Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Thanks for 2014

The last few hours of the year 2014. My son sits close by, watching fireworks.
We both prefer watching them from the warmth and safety of our home.

Looking back, I just want to write: 
Thank you, God, for this year.

In 2014, I got the gift of walking again.
A year ago, I was waiting for the second operation on my ankle. It was successful. After that, months of healing and exercise. These days, whenever I climb up stairs, walk briskly, run - I'm thankful.

In 2014, we had some great family times.
Everyday work and school: it's such a blessing to 'do life' together.
Holiday and weekend trips, board games, etc. are just icing on the cake. Fun, nevertheless.

In 2014, my 'work life' changed.
New tasks and responsibilities in these last few months. Lots to learn. Wonderful people to work with. (Though I'm still able to work from home.)

In 2014, I read a lot of good books.
Among the novels I read in 2014, these are my favourites:
Marilynne Robinson: Gilead
and Lila

Way back in February, after reading Gilead, I knew it was going to be one of my biggest favourites for this year. 
I'm so glad that I was able to read Lila this year, too.

Lucas, Jeff: Helen Sloane's Diary
and Up Close and Personal

I smiled, laughed and cried my way through these "diaries."
British sense of humour.
A loving, though not uncritical look at contemporary (evangelical) Christianity. 
Jesus is wonderful - despite the quirks of His followers.

For some reason, I found it really hard to pick non-fiction highlights. I've read plenty of good books, but to choose books that really stand out, that I still remember and refer to after several months... I wonder why that's more difficult this time. 

I've read Ann Voskamp, Shauna Niequist, Brene Brown, Gretchen Rubin - the sort of names that are on many people's 'best of' lists. Lisa-Jo Baker's Surprised by Motherhood was a great book, too.

I've enjoyed those books. They've given me lots to think about. Even though I'm not writing down and counting "a thousand gifts" every day, the book has made me notice the blessings of everyday life in a new way.

But I just can't put my non-fiction reads into a "top of highlights" list. Not this time.

Overall, I have read a lot. On my list, I have about 129 books I've read or listened to as audiobooks. About two thirds non-fiction, one third fiction.
Two thirds in English, the rest mostly in Finnish.
Roughly a quarter have been e-books, which is a new thing for me, but apparently it works. (I've been using the local library's Overdrive borrowing system A LOT.) I love e-books especially for travelling, though I'll never rely on just the tablet: what would I do when the battery runs out? ;-)

Let's see what kind of books and adventures 2015 will bring.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Gingerbread Adventures

Welcome to the Gingerbread Farm, where "Lean on me" is the theme song.

Because we all need someone to lean on, right? And on this farm, everything is frail and crumbly and glued in place with a mixture of icing sugar + water...
It's not perfect and pretty and awesomely crafted.
Which was not our aim, anyway.
But I didn't foresee how this would turn into an illustration of leaning on one another, of supporting one another.

We have had fun with our gingerbread, and in a few days it will be broken up and eaten - more fun with the gingerbread. We will laugh at the cows' expressions (not to mention the piglets, the shy, sly horse and the rest of the gingerbread crew).
We share these short sweet moments. We lean on one another.

In case I won't have a moment to spare for blogging for a few weeks: Happy Christmas!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Weekend Gratitude

The midweek came and went in a flurry of activity. Getting a Quick Lit post out took all the time I could put into blogging.

I haven't forgotten to be thankful, I just haven't had time to write about it.

Some random thoughts now, late on Saturday evening, as Junior is in bed and my husband is out running in the woods.

1. I'm thankful for things accomplished.
Such as almost all of our Christmas shopping.

2. As well as for things still in process.
We baked the parts of our gluten-free gingerbread "house" today. Tomorrow, on to the adventure of assembling it. I might post a picture when it's done. Even if it's not Pinterest Pretty and Perfect.

3. We'll be sending out a really pretty Christmas card.
Yes. The verb tense is correct: cards are another thing still in process. The picture (a photo compilation by my husband) is beautiful. I've written most of the envelopes. Some assembly still required. But hey, we're not quite ridiculously late yet. Just late. :) Another little project for tomorrow...

4. Relationships.
Family, friends. 
I've been so exhausted mentally that I've sometimes felt like suggesting "let's just cancel Christmas altogether, shall we?" 
But when I pause to think about it, Christmas is more about the relationships than about the outward trappings and traditions. Why do we bake stuff, and give presents? To show love. Why do we drive for hours? To see the people we care about, face to face. Send cards? To connect with the people who get them. 
I can do all that's really necessary for the sake of the relationships - not for the sake of some tradition. I'm thankful for those relationships and I want to value them. With actions, too.

5. Home comforts.
I have a home. With a roof and walls and windows and doors. Secure.
No one is going to tell me I don't belong here.
What a privilege it is to have a home.
And what made me think of it:

(Or actually just finished it - I started it weeks ago already.)
It sort of ties in with Lila - the issues of living without a fixed abode, and the feelings of shame, stigma and outsiderness that go with it.
The difference: Charlie Carroll took on the experience voluntarily, in order to write about it, and it's contemporary Britain.
It's not the fault of the book that it took me weeks to finish it - I've had less reading time than before, and I was too keen to read Lila...

7. Not only do I have a home, I have a bed.
And I can go and sleep in it.
So why not do it. Like, now. :)

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

What I've been reading - the Fiction Edition

Modern Mrs Darcy's Twitterature link-up is now called Quick Lit. Go there to get more - lots more - recommendations and short reviews of books.

Oddly, after so many Twitteratures of mostly non-fiction, this time all I have is fiction...

