Sinikka's snippets

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


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Le temps des cerises

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Through the kitchen window, I saw a cheeky squirrel feeding on the first ripe fruit of our cherry trees today. The other day, some blackbirds were at them, too. Looking more closely, I could already see many of them devoured by our animal friends. Familiar story. Before the cherries get ready for picking, it’s usually the birds that come in great flocks and peck the lot! Interestingly, the cherries seem to be well ahead of time this year. Last year, it wasn’t until the middle of August that the trees were heavy with the red fruit. Must be the effect of a much warmer June.

Last year was exceptional, though. There were considerably more cherries than usual. In addition, it was a very good wild blueberry year in the forests, and they were ripe at the same time. There were speculations then that the birds were happy with the forest berries and left people’s gardens alone. And I was happy, managing to make several jars of Amaretto-spiced cherry jam. Looks like this year I should be pleased to get one or two, if that! Oh well, such is life. Nice sight, against the sun-lit blue sky in any case.

Weekly photo challenge – LOOK UP.

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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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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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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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End of summer

Last week of my long summer holiday is starting, making me all wistful and nostalgic. In a week’s time, my relaxing, leisurely, slow mornings will turn into the panic of early alarms, rushed breakfasts and getting ready for school.

While toiling with the daunting stress of the inevitability of ‘back to school’, I am also trying to make the most of this season. I read somewhere that August is the time of “stone fruit”. It sure seems to be true, as the big cherry trees above our home are bright red and heavy with this year’s crop.

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These trees are technically not on our land but a leftover from the farmhouse that used to be here before our row house was built in its place. In previous years, there have been far fewer cherries, and the birds have soon eaten them up. We haven’t even thought of picking them as the trees are on a slight slope, and so high that it would be quite difficult to get to them. What’s more, these cherries are quite sour, so we have just left them.

However, this year is exceptional for some reason. Never have I seen the trees so red! And, surprisingly, the birds have mostly stayed away. Some friends discussed this on Facebook, and suspected that it’s because the woods are so full of blueberries this year that the birds have preferred eating them instead. Whatever the reason, some primitive instinct got hold of me today, and I persuaded hubby to help me pick enough cherries to make some jam.

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I’ve never been a keen preserver of fruit or berries, like many of the Finnish women I know. In fact, during the “rush years” of my life, when we were busy raising our young daughter and working hard to settle in our careers, I wouldn’t have even dreamt of having any time for such time-consuming kitchen chores! I’ve always liked cooking and baking but preserving? Oh no, not for me even though I must admit I often felt inadequate and lazy when female friends kept boasting about the number of bottles of homemade juice or jars of various jams they had already stored away for the winter. So what’s suddenly come over me? Is it age – preparing to be a pottering about granny one day?

Anyway, like squirrels gathering nuts for the winter, off we went to tackle the high trees. In the end, it wasn’t hard at all as the pliable branches could easily be bent for us to reach the fruit. In no time at all we had a bowlful to work with. Afterwards, we sat together at the garden table, taking the pips out and preparing the cherries for cooking. It was very therapeutic and a nice way to spend some time chatting and, best of all, effectively helped me forget about the looming end of the holiday.

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At the end of the day, we had several jars of homemade cherry jam, spiced with the rest of a bottle of Amaretto. What joy and a sense of achievement! Come dark winter days, and we can look back to this sunny late summer’s day, while enjoying our jam with some French cheese and bread!

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Hanami – adoration of cherry blossoms

My first encounter with cherry blossoms was back in the mid-90s in Washington DC of all places. I was working as a Fulbright exchange teacher in Virginia for a year, only 30 minutes by metro from the capital. There are some 1,700 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, donated as a sign of friendship by the mayor of Tokyo in the early 20th century. They offer a spectacular display of beauty in spring. I remember going there several times, to admire the first small pinkish blooms, through to the peak time and all the way to the end of the fragile petals falling on the ground, white as if it was snowing. At the weekend, we also saw a lot of Asian, and other people enjoying picnics under the blooming trees.

