Until then…

We are nearly off. And, I cannot tell you just how much we both desperately need a nice long, luxurious kip for about a week.

I’m not sure when I’ll post here again — it may be later this week or sometime next year. As we’ve prepared for our annual escape to the sun and the land in which we unplug and unwind, I’ve had a bit of time to also reflect upon this past year.

What. A. Year. I can’t say that I’ll really miss it.

Rather than look back, though, I’m looking forward. 2017 has proved more than a little challenging, and more than infuriatingly frustrating at times. But, it’s also been a whiplash-inducing mixed bag. My year has been stellar professionally (if not utterly exhausting) and personally rewarding. Yet, 2017 was horribly marred by politics and current events. Unfortunately, those politics inevitably bleed into my own life, partially given my political junkie tendencies, but also because of the reality in which I reside as an American expat (member of the diaspora?) married to a Cuban living in Europe.

I have no idea what 2018 will bring. But, I’m ready. All I really know is that I can continue to work on this corner — this tiny seemingly insignificant part of the world I inhabit. I can do my best to ensure that it is fair. That it is compassionate. That it is just. And, I can work towards increasing the ripples of that world ever-outward, hopefully extending that fairness, compassion and justice if not by my own deeds at least by my own example.

So, dear reader,until we, meet again in either a few days, weeks or two months’ time, here is my wish for you:

May your holiday season be filled with boundless joy and delight, and may the New Year bring you peace, prosperity and better days. 

 

2017-2018

‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Yesterday. Yesterday was a week of bad days smushed into a mere 24 hours.

By the time I returned home, nothing mattered, other than crawling into my favourite pjs and crabbing a giant gin and tonic (although we were sadly out of gin). If I’d had the energy, I would have grabbed my colouring books and pencils, built a blanket fort and hid from the world until next week.

Call it the end of a long, long year, the need for our holiday to begin N O W, a case of being overly tired from lack of sleep or simply a bad day. Regardless, yesterday sucked.

Evidently, my husband thought it best to channel Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both men’s mottos are ‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Knowing that yesterday wore me out—psychologically and physically—The Cuban aka my hero sent me the perfect email sometime after I drifted off to sleep. (Never mind the weirdness of a couple who work from rooms next to one another sending emails back and forth—we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) are forgetful at times and email occasionally works best.) This email was silly. It was kind. And, it was honest. And, it was precisely what I needed to put yesterday behind me.

As the holiday season descends upon us, it seems as though everyone is overtaxed and overly tense and perhaps more than a little sensitive. Words and facial expressions and simply sighs may be taken out of context and in ways not fully intended. Individuals may be stretched to their absolute limits to such an extent that a smile can ease their minds or bring them to tears. This all rings true for me at the moment.

So, let’s all channel Ralph Waldo Emerson with a slight update: Be silly. Above all be kind And, be honest (unless it contradicts the first two).

And, for everything else, here is a picture of The Cuban’s grandmother with a rooster. Just because.

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Days like these

November in southern Finland is not child’s play, particularly once we set the clocks back that one precious hour and live on ‘winter time’. The nights become unending and the sun — if it appears at all — shines less than brightly. Couple the darkness with a heavy dose of stress and finding any joy at all becomes excessively difficult if not impossible.

But joy can be found even in the darkest of places. At least, that’s the hope we hold on to even on those darkest of days. This week featured an array of stressors and frustrations. Don’t get me wrong: bright spots shone. Yet both of us acutely feel the effects of an entirely overly optimistic and far from restful year as we near our long-awaited and overdue holiday and annual escape to the sun.

