Friday, 31 January 2014

Read in January 2014

Considering the Reading goals, I've been doing well enough. No fiction this month, but that's OK.

Christian books

Brother Yun: Living Water
I kept reading this slowly, 1-2 chapters per day, to absorb and pray about what Brother Yun teaches. His main point is to surrender to God. Instead of asking God to bless our plans and desires, to let Him change our heart so that we will live out His plans.

C. S. Lewis: The Problem of Pain
Still thinking about this, will post more about this subject at some point.


Paula Tilli: Toisin. (Otherwise. My life with Asperger's.)

Gretchen Rubin: The Happiness Project
I can see why this book has been so popular. Rubin makes many good points about happiness, what it is and isn't, and how a lot of it boils down to the choices we make. And she writes very well.

I have one reservation with this book. It is such a tempting concept that we can make ourselves happy with our own effort: have a nice formula, think positive, do X, Y and Z, and you'll be happier. Obviously, we are all responsible for our own choices and attitudes, and those influence our lives a lot. However, I'm convinced that real, lasting joy is only found in a relationship with God, the loving Father. Which is something you will not find in Rubin's book.

Having said that, there were many good tips and takeaways in this book. The following are my own paraphrases of what I'm hoping to keep in mind:
  • Appreciate what you have: attitude of gratitude.
  • Give up trying to be someone you're not.
  • Goals are good, but enjoying the process is at least as important.
  • Lighten up - relax - take time for fun and joking and silliness, too. (Especially as a parent.)
  • Make time for people and relationships.
  • Even if it's hard to get started, decluttering eventually makes me feel better.

For Fun

Rita Ahonen: Minu Stockholm (My Stockholm)
Forced to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1988, Estonian Rita Ahonen found herself adapting to life in Stockholm. Even though Sweden is not very far from Estonia, there were many culture shocks and surprises along the way. I really enjoyed this story: I've travelled quite a bit in both Estonia and Sweden, and this book gave insights into both of those countries and cultures. And lots of little moments of recognition.

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen?
When I listed this as one of my favourite reads from last year, I was inspired to read it again. :) Still liking it.

Robert Capa: Sotakuvaaja (Slightly Out Of Focus)
This memoir of a famous war photographer reads a bit like a novel. He recounts his adventures and does not dwell too much on the gory details. His photographs, however, show the grittiness of war plainly enough. Recommended for those who like to read about WW2.

Hard to categorize

Janika Tamm: Minu Keenia
Most books I've read of this series belong to "for fun" category. This one was not exactly a light read - Tamm recounts many stories of suffering people and the difficulties and challenges she faced in community development work. On the other hand, there are the hopeful stories, too. (Janika worked as a volunteer in a number of community projects in Kenya.)

Do photography books count as reading, when the pictures speak more than the texts?

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs

A Day in the World
Book description from the website: "A Day in the World is a compilation of images from This 512-page book is a remarkable journey around our planet. Almost a 100.000 pictures from more than 160 countries were submitted to and the thousand best have been selected for this book by an international panel of photo editors. The result is a unique tale of life on earth in one day, a visually spellbinding record of our time. "
The project asked people to take pictures on May 15, 2012 and submit them to the website, And yes, the compilation is fascinating. (To check out all those nearly 100.000 pictures, if you wish, just go to the website...)


Books completed: 13
of which non fiction: 13
and fiction: 0

Finnish: 3
English: 8
Estonian: 2

In the middle of reading: 2 books. (Ann Voskamp's A Thousand Gifts and Noreen Riols's Secret Ministry of Ag. and Fish. Both would deserve their own blog posts in due time....)

One of my goals was to find more (new) books for Junior Bookworm to read. These days, he is racing through Enid Blyton's Famous Five series, which is at least new to him. With 21 titles listed in the series, it'll take him a while to finish it (he has read 5 so far), but I'll keep looking anyway...

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Married to an ultra runner...

I call my husband "The Ultra Runner"* on the blog. Because that's one aspect of who he is. I did not marry an ultra runner - he got into running when we were already married. It has become an important part of his life, and just to make it clear: I don't resent it. Not at all.

Running an ultra race is no joke. Still, having some sense of humour helps. That goes for the support crew, too. An ultra race takes a long time - long enough to think about all kinds of things.

I've read several lists that start "You know you're an ultra runner if...." but I haven't seen any from the spouse's perspective. So here's my humble effort...
(Any contributions to the list? Please comment.)

