Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Loving Helsinki

Smultronställe is one of my favourite Swedish expressions. Literally, it's a place where wild strawberries grow. In its more commonly used figurative sense, it's a beloved, treasured place - usually off the most-trodden paths.

Unlike the best berry-picking places, which are never made public, my favourite spots in Helsinki are not terribly secret. Some of them are even on the most trodden tourist trails, like this one:

This UNESCO World Heritage site really deserves its place on the tourist itineraries.
Pack a picnic, hop on the ferry, and take at least half a day to explore and enjoy the islands of this old fortress. 
And please walk all the way around Kustaanmiekka.
Oh, and if you forget the picnic, there are cafés and restaurants on the island - check the website for details.

Another great island to visit. Literally "Magpie Island", it's a home to many kinds of birds and other wildlife, and there are small exhibitions about the Baltic Sea, too. Sometimes, there are also nature courses or guided tours. So, it's a good place for an educational trip - and also just for fun. Walk around (on the marked trails), observe, and enjoy the nature.
Check out the details and the boat timetables from the website, and remember to pack that picnic, too.
And when you come back from Harakka, buy an ice cream from the booth of Helsingin Jäätelötehdas on the seafront. The price may seem high but their scoops are really big :) #icecreamforlunch

I visited this library a lot when I was studying at Helsinki University. They have a large department of books in English, including the British Collection (donated by the British Council), and the building is just beautiful. I especially love its interior, the "book tower" with winding stairs and the balconies with bookshelves...
(I'm sorry I don't have pictures of the interior.) 

I don't suggest you pack a picnic when you go to the library... :) Browse the library to your heart's content, then have the picnic at the nearby Esplanadi Park. And since this library is in the centre of Helsinki, there are lots of cafés and restaurants to choose from, if you like. 

Ex-landfill, now the highest hill in Helsinki.
Ultra runners and other crazy sportspeople use it for hill training. (Like these guys, who are training for mountain races.) Well, regular walkers also come here.
Wikipedia says there are 426 steps, but you can also use one of the paths to get to the top, which is what I personally prefer - trying to fit my stride length and rhythm to the steps gets a bit awkward.
 This picture was taken this spring; when the summer comes and trees get their leaves, it's prettier...

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

On Daring Greatly - Some Vulnerable Thoughts

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. 
Not so much a book review as an attempt to sort out my thoughts about it. There is so much good in this book. Yet, I kept feeling that it's only a part of the puzzle, and some pieces are missing.

Then I got it. Of course, Brown is not writing a "Christian book" - she's addressing people of all faiths and worldviews, so that everyone can apply the principles to their own lives.

And I need to do just that. "Fill in the blanks" with my own convictions, and work out how the good stuff in her book is applicable to my life. Because I do, of course, recognize the patterns of shame in my life, the ways I am hiding my vulnerability.

And as I kept thinking about this, I realized: I've been learning about "daring greatly", as Brown defines it, all along my faith journey: from the Bible, from good Bible teachers, from the conviction of Holy Spirit.
I can't hide behind a facade of good deeds, "perfection" and people-pleasing. I am a sinner in need of God's love and grace. And it's only by God's love and grace that I can have the strength and courage to actually embrace vulnerability and keep living it consistently. Jesus is the "enough" for me.

The love and grace of Jesus are the missing puzzle pieces in daring greatly.

And as far as these have been present in my life, something has been happening. By the grace of God, I am no longer the same nervous people-pleaser that I was fifteen, twenty years ago. I think and act differently. God has made great progress in healing me, even if I'm still far from full "whole-heartedness". I can't take the credit for my maturity. Or whatever vulnerability I have been able to put into practice. And I admit there is still a long way to go. I keep needing God's grace.

Books like this are a help along the way, because they prompt me to ask myself the right kinds of questions. My heart beat faster when I got to the chapter on parenting and read the question:
"Are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be?"

This is what I want to keep from this book. Write it in big letters on the chalkboard of my soul. Keep asking myself these questions, and asking God to help me grow into a healthier direction.

Do I show respect to all the people I meet? Do I show love, in all the love languages there are?
Do I give my child the sense that he is valuable as a person? Do I model a healthy marriage relationship, too?

Do I admit my mistakes, and ask for forgiveness and make amends when appropriate?
Am I a person of integrity?

Am I ready to get out of my comfort zone?
To try new things without being stopped by fear of failure? And to put effort into doing things, into learning, growing, developing - even though it's not easy and I'm not instantly good?
Do I use my talents in a positive, fruitful way; set goals and work hard to reach them?

Am I worried about what other people think of me, trying to perform to expectations, and easily ashamed?
Or do I let other people see me as I am, do I put my real self and real thoughts out there, do I take the risk of being rejected?