Marilynne Robinson: Lila

Neglected child, cared for by a migrant worker woman, grows into a woman who feels she's an outsider everywhere. How does she become an old pastor's wife in the small Iowa town called Gilead? Will she find her identity, and a way to feel at home?
Now this was a good book, and I tried to enjoy it slowly. Lots of food for thought. And now that I have some inkling of what Lila might be thinking and feeling, I want to re-read Gilead, too.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Idiot

A naive man enters society in St. Petersburg (in the late 1800s, I assume). He's so trusting, open and candid that he's quite a puzzle to everyone he meets.
The book is a witty social commentary mixed up with emotional instability, downright madness and volatile, self-destructively impulsive people - well, there are many sorts among the large cast of characters, but the impulsiveness made the biggest impression on me.
 I read this because it was chosen for an online book club, and many people in the online book club have enjoyed it. I wasn't thrilled with it, but having started, I persevered.
And I just have to give kudos to the Finnish translation by Olli Kuukasjärvi. So good!

Earlier this autumn, as I was dragged down with a persistent cold and cough, I went on a comfort reading binge of my favourite detective novels.
First, a bunch of my favourite Dorothy L.Sayers books:
The Nine Tailors
Murder Must Advertise
Gaudy Night
I love these more for their settings - the Fens, a 1930's advertising agency and a fictitious women's college at Oxford respectively - than their plots.
(I have a feeling I could say this for all the detective novels I love. Because I love them as novels, not as detective stories.)
Though I like Sayers's detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, a lot, I enjoy the other characters at least as much. The inimitable Bunter. The entire village of Fenchurch St. Paul, especially their enthusiastic vicar. The colourful bunch of people working at the advertising agency. The dons and students at Oxford. Gaudy Night is mostly Harriet Vane's story and POV, and that makes this book special, too.

And, lastly, a book that I have read many times before, too:

Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time

A bedridden police inspector and his "looker-upper" aka research assistant investigate the case of Richard III's nephews. Was Richard III really the monster that popular history had painted him through the centuries? What really happened to the young Princes?

I don't have the words to express how relevant this story is in our time, when the Internet and social media have opened up the way for anyone and everyone to write their own version of history. What is reliable? How is it possible to evaluate how people's perspectives, sympathies and wishes influence the way they tell a story?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Midweek Gratitude

I was meaning to write this before the workload descends on me today. Then, my computer decided to shut itself down in the middle of installing updates. Now that I have a moment between tasks, here goes - and the number one item is:

1. The computer is working again...
A couple of reboots and a checkdisk later, all the updates have been installed and we're up and working again.

2. This book:
Marilynne Robinson: Lila
As soon as I saw this on the library's list of new releases, I put a request on it.
Now I've got it. Can't immerse myself in it quite the way I'd wish, but I'm enjoying it slowly.
And I'm thinking I really need to re-read Gilead, too.

Which brings me to:

3. Our libraries
We carried another load home yesterday. (We did return a bagful of titles, too.) I love the system. The online database, where I can search and request titles and renew loans. The libraries, where the staff works hard to keep up the services despite funding cuts.

4. Walking
Walking home with the library books, I remembered what it was like a year ago. The rehab. The infection. Learning to walk without crutches, again and again.
It's wonderful how well the ankle has recovered. Now, I can walk wherever I want to. As briskly as I want to. What a privilege.

5. Our car
Looking at last year's posts reminds me to be thankful of this, too. Our fairly new-to-us car passed its yearly inspection last week. Only a year ago, the old car was totalled, we were thankful for getting to borrow a car from friends, and were beginning to look for a new one. This new one has been such a blessing.

6. Weekend baking
The smell of the gingerbread we baked on Saturday still lingers. (Probably comes from the tin where we keep the gingerbread. We made such a big batch that it'll last us several weeks.) Looking forward to making something next weekend, too. And the weekend after that, God willing, will be dedicated to gluten-free baking, including our yearly gluten-free gingerbread house.

7. Lights in darkness
Going towards winter solstice, the daylight hours are getting fewer. But yesterday, there was some sunshine. In the dark hours, there are lights. Streetlights. Lamps. Candles.
And the Light that shines over the darkness and cannot be overcome.

Regarding that song: I don't get the lyrics 100%. What does "you're the healing that lights the way back home" mean? But I like the chorus, and something in the intro gives me goosebumps every time. (Well, I was a teen in the 1980's. I guess this reminds me of those days... the combination of the electric guitars' sound and the beat?)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Midweek thanks - 7 random reasons for being thankful

In Finnish, Wednesday is keskiviikko, i.e. middle of the week. And it alliterates nicely with the word for thank you: kiitos.
Kiitoskeskiviikko - Thanksgiving Wednesday.

I hope to make this some kind of a tradition for myself: to pause for a while in the middle of the week and give thanks for something before the avalanche of things-to-do comes my way again. Just random thoughts.

1. My Mother-in-Law.
My Mother-in-Law is wonderful. She must be one of the best MILs in the world. She's perhaps the most tactful person I know. She's also incredibly helpful, kind, sensible... and she loves reading. The kind of woman I wish I could be 20-some years from now. Lord bless her.(We just celebrated her 70th birthday.)

2. Slow mornings
One of the things I love about homeschooling is that I don't have to hustle us out of the door in the morning. At this time of year, my son and I are not waking up bright and early. (Even though we do get up literally at the crack of dawn, at latest - you see, the sun rises after 8.30 AM on these latitudes...) When I wake up my son, we have a morning snuggle time. And every morning, I think, "This won't last forever." I hope my son will remember at least some of these times. Of the love we speak to one another via hugs and time spent together.

3. The birds outside my window
Our flat is on the 4th floor, and our building is on top of a hill. The tops of pine trees are pretty much on the same level as our windows. The birds and the squirrels that come to the trees - as well as the trees themselves - are such a joy to look at.

4. Coffee. Enough said.

5. New challenges
I have new work responsibilities and that means a steep learning curve. At times, I feel stressed. At the same time, I know I can learn this. God created me with a systematic bent that helps me to handle these new tasks. At some point, it will be routine.

When my new tasks combined with all the other responsibilities in my life seemed overwhelming, I took up this book to read. 

