Day 12: Proekt 365 (Flowers & Fish in Snow)

Day 12: Proekt 365 A friend sent me this pic which combines snow and a yarn bomb. Perfection.

Day 12: Proekt 365
A friend sent me this pic which combines snow and a yarn bomb. Perfection.

It is sooooo much brighter today with just a few centimetres of fresh snow on the ground. The day was made brighter still when my friend Andrea sent the picture above of a yarn bomb a few of us did several months ago (on 16 November, to be exact). That it has survived this long is quite impressive. That it is still hanging as the snow falls is an added bonus.

Knit and crochet flowers and fish adorn this fence along the shoreline at the southern edge of Helsinki. Hopefully, along with the freshly fallen snow, they’ll brighten up the day for all who pass by. It certainly makes my day more cheerful, even if just viewed as a photo. Thank you, Andrea!

Day 11: Proekt 365 (The return of snow!)

Day 11: Proekt 365 The return of snow to Southern Finland

Day 11: Proekt 365
The return of snow to Southern Finland

What. A. Day.

Welcoming my step-son for a visit yesterday evening followed by an afternoon in the company of some of my favourite people today was followed by the long overdue and very much welcome delivery of the first real snowfall this winter to Helsinki. My cup runneth over.

I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo whilst walking in a real-life giant snow globe, but I did enjoy the moment immensely. Aside from the obvious inconveniences (I really do feel for all those who have to push strollers, walk gingerly, shovel / plow it to be able to get out of their homes, etc.), snow makes winter this far North so much more bearable. Even at night, there is a bit more brightness to the world.

Today’s snow was even more of a treat given that we have been promised some sort of substantial accumulation for the past several days (weeks?), all resulting in a whole lot of nothing. After being indoors for several hours this afternoon, walking out into the heavy snowfall and gigantic swirling flakes was a most fantastic surprise.

As an adult, there is no hope of a ‘snow day’, whereby any obligations for the next day are cancelled or postponed. Living in Finland, that’s an utterly laughable idea. But, that same excitement and thrill is relived with each snowfall. You’d think I’d be thoroughly sick of snow by now after 15 winters spent in the far North. Nope. Still love it. Still wait for it each winter with anticipation and anxiety. And, still giggle like an idiot when walking in it, especially during the first snowfall of the year.

Thank you, Mother Nature! You’ve given meaning to the winter darkness once again.

Day 10: Proekt 365

Day 10: Proekt 365 A little inside family joke to welcome The Jr Cuban to Helsinki

Day 10: Proekt 365
A little inside family joke to welcome The Jr Cuban to Helsinki

It’s an inside joke, and one which dates back to the first time my step-son stayed with us in Helsinki, which also coincided with our move here six-and-a-half years ago. Like most inside jokes, it stuck.

An added bonus to reliving this family humour was the shocked expression of a Spanish speaker at the Starbucks at the airport upon seeing our sign.

Welcome, Seba. We’re so, so happy you’re here!

Day 4: Proekt 365

Day 4: Proekt 365 My first finished object for 2014. It will not be the last.

Day 4: Proekt 365
My first finished object for 2014. It will not be the last.

What on earth did I do before a friend re-introduced me to the world of knitting and other needlecrafts a few years ago? Has it really only been three years since I picked up a pair of needles and dove into the fine fibre world of k2, p3*?

It’s hard to believe, but, yes, just 3 years ago my friend Brad (who lives in Amsterdam with his fabulous husband and bestest of hounds, Rusty) talked of knitting, and I asked if he’d be willing to show me how at some point. At the time, I was quite stressed and thought it might be a way to re-focus my mind, whilst also providing a creative outlet. It had been years since I’d knit anything and I never really finished a project. I was more of a happy hooker in my youth (minds out of the gutter, please!). In an incredibly kind gesture, Brad gave me a set of bamboo needles and provided a bit of instruction and inspiration just before / after New Year’s Eve 2010-11.

Little did we know….

When I returned to Helsinki after that New Year’s trip with my husband, I found a group of expat women in Helsinki who are a part of the American Women’s Club in Finland and who meet regularly to knit, crochet, craft and generally support and help one another. Not only did I get some incredibly helpful guidance on knitting, but I’ve also and perhaps more importantly forged lifelong friendships with quite a few talented, brilliant and exceptionally kind women.  I honestly don’t know how I’d have mentally and emotionally survived these past several years without knitting, but more specifically without the friends I’ve made through my crafting journey.

Knitting has also reminded me of one of the most amazing women I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have in my life — my grandmother. Katharine ‘Babe’ Louise Baring Fuller was not only one of the wittiest and strongest of women I’ve ever known, she was incredibly gifted with a rare and precious talent.

