¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad!

Today is the best, most important day of the year.

Today is The Cuban’s birthday, and my absolute favourite day.

Today, we celebrate the day when this thoroughly lovely, witty, silly, insightful, thoughtful, caring, infinitely patient, creative, and at a times crazed creature entered this world.

There will be pie (banana cream, because bananas!). There will be singing and dancing (because that happens every day, but especially on birthdays). There will be much pampering and spoiling (because he deserves it). And, there will be laughter (because we like the laugh lines and chicken!).

Happy, happy birthday, my love. You make this world infinitely better each and every day. And, if you ask me, we need to celebrate your birth every day.

¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad!

Crazy Cuban

The Cuban & The Che Fufu doing what they do.

 

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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.

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.

 

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.

Waiting room antiques

Unexpectedly transported to another time

Unexpectedly transported to another time

Finland has a most impressive national healthcare system universally available to all residents. In terms of efficiency against quality, Finland ranks 23rd in the world. Touch wood, we’ve been fortunate to remain relatively healthy during our stay here and have enjoyed precious little in the way of waiting times, received excellent services in English and been generally impressed with the level of service and quality of equipment, facilities and medicines (when necessary).

There are moments, however, when we feel as though we’ve stepped into a time machine and been transplanted into the 1950s or so. From the architecture to the fixtures coupled with the design and decor including the furniture in the lobbies, it’s an incredibly surreal experience.

This particular waiting room is situated in the radiology department in one of the local hospital complexes in Helsinki. It’s a gorgeous location not far from our neighbourhood and not far from the very centre of the city. As with much of Helsinki, it is surrounded by a lovely park, and much of the hospital complex seems far too historically significant to house the modern diagnostic tools necessary for a top-notch healthcare system. Yet, it does.

When we returned a few days ago to this particular waiting room for a routine part of a check up, we once again marveled at the furnishings. These particular chairs and the very long bench/sofas which matched them could be equally appropriate for the set of Mad Men or in an episode of The Jetsons.

What made the experience all the more surreal was the film which was showing on the gigantic flat screen on the wall. Nevermind that the flat screen was a complete mismatch with the rest of the decor. The film playing on it was absolutely perfect. We’ve no idea what the film was nor what was really happening other than what appeared to be a lot of silliness. A Finnish film from most likely the same time period during which the furniture we sat on was manufactured, it perfectly matched the era of the room whilst allowing for a little comedic relief for the nervous patients awaiting their various scans. We watched completely perplexed as various Finnish actors from days gone by paraded around the black-and-white set in a series of dance moves which, quite frankly, made no sense at all. It was fantastic. Utterly and totally fantastic.

What a way to spend a bit of time. The scan went well and all is as it should be in terms of our health and well-being. Many thanks to the fantastic folks in the Finnish healthcare system who not only provide great care, but who also might just have a hidden sense of humour which comes through in the most unlikeliest of places.

Lost and potentially found, part 2

Another day, another lost (and found) mitten

Another day, another lost (and found) mitten

On Sunday evening, I spied the above mitten draped on a branch close to one of the bicycle trails traversing through our neighbourhood. The next morning, it was still there and looking lovelier than ever in the bright yet dappled sunlight, as if it were expectantly awaiting the hand to which it belongs.

Every time I stumble across one of these lost and found although not-yet-reunited items, it gives me hope for humanity. They brighten my day and remind of how even the simplest random acts of kindness and charity can mean the world to another individual. Having lost things myself at one time or another, I understand the joy and relief that accompanies that moment of realisation when finding something I thought was gone forever.

It’d be easy for whoever discovered this mitten to have just left it where it lay. It would have been just as easy to have picked it up and thrown it away. Yet, they didn’t. That someone took the time to pick it up and hang it in a place where it could be easily spotted.

So simple. So easy. And, yet, so selfless. And, dare I say, hopeful. Hopeful that its rightful owner would travel that same route again and discover what they had misplaced, dropped and possibly considered long gone.

A few lines from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene have been running through my mind since seeing this particular mitten, words which are cued whenever I think of items lost and searched for:

For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto an other brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.

I’d love to hang out near one of these objects sought to witness the instant when it is found once again.

Lost, but will be found…? (Day 68: Proekt 365)

Day 68: Proekt 365 Lost, and to be found?

Day 68: Proekt 365
Lost, and to be found?

Evidently, Helsinki is the most honest city on the planet. There are signs of this simple truth all around if you just know what to look for.

Today, I spied this lovely little mitten which someone had placed very visibly along one of the paths near our flat. Hopefully, its owner will find it soon enough. It’s lovely and bright in an otherwise colourless landscape and far too beautiful to be without its mate.

Yesterday, I found one of my own gloves which I’d dropped a little closer to home. As we left yesterday afternoon to run a few errands, I notice one of my gloves on the windowsill in our stairwell. Honestly, I didn’t even know I’d lost it! (Thanks to the person who found it!)

You’d be amazed at the items you spot along paths and routes all over the place. We’ve seen reading glasses, scarves, pacifiers, gloves and mittens (obviously) along with a number of different types and styles of hats. Sometimes, they remain there for ages. Others disappear, hopefully after finding their way home.

The general rule seems to be to place the item so that it is roughly at eye level. This can be a challenge given the range of heights for most folks in Helsinki. But, you want to situate the item such that it is obviously waiting to be found. Trees are the most common place lost things are hung so that they may be discovered. Bus stops and benches are also likely spots for the unclaimed and forgotten stuff unintentionally left behind.

It’s nice seeing these little reminders of compassion amongst fellow residents. And, hopefully, all those items which were lost will be found if not by their owners then at least by someone who will appreciate them.