For one thing, it's a good book. This is a short history of Finns working with the Red Cross in various crises in the world, written by a journalist who has been reporting news stories from many of those same crises. So, lots of exciting stories, and plenty of facts and photographs.

And moreover, reading about doctors and nurses working in the middle of famine, war and natural catastrophes puts my computer woes and messy house into perspective. Their work is a lot more stressful than mine. I remain thankful that there are people in this world capable and willing to do what they are doing. The name of the book is Quiet Helpers. They go. They do what needs to be done. And they don't make a big deal out of it.

7. Advent
"The holiday season" easily begins to look like an extended to-do-list. But it's good sometimes to pause and think what, exactly, we are celebrating here.
And what we're celebrating just takes my breath away.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Recent Reads (October Twitterature)

I love the concept of short book reviews in Modern Mrs Darcy's Twitterature linkup. I just cannot make the reviews tweet-length. 
But here goes October Twitterature, anyway. And for more short reviews, please visit Modern Mrs Darcy!

Hill, Susan: Howard's End Is On The Landing. A Year Of Reading From Home.

One day, Susan Hill was looking for a book in her home, realized what a lot of books they owned, and made a resolution that, for one year, she'd only read books she already owned.

She's not suggesting that anyone else do this, by the way, and it's not one of those "simplify your life" projects. For her, it was more of a journey into her own life, as she writes: "to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading."

In this book, then, Susan Hill gives us glimpses of her reading history, her literary likes and dislikes, her book-related memories, stories of her meeting other authors, etc. Some of her likes coincide with mine. Some don't. (Say what - she doesn't 'get' Jane Austen?) Her opinions and stories were fascinating to read, nevertheless. And isn't the cover just beautiful?

A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through the house that day looking for one elusive book, my eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored here, neglected or ignored.

Bookworm warning: reading this book may make your reading list longer.

James, Eloisa: Paris In Love

The premise is promising: the author and her family move to Paris for a year to experience la vie parisienne. It's one of my favourite daydream-games: what would it be like and what would we do if we went to live somewhere else for a while. And she actually gets to do it. Wow.

I didn't love the book as much as the premise, though. The book is a collection of Facebook updates with some longer essay-style texts. So, the structure is a bit disjointed and keeps you mostly on the surface level. Nice observations and vignettes - like flicking through a stranger's photo album - but I did long for more of those longer stories and essays - more of getting into a subject in depth.

But I can understand that it's more important to focus on actually experiencing something than to write a lot about it while you're living it.

And because of the format, the book is good if you need something to read that you can just pick up for a little time and then set aside again, as each little bit can be read separately.

This book is a fascinating read for any language geek. But you don't need to be a linguist to understand it - Deutscher has a witty, very readable style.

Deutscher makes the point that our mother tongue does not limit our capacity for learning, understanding and expressing any concepts, whether they exist in our language or not. Instead:

The real effects of the mother tongue are rather the habits that develop through the frequent use of certain ways of expression. The concepts we are trained to treat as distinct, the information our mother tongue continously forces us to specify, the details it requires us to be attentive to, and the repeated associations it imposes on us - all these habits of speech can create habits of mind that that affect more than merely the knowledge of language itself.

This is the third part of Anna Elliott's Pride and Prejudice Chronicles series. The first two were Georgiana Darcy's diaries, and I enjoyed them both, so I succumbed to the temptation to buy the third one, too. And I don't regret it.

Kitty Bennet, sombered by her experiences at Waterloo (see Georgiana Darcy's Diary 2), is staying with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in London together with her sister Mary.  Kitty is no longer looking for flirtation nor love for herself, but decides to try to find a husband for Mary - and ends up helping many others, too, as well as getting into scrapes.

I liked what Anna Elliott did with Kitty's character as well as with Mary: it was good to see poor Mary Bennet treated as more than just a hopeless prig to be laughed at. These 'silly' sisters did not have to remain silly. And I enjoyed the plot twists, too - willing suspension of disbelief is in order, but the story was so entertaining that I didn't mind the improbabilities.

Trollope, Joanna: Sense and Sensibility

Let me say I am somewhat prejudiced against the Austen Project. Take six perfectly good novels and have six bestselling authors put the stories into modern times? It could work, of course. And because I, too, am interested enough to read the reworked novels, I have to admit there apparently is a market for them.

But I had my doubts getting into Joanna Trollope's effort, and I'm not convinced even after reading it. Trollope is a good writer. Yet, I don't think many of the essential plot points in Sense and Sensibility make for a very credible story and consistent characters when you put them into contemporary settings. Are the members of the upper class in modern Britain really so set on money and prestige? The secret engagement and all that just didn't make sense to me and made Edward seem even more of a fool than in the original.

If you don't let that doubt and incredulity bother you, it's a good read.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

In memoriam MS Estonia

This blog is mostly about books, but occasionally I just want to write some personal musings. Do a spot of writing things out of my system. This is one of those.

It has been 20 years since the MS Estonia disaster.
If you don't live somewhere around the Baltic Sea, I won't be surprised if you have never heard of this shipwreck - especially if you're under thirty - or just don't remember it any more. But around here, it's still synonymous with devastation.

It was a big disaster. Over 850 people lost their lives as MS Estonia sank. Most of them were Swedish and Estonian. Many of those who managed to get away from the sinking ship died in the stormy, freezing cold sea.

There weren't so many Finns on the ship, which was en route from Tallinn to Stockholm. I had no personal connection to the tragedy. But I remember how it shocked me, as it shocked all the Finns I knew. I think we all felt to some degree 'it could just as well have been me.' Travelling on the Baltic sea in a big cruise ferry, whether for work or leisure, was such a normal thing to do - as it still is.

Estonia is a small country. In the years after the disaster, whenever I was in Estonia and the MS Estonia tragedy was spoken of, it seemed to me that everyone had some kind of personal connection. If it wasn't an immediate family member or relative, there was a connection through a neighbour, a colleague, a schoolmate, a friend of a friend - someone they knew, in some way or another, had been on the ship, died or survived.