Before our escape, we must take whatever opportunities arise to break free from the daily grind. It may be a fully working weekend for us both, but we work just as hard to find time to get out and break free for our peripatetic bonding session before night falls and the darker darkness of winter characteristic of these nights descends. We made our break sometime around 16.00.  And, here’s what we found on this wintry Caturday afternoon/early evening:

  • The street lights were on well before we made it halfway through our walk. We appreciated the light on our return journey home. But, it’s weird and eery to see them turn on well before 16.30 in the afternoon. A month from now, it will be fully dark at this time of day. And, that darkness is intensely black, standing in stark contrast to the dusk that pervades throughout what counts for summer nights. (Need I say, we prefer the darkness of summer.)
  • Despite needing multiple layers on our walk, as we approached the beach nearest our neighbourhood, a lone, brave swimmer made her way from the changing rooms to the pier and finally down into the icy waters. She wore a wool cap, gloves of some sort, slippers of some sort, a bathing suit and was wrapped in a towel. We shivered simply watching her as she submerged into the waters and swam from the pier. As she emerged after her swim, she confessed that the water ‘wasn’t so bad once you got used to it’. We both thought, ‘Better you than us, girlfriend!’ We prefer the warm bath water of the Caribbean, thank you very much.
  • Despite living in Finland for 10 years now, we still don’t understand the weather here. We left under relatively cloudless skies. At least, it looked as though the clouds had moved on to elsewhere. As we stood watching the less-than-sane swimmer [our classification of her mental state, naturally], rather large and cold drops of rain plopped on our heads. Once again, we were stuck far from home without an umbrella.
  • Mosquitoes still survive even now. Surprisingly. As I typed this post, one lone little bugger landed on my hand.

Days like these, I’m happy to be alive.

(Re)orientation

This semester, this month, this week, stress abounds. (Largely, I’ve created this stress for and all by myself.)

As I hurried to deliver a seminar on a topic I felt less than prepared for, cursing the construction which put me a bit further behind schedule than I was comfortable with, I passed by one of the most iconic spots in Helsinki — Senate Square.

I pass this particular spot often when I teach / lecture at the main campus at the University of Helsinki. And, the view never fails to ground and reorient me beyond whatever nonsense surrounds me. This spot reminds me of how insanely fortunate I am to live this life. A life I never imagined possible and one for which I am extremely grateful.

And, just like that, nothing seemed quite so awful or stressful any longer.

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A glorious, colourful reminder

Life in Finland. Years ago on a business trip to Amsterdam, after listening to me talk about life in Finland, the person to whom I was talking stated simply, ‘So, you’re on the tourism board of Finland then?’ His statement oozed with sarcasm.

There are so many great things about life in Finland. Incredibly efficient public transport. Health care. Top-notch education for all. High quality of life. Fresh air even in the capital city. And, one of the least corrupt places on the planet — if you drop your wallet on the street in Helsinki, you’re likely to get it back with its contents in tact. One of my favourite aspects of life here involves the insistence on giving each new member of Finnish society equal opportunity when born. Yes, it’s a great place to live.

And, then there’s the weather.

For all its loveliness, Finland is not a fair-weather haven. Quite the opposite. Summer is typically lovely, with its long, long days and abundant sunshine coupled with mild temperatures. Winter is dark even when it’s light. The oppressiveness of winter leads us to leave each year for the worst of it. It’s how we survive. But, the seasonal extremes are typically sandwiched between seasons of wet and wetter. When the autumn rains begin, you hope you make it through the worst. You learn to live with it, but it is anything but easy. Personally, I’ve never been quite so affected by a place’s weather. I never understood seasonal affective disorder. Until we moved here.

We have endured an unusual weather year thus far in Helsinki. (In truth, 2017 appears to be a year-long test for us all, weather simply another section of this multi-phase trial.) October has not been cold, but it has been insanely wet. This follows a rather wet and chilly summer, one which even Finns are less than thrilled with. Given that we typically get one glorious season, it’s cruel when we endure winter only to endure a less than sunny and chilly summer. On top of this, the first two weeks of October brought rain. Nearly. Every. Single. Day. Not just a light mist or drizzle, but rain. Heavy and soaking. And, utterly unrelenting.

For the last week, it’s been (mostly) glorious. Absolutely gorgeous and glorious and oh so welcome. Thankfully, this break in the autumn rains coincided with the most colourful period as well. And, again, it’s been glorious.

Thank you, Finland. Thank you for the reminder that you are quite lovely even if your weather generally sucks. It’s moments like these that we live for.