You know you're married to an ultra runner if/when....

  1. Your husband has a lot more shoes than you have. (And at least 95% of them are running shoes.)
  2. Your spouse also has a lot of race t-shirts. So many that he may wear a race t-shirt even when not running.
  3. At least 60% of his share of the laundry pile consists of running clothes.
  4. You know your husband will be gone most of the day when he goes for 'a long run'.
  5. When he runs errands, he literally runs.
  6. A marathon is not a big deal. (Unless he's seriously trying for Personal Best. Some ultra runners like to run marathons for a change, too. It's speed work...)
  7. You may find your spouse's toe nail when making the bed.
  8. Your family holidays/vacations are planned around your spouse's racing schedule.
  9. Because of the above: even if you don't run yourself, you check out if there are any good ultra races in the travel destinations that you'd love to visit. ("Honey, have you ever thought of participating in Madeira Island Ultra Trail?")
  10. When you go somewhere without children, just the two of you, it usually means you're his support crew at a race.
  11. Then again, at some races you'll have your children in the support crew as well. (It doesn't work so well if you have babies and toddlers, but at some point, it can become great family time...)
  12. When not needed as crew, you volunteer at racing events when your spouse runs. And, as above, you take the children along when they're old enough to volunteer, too.
  13. You know not to plan any big stuff for the post-race days. (If you've been crewing for him or volunteering at the event, you both need your recovery time.)
  14. Actually, you don't plan big stuff for pre-race days either. You don't even think of having an important, serious conversation right before the race. Why try that when most of his mind is on the race, anyway?
  15. You're often amazed by your spouse's grit, endurance, determination and focus.

Disclaimer: please don't get the idea that our family life revolves around the Ultra Runner's training and race schedule. He's really good about that, he takes care to plan and carry out his training and races so that his running does not take much away from our family life. It's flexibility and 'treat others the same way you want them to treat you' all around.

And I actually like going to the races with him. We've been to places we might not have visited otherwise. I've met lovely, interesting people. I might even have acquired a little bit of grit and endurance myself, too.

*) For those who don't know, ultra running means running distances longer than the marathon, i.e. longer than 42.195 km (26 miles). Ultra races range from 50K to 1000M, 6 hours to 6 days, so there's great variation.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Exercise in Seeing Differently

I borrowed a book from the library on an impulse. (I wonder how many blog posts I could start with this sentence...) 
What made me pick up a book on Asperger Syndrome? Not sure. It's not a part of my everyday life at the moment - but I'm always interested in real life stories.

Paula Tilli: Toisin. Minun Asperger-elämäni
(Otherwise. My life with Asperger's.)

Paula sees Asperger Syndrome as her greatest strength - even though it also means that she often has trouble communicating with and understanding the "normal" people around her. For example, Paula simply doesn't get nonverbal communication cues. That's like learning a foreign language to her - actually, it's more difficult, because she finds it super easy to learn the grammar of foreign languages. (Grammar is one of her special interests.)

Paula writes really well. Reading the book, it's easy to get her perspective. Why tell white lies? To her, being lied to is a lot more hurtful than hearing the plain truth. What's the point of considering some jobs more prestigious than others? Why is it bad manners to say you really love the clothes you're wearing - if you didn't like them, you wouldn't have chosen to wear them, right?

The parts where Paula described her school years were harrowing, especially Paula's gradual acceptance that it was OK and natural that she was bullied, because she could not interest herself in listening to music and watching TV. And what about the teachers? They could not understand how this child prodigy (a fluent reader at age three, learning new languages instantly) was so bad at crafts, had trouble remembering oral instructions, could not concentrate on films, wasn't able to learn the dates and names in history etc. She was called lazy. "You could if you just tried harder." No one had probably heard of this syndrome back then.

The bullying struck a chord within me. I know the feeling of an outsider, the feeling that others are communicating something I just don't understand, that there are rules that others are following but no one told me about them and now I'm making a fool of myself breaking them. (That memory is a part of what prompted this post.) However, I don't think I'm on the Asperger/autism spectrum - I'm just an introverted only child.

Paula got her diagnosis as an adult, and it was a relief to her: she wasn't lazy or stupid, she just processes information in a different way. Some everyday things are very difficult for her, and after the diagnosis, she was able to get help for those things. Paula now works as a mentor and lecturer onAsperger Syndrome. She has been able to arrange her life to suit her preferences. A helper comes to take care of housework, and Paula can concentrate on using her strengths.