In the spring of 1998, when the film Titanic was released in this part of the world, I was in Estonia. We went to see it. The cinema in Tartu was old - my most vivid memory of the place is the wooden folding seat. Yes, wooden. It got a bit uncomfortable during the 3+ hours of the film. (I remember thinking 'just sink already' as DiCaprio and Winslet seemed to be endlessly running along the ship's corridors.)

But what was making me even more uncomfortable than my seat was the consciousness that sitting all around me were Estonians who were likely to have some kind of personal connections to a more recent shipwreck tragedy. It was less than four years since MS Estonia.

In the dark cinema, I wondered: how many others here are remembering MS Estonia, too? I'm sorry to say I did not feel much for the leading couple of the film. I felt more for the ordinary people trapped in their cheap cabins far down in the ship, like the Irish mother and her little children. The people who had no chance of saving themselves. Like so many on MS Estonia. Asleep in the middle of the night, when suddenly everything turns around and you don't have time to get out anymore. I felt almost sick in the cinema, trying not to imagine what happens to the people inside a passenger ship that sinks. What would I feel if it was myself and my family trapped in there?

I haven't wanted to watch Titanic since.

We still travel on these cruise ferries, more reminiscent of floating cities than means of transport. Usually, we do not worry that a disaster might strike again - no, not us. This huge, beautiful modern thing could not possibly sink, right? Security and safety measures have improved a lot since (and because of) the MS Estonia disaster. People are doing their best to keep these kinds of accidents from ever happening again.

And yet there are shipwrecks like the Costa Concordia cruise ship in Italy or the ferry MV Sewol in South Korea. People still die at sea - people who were only going for a leisure trip, or people who were only doing their jobs.

I may forget the film Titanic, but I hope to never forget RMS Titanic, or MS Estonia - the 'Titanic' of the Baltic Sea - for that matter. 

I hope to never forget that we cannot take any day of our lives for granted. Whether we go out to sea or stay at home. 

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, 
and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. 
You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Instead, you ought to say, 
“If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
James 4:13-15

Monday, 15 September 2014

Reading in August-September

It's Twitterature time again! Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy to share short reviews of recent reads.

So what have I read during the past month?

Not a lot.

No great Christian books to share, as the only one I've finished since last time was in Finnish.

Just one book of fiction:

Simonson, Helen: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew, retired and widowed, lives in a small Sussex village. A new relationship in his life means he has to 'do the right thing' - even if it seems that half the village is against him.
A sweet novel. Perhaps even a gorgeous novel. Great main characters.

And two non-fiction:

John Hughes-Wilson (with Nigel Steel): A History of the First World War in 100 Objects.

The ONLY non-fiction book I finished in August. At 400+ pages, chock-full of interesting details, it's probably not surprising that it took a big chunk of my reading time.

The point of view is mostly British, and all the objects in the book are from the collections of the Imperial War Museum. Colonel John Hughes-Wilson is a notable British war historian and Nigel Steel is the Imperial War Museum's principal historian: great credentials for writing an overview of the war: background, events - many aspects

Recommended: for history buffs interested in the First World War.

von Bremzen, Anya: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. A Memoir of Food and Longing.

The history of the Soviet Union interwoven with the story of one family and food.

Anya von Bremzen puts her and her mother's personal stories into their context in history, painting a living picture of the paradoxes and realities of Soviet life. Hospitality, feasts and famines, shortages and queues contrasted with the extravagance of the later 'ruling class'. We see the significance of food in human relationships - and in culture, history and politics, too.

This is one of the best food-related memoirs that I've read. Anya von Bremzen can write - and she has a lot of stories to tell.

Personally, I loved this book all the more for being able to connect some bits and things to my own memories.
I grew up in Finland - a next door neighbour to the Soviet Union. As a child, I visited the Soviet Union twice on tourist trips and read about the 'wonders' of Soviet Union in glossy magazines. Growing up, I also had an inkling of the non-glossy realities of the totalitarian state. Around the time I became an adult, the Soviet Union collapsed. I've been travelling in the Baltic countries since early 1990s. I've visited many flats in those khrushcheba houses and been on the receiving end of incredible hospitality. I've seen the Baltic countries shedding their Soviet influences - and yet, some 'pan-soviet' have foods remained. Salat Olivier. Prianik gingerbread. Plombir ice cream. Pelmeni. Kotleti. Borshch soups. And when Anya von Bremzen writes about them, I go "Oh, yes. I remember that!"

Thursday, 4 September 2014

So far, not too bad (overview of the year)

Two thirds of the year gone. It's time for another little overview.

Reading statistics for May, June, July and August:
Books total: 47
Christian (non-fiction): 12
Other non-fiction: 21
Fiction: 14

The total number of books was suprisingly close to the first third. I thought it would be higher, as I felt I was reading A LOT in the summer.
Well, I was reading a lot in June and July.

In August, though, my reading time seemed to just evaporate. (Work, start of the school year, etc.) I ended up abandoning at least three books - though only one with no intention of ever taking it up again, the other two just had to be returned to the library before I had finished them. Plus I'm still reading a couple of books I started in August. So that's quite a bit of reading time gone without the statistics of 'a book finished' to show for it...

Luckily I don't read for the sake of impressive statistics, but rather for pleasure and edification... ;)

Most of the books were in English (28), the rest in Finnish (19).
The ratio of e-books to paper was pretty much the same as during the first third of the year: 13 e-books, 34 print. (No audio books.)

Am I reaching my reading goals?

1) Constructive Christian books: apart from August, yes. 
(And in August, I've been reading good books, though I haven't finished them yet.)

2) Learning: yes, I suppose I can say so. (You can learn a lot from travel stories. Like, what kinds of adventures you definitely do not want to get yourself into, no matter how much you like to read about them.)

3) Just for fun - yes, plenty.