Is my faith important to me, in deeds as well as in words?
Am I passionate about loving and following Jesus?
Do I pray, praise God, and read the Bible regularly, every day, not because I'm fulfilling a duty and trying to 'please' God, but because I truly believe that my relationship with God is the core and foundation of my life?

I know which questions I want to answer with "Yes" - what sort of person I want to be - and how I want my son to be. Whatever our talents, interests, temperaments, personalities.
And when we fail? Grace.
And when we succeed? All the more to the glory of God.

Thanks for the book, Brené Brown.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Recent reads (Twitterature link-up)

I'm not going to list all the books I've read since the last book post, but just the ones I want to comment. So I'm skipping the travel guidebooks, writing guides and books in Finnish...

Again, linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's Twitterature link-up.

Alister McGrath: C.S. Lewis: A Life
An interesting biography. There were many aspects of Lewis's life that I had not known about before. I've read Surprised by Joy, as well as a lot of other books by him, and I've seen Shadowlands ages ago - and I actually liked getting the not-so-romantic aspects of that story in this biography. More balanced, like.

Richard Askwith: Feet in the Clouds. A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession
I like to read books about running, even though I'm not much of a runner myself. Askwith is obsessed and enthusiastic, and this book lauds all the amazing and fantastic qualities he sees in fell-running and especially fell-runners. Sometimes it feels like he's trying to make fell-running larger than life. Maybe it's how he really sees/feels it.
I'd recommend this book to people who already have an interest in running and extreme endurance sports - and who are not looking for an easy-reader intro to the subject.

Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
The main point of this book is that things perceived as strengths might actually be weaknesses when seen from a different angle, and perceived weaknesses can also be strengths. Many of the examples in this book are fascinating. Who knew that it might not be a good idea to go to the most prestigious school you can get into?
My interest in this book was sparked by knowing that Gladwell re-discovered Christian faith while working on this book (or that's how he wrote about it in this article). Not surprisingly, the interview he mentions in the article was one of the most touching and memorable parts of the book.

Marlena de Blasi: A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance
All the ingredients of a great story: romantic love between an American chef and a Venetian banker. Venice and food. Wedding arrangements in Italy. Intriguing local characters, an outsider discovering the charms of Venice also off the tourist-trodden paths. Dramatic incidents galore.
For some reason, though, I wasn't totally drawn into the story. Perhaps this would have been better as relaxing holiday reading, not when I have lots on my mind and only short intervals of reading time.

Anne Bogel: How She Does It
A concise, practical book on how different women in different circumstances combine flexible work schedules with family time. I loved the examples, and I really like the premise of finding the solutions that work best for your family - and being open to review your systems as circumstances change.

Anna Elliott: Georgiana Darcy's Diary
My monthly dose of fiction accomplished. :)
This was a good read. I liked the characterizations, and if/when there were anachronisms, they didn't disturb my enjoyment of the story.
This was one of the best continuations I've read.  As an Austen fan, I understand both the boom of fan fiction and the industry of publishing Austen-related stories. I used to read quite a lot of Austen-related fiction, but these days there are so many that I don't even want to keep up any more.... Some continuations of Austen's novels really exasperate me - usually because characters and plotlines are so far from what I would have considered plausible for Austen's characters. (As in, I  read it and say out loud "He/she would NEVER do that!") I didn't get that exasperation with this book, and it's also well written - so I might even consider buying the rest of the series for holiday reading at some point.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Hope Springs - Spring Hopes

Little blooms of sunshine have been springing up for a couple of weeks already. These little yellow flowers are usually the very first flowers here. (Wikispecies lists so many English names that I don't know what to pick.)

Crocuses peek out of the lawn in front of our house. 
"Snowbells" (snowdrops?) grow among the dead-looking branches: a promise of more to come. Not more snow, I hope. More flowers. More green leaves. More growth.

My blue favourites are also already here. From Wikispecies, I found out it has three names in English:kidneywort, liverwort and pennywort. I know I have no right to criticize the language of other people, but these names strike me as rather odd - kidneywort and liverwort sound more like some kind of diseases than a pretty flower...?

A part of my favourite walking route
Hope springs, too, with the spring coming back in my steps. I'm back to walking and trying to run at intervals, too. The ankle does not hurt so much any more, though there's sometimes pain afterwards. But better to train and have some pain than not to train and not get better either.

Another sign of spring in our home is my son's birthday. Junior Bookworm is now 9 years old. He was born on Easter Sunday, ten days past the due date, by C-section after a drawn-out delivery. I'm sure there's a lesson, a parable, a powerful message there, but I can't quite put it into words yet. Maybe that's because it is his story, after all, and it is still in progress.

Thanks for these years, son. It's a privilege to know the person you are and the person you are becoming, and the unfolding of your story.

Thank you, God, for all things that spring up, and grow, and bloom, and bear fruit.
Thank you for those things, too, that die so that new life can grow.