Sinikka's snippets

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


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Do the math

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A factory chimney with random numbers, glowing in the dark. Or maybe they are not random at all. Connect the dots, and you will be amazed. Unless you already know this sequence, you may be able to start working the sequence – 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5 and so on. Each number is the sum of the two previous numbers in the sequence. Logical, and could be continued infinitely.

These illuminated numbers, however, are a neon light art piece by Italian artist Mario Merzi, which he placed on the chimney of Turku Energy, the energy company of my hometown in Finland in 1994. Since then, these red numbers have been a landmark along the riverside.

The work of art is called: Fibonacci Sequence 1-55. Mr Merzi was fascinated by mathematics all through his career, so it’s no wonder that he chose his fellow Italian mathematician’s sequence for this piece.

Fibonacci, in turn, was a genius 13th-century mathematician. The Fibonacci numbers are not in the least random but form the basis of many natural phenomena, such as the spirals of shells or the way sunflower seeds grow. This sequence has also been called the western definition of beauty, since the “golden ratio”, widely used in art for centuries, comes straight from the ratio of these numbers. Fascinating how math is not just numbers and calculating mechanical equations but relates to everything around us! I wonder how much this “other stuff” is touched on in today’s math lessons? I’ve only learned all this long after leaving school.

Weekly photo challenge – NUMBERS.


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A night in a lighthouse

The sun came up over the sea and shadows and colours began to appear. The island began to take shape and draw in its claws. Everything began to shine, and the chalk-white gulls circled over the point. … But right across the island lay the shadow of the lighthouse like a broad dark ribbon stretching down to the beach where the boat was.

That was an extract from the Finnish children’s book Moominpappa at sea by our beloved author Tove Jansson. It’s a wonderfully emotional story of the Moomin family starting a new life in a lighthouse on a remote island.

In recent years, visiting lighthouses around our coastline has become widely popular. We are lucky to have quite a few that are open to the public, some even with accommodation facilities. It is already three years since I and hubby spent one night at Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse on the western coast of Finland, off the lovely little town of Rauma.

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The lighthouse is easy to reach from the Poroholma camping site in Rauma from where comfortable water buses transport visitors to some of the islands and islets off the coast daily in the summer months. A return ticket only costs around €30 per person for the 1-hour-long crossing. In good weather, the best place to sit is on the sunny upper deck, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the sea, and watching the lighthouse getting closer and closer in the horizon.

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Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse was constructed in 1952, and in its time had as many as 12 pilots working on the islet. Coast guard operations have since been discontinued, and today the whole islet is only for tourism. There are 13 rooms in the actual tower, a restaurant downstairs, a summer café and a souvenir shop, as well as sauna facilities, so no need to bring your own provisions unless you want to. One night in a double room costs around €130.

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In the good Finnish way, it is all perfunctory – simple and rustic but with nice little marine touches in the decor. For example, our room was called ‘Sarastus‘ (meaning ‘first light of dawn‘ in English). The restaurant serves an archipelago style menu, with various fish dishes, of course. I’d recommend sleeping with the room window open, to be soothingly lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves and the sea wind. Another thing worth experiencing is getting up at night to look at the lighthouse light go round in the darkness. Well, this depends on which part of summer you visit. In June, with the almost “nightless night”, it would probably be less spectacular. We went in August when the nights are already getting dark, and thoroughly enjoyed the strangely eerie sight of the rotating light.

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What’s there to do then? Not that much. It’s a quiet place for appreciating the natural environment on one of the outermost islets before the open sea towards Sweden. It’s very sparse, with not a lot growing there. I must say I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this for long. Hats off to the tough, persistent folk who still do! Winters especially must be an ordeal, let alone getting through storms. There must be regular strong winds, judging by the small conifers all bent in one direction – good reminder of the forces of nature.

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There is one plant, however, that seems to thrive in the archipelago: the sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). During our visit, the thorny shrubs were heavy with their orange berries, which have many health benefits. They are used to make juice or jam, rich in vitamin C, in particular. The oil extracted from the seeds is also said to efficiently lower cholesterol levels. Quite a super berry, in fact!