4) New books for my son. Well, yes and no. He read all through the pile we packed for the summer road trip, which was mostly new-for-him titles. He seems to read in cycles: something new (a new series, even), then he re-reads an old favourite. Can't blame him for liking re-reads. :)

5) Books we already own? Oops. Those tend to migrate to the bottom of the pile, because of pressing library deadlines, etc.

6) The Bible. Still reading aloud daily to my son, and by myself, on most days.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Summer Reading

Since I missed July's overview, I've got a big crop of books in this quick review. Looks like I had some time for reading, too, over the summer holidays...

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's Twitterature. Go there for lots of great short book reviews - I know that my To Be Read list always grows when I read the Twitterature posts.


Niequist, Shauna: Cold Tangerines
Niequist, Shauna: Bread and Wine
I read both of these during our road trip. Plenty of good food for thought. I love the encouragement to live fully and to enjoy friendships and build relationships at the table. And to see God's presence in the ordinary, everyday life.

Lederer, Richard: Anguished English
and More Anguished English
Collections of funny language bloopers. My kind of humour. Such as:
"She watched as her father returned home with the horses all dressed in cowboy attire."

Hughes, Patrick Henry: I Am Potential
Patrick Henry and his Dad share their story. Basically, one of those "a disabled kid with talent, perseverance and a can-do attitude" inspirational stories. A very good read. For more information about this young man, see his website at

 Hopgood, Mei-Ling: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm (And Other Adventures in Parenting, from Argentina to Tanzania and everything in between)
Mei-Ling Hopgood looks at different aspects of parenting, like bedtimes, food, potty training, etc., and how differently things are done around the world. I like her attitude: she keeps an open mind, respects the choices of others and tries to pick those methods that work for her family as well as the culture she lives in.

Lights, Camera...Travel!
Lonely Planet's anthology of travel stories by film-makers and screen personalities. The stories are as varied as the writers and their locations, from Brooke Shields's igloo-building adventure to Brett Paesel rafting on a river in India. Good for relaxed reading.

Lilwall, Rob: Cycling Home From Siberia
A British geography teacher spends three and a half years cycling, starting from wintery Siberia and going through e.g. Japan, Papua New Guinea, Australia... so, not the straightest route. Quite a good travel story, though obviously he has had to leave out many interesting things to keep the book length at least somewhat reasonable. #epicadventures

Rajesh, Monisha: Around India in 80 Trains
A British journalist (with Indian heritage) travels all around India in trains. The 4-month journey is quite an adventure, and Monisha writes well. I mostly enjoyed reading this, though the vivid descriptions do not exactly inspire me to go and experience it myself. (I'm not quite that adventurous :) )


Lucas, Jeff: Up Close and Personal (What Helen Did Next)
I was eager to read this, as I loved Helen Sloane's Diary, and I wasn't disappointed. Helen has a lot going on in her life: coping with grief and loss(es) on the other hand, and new promising developments on the other hand. Some romance, even, in the air...
As I wrote about the first part: good points and insights about Christianity (as well as relationships in general), communicated through a story with humour.

McCall Smith, Alexander:
The Double Comfort Safari Club
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

"No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" sounds like a detective series, doesn't it? Yet I don't think anyone reads these books for their detective plots, but rather for the characters and the setting. It's like taking a little trip to Botswana. 

Reading this series is a bit like having a cup of tea with a friend on a pleasant, shady terrace. The pace is slow, contemplative. No gruesome murders, not a lot of 'action' - but lots of pondering and insights about human nature, Botswana culture and things changing over time.
I love these books the same way I love to pause and take a deep breath when life gets hectic. 

However, if I read very many of these in a row, they start to feel repetitive. (Just like you can't stay on the terrace drinking tea forever :) So, good in small doses. And you gotta love a name like Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon...

NB: The ones I mention here are at the end of the series, and I think I've missed some in between. If the series is new to you, better start at the beginning, so you get to know the characters and their background. (This link goes to the Wikipedia article about the series, if you want to find out about the previous books and their order.)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Travelling Alone, Or Not

I used to be a solo traveller.

I was way past thirty when I got married; I lived many good years as a single woman. Occasionally, I travelled with friends, and as I got older and more confident in my ability to cope on my own, I began to travel solo.

I didn't do any 'epic' adventure trips alone. But I loved exploring and experiencing those places alone, on my own pace, free to change my plans on a whim.

So my heart beat faster and my head nodded in agreement when I read this, written by Shauna Niequist in Cold Tangerines:

There are only two things I like to do alone: reading and traveling, and for the same reason. When you travel, and when you read, you are not actually alone, but rather surrounded by other worlds entirely, the footsteps and phrases of whole other lives keeping you company as you go.
It felt like being at a fancy hotel's breakfast buffet, where you're so overwhelmed by the options, you almost want to give up, but more than overwhelmed, you are delighted, and you want to taste every single bite, and just walking up to the stacks of plates makes you feel like something great is happening to you. That's how it feels to be alone in a city, like something great is always about to happen to you. And it always is. There's always some side street or café or painting in a gallery or park or person or something that takes your breath away. And you look differently when you're alone. When you're with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there's no other way to preserve it.

This comparison of reading and travelling hit me somewhere deep in my heart. Yes, yes. To be surrounded by the unfamiliar, to see and hear it, smell and taste it. To imagine what it would be like living there. Momentary immersion. Writing it on my heart.

But as soon as I had read this, something in me whispered: "I should not have read this right now."

We were in the middle of a family road trip. I'm no longer a solo traveller, I'm a mom traveller.