Now, she loves her life. She accepts herself as she is. Being different is not bad. It's just different.

One aspect that I loved in this book was that it was written by a person with Asperger's. Reading it, you are getting a glimpse straight into her mind, her way of thinking, instead of looking at it from the outside. Insight: in-sight. 

I've read books and stories written by parents of special needs children, including Asperger. Of course, the parents' point of view is interesting and valuable, too. I just enjoy getting the viewpoints from both sides.

Paula Tilli emphasizes that people with Asperger's are different from each other, just like 'normal people'. Someone with Asperger diagnosis may well enjoy listening to music or learning all the details of history. So, the reader should not make too many generalizations based on the book. What she hopes is that people will be more accepting of differences.

PS. It feels strange to review a book in English when it's been published only in Finnish and Swedish. If you have any recommendations of similar books on this topic in English, please share in the comments. Thanks!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Walking with Pain

I walk with pain.
I live, sleep, work with pain.
These past three months or so, I've had more of constant physical pain than ever before in my life. Or rather, the seasons of physical pain have been much shorter. This life with pain as a constant companion is a new experience.

This post is not meant as a complaint. I just want to process my thoughts on how pain is affecting my life.

At the very least, pain teaches deliberate and selective planning. I cannot follow my whims, jump wherever fancy takes me. How much can I do in a day? What takes priority, now that the time spent on my feet must be limited? I have to pray Psalm 90: "So teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom."

Does pain make nobler?

Does pain build and refine character? Am I becoming a better person because I get to suffer?

I'm reminded of a passage in Jane Austen's Persuasion. Mrs Smith has just told Anne how much she enjoys the company and conversation of her nurse:

Anne replied, "I can easily believe it. Women of that class have great opportunities, and if they are intelligent may be well worth listening to. Such varieties of human nature as they are in the habit of witnessing! And it is not merely in its follies that they are well read; for they see it occasionally under every circumstance that can be most interesting or affecting. What instances must pass before them of ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation; of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most. A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes."
"Yes," said Mrs. Smith more doubtingly, "sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial; but, generally speaking, it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick-chamber: it is selfishness and impatience, rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of."

Anne Elliot, herself well practiced in fortitude, patience and resignation, has a rather romantic view of sick chambers - and perhaps she has had an experience like that when her mother died. After all, we can infer from all that the book says about Anne's mother that she was an admirable person. Anne could well have seen "self-denying attachment" and sacrifices in her mother's life.

But my own personal experience veers a lot towards Mrs. Smith's views. I don't feel very noble - a lot of the time, I feel crabby and impatient. All too easily snapping at my family members. Weaknesses and selfishness exposed: "I'm hurting and you should jolly well take that into consideration and do things to suit ME!"

Maybe that's the point, then. Weakness exposed. Let go of any illusions of having a noble, patient character. See plainly how much, how sorely I need Jesus.

A Megaphone?

"Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain

Pain tells me I need God. Is that the megaphone function that C. S. Lewis is referring to?

I remember this quote better from the film Shadowlands than from the book. In the film, his clever, pithy statements on pain come back to haunt Lewis as he watches how his wife suffers and dies. It's very different to talk it than to live it. Or at least that's how I recall it - it's been years since I saw the film.

Since I have just started re-reading The Problem of Pain, I'll perhaps come back to this topic. Even when my surgery wound heals, pain won't disappear from my life. Though I may hope that it will not be such a constant companion as now.

I know pain is a chronic fact of life for many people. Years instead of months. It's hard to imagine. If this is your situation, your perspective might be very different from mine. If you have any thoughts - and even if you don't suffer from chronic pain - please share in the comments!

In the meanwhile, looking forward to this:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; 
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, 
neither shall there be any more pain: 
for the former things are passed away.
Revelation 21:3-5

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Being myself, and yet a new creature

For many years, through school and teenage years, I felt there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I thought I needed to be someone different in order to be loved and accepted. I felt that I had to change myself - my personality, my temperament, my perceptions, my thinking, my actions - or no one would ever really want to be with me. I always felt slightly gauche, uncertain of all the unspoken social rules. Uncertain of what was expected of me and whether I could ever fulfil it.

I needed to grow a lot to come to terms with who I am.

But most importantly, I needed to know God.