Born and raised (in Texas) at time when women’s roles were very much different to today, and when skills such as sewing and crafting were expected rather than honed as luxurious hobbies, she took her craft seriously. When I was a young girl, she taught me the fine skill of touching and feeling fabrics before looking at labels to determine quality and fibre content. When working on a particular craft, she demonstrated how patience is just as important as technique — if you rush a project, you’re likely to mistakes no matter how skilled you are (which is a lesson that transcends all of life it seems, and one which has taken a long, long time to finally learn).

In addition to her random acts of silliness and infectious laugh, I will forever recall how zen-like she was when crafting. She was an expert seamstress who made her own clothes and whose sewing ‘station’ I would do just about anything to have now. Sewing for her was more a matter of necessity since she was so, so tiny and petite sizes were rarely if ever an option. We would browse the latest fashions  on offer at Saks and Neiman’s and then she would go buy the fabric and make it herself. Her skills were impressive then; but, I am even more in awe of her now that I understand just what goes into making one’s own clothes without a pattern. She was incredible.

But, her real artistry and talent was most visible in her needlepoint. From the very large Christmas stockings with images and scenes matching the passions and personalities of each family member she made one year to the various throw pillows around the house and pictures of idyllic scenes on the walls of every family member’s home, the woman was absolutely gifted. Her work was impeccably perfect and each viewing reveals further details that were all of her own design. Needlepoint mesh was her canvas, and she painted with passion through her needles and thread.

The image of her sitting serenely in her love seat surrounded by the tools of her craft with a look of utter solace and complete focus and joy as she worked is forever burned into my consciousness. Zen and the Art of Needlecraft, I say. And, it’s master is and always shall be Grandma.

Whilst I wish that I could share my projects with her now, it comforts me to feel as though I’m carrying on her legacy. (I’d say big shoes to fill, but the woman had incredibly tiny feet!) It may be a different type of needle and thread (although she did knit and crochet as well), I know she’d be proud and it gives me no small measure of joy to know that at least some of her talent seems to have made its way to me.

She’d also find all those various dropped stitches, and totally understand and relate to my quest for perfection in everything I knit or craft.

Knitting has given me infinitely more than I ever expected. I can’t imagine a day that didn’t include some form of crafting even if for a few stolen moments. From knitting to crochet to quilting or sewing, each stitch reminds me of the friends it has brought my way as well as how it connects me to my beloved grandmother. As if all of that wasn’t enough, it has also brought me an unusual form of mediation and a few lovely pairs of socks, scarves, hats and blankets to ward off the winter chill.

For all of this and infinitely more, I am immeasurably grateful. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Brad and all the Helsinki Knittas!)

*k2, p3 refers to ‘knit 2 stitches, purl 3 stitches’, for those not in the know. 😉

Day 3: Proekt 365

Day 3: Proekt 365

Day 3: Proekt 365

I love coffee. The darker the roast, the better. The richer, deeper the flavour, the better. If you asked me to give up coffee, it’d have to be for something incredibly extraordinary to warrant any consideration at all (e.g., ending poverty and all forms of social injustice, all wars and acts of violence and human suffering). Even then, I’d have to really think about it. (I jest…but only slightly.)

From that first sip as a young girl, I have enjoyed a special relationship with coffee. And, each day begins with coffee first and foremost.

At one point in my life, I always had a cup of coffee with me. This habit was so persistent and recognised amongst my social network that a professor of mine once brought me a comforting cup of coffee minutes before a presentation at a national conference. I cannot tell you how much that boosted my confidence (and how much it meant to me on a personal level as well — thanks, Bill!). It was also at that time that my thesis advisor and I would discuss research and work on her NIH project and my thesis project over an afternoon coffee break, often sharing the cup of very fine coffee she was making for herself. (Honestly, I didn’t arrive ‘just in time’ on purpose, Kathy!) At that time in my life, I was probably a 20-cup a day coffee fiend. Pretty much every part of my day involved coffee and I’d never, ever turn down a good cup of joe. Once, my local supplier in Connecticut asked me to taste coffees as a means of quality control in order to help them decide to contract a new supplier (I gave the supplier a thumb’s down and left that little treat of a tasting quite literally flying). I’ve long since cut way back on my daily caffeine intake, partially for general health reasons and partially to allow me to sleep a little more easily.

My daily coffee routine (or ritual?) these days is consistent. My first ‘cup’ (which, if you’ve seen my cup, resembles a bowl with a handle rather than a traditional 8-oz cup) brews whilst I am launching the various applications I use every day at my desk. Mostly, I am just wasting time until I can get that first cup down my gullet and coursing through my veins. I’m useless until I have at least half a cup of my go-go juice in the morning. During that first cup, it’s my time to sort out my goals and targets for the day, take care of any lingering administrative crap, tidy up the kitchen if necessary and generally enjoy a calm, quiet and serene start to a new day.