I do love travelling with my husband and my child. Seeing places not only from my perspective but theirs, too. Sharing experiences and discoveries. Again, Shauna Niequist has written eloquently about why they travel with their children:

...We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that "our way" isn't the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighbourhood - they love to play, to discover, to learn.
        I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn't bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play, not as the main characters in the drama in our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bit of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious.
Shauna Niequist in Bread and Wine

Yes, yes, yes to travelling together and helping my child to understand and experience that "different isn't bad" and our way is not the only right way. (I'm not so sure all the tastes and textures of the world are delicious, though. Perhaps Shauna has not yet encountered Swedish surströmming. :) )

What I really want to know is how Shauna is able to reconcile her 'solo traveller' and her 'family traveller' identities. Perhaps she gets plenty of solo travelling because of her work - speaking engagements, etc.? Enough to satisfy her taste for solo travel?

But my circumstances are different. I haven't travelled alone anywhere since getting married - 11 years ago tomorrow.

And if I start to long for solo travelling in the middle of a family road trip...? It's like seeing a little puzzle piece of my identity, a piece that has been lost under the carpet for so long that it has no place in the puzzle any more, now that the other pieces have shifted and changed shapes.

As a mom traveller, I can't focus solely on my own experiences. At least some part of my focus is always on the child - his well-being, his need for information. I need to constantly adapt my pace to his.

And yet I still have also this need for experiencing new places on my own. How do I put these pieces together? Our circumstances do not allow for me to hop off on solo trip. Getting some solitary hours in the middle of a family trip is great, when it's feasible - but I need to be more intentional about that, because if I don't ask for it, it's not going to happen.

I wonder how others solve this?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Quirky Places To Stay

I love road trip planning.
I love finding places for us to visit.
And even though we often use a tent at a campsite because it's the cheapest accommodation, we sometimes stay at hostels, too. Especially if we're only staying one night at a particular location, because putting up the tent and then packing it away takes more time and effort than we like for the sake of only one night.

BTW, when I talk about camping in a campsite, it doesn't mean 'roughing it' in the wilderness. The campsites I am talking about have communal showers and toilets, cooking facilities (as long as you bring your own pots, pans, utensils and food), even laundromats... Have a peek at if this sounds like a foreign concept to you.

But this time I wanted to tell you about a couple of quirky hostels.
For pictures, please click through to their websites. My pictures from these places were not very good, I'm afraid, and I don't want to snitch their pics (trying to respect copyrights here...).

Tågstallarna, Rättvik, Sweden

The name of the hostel means "train depots" - and that's literally what the hostel is. An old train depot. The showers and communal kitchen have been built into a huge depot hall, and the "bedrooms" are in old sleeping cars.

Sleeping in a sleeping car is not the most comfortable option, of course. The beds are narrow bunk beds, the 'room' is small, and there are just two toilets per sleeping car. But when we were there, there weren't too many other guests. And it definitely was an experience to remember for our young one.

There are several other trains built into youth hostels in Sweden, but this is the only one where we have stayed (this far).

If you want a bit more luxury :) - ever thought about sleeping in a prison renovated into a hostel? We have...

Hotel Gamla Fängelset, Umeå, Sweden

Gamla Fängelset = The Old Prison.
Good, clean, basic accommodation (bunk beds at least on the hostel side). I loved the surprisingly beautiful hall - heavy wooden doors, white walls, huge windows...

Långholmen, Stockholm, Sweden

Långholmen = The Long Island.
Ten points for the location: a picturesque island pretty near to the centre of Stockholm. Nice rooms. 

They try to capitalize on the history of the place as much as possible - selling prison-themed souvenirs etc. - and if you want to make the most of staying at an ex-prison, you could even do the "prisoner for a day" activity. We didn't do it. Didn't even have time to visit the prison museum, which is a pity - but perhaps we'll go back to Långholmen one day, seeing how much we like travelling to Stockholm

How about you? Any fun, quirky places you have stayed in? Any suggestions of where we should go, perhaps, one day, God willing?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Packing for a Road Trip (the Bookworm Edition)

The book-lovers dilemma of packing enough books for a road trip has become easier for me, now that I have a tablet with the Kindle app. But I do pack 'real' tangible books, too. I can't rely on just electronic devices.

I had to laugh when I looked at what I'm taking along this time:

Just read it as if it was a poem:

What is it like to be married to me?
Up close and personal.
I am potential,
Cycling home from Siberia.

No, we're not going cycling in Siberia. But reading about people struggling on their bikes in the Siberian winter does put the minor discomforts of a summer road trip life into perspective.

My Kindle app has Shauna Niequist's Cold Tangerines and Bread and Wine lined up, almost as if I was packing the cooler instead of the book bag. :)

Now the dilemma is my darling Junior Bookworm. He only reads in Finnish, which means there aren't a lot of inexpensive and suitable e-books available. (Plus we only have one device for reading e-books - mine.) So it's traditional, tangible books for him.

But how many will be enough? It'll be nearly three weeks. And he'll have plenty of time to read in the car, in the evenings before bedtime, etc.

This is the pile I have for him at the moment. I'll report back whether this was enough, too many or too few...

Because they're all in Finnish, for those who want to know:
We've got most of Enid Blyton's Adventure series (a three-in-one volume at the top, plus three individual books: two of the series are missing, because we didn't get them from the library yet, the hold queue is loooong). Then Jerry B. Jenkins's book about American schoolboys learning soccer. Winnie-the-Pooh plus The House at Pooh Corner: because he's seen the films, and I want him to read.the.original. Plus an assortment of other children's adventure books, mostly by a Christian publisher.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Goals And Desires - For This Summer

I started reading Linda Dillow's What's it like to be married to me? because I had a hunch that re-reading and really thinking through this book would be a good idea.
And already from the first chapter I picked up at least one gold nugget I had forgotten: the distinction that Dillow makes between a goal and a desire:

A goal is something I want that I can also control.
A desire is something I want that I cannot control.

One of Dillow's examples is making "an intimate, sharing relationship with my husband" a goal. A relationship takes two people, and I cannot control my husband's part of it. Maybe he's not a talkative type? Maybe talking about his intimate feelings doesn't come easy to him? I can't make it my goal to make him talk to me. The more I strive to do that, the more he'll clam up. My "goal" needs to be all about my own part, for example to be such a listener that my husband can feel it's safe to talk, whenever he's ready to do that.

