Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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Semantics

As a non-native English teacher, I love discussing the different meanings and connotations of words. For me, the first association of ‘spare‘ is in collocations, such as ‘spare time‘, ‘spare key‘, ‘spare parts‘ or perhaps ‘spare tyre‘. I’m also very familiar with its use as a verb, e.g. ‘I don’t have a moment to spare‘ or ‘spare me the details‘. I must say, though, that the use of ‘spare‘ to mean the same as ‘sparse‘ was totally new to me. I’m wondering if this is a more American usage as I’m more at home with good old British English? A good reminder, how you will never be finished with learning any language, even your own! This lifelong learning aspect is also an essential part of the beauty of learning languages, which I keep reminding my students of.

As for the picture I chose, I’m going with the meaning I know here. Sunday lunch time, at one of the most popular little restaurants in town, we were lucky to find a table spare without an advance booking. Or, actually, a convenient, spare slot in the busy booking schedule.

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Weekly photo challenge – SPARE.


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Moments to cherish

Today was the day when we received the results of this year’s national final exams at senior high schools in Finland again. A moment of great joy for those who passed and did well. Now it will be two more weeks of busy preparations before the graduation ceremony and celebration at the beginning of June.

This brings me back to – oh my god! – 6 years ago already when our daughter celebrated her high school graduation day. Jubilant – this week’s photo challenge – is exactly the word to describe the feelings on that day. So young and beautiful, with the whole world and all its wonderful opportunities at her feet. The traditional Finnish white graduation cap shining in the sun. A major milestone in a young person’s life reached.

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And then, four years later, a more experienced and mature university graduate in Scotland. Different hat but very similar sentiments of jubilation. Proud beyond words of my darling daughter! IMG_9386


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Painted faces

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I haven’t been very much into portraits or people photography in general. I’m more at home roaming the woods, snapping pictures of nature. That’s why, this week’s photo challenge – Face – has been slightly troublesome for me.

In the end, I chose this photo from an annual Hanami festival, organised in a park full of cherry trees in Helsinki last weekend. As last year, I tried to capture some of the Japan-inspired costumes and characters around the park. Surprisingly many young Finns are great fans of Japanese anime, and enjoy dressing up as their favourite characters. This ‘geisha’ caught my eye from afar, but on closer look, turned out to be possibly a ‘taikomochi’, a male geisha. Some online searching revealed that the original ‘geisha’-style entertainers, back in the 13th century, were, in fact, all male. The ‘taikomochi’ have since become rarer and rarer, and today, there are only very few left in Japan, the field having become almost exclusively female.

I have always been fascinated by the Japanese culture, finding it inscrutably irresistible. For example, Japanese facial expressions are impossible for me to interpret as their real feelings seem to be hidden underneath a mask, dictated by cultural norms and unspoken rules. Even more mysterious, are the striking, white-painted faces of the geishas. Here is another picture, taken during our family trip to Japan in 2004 – a geisha spotted in a Kyoto night, white face shining in the darkness.

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A walk in the woods

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I am lucky. I live in a country where over 70 % of the surface area is covered with forests. They used to be called “the green gold of Finland”. Maybe not so much any more in the changed circumstances of the modern information age. Yet, for us Finns, the forest or wood is still an important source of peace of mind. Feeling stressed out? Just half an hour in a forest, and you will start to calm down, and feel your energy levels going up. Suffer from hypertension? Easy cure – according to Finnish research, only a 20-minute walk in a forest will significantly lower your blood pressure. What’s more, in those 20 minutes any bad mood will disappear, and your general alertness will improve. Only two hours in a forest will boost your body’s immunity system. The message is clear: go and walk in the woods!

And most of us do. If asked, the majority of Finns label themselves as “nature lovers”. Why is it then that we seem to do our best to destroy and disrupt our environment? Especially in urban areas, the beginning of spring is marked by the sound of chain saws when Finns go into a frenzy of cutting down as many trees as they possibly can. Just a few weeks back, on Earth Day of all days (April 22), one neighbour cut down two magnificent, old white willows in their yard. Not only did they look gorgeous in summer but they also efficiently worked as a buffer to the noise and pollution coming from the busy street in front. The audacity to get rid of them on Earth Day – not that these people would be aware of such global, environmental movements! A friend of ours, a British gardener, is appalled at the rate that Finns are destroying the diversity of the environment. The Finnish tradition of “tidiness” totally clashes with the natural world around us. Having so many forests makes us blindly take them for granted, and cut and fell with abandon. It’s as though the urban concrete jungles make people into mindless controllers of nature.

But I digress. I was going to write about the beauty of spring in Finnish forests. It’s Mother’s Day today when white anemones are usually in bloom, and cover the forest floor like thick, white and green blankets. It has been our family tradition for generations to pick a bunch of these anemones for mum on this day. Sadly, my daughter is still overseas, so I had to go to the woods behind our house to pick them myself. I wasn’t too upset about it, though, as I got my daily dose of “tree hugging” therapy at the same time, and realised once again how much I love this earth I live on.

