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

On ‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve admired Trevor Noah because he’s funny AF and also speaks about and advocates for policies I myself support.

But, reading about his life in South Africa as a child born into a world where he embodied an actual crime by simply existing is immensely powerful and profound. And, I’m not sure that I could admire him any more now, particularly after reading the last chapter of this book.

Central to this little gem is the story of a mother and her son. But, the richness of that relationship and the context within which it is lived is more than worth anyone’s time. That it’s beautifully crafted is all the more rewarding. Moreover, it’s a story we would all do well to read carefully and consider thoroughly given the times we’re currently navigating and the reckoning these times call for.

It shouldn’t surprise me that I finished this book laughing through choked-back sobs. But, I did.

What a brilliant, brilliant book.



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Good trouble = voting

07/30 Mike Luckovich: John’s bridge, Atlanta Journal Constitution

John Lewis, who literally fought like hell to ensure black Americans (and all Americans) could secure the same rights, not least the right to vote, that you and I have, will be laid to rest today in Atlanta. He fought his entire life for justice and to ensure that those who had no voice were not forgotten and would be heard. And, his work and legacy are far from complete.

I have a confession.

I took voting for granted for a long while. I voted regularly and researched the candidates I’d be voting for to ensure they reflected my own vision for my community. But, I also occasionally missed a local election or voted straight ticket out of laziness or simple complacency. I voted, but… I could have done better.

It wasn’t until I watched my husband—Cuban by birth and to the core, and an exile from his own country because he dared think outside the state-sanctioned box—vote the first time we were eligible to vote in Finland, our home by default. He was in his 50s at that time, as we left our neighbourhood polling station. He looked at me, and told me it was the first time in his life that he knew definitively that his vote mattered and would be counted. And, that he felt heard and seen.

I no longer to take voting for granted. I think of my husband’s words each time I sort through the details of ensuring I can vote overseas now. It matters. And, not everyone enjoys the same rights that we do to exercise our voices freely.

Please, check your voter registration details (and register if you haven’t) to make sure everything from the spelling of your name to your address is correct and up-to-date. If you plan to vote by absentee ballot, request your ballot now and know what you need to research and how you’ll vote (scroll down to ‘Know Your State’) before your ballot arrives. And, given Covid and issues with United States and other Postal Services, make sure you send your ballot with sufficient time to ensure it arrives in time to be counted.

If you have done as much of the above as you can, pour yourself your favourite beverage and spread the word to your friends and family. (Hell, you can just share this post, if you want, although, just sharing the link vote.org is fine, too.)

If you are healthy and feel confident enough to volunteer as a poll worker in your community, do so. So many poll workers are retired and they are at an increased risk for Covid. Do a quick Google search to see what the rules are in your state / community. And, if you have teenage kids and want them to understand the importance of civic duty, even if they cannot vote, they may be able to work the polls.

There are so many ways you can help make this specific election matter. But, it requires doing something. So, let’s do some good and do something.

John Lewis fought for all of us and shed his own blood on that bridge in Selma so that we and others wouldn’t need to. He got into good, necessary trouble his entire life so that our voices would be heard and counted. Now, it’s up to us. The best simplest sort of good, necessary trouble we can get into and perhaps the most patriotic act is the simple act of voting.

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.

School’s out

Taken on a Nokia 8. Munkkiniemi Frisbeegolf Course, Finland, 1 June 2020.

What a truly bizarre academic school year.

My last lecture for the 2019–2020 academic year was scheduled to take place this morning. But, covid-19 ensured that I would not physically meet with my students, and the entire last dash towards the end of the year was rather anticlimactic. I spent a portion of this weekend recording and cleaning up the audio files for my last lecture and sorting through my slide decks. And, by about 9.30 this morning, all of the lecture materials were uploaded and visible via various distance learning tools the University of Helsinki has made available to both instructors and students alike.

Now, I’m left with sorting through my inbox as final assignments filter in and submitting my final reports and student grades. No lovely send offs. No in-person thanks and well-wishes for equally productive and restorative summer holidays. No fanfare at all, it seems.