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Stolen moments

This ‘summer’ in Helsinki has not exactly gone to plan. It hasn’t been bad; just not entirely what I expected.

But, moments—collections of seemingly insignificant moments—have made this summer much more memorable and heaps lovelier, best intentions and expectations aside.

Whilst work has kept me crazy busy and completely disinclined towards boredom or sitting on the balcony to enjoy a bit of afternoon reading in the sunshine, Helsinki’s weather hasn’t brought the sunshine and warmth our balcony garden needs to flourish let alone temps comfortable enough to sit without multiple layers for any amount of time. My free time has also coincided with days utterly devoid of sunshine. Sod’s Law, naturally. Rather than chillaxin on the balcony admiring giant sunflowers in July and August, we only seem to find a few moments at a time to spend tending to our balcony garden / wildflower ‘patch’ or to fill up the bird feeders. We do finally have tiny little wildflowers just now opening up, which thankfully go largely ignored by our community of feathered friends.

It’s lovely enough out there even if we have not spent any amount of time truly enjoying it. Those tiny little flowers are gorgeous. They’re also a nice reminder to be patient and accepting—there simply isn’t a whole lot we can do if we don’t have just the right balance between across and elements.

It is what is, this Helsinki summer. So, we’re finding the bits that are lovely and focusing on those. I’ll focus on these lovely little bursts of purple for as long as they stick around.

From seed to flower

From seed to flower, from our balcony garden and ‘wildflower patch’

As I add miles to my weekly run tallies, it’s also been incredibly important to find time to bond and unwind with The Cuban. So, nearly every evening that we can, we go for a walk, no matter how short on time we are or how stressed we may be and, lately, regardless of weather conditions.

This last week, we’ve spent a bit of time on our jaunts sitting on a lovely little bench just at the water’s edge, enjoying the view and completely letting go of all that ails us.

A few days ago, we were treated to an incredible sunset and absolutely tranquil conditions.

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An evening sunset in Munkkiniemi. 

Stolen moments these are. And, as my schedule intensifies for the autumn term and life gets busier and more chaotic, I’ll not only remember these precious moments, but also try to steal and enjoy a few more.

 

Right place, right time

Timing matters.

But, so does taking opportunities as they arise.

Yesterday when my husband and I were out for an evening stroll, we chanced upon three geese. Spying these geese wasn’t particularly unusual—loads of them live along the shore near our flat in Helsinki. But, as we approached the water’s edge, they took flight from their positions in that majestic and magical way that mimics the illusion of walking on water. I’d just taken my phone out to capture a pic and snapped one before they flew out of the frame.

One moment. One photo. One opportunity. This is what I captured.

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I’ve come to look for those moments when I’m in the right place at just the right time. And, to take whatever opportunities may be on offer. In some ways, much of my life over the past 20 years has resulted from those chance opportunities and meetings. Taking advantage of such timing at any one moment to simply go for it and see what happens wasn’t always a simple choice.

Whilst some things haven’t gone quite so smoothly, some of those choices worked out amazingly well. And, it’s those which stand out now.

My husband, for instance. I cannot imagine a life without him had either one of us not decided to set fear and uncertainty aside and just see what happens once we realised we were falling in love. It’s not a happy ending quite yet (thankfully), but it’s worked out well enough thus far.

To add to this item at the top of my list, landing my current job and what appears to be a career I’d never envisioned came about when I had no real direction or plan. My move to Moscow in 1999 resulted from a chance dinner at a conference, and lead me to so many places and further opportunities (including my husband and current job) I’d never imagined. And, so many moments and choices in between.

The importance now is that each of these moments became opportunities only because of my choices in those moments. Being mentally in a place where I felt ready to face what came next, willing to take a gamble in some cases and able to take on new challenges and shifting sands were sometimes more important. Without knowing it, in each of those moments I was ready to bet on me.

I don’t necessarily lament opportunities lost or which passed me by. In truth, I’ve no idea how many of those have faded into the distance on days when my mental demons shouted down and drowned out the voice of reason.

What I do know is that I am incredibly grateful for those moments when not only someone else took a chance on me, but when I accepted those challenges and bet on me.