cup of half-drunk coffee and a water bottle or three.

My new workspace took so much less time to set up and feel ‘right’ than any other workspace I’ve previously created. Perhaps because I’d been thinking about it for a while. Perhaps because my system now works precisely as I want it to. But, this new space feels fantastic already and feels as though, once I sort the remainder of our packed life throughout the flat and truly and completely nest, this workspace will prove productive.

Yesterday, one of my classes met for the last time. It’s been a challenging few first two months of classes this autumn given our kitty breast cancer ordeal and the move. But, this class has been patient and attentive and worked incredibly hard, as well extended truly unexpected and most welcome kindness each week. I’ve entered class on some Monday evenings feeling rather homicidal. I’ve never left it feeling that way. Anyway, I needed a new pic for my last slide. Given that I’d only just finished setting up my desk about four hours before the class met, it’s rather miraculous I managed to get more than the absolute minimum sorted.

The image with the window to the left of my desk is my new space and I genuinely love it. The image on the right is my old workspace. As much as I loved it, I confess: I do not miss it, not even a little bit.

I still have some bits to sort out, naturally. But, I love this space. From where things are on my desktop to my desk’s contents to the views to the left (out the window) and right (to the living room).

Even better, on the other side of my screens, The Cuban sits at his own workspace.

Evidently, change is good.

Stumbling through darkness

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The arrival of autumn in Finland is one thing. Life is quite another. This late summer / early autumn has offered us much in the way of tumult, upheaval, change and a multitude of unanticipated stressors.

Today, I think I reached saturation. Running away offered an all-too-welcome option, even if unlikely. And, finding any good or lightness or loveliness in any of it was damn near impossible.

After reaching out to friends and asking them to share any signs of goodness they’ve come across, each nuisance became a little more bearable. And, I am grateful. After sorting through work and what must be done, after conquering a few issues and problems, and after a much-needed evening stroll with my beloved and the most reasonable voice of reason in my life, not all seems so tragic and awful.

We will reach the end of this very dark tunnel at some point. We will make it through the darkness and find light again. And, we will continue to navigate the rough waters as best we can, even if we stray off-course and take on far too much water from time to time.

But, hopefully, at the end of each day, we’ll find bright spots. We’ll find that little bit of hope to hold on to. We’ll find the goodness even when it seems we’re drowning in a sea shit. We’ll be able to accept and understand how incredibly fortunate we are, even if things aren’t always easy.

 

 

Moments

I’ve never been particularly good at living in the moment. My lack of patience for just about anything is legendary amongst those who know me best. Try as I might, I’d rather not wait for … anything. Ever.

During the past year, I’ve made attempts to be a bit more mindful and of, if not quite in, the moment. Some days it’s easier undoubtedly than others. But, I’m trying.

As The Cuban, Che Fufu and I navigate a particularly stressful period in our otherwise uneventful life, little reminders continue to pop up signifying how fortunate we are and how we must simply enjoy those moments of calm and simplistic natural beauty in seemingly unexpected places when we can. We’ve taken to voicing what inspires and makes us happy at the end of each day, beyond just being together—being together is a given, even when we aren’t at our best. And, lately, I’m anything but my best. But, moments of gratitude allow us to move beyond the stress and uncertainty. They allow us to just be aware and acknowledge that even if we face adversity, we also have much to be grateful for. Much, much more than that which weighs us down.

Yesterday, as we walked our beloved neighbourhood on our evening stroll, we chased not only a budding sunset and the last of the summer sun, but a full rainbow. Neither one of us could remember the last time we saw a full, unobstructed rainbow, so full that capturing it in one shot was impossible. That rainbow was magical and necessary and perfectly imperfect as it formed, brightened and faded with the slowly disappearing and last of the summer sun. My word it was breathtaking.

As we arrived along the water’s edge, for the setting sun to our right and that glorious rainbow to our left, we breathed. Simply and deeply we breathed. We paused and just took it in. All of it. And, it was magnificently magical and perfect. For those few moments, nothing else mattered. Not the stress we continue to endure. Not the uncertainty of what comes next for us. Not the knowledge that whatever we face may not be easy but we’ll get through it together. We were, quite simply, in that moment completely.

Here’s to finding a few more of those quiet, calm and perfectly imperfect moments. Whenever and wherever we can. And, to rainbows and sunsets wherever they appear.

Rainbows and sunsets

Rainbow on one side of the water’s edge and the last of the summer sun on the other. This is Munkkiniemi and we’re glad we could call it home if even for a little while.