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My take on this week’s photo challenge: EARTH.


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Underneath the cherry trees

 

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Look at the cherry blossoms!

Their color and scent fall with them,

Are gone forever,

Yet mindless

The spring comes again.

– Ikkyu –

The magical rebirth, and breathtaking beauty of spring is unfolding in front of my eyes. Here in the north, spring usually sweeps past in a heartbeat. We won’t even know what’s happened until it’s turned into full-blown summer once again. Every second, every precious moment of this season is worth admiration. I’m breathing it in with my body and soul! Hats off – I and the natural world around me made it through another long and dark winter!

This is my take on this week’s photo challenge: ADMIRATION.

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Sometimes it snows in April

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Pretty abstract this morning, looking out of the bedroom window! Had to rub my sleepy eyes a few times as, last night, we’d gone to bed with greenish grass, spotted with blue scilla that have been in bloom for about a week. And now this! Back to black & white. Darn Finnish weather – you must be joking! The only good thing about this is that it gave me a picture for this week’s photo challenge.

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last

I actually pinched the title for this post from the recently passed away iconic star, Prince and his song by the same name. Maybe this weather is his last good-bye to earth, from the edge of a cloud.

Well, at least there was humour in my Facebook feed all through the day. I guess that’s the best way to deal with this misery. “Finnish spring – so near and yet so far away.” read the status of one friend. “Finnish summer is short but not very snowy.” joked another. “In April we celebrate this holiday called ‘Spring is cancelled’ in Finland.” “Finnish spring – or spring finished?”  “Have to start skating to school.” was a remark from a colleague.

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Family dinner

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I learned it in my childhood home that as a family, you gather together for dinner around the kitchen table, every single day. I carried this tradition on in my small family. Around 5-6pm, we used to have home-made dinner together all through the years our only daughter was growing up. A time for exchanging the daily news, and bonding with your nearest and dearest.

It’s been hard to let go of this special daily moment since our daughter moved out of the family home. Of course, I and hubby still eat together, most days, but it just isn’t quite the same any more. I think for me, dinnertime will forever evoke the presence of your family. The food can be simple or fancy, but it’s your family you’re sharing it with that really counts!

For this reason, I chose a family dinner picture for this week’s Photo Challenge. It’s a picture of the last family dinner we had together. Not at home but across the world in Taiwan, where our daughter has been teaching with her boyfriend for the last two years. We visited them last summer, and as our trip coincided with my husband’s birthday, we went for a special seafood dinner to celebrate, on Quijin island, next to their home town of Kaohsiung, on the south-western coast of Taiwan.

In the picture you can see the three of them enjoying the fresh, local delicacies from the Taiwan Strait waters. And by fresh, I mean REALLY fresh! On the island, it is customary to have the restaurant at the back of the fish shop that’s outside on the pavement. You either buy the daily catch to take home, or you choose what you want to be cooked for you on the premises. In the pictures below, you can see us making our picks outside the restaurant, and some of the produce on offer. My hubby absolutely loved this – the stranger and and more unusual the food, the happier he is. A perfect birthday dinner with family!

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Shiny future

I’m on a joint leisure and conference trip to the UK for a week now. I took this picture during a guided walking tour in the East End of London, and I thought it fit this week’s Photo Challenge perfectly.

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Behind the old and dark Georgian buildings, the sparkling, bright glass walls of a brand-new City of London high-rise office building shine with the sun.

The present atmosphere in Europe is not as positive and forward-looking as one would hope. Unemployment and continuing austerity measures keep hitting the middle and lower classes hard. People despair and lose hope, which easily results in a negative cycle of complaining and looking for scapegoats. Consequently, the unfortunate refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Europe at the moment are often met with hostility and rejection.  Their tragic plight is forgotten and ignored when people are busy protecting what they feel is theirs, and theirs only. Globally, climate change poses ever-increasing threats on our earth. The future may seem gloomy, even frightening.

Despite all the doomsday clouds hanging over us, I still want to see light at the end of the tunnel. The world keeps changing and evolving – it’s never stood still. And we should be happy about that! I remember a lecture by a Finnish astronomer, Esko Valtaoja, in which he quite convincingly proved how life on earth today is better, more prosperous, and safer than ever before in human history. Yes, there are still disasters and catastrophes but, in the end, things keep improving all the time. Mr Valtaoja based his findings in cold facts, and also said that he unquiveringly believed in human potential. I can remember how listening to that lecture changed my approach to the future.

The old and the new sometimes co-exist side by side for some time, just like these buildings in London. A day will come, though, when it’s time for the old to disappear, and let the new and shiny take over. Learn the lessons from the past, and then welcome the future with open arms and mind.


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Arctic landscape

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Choosing my landscape for the Weekly Photo Challenge wasn’t a piece of cake for me. I’ve spent most of this afternoon going through my photos, unable to decide which landscape to pick. Too many beautiful places with memorable moments, plus the season at hand in Finland is still very dull and colourless, so going out with my camera wasn’t really worth it. Finally, Facebook came to my rescue, pushing their suggested memories onto my feed. I didn’t remember that it was exactly a year ago that I made a wonderful trip to the northernmost location I’ve ever been to so far. It was a women’s Easter excursion – three of us travelling from southern Finland all the way up to Tromsø in northern Norway, to visit an old university friend, who had moved there over 20 years ago, after marrying a Norwegian guy. What fun!