Yes, there was one thing fundamentally wrong with me, but it did not have anything to do with what other people expected and wanted from me. The real, fundamental problem was sin, i.e. estrangement from God.

You see: God knows us. Each and every one of us. And He loves, loves, loves us. Even when I mess up, He does not expect me to make myself better so that I would be worthy of His love. His love does not fail when I fail.

I did not know or understand that love. I was estranged from Him. Sin.

God did all that had to be done so that I could be reconciled to Him. He wanted me to know His love and live it. He did what was needed to clear away my sin, so that I could learn to know Him.

It's been a slow process for that love to really sink in, from head knowledge to the deepest parts of my heart, and the process is still ongoing. It's amazing to me that Jesus really did suffer and die for me. He considered me worthy of His love even before I came to know Him.

Now, if and when there is any positive change in me - in my thinking, my habits, my actions, my speech - the love of God is the real source and motivation of those changes. God has redeemed me, forgiven me, and made me free to live a new kind of life.

New life in God means not fearing whether people will accept or reject me. It means that God is my ultimate source of acceptance and love. I need God's love to fill me, so I can live that love in relation to others, too.

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. 
God is love, and the one who abides in love 
abides in God, and God abides in him.
We love, because He first loved us.
1 John 4: 16,19

Of course I fail many times. The old selfishness does not die easily. Fails and falls teach me humility. I cannot change myself, no matter how hard I resolve.

That's where God's grace comes in.
Grace is the strength for walking in the light and not hiding it when I fail.
By the grace of God, I can accept myself and see what He created me to be.
By the grace of God, I can also obey God, just as I am.
I don't need to become someone else for Him. He wants me to be myself in His presence.
And when I am in His presence, His love changes whatever needs to be changed in me.
The good comes from Him. His strength. His Spirit.
All I need is to walk with HIM.
That's how I am myself, and yet a new creature.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

New Year, Same Me

I walked to the health centre and back yesterday. Just a bit over one kilometre each way, but with the ankle surgery and all, it's more than I've done for weeks. I began feel like myself again: a woman who walks.

A new year, a new me? Perhaps not. I don't want to change into a new person. Learn new good habits: Yes. Change the way I think about some things: Yes, when necessary. Learn new skills: Yes.

But I'm not planning a major personality overhaul. It's not a "new me" - it's the same me, a middle-aged (gasp!) woman, with certain talents and strengths, as well as undeniable weaknesses. Most importantly, I am a woman beloved and redeemed by Jesus.
Jesus makes me free.
Besides, He has already made me a new creature.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; 
the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

And as a woman freed by Jesus I don't need to make myself 'new' all over again. But I can be a woman who takes up new challenges without being deterred by fear of failure.

Challenge 1: I have decided to learn to type with ten fingers. Right now, I have a pretty fast system of 2-and-half fingers or so. Just consider, I've been typing for my living for almost half my life (translating), and before that, I used first a typewriter and then a computer for my university assignments. Still, I've never bothered to learn a proper typing system. It's high time to try.

Challenge 2: New computer skills. :) My son got a new computer and I set it up for him - though it was not very techie stuff. So what's the challenge? Short answer: the first time I've ever encountered Windows 8. Let's just say - it's going to take some getting used to.

As a side note: I've been using Windows computers since Windows 3.1, i.e. since the early 1990's, and I'm not completely helpless, non-techie as I am. I know that I'll get used to the navigation system of Windows 8, just as I have adapted to all the changes in between - Windows 95, NT, XP and so on... But it takes time to get to the point where using the new system becomes natural enough not to require extra effort.

Finally, Junior Bookworm got to try his computer. He was happily playing a game at the Lego site and suddenly he shouted: "Mummy, help!"
The screen was sideways. I have no clue how that happened. It's a laptop, not a tablet! This has never happened to me before.

Well, Junior Bookworm jumped from having-a-break mode to homeschool mode and did his maths assignment while I got a neckache, sitting at the computer with my head cocked to the right and trying to find and sort out the screen settings. I'm happy to report I succeeded at last.

New Year, same me. But open to new challenges, adventures, and changes. 
Probably there are even bigger changes ahead than just typing and computers. Deeper changes, too.
So, let's walk.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Books these weeks (6 January, 2014)

Short reviews or comments on books I have finished during these past three weeks. It's been an eventful time - Christmas, New Year, my ankle surgery...
I think I'll start doing monthly summaries from now on and only comment the books that made a particular impression.