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Once you get tired of soaking in the surrounding views, or admiring the wider panorama from your high-up room window, you can hike around the whole islet. It is quite a challenge on slippery rocks and boulders, without any proper paths, but well worth the effort in the end. During birds’ nesting times you need to be extra careful, though, as the future bird parents tend to defend their eggs and young rather aggressively. We saw quite a lot of seagulls and Canada geese, and even managed catch a brief glimpse of a sea eagle in the evening sky (no luck with a picture of it, unfortunately!). If you are adventurous enough, you can, of course, go swimming. Hubby ventured for a dip between the rocks, I chickened out. Bracing and exhilarating, according to him. I wouldn’t be so sure!

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What surprised me, however, was how quickly the restless, urban mind starts to calm down, and you get the idea of the whole experience: spending some down time in the lap of Mother Nature, in absolute, respectful awe. Your senses wake up, and you start noticing the tiny, miraculous details around you – how centuries, after centuries of waves, winds and all kinds of weather have shaped the environment. It’s as though suddenly time stands still, and there you are, an insignificantly small human being in the midst of natural history.

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During this lighthouse visit, I realised what great inspiration artists can find in such an environment, and why, for example, author Tove Jansson must have loved spending long periods of time in the Finnish archipelago. Sit or stand on the rocks to watch the day become night, the changing light transform all the colours and the scenery around you, eternity and infinity right there in front of your eyes! Breathtakingly beautiful! And then, in the morning, it all starts over again.

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He came to the edge of the water and stood watching the breakers. There was the sea – his sea – going past, wave after wave, foaming recklessly, raging furiously, but, somehow, tranquil at the same time. All Moominpappa’s thoughts and speculations vanished. He felt completely alive from the tips of his ears to the tip of his tail. This was a moment to live to the full.

When he turned to look at the island – his island –  he saw a beam of light shining on the sea, moving out towards the horizon and then coming back towards the shore in long, even waves.

The lighthouse was working.

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For those interested but unable to visit, why not check their live webcam.


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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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#weekendcoffeeshare: May 27, 2016

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If we were having coffee today, I would take you to one of the riverside cafés, with tables out on the pedestrian street. It’s a beautifully sunny day, and together we would bask in the warmth, and talk about the wonders of spring and the beginning summer. Here in the north, this is a time of being almost overwhelmed by the incredible beauty of our nature. While sipping our frothy cappuccinos, I want to show you the procession from spring to summer through my nature photos.

Starting in April, quite suddenly, after the snow has melted, and with the first warmer days, the little yellow “suns” appear by the roadsides. Interestingly, coltsfoot is called “widow’s leaf” in Finnish – but, please, don’t ask me about the etymology behind the name, I have no clue. These first spring flowers are small, low and quite modest but as they usually grow in groups, they will soon create bright patches of colour on the otherwise sepia ground, and revive our tired winter eyes.

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Not long after this, there will be the first glimpses of blue in the woods behind our house. ‘Anemone hepatica’, with its furry stem, starts opening its petals. In Finnish we call it the “blue” hepatica although I find the colour more towards mauve or purple, especially in sunlight. Lovely, aren’t they?

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Towards the end of April, it will be the gorgeous whites and pinks of the cherry blossoms. So fragile, shivering in the wind, and so fleeting – you hardly have time to adore them before they are gone. A powerful reminder to seize every precious moment of our lives!

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By Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May in Finland), the woods will have usually changed into white, with countless ‘Anemone nemorosa’. It’s a common flower to be picked by children to give to their mothers on that special day. One of my all-time spring favourites.

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Later in May then, while many people I know will be busy stocking up with all possible poisons to kill them off, my eyes will feast in the fields coloured bright yellow with dandelions. Why would you want to kill them off? Yellow makes us humans happier!

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What’s more, killing off dandelions will also deprive bees of their vital pollen. As declining bee populations are a major catastrophe in more and more areas of the world, it is essential to protect them. Luckily, apple blossoms can always be counted on to keep the bees busy. This year, apple trees were especially heavy with blooms. I find them very romantic, and they make me think of white lace, tulle and weddings, for some reason.

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Last but definitely not least, in the cavalcade of some of my favourite spring flowers, comes the Finnish national flower, lily of the valley. The anemones have by now given way to these white beauties. The whole wood behind our house is now full of their intoxicating scent. I just couldn’t resist picking a few to put in a vase at home.

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The wonderful flower season will continue all through the summer, and it brings me enormous joy every year. Hope you enjoyed my flowphotos! Now let me get another cappuccino for you, so you can tell me about your favourite blooms in your part of the world.


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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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