It kind of sucks, to be honest.

And, most educators I suspect have felt something similar for the last several months. specifically as they close the books (pun intended) for this school year. And, certainly at the end of this most memorable and challenging of academic years.

Teaching and lecturing are exhausting during the best of times, and more so when you must quickly adapt and adjust to new realities with relatively little warning at all. I’m fortunate. I love my job and find the exhaustion infinitely rewarding because of the returns earned through inspiration and continual intellectual challenges and breakthroughs for me and my students. I’m infinitely fortunate to have the continual support from my direct supervisor and immediate colleagues, and incredible students, all of whom as graduate students are more than capable of using their own reserves to draw upon for self-discipline and time management necessary to learning asynchronously.

But, goodness I miss lecturing.

The worry for me and the source of my overwhelming exhaustion this year relates to that constant concern that the courses and materials are not meeting their needs. That all of these tools and technologies made available to us are poor and rather inadequate substitutes for the real-life, in-person interactions we typically enjoy and use to gauge engagement and understanding. Interactions I enjoy, and ultimately use to measure my own performance as much as theirs.

Summer may have arrived in Helsinki for this university instructor and her students. But, much of this summer for me means revamping and reexamining how to make distance learning a little more palatable for my students as well as for me. How to make achieving our mutual learning objectives a bit more possible and attainable. And, how to make the experience a little less lonely and a little more fulfilling and more interactive even with social distancing measures in place.

And, here, again, I suspect I’m not alone.

We are all redefining what ‘normal’ means to and for us. [Instructor and teacher friends, we’ve got this!] We are all adjusting to new realities and wondering what various seeds of change drifting on one wind or another will sprout in the near and distant futures.

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.

On #Web30

A day late, but who cares? Here’s to the #Web30.

I use an image in my grant writing courses of a user experiencing a 404 error when they attempt to connect to the internet. Finland, given its near-compulsive internet use, quite naturally grants each of its citizens access to the internet as a basic right. Finland was the first country to grant this right, and did so in 2009.

I fondly reminisce lament the utter misery and frustration of attempting to connect to servers via dial-up connections oh so typical up until the early 2000s, and the glacially slow uploading speed at times losing a race againgst a turtle on quaaludes. My students, however, will never understand slow connection speeds or the inability to connect instantaneously and whenever or wherever they like. [Seriously, there are so few places in Finland where you cannot access the internet via at least 3G services. It’s at once fantastic and impressive, and annoying until opting for air plane mode.]

I well remember accessing my email via main frame access when in graduate school. It was so simple and so utterly thrilling to see ‘new messages’ then. Not so much now, as the inbox glutter and spam take on lives of their own.

Funny how our vocabulary has shifted as well in the last 30 years to accommodate this not-so-new technology.

As much as online life can annoy and rile me, particularly when viewing the news these days, it still thrills me.

Chatting with a friend or family on the other side of the globe in real-time. Organising events and rallying interest for one cause or another amongst strangers. Catching up with folks I’ve not seen in years. Planning meet ups in countries none of us live in. Bonding with individuals I’ve never met in person over shared interests and passions. Supporting causes and garnering support for issues that are important to me. And, work. Being able to work from literally anywhere at any time, as long as there is a stable internet connection.

It’s mind-blowing and brilliant. And necessitates new ways of both minimising procrastination and protecting myself from those workaholic and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

I love digital life, and all that affords us. I also fear it at times, mostly because of misuse by nefarious individuals and interests.

Whilst we all continue to learn how to safeguard the web and address the challenges online life presents us, we must also continue to ensure that everyone everywhere has equal, open and safe access to the internet. Just as individuals in the ‘real world’ face threats to their privacy, security and fundamental rights, those threats also affect the virtual world we now increasingly inhabit. 

Let’s also ensure that everyone enjoys the benefits of the web. Even if they’ll never know the annoying sound of the busy dial-up connection tone.