The distinction of goals and desires works out also in holiday planning.

I have lots of desires for the summer holiday. I want us all to have fun. I want us to share good times. I want us to connect better as family members. I want us all to grow in our relationships with God, too. And I certainly want to experience and enjoy the places and activities on our itinerary.

What I can make my goal is the part I'm responsible for. Myself.

So, my summer goals could look like this:
  • I choose a good attitude. I choose to enjoy the adventure, relax, have fun, let go, smile a lot.
  • I try to find ways to encourage others and choose to serve their needs with love.
  • I seek God in my life, consistently.
  • I avoid complaining and griping, whatever circumstances we encounter.
  • I tell others honestly about my needs, so they get a fair chance to take those into account. (My husband is a great guy, but he cannot read my mind - and shouldn't be expected to!)

I know from previous years that when we travel together, one person's mood affects all the others. We're in a small car together, stay in a tent or other small lodgings together, do activities together. As three introverts, each one of us also needs some 'alone time' to recharge, and in previous years, I have sometimes felt I didn't get enough. And when I get into a bad mood, everyone suffers.

I'm reading Dillow's book in preparation for our trip. And for the sake of the rest of our lives, too.

It's not going to be perfect, ever. I'll stumble and fall. Ask for forgiveness. Start again.

But I pray God that when the tough moments come, He'll remind me of what I have set as my goal, my responsibility. The strength to choose better comes from Him.

And I'm going to enjoy the process.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

June Books (Twitterature)

In May and June, it's all about easing into summertime. I've still been reading plenty in Finnish, but I won't go into those books here.

Linking with the lovely Modern Mrs Darcy's Twitterature link-up. Go there for more, and more, and more recommendations and short reviews of books.

First a couple of books in the category of "borrowed on an impulse from the e-library"...

Kathi Lipp: The Get Yourself Organized Project
I like Kathi Lipp's ideas for cleaning clutter and getting organized. My favourite thought in this book was looking for the way we naturally do things and going from there: for example, if you always open your mail in the kitchen, arrange the space for sorting out the mail in the kitchen, so it's easy to put things right where they belong.
I'm probably not quite the target audience - too "naturally organized" for that - but we have our clutter points, and I sorely need to develop better ways to deal with paperwork.

Rich Roll: Finding Ultra
From an alcoholic and an overweight couch potato to a competitive vegan triathlonist. Yes, his life has been quite a journey, and I did finish the book. But felt a bit blah. I guess that for me to really like a memoir, I need to somehow connect with the people in it, and that didn't happen with this one.

And then for the books that had been on my TBR list. Looks like Asperger was one of my reading themes... 

Daniel Tammet: Born on a Blue Day. A Memoir of Asperger's and an Extraordinary Mind
Daniel has Asperger's syndrome, synesthesia, and savant syndrome. His mind is truly extraordinary, and what is even more rare and extraordinary: he can describe his thought processes eloquently and vividly. Numbers are his "friends", and like a first language to him. And yet he loves words, too, and he can learn a new language in a week or so.
This is a fascinating book, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Fun detail: I looked at his surname and thought "That's not a typical English surname, it sounds Estonian." The book said nothing about his surname, but later I looked at his homepage and the Wikipedia page about him, and it turns out he has changed his surname himself, choosing the Estonian word. (The word tammet is also Finnish and means "oaks", but the plural form is not used as a name in Finnish.)

Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Initially, I found it hard to get into the story. It was intriguing, though. Picking up the clues the narrator (a boy who is somewhere in the autism spectrum) didn't. Trying to piece together an idea of what the people in his life were like. A good read.
Thank you, Jeannie, for recommending this!

However. Reading Haddon's novel right after Tammet's memoir (and having read another memoir by a woman with Asperger's, not so long ago), made me ponder the limits of fiction. Haddon doesn't claim to be especially knowledgeable about autism/Asperger's. The novel is his impression of how a person with Asperger's (or somewhere on the autism spectrum) might think. It's a tool for telling the story and describing familiar things, like the London Underground, from a new and fresh viewpoint. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Authors need fresh viewpoints.

Perhaps Haddon's novel also helps some 'normal' people to have more empathy for someone with Asperger. How hard it is when the way you perceive things is so different from other people's. How overwhelming some situations can feel, and that's what causes the 'strange' behaviour. It's easier for many people, I suppose, to pick up Haddons novel rather than Tammet's memoir.

Yet, personally, I got more out of the real-life stories of Daniel Tammet and Paula Tilli. I guess that's just how my mind works. :)

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Mind The Gap - Living And Working Between Languages

I became a translator because I love languages.
I especially love the balancing act of getting a message in one language and relaying it in another language. It's a wonderful feeling when you get it just right. When you know that these words convey exactly the meaning you want. Yes, it happens, sometimes.

And sometimes a word or a concept in one language just doesn't fit neatly into the words of the other language. There is no equivalent. You can't translate, you need to think again, think differently.

As an example, we do not have a word for please in Finnish. Yes, there are ways of asking for things nicely and politely: "May I have..." or "Could I have..." But there is no single word that translates please.

Thank you,!
The result is that it's hard for a Finn learning English to remember to say please. She thinks she's asking politely when she says "May I have a drink?" because that's how it works in her own language. And the native English speaker waits for the please and gets the impression that the Finnish person is a bit abrupt, impolite, clumsy. "Didn't her mother teach her manners, like we teach our little ones to say please?"

(After 35 years of learning English as a second language, I think I've learned to remember saying please. Now I'm the one getting antsy if someone forgets to use it. I'll do my best to teach it to my son as he is learning English...)

Another example. We Finns don't say he and she. We have only one third person singular pronoun that goes for both genders: hän. So, if you have a Finnish text that speaks about the protagonist only as "hän" and nothing indicates the sex of this person, it's awfully difficult to translate it into English. If you start translating with he and after a while it turns out the text is talking about a woman, you have to go through everything again and fix all the pronouns. (And what if the text is purposefully written to be gender-neutral? How do you do it in English??)

