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.

sunset in munkkiniemi

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.

geese_Fotor

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.

 

All that I need….

In the lead up to today, my 47th birthday, my husband has asked me nearly daily what I want. My response has been the same each and every time: ‘I don’t know. There’s nothing I really need or want.’ And, it’s true. I genuinely want for nothing for perhaps the first time in my life. At least, the things I want aren’t necessarily material goods or even things which impact my daily life. (Although, I’ll never turn down a new Marimekko frock or office supplies or chocolate. But, I don’t want need them.)

My life—my little, seemingly insignificant life—is rather comfortable and free of conflict. I have a husband and best friend I adore more with each passing year, a cat that is thoroughly cat-like and lovely at once, a job I never thought I’d love more and which rarely seems like ‘work’, more books and yarn than I will ever need and a collection of kind folks scattered across the globe to catch me when I stumble or with whom I can share the good times. Certain elements of my life may not be perfect, but I don’t need them to be. I don’t know that I want them to be. I rather enjoy challenges, perhaps more than I should.

At 47, I don’t feel the need to look behind me so much as I look forward to what’s to come. Goals are more realistic and simple these days, and what I hope for isn’t for me as much as it is for those around me. For the world around me.

This past year or so seems like some sort of wicked nightmare we’ve collectively imagined in some ways. After battling my own demons, and finally feeling as though I can live with them, current events in various regions have provided far too much surrealism and sleeplessness on occasion. It’s relatively easy for all of us to lose hope given some of the ugliness that screams more loudly than the kindness I know to exist. Yet, here I am, still full of hope for all of us and still firmly committed to the belief that what binds each of us to one another is far, far stronger than that which divides us.

At 47, this is what my life has come to mean: I won’t change the entire world, but hopefully I can change someone’s world just a little bit for the better. I won’t fix all the problems in this world, but perhaps I’ll help at least one person overcome some problem that consumes their world. I can’t love everyone, but I hope that I can provide love to someone who needs it in the moment when they need it most.

So many of you have done exactly that for me, both when I was acutely aware that I needed help and at moments when I didn’t. You have provided me with all that I need, and so much more. I am immensely grateful and I thank you, and I hope that I live up to your examples.

Me at 47

Me captured by The Cuban at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, 6 May 2017, Espoo, Finland.

If you’d like to help make the world a better place, please consider making a donation to any of the following organisations. Above all, please be kind:

I am grateful.

Indeed.

Indeed.

I am grateful. This thought, more than anything at the moment, occupies my mind.

As many things as there are in this world that drive me batty and leave me constantly questioning our humanity, how we as a species got here and how we may ever hope to advance, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that my life is pretty damn good.

Is it perfect? Hell no. But, it is perfect for me.

I’m insanely fortunate to have married the one person on this planet with whom I don’t mind spending 24 / 7 / 365. Good thing, too, because we do spend an inordinate amount of time together given that we both work from home. As odd as it may sound, I’m looking forward to our holiday so we can spend more quality time together without distractions such as email and the 24-hour news cycle.

I know love, both from my families and from friends literally all over this crazy, big world, even if I don’t see many of the people I love as often as I’d like.

And, I have a job I absolutely love, amongst colleagues who are incredibly talented and in the midst of students who challenge me to do better and work harder, a challenge I gladly accept. It isn’t a particularly high prestige job, it doesn’t involve travel to exotic locations any longer and it doesn’t break the bank, but I am grateful every day to have found this job at this time in my life. There are no ‘bad’ days at the office; but, even the less than perfect days leave me smiling.

More than these things, I know peace and comfort and security, which are merely reflections of where and to whom I was born rather than any sort of accomplishment on my part. These are not small, insignificant things although they are intangible. I see them as extreme privileges many only dream of attaining, and I am grateful.

I also know that I drive many around me nuts, bitching about what’s wrong in and with this world, never mind my persistent moaning about the endless Finnish winter. I may not be able to do much about the weather or climate much to my chagrin, but, as naïve as it may be, I’d like everyone to enjoy the fortunes I’ve been afforded and enjoyed merely as consequence of my nationality if not heritage.

I’d like the poor to know the joy of guilty pleasures without sacrificing food or heat or a place to rest. I’d like those who live in conflict zones to find themselves unable to sleep from the safe silence that envelops them as they lay down at night. I’d like the persecuted to be surrounded in a sea of acceptance and love. And, I’d like those left hopeless to find themselves blinded by possibility and opportunity.

I am grateful. And, I want a better world for all. I don’t see these statements as inherently contradictory. I see them as complimentary and representing possibilities to give something back for all that I have been granted.

Full circle

What a wild, unpredictable, and thoroughly life-affirming ride the past five years have been. Why the past five years? Well, that was the last time we found ourselves on the precipice of a much-needed, long overdue holiday.

Recently, a friend tagged me in a post designed to prompt individuals to reflect upon and post photos of five things for which they are grateful. I have yet to post the actual photos, largely because, at the moment, I’m filled with gratitude for many, many things. I’m fairly certain that I would not have said the same thing this time last year, let alone five years ago. But, given that this will be my last post for 2014, and I started off this year attempting to post daily on all things grateful and lovely, here is my list of things for which I’m most happy. (For those who didn’t know, I have not mastered pith and my list exceeds five.)