To safe guard the online community as a whole and demonstrate your commitment to an open web, get involved via A Contract for the Web

30th-anniversary-of-the-world-wide-web-4871946884874240-2xa

Vintage 8 in Torremolinos, Spain

Spain is lovely, with plentiful sunshine even on the rare ‘cloudy’ day. Clouds in Helsinki provide an alternate reality and entirely different notion of just what a cloudy day looks like I suppose. But, one thing we didn’t really think much about when we booked this holiday was food or the cuisine. One comment I heard several times before leaving was that Spain is not kind to vegetarians, and finding anything beyond chorizo, serrano and manchego would be a challenge.

Challenge accepted.

[As an aside, but related to this tale of gastronomic bliss, sometime in September this year during a sleepless night, I made the mistake of watching a documentary The Cuban found, entitled Dominion. I haven’t been able to eat meat since and my diet now borders on veganism. I’ll spare you the details of the documentary. But unless I know definitively that the pig, chicken, cow or fish I’m about to ingest enjoyed a happy life and was slaughtered in a way which wasn’t delightfully and gleefully cruel, I ain’t touching it.]

Anyway…thus far and two weeks into our sorjourn to the sun, we’ve been rather underwhelmed by the food. Aside from a lovely Italian bistro down the block from our home away from home, the food we’ve had can be best described as ‘meh’.

All that changed yesterday. And, we have Vintage 8 to thank for the dining delights, an experience we plan to repeat several times before we depart back to the land of darkness.

We found Vintage 8 after searching for solid restaurants in the area, thinking it’d be a nice place to meet up with old friends. Since its situated at the end of the route for our daily evening strolls here on holiday, we decided we’d try it yesterday rather than hit up our favourite Irish pub for a pint of Guinness before dinner. Typing out that comparison seems like such an insult both to the restaurant and the chef, because the only thing the two options have in common is that they lie rather closely to one another by happenstance. But, that’s part of Vintage 8’s charm. It sits on a block of utterly incongruent choices — Burger King and a Chinese-Thai place both provide alternative options to this gastronomic gem. But, the reviews. Just about every review of Vintage 8 sang its praises. And, a few of those reviews came from vegetarians, which intrigued me.

We arrived early by Spanish dinner-time standards (probably around 18.45). And, we were the only folks there other than the chef, who performed dual functions until later in the meal, taking care of our every need as well as cooking up some insanely delicious treats.

The menu itself is a delight, with whimsicial, playful names featuring giants like John Lennon, Ella Fitzgerald and Paul McCartney in various dish descriptions, along with flavours I’d never imagined but wanted to try. Nothing looked uninteresting.

I opted for the tasting menu, which the chef was incredibly and kindly willing to adapt to my annoyingly vegetarian food habits at the moment. The Cuban, rather bravely, also decided on the tasting menu (his first ever!), opting to try both fish dishes rather than the lamb or chicken which typically closes out the four-course meal. Here’s the truly crazy part to both of us: the four courses we each were about to savour cost an astoundingly cheap €19.90 each, and included a beverage (red wine for me and water for The Cuban). This culinary adventure also included a starter and dessert, both of which were just as delicious on their own as they were a part of this culinary journey of Morrocan and Mediterranean fusion food. Oh, yes, we will be back, my new best friend.

So, here’s what we had. [I’m rather sad that the pictures here do very little justice to the food, and don’t include each course. Our next visit, I’ll have my proper camera so that I can capture these insanely lovely tasting and beautifully plated dishes. I’ve included some photos, however, just to give you, dear reader, a bit of salivatory satisfaction for now.):