Incidentally, this is also one more thing a Finnish learner of English finds hard. Because you suddenly need to start thinking differently. You have only one pronoun in your existing system, but now you need to remember to use a different word depending on the person you are talking about.

But I'm a translator because I enjoy the challenges of navigating the no man's land between languages and learning its pitfalls. I can never be entirely sure that I know all the cultural contexts, connotations and implications of my words, especially in my acquired languages. But it's OK as long as I'm aware of this and tread carefully, minding the gap. There is always more to learn, and sometimes we learn the hard way.

And sometimes you can get a good laugh from the gap. Like when I read Oliver Lutz Radke's books: Chinglish: Found in Translation and Chinglish 2: Speaking In Tongues.

Chinglish, as Radke defines it, is English words and Chinese grammar, reflecting a Chinese way of thinking.
Sometimes, it's poetry found in translation, like the sign which is apparently in a protected natural area:
"A rock longs for permanence
And a plant yearns love care"

Sometimes, the translation ends up with entirely garbled meaning, such as "Slip carefully."

But Radke is not collecting these in order to mock the Chinese translators' mistakes. It's because he's fascinated with what happens when there is a gap between two languages and cultures, and you can sort of see the Chinese thought behind the English words. Translations such as "Slip carefully" happen because Chinese grammar is different; the Chinese characters convey the message "be careful so you don't slip", but they do not need so many words to express it and the word order may also be different.

But sometimes awful (and funny) things happen because computer translation systems, such as Google Translate, cannot bridge the gap. When there are several possible meanings for a word, depending on the context, and the computer suggests the wrong alternative for this context, and there is no one to correct it before it's in print.

Not to mention the results of simple typing errors. You can guess what happens to a restaurant menu when someone accidentally spells 'crab' with a 'p'.

It's also an unfortunate fact that some words are similar, yet far apart in meaning. Like inconvenience and incontinence.

If language humour like this is your cup of tea, there is a lot more in and
(For the latter link, at least, I guess I should warn that there is a lot of unfortunate 'language' and innuendo. Like the example with crabs above. And worse. Much worse. Let's just say that by reading I have also increased my knowledge of American slang expressions. And I also wonder: where did someone get the text for this?
And what made someone think that stationery like this is a good idea?)

Mind the gap - and enjoy the trip between languages. You never know what you'll find there.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Summer Plans

Soon, our homeschool year will be over and it's time for summer holidays. 
As homeshoolers, we don't need to schedule our schoolwork according to the Finnish schoolyear. Yet, we do, at least approximately. We start our school year by mid-August and take a small break - like a long weekend - during the autumn term. The autumn term ends in December, with a longer break (about 3 weeks or so) around Christmas and New Year. The spring term starts at the beginning of January, and then we take a week-long break at some point along the way and another break around Easter. We aim to finish the academic year by the end of May.

This leaves us a long summer break: two and a half months. I remember this as the glorious, sunny, wonderful season of freedom from my childhood. It makes sense I want to offer something similar to my son...

What's the plan for the break?

It's not like we're going to be lazy all the time. We'll do more sports and outdoor activities, weather permitting. We'll go swimming, once the water in the lakes warms up a little. We plan field trips, studying nature in a way that's just not possible during other seasons. We might do some arts and crafts, too: the sort of projects that we don't have the energy to plan and do during the academic year. When my husband is off from work, we'll have the family holiday with a bit of travel.

And, bookworms as we are, there will be lots of reading for fun. Having completed a second round of the Famous Five series, Junior Bookworm decided to read all the other adventure series by Enid Blyton that have been translated into Finnish. At the current rate, this should keep him busy at least until mid-July - probably not through the entire summer...

And my reading list, in addition to tourist guides etc. to plan and prepare for the family trip, includes at least some fiction and a great deal of non-fiction....

On the fiction side, I'm looking forward to Up Close and Personal by Jeff Lucas (Helen Sloane's Diary continued). I've also put The Rosie Project by Grame Simsion on library hold, and hopefully will get to read it at some point during the summer. If I find myself wanting more fiction, I might get the next part of Anna Elliot's Georgiana Darcy's Diary series.

As for non-fiction, Shauna Niequist's Cold Tangerines is already in my Kindle Library, and I have been saving it for the summer. I'll probably get Bread and Wine after reading that, if my book budget allows it. Patrick Henry Hughes's I Am Potential has been on my TBR pile for a long time, and it looks like a good book to take along for the family trip.

Then there's the TBRR i.e. To Be Re-Read stack.
Linda Dillow: What's It Like to be Married to Me?
It's been a while since I read this, and I feel I need to refresh my memory. Perhaps I'll grab Tim Kimmel's Grace-Based Parenting for a re-read, too. I've found these books very helpful for remembering what's essential about our family relationships.

David Keirsey: Please Understand Me II.
I thought it only fair to give this MBTI book another chance. Reading it in the hospital when my ankle had just broken, I kept falling asleep in the middle of a page. (All that pain, and pain medication.) I don't even remember the temperament result I got when I did the questions, except that I was as strong an Introvert as could be... I'm on the library hold queue for this one.

Richard Lederer: Anguished English and More Anguished English
Laughter therapy. Language humour is one of the things that makes me laugh the most.
I know I can make language mistakes with the best of them - malapropisms, misspellings, strange grammar, etc. I'm not laughing at the people who make the mistakes - I'm laughing at the effect these mistakes have. The contrast between the intended meaning and what the words are actually saying (or the different ways in which they can be understood). 

The only problem with these books is that my son wants to know what's so funny when I laugh with tears in my eyes. Some of these things just can't be explained in another language. 

An example, not from these books but from real life, is this photo I snapped in Taiwan, many years ago...
Does anyone want to guess what message the sign on the right is supposed to convey?