Ever since then, cherry blossoms have held a special place in my memory and heart. They are an annual reminder of the fleeting nature of life. So breathtakingly beautiful, but so short-lived at the same time! Recently, I have been more than pleased to see that some cherry trees have been planted along the riverside, and elsewhere, here in my hometown of Turku in Finland. This spring I have been cycling around with my camera to capture some of this floral splendour. It’s good for your soul to just sit or stand underneath a canopy of blooming trees, taking in the subtle colours of the petals, which quiver helplessly in the slightest breeze. So fragile that you feel as if you need to protect the tiny blossoms with your hands.

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One Sunday, I happened to be cycling along the river, and came across some cherry trees that I had never even noticed before. The blossoms were already coming to the end of their time, and had turned gorgeously white. They made me think of a full, lacy wedding dress – what a lovely thought!

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My project for next year is to start early enough, probably towards the end of April, and go round all the different trees I now know of, and enjoy the whole, swift blooming cycle. Unfortunately, our town doesn’t enlighten us of the different species of cherries they have planted. So, finding that out will be part of this project, too. ‘Mindfulness’ is one of the new fads here, and I feel enjoying the nature around us is the best form of mindfulness you can engage in – and it’s all free!

HANAMI FESTIVAL IN HELSINKI

I was lucky to notice an ad for a cherry blossom festival in Helsinki somewhere in my social media feed. It falling on a weekday religious holiday, made me convince hubby that we needed to go. It was actually the 8th time this festival was organised in the suburb of Roihuvuori in Helsinki, where over 200 cherry trees have been planted along a hill in a park. It was interesting to find out on a website that just as in Washington DC, these trees, too, are thanks to donations, this time by Japanese nationals residing here in Finland.

According to Wikipedia, HANAMI, or “flower viewing” means:

the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, flowers (“hana”) in this case almost always referring to those of the cherry (“sakura”) or, less frequently, plum (“ume”) trees

It was a windy day, and a bit on the cool side. We even had a hail storm pour over us in the afternoon! But the weather didn’t prevent thousands of people from having a good time underneath the trees. Arriving by train, after a two-hour journey, we were there early, and managed to see the trees better than later on when all the participants were milling around and setting up their picnic spots.

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I was especially pleased to see people of all ages taking part in the festival. Too often the Finnish custom is to separate the generations, each to their own specific activities. Lots of young families came with their babies, toddlers and pre-teens, many of whom wore creative fancy dresses for the occasion.

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The cosplay and anime crowd were there, too, with the most elaborate costumes. It was all quite delightfully unexpected for us but, of course, so much part of Japanese culture. Made me remember our trip to Japan, and a visit to Harajuku district in Tokyo where imaginative teens gathered to show off their sometimes quite outrageous fashions and styles.

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Initially, I had a very stereotypical expectation of the festival: a sophisticated, serene, almost solemn occasion, with possibly some faint, traditional Japanese music in the background, and people staring at the blossoming trees in quiet awe and adoration. Couldn’t have been more wrong! Little did I know, that people would bring boom boxes and other music devices, and play really loud rock and pop. What’s more, there were also music and Japanese martial arts performances on a stage, which added to the noise. Well, why not! Everybody to their own, and possibly this is the way ‘hanami’ is celebrated in Japan.

Definitely an occasion to mark in our diaries for next year. It was refreshingly different for Finland. Firstly, so crowded, and such a diverse and colourful group as well, with happy faces all around. Secondly, the joyful activity all through the day, Japanese food being cooked and sold in stalls, all the fascinating shows and performances. Thirdly, meeting friends for a chat and picnic on the lawn. And last but not least, the feeling of wonder, magic and fairy tale,  thanks to wonderful creatures such as this spring butterfly, for example.

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The message of the cherry blossoms for me was ‘carpe diem’. Seize the day, and ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ as it’s all too soon over.

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