  • Mushroom croquette: I gladly could have eaten a mound of these, but I love mushrooms and all things fried. The Cuban, who is not exactly enamoured by fungal foods of any sorts, loved them as well. And, the beginnings of a happy food face first emerged across the table from me.
  • Vintage 8 Egg: This won the ‘best tapa’ award and it’s clear why. This seems like an egg, but borrowing from The Cuban, it is ‘the best egg I’ve had. In. My. Life.’ Served with deep-fried onions and fresh bread rolls which you dip into this most divine egg. So, so much more than ‘just an egg’.
  • John Lennon’s Pacificism: Goat’s cheese with a tomato and aubergine compote and fresh greens.  A couple sat near us just before we left and were underwhelmed by the goat cheese course. I hope that they ate those words when it arrived. I love cheese of all sorts, which is perhaps my number one reason for not going full-on vegan. This dish blew me away completely; not because of the cheese, but because of everything else happening within the dish. There is this slight crunchiness to the dish that I couldn’t work out, but which delighted my taste buds further. The chef shared his secret with me; and I shall carry that secret to my grave. Suffice it to say the flavours work perfectly. Note that the picture looks like a mound of salad greens. Clever.

[At this point, our dishes diverged, whereby I had two non-menu item courses made ‘just for [me]’, and The Cuban had two fish courses. I must say, his looked incredible as well and judging by both the clean plates and his face, they rocked.

  • ‘Just a veggie burger’ mini-burger. If you know anything about my food preferences, you know I do not do onions. This burger had what I think were carmelised onions and I ate them all. I LOVED them. A little tiny mini-veggie burger entirely for me served with fresh crisps and a little green salad with hearts of palm. Yes, please. Oh, yes.
  • The Cuban had prawns wrapped in filo dough and fried with perhaps the best description of all time, aubergine and ‘black magic fuckery’ tomato  sauces. He was scraping his slate plate.
  • For my final course to this meal-I-never-wanted-to-end, I had a filo pastry base topped with Morrocan spiced vegetables and tgenerous slices of fresh cheese, which resembled an incredible combination of parmesan or manchego (perhaps an aged manchego?). Honestly, this was unreal.
  • The Cuban’s last course was salmon over potatoes, which sounds rather plan but was anything but. In TC’s words, ‘Wow. Just wow’.

As if this wasn’t enough, we still had dessert to conquer. A divine date and almond biscuit topped with a lime sorbet and covered in an avocado-mint sauce. (According to The Cuban, this dish beats my brownies, which, okay, stings but I admit defeat. Because chef is a bloody genius!)

This. Meal. Honestly. We were happily stuffed when we left, but not to the point of feeling sick. The Vintage 8 tasting menu is a steal, and provides so much seriously delicious food that we honestly can’t wait to return. And, when we return, I’m taking the proper camera. And, a healthy appetite. I intend to work my way through whatever chef puts in front of me.

Should you ever find yourself in Torremolinos, Spain, or anywhere near here, go to Vintage 8. You will not regret it.

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On ‘A Perilous Path’

A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the LawA Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law by Sherrilyn Ifill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’d love to have these same individuals revisit each of their discussion points as we approach the midterms and nearly two years into the Trump administration’s reign.

What a brilliant dialogue, and a necessary one. Despite the despair and frustration and outrage many of us feel daily, it’s important to hold on to hope. And, that is the message that rings through in the final pages of this short, but eloquent read.

‘Never again.’

Perhaps these words need to become slogans in today’s America. One of the most profound realities expressed here ever-so-poignantly and clearly is that we will never begin to move beyond our history of repression until we fully accept, acknowledge and understand it’s consequences. Perhaps more so, we must open our eyes to the full-scale of those atrocities.

From the decimation of indigenous populations and usurping their existence and power to the long history of slavery and the aftermath in Jim Crow and segregation both real and imagined. History has consequences, and sweeping those horrors under giant carpets won’t suffice in moving beyond and tackling the various issues which continue to persist.

If we want a country guided and fueled by hope, acceptance, justice and equality if not equity, we also must work within our communities to create those realities. Yes, the national conversation is important. But, change is change, no matter how large or small, and most of live lives within small communities, both real and virtual. Stand up (or sit down), speak truth to stupid and power, and find ways to create communities which reflect those ideals of just, hopeful, righteous and kind. Those ripples we create may travel far, and that is the only thing which will change the national fabric in any long-term and lasting way.

‘Never again’, indeed.

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