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For two whole days, our friend drove us around the quiet, narrow, meandering roads around the local fjords, surrounded by snowy fells and mountains. The scenery was nothing I could have imagined. Simply breathtaking! At times the trees dotted on the snowy hillsides made the landscape look like an unreal charcoal drawing. The weather was mostly cloudy, which resulted in a rather monotone colour scheme, but didn’t diminish the beauty one bit. The landscape I chose for this challenge was a rare moment of the sun coming through, and colouring some blue patches in the sky, which reflected dimly on the icy water of the fjord. Most of the time, the water, with a thin layer of ice still on top of it, looked almost like grey metal. Apart from the unbelievably impressive scenery, I was also amazed by the stillness of it all, hardly a sound to be heard anywhere. All in all, a very typically Scandinavian experience, wilderness and vast uninhabited stretches of land and water.

Driving along, our friend told us stories about their life up there in the north. Not being a fan of winter at all, I don’t think I would be up to that lifestyle. The Polar Night lasts from November to January, during which time the sun doesn’t rise at all. People live in constant twilight for three months!  To compensate for this long dark and cold period, people can then enjoy the midnight sun and nightless night from May to July. Quite extreme, and leads to a lot of cases of severe SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It’s the same all across the Arctic region called Lapland, which extends from Norway across Sweden and Finland all the way to northern Russia. Another hardship Tromsø area inhabitants have to deal with yearly, are winter storms with avalanches and landslides, often closing the only road home. People can get stuck for days unless special convoys behind a snow ploughing truck can be arranged. Sometimes detours are possible, but they can be very long, adding hours or even days to your journey. Our friend told us about one winter, when one of the roads totally collapsed in a storm, and the detour through Finland was 700 km! I’m in awe at the resilience and patience of people living in these parts!

I would recommend anyone to explore the Arctic regions. They are somehow magically mysterious. There is a cruise liner, Hurtigruten, which sails up and down the western coast of Norway. You basically stay in a cabin on the ship, and then have stop-overs in interesting places along the route. Exciting adventures, such as husky rides or admiring the aurora borealis, can be participated in, too. Tromsø is one of the stop-overs along this cruise, and a town well worth visiting. A cruise on Hurtigruten is definitely on my bucket list – I just need to decide whether to go on it in summer, or in winter. Oh, and another little problem – I need to save enough money as it’s quite pricy, understandably.

The Hurtigruten ship leaving Tromsø in the evening, to continue the cruise. This photo was taken as we were waiting for the sunset on the Fjellheiser Storsteinen mountain viewpoint above the city.

The Hurtigruten ship leaving Tromsø in the evening, to continue its journey. This photo was taken as we were waiting for the sunset on the Fjellheiser Storsteinen mountain viewpoint above the city.

Finally, to finish with, can’t resist posting yet another photo of Tromsø. This time from the other side of the fjord, actually from our friend’s balcony. Blue skies on one of the mornings, lighting the snow-covered mountains.

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Dancing with the daffodils

It was purely by chance that I came across this weekly photo challenge idea, and decided on the spot this would be right up my street. Firstly, my blog has been a little dormant of late, and I want to bring it alive again. Secondly, I’m a keen photographer, observing my surroundings through the camera lens. And best of all, I happened to have exactly the right photo and inspiration behind it at hand. So here is my take on the photo, inspired by a poem, verse, song lyric or story.

Being an English teacher, I love the language, and enjoy the work of many authors writing in English, past and present, British or American. Poetry is not always my cup of tea but certain poems have stuck with me ever since my uni years, where an elderly, white-haired and -bearded, English professor passionately guided us mundane and down-to-earth Finns into the secrets of English verse.

The photo I’ve chosen is one that I take, from different angles, every year at this time. My hometown of Turku, on the south-western coast of Finland, by the Baltic Sea, has a lovely tradition of decorating the pedestrian bridge across the river, leading to the City Theatre, with thousands of daffodils just before Easter. For me, this a special day, and I always rush to the riverside to snap some pictures. After the long winter, this is one of the first signs of spring. And lucky for me, yellow happens to be one of my favourite colours, so happy and bright. Who would not smile, and take a few dancing steps, when seeing this sudden splash of brilliant colour after months of nothing but grey, black and white? This year we were super lucky to even have a clear, sunny day to welcome the flower display. I found the dazzling bokeh of sunlight, reflected on the water, added to the joyful feeling and spirit. Many people stopped on the bridge to stand and stare, some taken by surprise at the unexpected sight, others, like me, coming there on purpose.IMG_8847And here is the inspirational poem, in memory of late Professor Doherty. The riverside daffodils bring it to mind every year. In particular the last two lines resonate with me: And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

– William Wordsworth

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