The heavyweights:
Naiset ilman maata, 15 kertomusta ("Women without a country, 15 stories")
by Sonja Hellman

15 stories of immigrant women in Finland. What they have in common is that they're all Muslims and that they live in Finland now. Otherwise, they have very varied backgrounds: their countries of origin include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Morocco and Iraq. They have come to Finland at different ages and in different ways (refugee, work-based immigration, marriage), and so their experiences also vary quite a lot. Some have learnt the language and found work, others have had more difficulties. Most have encountered some kinds of prejudice or racism.
This book is important in giving them a voice, a chance to share their experiences. For me, it was an eye-opener. Being a native citizen, I don't usually encounter the difficulties they have had. I want to keep my eyes open, to be aware of these issues, and whenever I meet a person from a different background to my own, I want to see the unique person behind the outward appearance - not a stereotype.

Half the Sky: How to Change the World
by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn

What can I say. Another eye-opener.
What made the reading experience especially poignant for me was the surroundings. I ended up reading the first half of the book at the hospital waiting room, in between blood tests, x-rays and seeing the doctors. The second half I read at the hospital ward after my ankle surgery. What a contrast to read about women crawling for miles in search of medical help and dying when they don't get it, when I was receiving excellent care myself.

In the "finally finished" category of heavyweights: 
Usko, tiede ja Raamattu by Tapio Puolimatka. 
This is a heavyweight by size (over 500 pages) and by subject matter: philosophy of science and looking at various methods and basic assumptions in theology and biblical criticism. I had been slowly working my way through this for most of last year and finally finished it during the Christmas break. Interesting, but requires a lot of brainwork from the reader, too.

On the lighter side:
Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: Around China by Any Means Possible
by Polly Evans
Polly travels around China by bus, by train, by riverboat, by mule... I quite liked the book. Her honest acknowledgement of the difficulties of travelling in a culture very different to your own stroke a chord with me:
Eating a fried egg with chopsticks, I thought as I sat on the bus to Nanjing some hours later, bears small-scale similarities to the greater trials of travelling round China as a foreigner. It is frustrating and frequently ludicrous. Sometimes it is funny. Small tasks take infinitely longer than they ought. You look ridiculous, often. But in the end, pride shattered, patience tried and seemingly against all odds, you do in fact arrive. And then somebody comes along smiling and points out the easier route you should have taken.

Minu Kreeka 
by Ester Laansalu
The title means "My Greece": an Estonian tourist guide tells of her life and work in Greece.
I've read quite a few of books in the Estonian "Minu" series, because I enjoy getting these personal perspectives on different countries and cities. In this one, I particularly liked the glimpses into the lives of Greek people and also the stories of discovering new places to visit. The islands she describes sound heavenly. Perhaps one day...

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Let's Walk, Again

I can see the hospital's lights from where I sit.
But I am at home. Oh, how glad I am to be at home.

The infected ankle was finally operated on Thursday. I was not at all nervous before or during the operation. With spinal anesthesia, I was awake the whole time but had no feeling in the left leg. As good an experience as an operation could be. I even felt surprisingly good afterwards. It's a strange feeling when the legs 'come back' - like pins and needles - but this time I had a lot less pain in the evening and the night than after the previous operation in October.

The hardest thing was to wash the wound on Friday morning, before the nurses put a PICO on it. I have to admit, I didn't really look at the wound... But neither did I faint in the shower. PICO is "negative pressure wound therapy": a special dressing on the ankle and a little pump that I carry round. Apparently, it's a pretty good and effective way to treat wounds like mine.

With the PICO in place and working well and my body responding nicely to pain medication (paracetamol and ibuprofen), I was able to come home on Friday.

So here I am. I can still walk, a bit better than four weeks ago when the cast came off. At home, I walk carefully but without crutches etc. Going outside, I take crutches and wear a walker boot, just to be on the safe side. I try to keep mostly at rest.

I'm thankful for a good, succesful operation and hospital stay and for all the lovely, helpful, positive medical professionals who have helped me along the way.
I'm thankful that the ankle bone has set pretty well already, so I can walk at home without a cast.
I'm thankful to be at home now.

So, rehab time again. Some steps forward, some steps back. There are no shortcuts to reach the goal without effort. There may still be setbacks (I hope not).
But I'm at peace.
Let's walk.

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord
In the land of the living.
Psalm 116: 7-9