I’m now a two- or -three cuppa girl and generally consume those luscious cups before 15.00 or 16.00 in the afternoon. (This is no problem since I’m an early riser on most days.) I must have at least one full cup before I leave the house (which does mean setting an alarm to allow time for that precious re-fueling ritual) and will leave the house with the second in hand. My favourite coffees are all dark roasts: Ethiopian, Tanzanian Peaberry, Sumatra Mandheling, Brazilian Kalosi, Guatemalan Antigua and, of course, Cuban Turquino. One of the best coffees I’ve ever had is the typical hard currency Cuban brand, Cubita.

I was recently reminded of the ‘origin’ of coffee, which is silly and awesome at once. Evidently, 12th century goats danced from bush to bush eating those fine berries, which was observed and copied by their goatherder, Kaldi.

‘Hooray for goats!’, I say. And, thanks, Kaldi! I cannot imagine a world without coffee.

Day 2: Proekt 365

Day 2: Proekt 365 reminder that my

Day 2: Proekt 365 

We don’t do holiday / birthday gifts much in our house. Rather than fret about and participate in the commercialisation of various holidays and occasions, we tend to buy random gifts when we see them and as ways of surprising one another and ‘spend’ those holidays / occasions just being together and without the pressure of the ‘perfect gift’. Nothing is truly a Christmas, birthday, anniversary, [insert occasion of choice] gift. Instead, they are random acts of love and appreciation throughout the year.

Today, the latest gift from my darling husband arrived and I LOVE it. Why? Well, it’s bloody gorgeous and bright and cheerful, and from one of my favourite clothing lines — Desigual. But, mostly, it shows just how much my husband loves me and accepts me for me.

One of the last things I truly need is another handbag / messenger bag / bag of any sort. There are no less than 6 hanging from the back of my chair (which is where I keep the ones I use most often and switch between most frequently), 3 more in my desk (mostly for carrying my laptop), and then who knows how many in my closet. I definitely do not need another handbag. At all.

But, I desperately wanted this one when I saw it. It’s big, but not too big. It’s bright and pretty. And, it has just enough pockets and compartments both within and outside. Easy access to various bits is key in picking out any handbag. Plus, it is slightly expandable for when I decide I must carry just a little bit more. And, as if it needed anything else, it has a great big embroidered butterfly on the front. (I love butterflies of all sorts.)

I could have bought it for myself, and was planning on doing so. But, The Cuban decided that he would beat me to pulling the shopping cart trigger and bought it for me. Why? Because he loves me, and he knew it’d make me smile.

Smiling, I am. And, I shall definitely smile frequently whilst using this lovely, lovely gift from the person most important to me. Thank you, Sweet Pea! And, I promise, I won’t want a new bag for at least a few months! 🙂

Proekt 365

We all need a project (or проект, if you like) or two to inspire and keep the creative juices flowing. Today, I found a project which I thought was a) excellent in terms of the timing given that it’s a new year and b) a lovely way to work on another goal of mine that I’m using to combat bouts of depression and the doldrums which accompany winter in Southern Finland. Specifically, I’ve been trying to re-focus on more positive aspects of daily life.

I stumbled across the following video today:

Committing to taking one photo a day is easy enough; committing to taking one photo a day of things which bring joy and beauty to my world seems daunting, but also a rather simple way of re-focusing and solidifying the habit of re-focusing on the loveliness in life.

So, here goes….

I keep seeing images with the caption, ‘Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one’ (which is a quote from Brad Paisley?). Cliche, perhaps. But, okay. It’s a new year and there are many vomit-inducing aspects to it.

What I love most though about new years most is not just the opportunity to look forward and think of life anew, but the chance to reflect upon the past year and close the book on a small chunk of the past, just to continue with the over-used metaphor. What did this past year mean? What were the highlights and low points? What can be learned from the many lessons lived through?

Then there is the hope that a new year brings. Truth be told (and perhaps it will be short-lived), I’m excited by and for this coming year. For the first time in several years, there is no impending and potentially devastating or discouraging process which we must face. We have more options and choices open to us, and we have a small measure of security — finally! This isn’t a small thing at all given just how traumatic and uncertain the last several years have been. It’s bloody huge in reality. And, that’s the beauty in this year. This entire year in which we can make decisions for ourselves rather than waiting on one bureaucrat or another to make them for us.

Today, I’m delighted to begin anew and refreshed, one of the brightest things in my life is my little tiny calendar. It may be old school (paper calendars work better for me even though I keep a digital diary as well), but I love it. To me, it represents hope and opportunity. It’s bound to get messy at times, but that’s what makes it interesting and inspiring.

Day 1:  'Proekt 365'

Day 1: Proekt 365