The primary and most-persistent and consistent aspect of my life for which I am always grateful remains and will continue to be my husband. We left for our last holiday completely wasted and spent from too much work and not enough time for ourselves. Neither one of us was completely content in our jobs, and we knew then that specific changes were necessary. Since then, some decisions were made for us, others we made for ourselves, and we’ve faced more uncertainty and obstacles in the interceding years than in our entire relationship (and, I’d say, these events have eclipsed everything else in my life). Five years on since our last holiday and facing our 10th New Year together, I’m amazed by him each and everyday. Still. There’s no one with whom I’d rather spend six weeks, 24/7. Hell, we practically spend every waking moment together as it is. I doubt at this stage in life that I could spend 24/7 with anyone other than The Cuban. But, I’m looking forward to disconnecting from the digital world and focusing all of our time on one another and the family and friends we haven’t seen in far too long.

Alongside The Cuban, I’m truly blessed by membership in a tribe of folks both near and far who continue to support both of us in ways that astound me. Too numerous to name them all, as well as the many forms their helping hands assumed, it humbles me and fills me with such awe to call each of these individuals ‘my friend’. I can only hope to reciprocate their kindness and care in some way, particularly when they most need and least expect it. After all, that’s precisely what they did for us.

As much as we harp on about the nuisances of life here in Finland, we’re profoundly grateful to whatever bureaucrat decided that we represented no threat, but might actually contribute a little something to Finnish society and granted us our permanent residence permits. I’ve never known the terror of sorting out the myriad documents true immigrants must navigate and understand. After our ten-month battle, we’re safe to remain together and that’s golden. Above everything, that’s all we really want or need.

This year progressed in the most unexpected ways career-wise. Nearly 15 years since my last foray into a classroom, I found myself standing at the lectern attempting to impart some tiny bit of knowledge, wisdom and experience to eager young(-ish) minds once again. Perhaps more surprising to me more than anyone else, I find myself loving it. Combining a bit of activism and advocacy by way of editing and writing alongside teaching took me from the mind-numbing boredom and frustration of being perpetually underemployed to absolute delight and excitement about returning to work after our holiday. I’m honoured to be a part of the University of Helsinki’s Language Services, and indebted to all those who worked towards granting me this opportunity. And, I’m delighted to find myself with a new set of talented, inspiring and dedicated colleagues and mentors. What a difference a year makes.

If you haven’t picked up on the common thread running through this post yet, I’ll let you in on a not-so-veiled secret — I’m tremendously grateful for this crazy little life I find myself living. Never in my wildest dreams would this life occurred to me. Yet, it’s pretty f*cking awesome. Is it perfect? Not even close. Is it filled with richness? I’d say so, although not the sort of wealth measured by money or bank statements. Regardless of the many obstacles, difficulties, and nightmarish moments, there’s no other life I’d like to be living.

As we embark on our epic holiday in the sun, be well, my friends. Most of all, be happy. Until 2015…

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Simple gestures

It amazes me how the tiniest of gestures carry such intense meaning and emotion at times.

It’s no secret in our house and amongst our friends that we aren’t big on gifts for occasions. We prefer to surprise one another with little things we find that we know will carry more meaning and indicate that we’ve been listening to one another, or little things we hope will bring a smile to the other’s face when things aren’t going quite to plan.

Yesterday was my darling husband’s birthday. As far as I was concerned, the day was entirely about making him smile, feeling loved and enjoying his day. Once the workday obligations were met, it was entirely up to him what we ate, what we did, etc. There was much silliness and singing, most of which was insanely off-key and mine. His smile was all the thanks I needed — and his laughter was an even greater gift.

As a part of his birthday celebration, he requested his favourite dishes of mine, something which has become somewhat of a tradition — Chickpeas a la Vanessita (a creation of my own which I made up when we first started dating) dressed with a bit of avocado and lime and chocolate fudge brownies. Despite cleaning up the kitchen whilst everything was cooking, there were still a few things which needed tidying up after we ate, all of which annoys me more than him and which I normally save to do over my morning coffee.

This morning as I entered the kitchen all bleary-eyed and sleepy ready to make my coffee and tackle the dishes whilst it was brewing, I found a relatively spotless kitchen and clean counters, with the exception of this guy:

A tiny little gestures which speaks volumes...

A tiny little gestures which speaks volumes…

I quite literally cannot stop smiling. As I mentioned in my last post, The Cuban continues to surprise me, mostly through things like this simple gesture.

Three years and counting

Three years ago on this day, I married my best friend and my hero. It’s been a bit more than nine years since we met and decided that we kinda fancied one another. It’s been a blur, really. But, it’s been real and honest and lovely. And, better than I’d thought possible.

There is no one on the planet with whom I’d rather spend the majority of my time, and there is no one who can make me smile and laugh when I least feel like it. From the most boring of days when nothing at all exciting happens to those days when information overload seems blissful and restive, he’s got my back and somehow anticipates precisely what I need (even when I have no idea myself what that is). He’s my ray of sunshine in the darkness and the kick in the ass I need when I’m being absurd. And, he’s my biggest cheerleader when I need that extra bit of encouragement. (I swear, if I bought him the skirt and pom poms, he’d put them on gladly, and learn to do a herkie and the cheers just to make me smile and help me cross the finish line of whatever race I’m running.)

I’d of course imagined having a partner in life before he and I met, and hoped I’d find one. I never expected the reality to be infinitely better and more meaningful than anything I’d dreamed of, I must admit. Perhaps what’s most surprising to me is his ability to continue to surprise me.

Best of all, it just keeps getting better.

Happy Anniversary, my darling. I can’t wait to see where we go next.

First of many selfies, ca 2005

First of many selfies, ca 2005

Sunshine and sunscreen, ca 2008

Sunshine and sunscreen, ca 2008

Sea, surf and sweetness

Sea, surf and sweetness, ca 2009

Just because, ca 2009

Just because (and with a side of coffee), ca 2009

Just after we got hitched, 24 August 2011 (Helsinki)

Just after we got hitched, 24 August 2011 (Helsinki)