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.