This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Flying in 2021

Flying in 2021 requires both a passport and a negative coronavirus test. Obtaining a certificate with a negative result with sampling no more than 24 hours before boarding turned out to be a challenge. Finland does not test asymptomatic people through its public healthcare system, and has not scaled up the antigen test alternative. And because the results are not entirely reliable, most private clinics who do offer antigen tests for a fee refuse to write a travel certificate.

Thus, my only bet was an expensive, express overnight PCR test in Helsinki, requiring me to leave Loviisa the day before departure and staying with my sister. With resistance, I forked out for yet another test, in addition to the 72 h post-entry test I paid for in another private clinic before christmas, after being turned away from the public clinics because I lacked symptoms,

Oh well, my holiday visit could have been worse: a family of four would have paid 2,000 EUR just for the tests (and then some for the flights). In the end, I was fortunate enough to find the choice between the money and investing in quality time with dear ones an easy one.

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2021)


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Cold snap in Helsinki

In the middle of all the snow and cold I left quarantine for just 24 hours in Helsinki. Some potentially useful tips for getting through -20C or lower temperatures:

  1. Don’t buy fresh herbs or lettuce if you have to walk home. They freeze (and then wilt) within minutes.
  2. Don’t take your face mask off between shops, as the humidity condensed on your mask and face will freeze.
  3. Do put your smartphone and any other electronic device close to your skin. A handbag is out of the question, and even a jacket pocket most likely won’t do – the device will freeze and die very quickly.
  4. Four more words: technical wear, and long underwear (including long-johns and glove liners). Function before fashion, otherwise freezing is inevitable.

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2021)


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Snowed in

Apologies for the crappy image quality, but this was taken late at night, with a smartphone, in heavy wet snowfall. After about an hour’s worth of shoveling. That thing there is not a spade but a sizable sleigh shovel, and the heaps I pushed through reached my waist.

Unfortunately, after all my hard labor, the wind filled everything up during the night. Even more unfortunate was that they forgot to clear the road passing the cottage and my parents’ house, in both directions, thus we were snowed in for two days. Makes me long for climate change to come sooner.

(Loviisa, Finland; January 2021)


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First snow

In Finnish, the opposite to a white christmas is a “black christmas”. This year, we barely had a snow cover thus perhaps it was a “gray christmas”? And after the holidays, it began to snow.

And it did not stop.

It snowed for days, which meant we had to shovel snow every morning. Leaving the house before the snow plow was difficult, both on foot and on wheels. We did not get a white christmas, but we sure did get a white winter.

(Loviisa, Finland; January 2021)


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Goodbye 2020

On the last day of December, over a home-cooked borscht soup, we said goodbye to the unforgettable 2020. In retrospect, it was not too far from the sci-fi books written throughout the twentieth century, projecting some futuristic craziness like a viral pandemic. In December 2019 I knew I would need to find a new job some time during 2020, but I thought I would first spend January studying more Spanish in San Sebastián; February in the US Midwest, visiting dear friends; April in Kyoto finally experiencing Japan and the cherry blossom season; and the summer in the cottage in Finland followed by a panchakarma somewhere warm like Sri Lanka. It was going to be the year I turned forty, and I wanted it to be free and fabulous. I wanted to redirect my career, but not until after the summer.

Well, nothing is as constant in life as change. Turns out the themes of my 2020 were COVID-19, Copenhagen, and Alzheimer’s disease. The first requires no introduction; the second I covered here; and the third is nothing new (my mother was diagnosed in 2017), but combined with the pandemic our family has been balancing on a tightrope all year long. For my part, the last monthly weekend visit turned out to be just days before lockdown in March, after which I had to lose days in post-travel quarantine and lots of money in expensive private tests in Finland, in order to spend time with my family.

Instead of feeling free and fabulous at forty, I felt homeless, nearly jobless, and family-less in a foreign city I just moved to. The few local friends I had I could only see outdoors, for brief whiles. And so I turned into a productivity machine: I studied languages online, I completed a big creative project, I did a course in global public health, and I revised my career plans together with a kick-ass career coach.

I did not end up in Sri Lanka having cleansing tonics and massages twice a day. Instead, I signed a new job contract, decided to stay in Copenhagen, moved to another apartment, and spent six weeks in Finland over the summer. In the fall, I chose to put my head down and become productive in my new job by christmas. 2020 began to feel like a split reality: on the one hand, wasting away time stuck at home; and on the other hand, stock-full with five years’ worth of life experience in just twelve months.

Lots of looseness in life means lots of opportunity to rebuild. The coming year will continue to be a balancing act for my family, but we have grown closer, more communicative, and more functional. And so, as I enjoyed the last meal of 2020 and lifted a glass to toast the coming year with my family, I felt grateful for the shake-up of 2020 – and for the premonition that 2021 was going to bring a few strong aftershocks.

(Loviisa, Finland; December 2020)


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Three favorite podcasts

For at least a year I have thought about writing, or rather not writing, this post. I am so far behind many of you when it comes to podcasts. Because, not only do I stick to my habits, but I have an obsession for completion and lists. I go through much pain and boredom before I give up on a book or a movie mid-way. I love finishing off to-do lists. And to me, podcasts episodes look like… well, to-do lists. And they are a significant time investment. When I choose to get deeper into a podcast series, listening a couple episodes per week, it takes me months to decide whether I should keep listening or delete it from my list.

It hurts my head to think of the universe of amazing podcasts all around the world, available with just a few taps. Smart shows like Dear Sugar, Serial, and Stuff You Should Know are famous – and I shyly confess that they are not in my podcast list at all. Why? Because I can only keep track of about three podcasts at once, and once I get into them I need to go through the list, often several years and hundreds of episodes worth, to complete the series. Only when I get up to date with a podcast I like, do I have bandwidth to tackle another…. neurotic? Perhaps. Focused? For sure.

Here are the three ones that keep me busy (in no particular order of priority):

  1. The Ground Up Show, by Matt D’Avella
    These days, Matt D’Avella is equally well known for directing the documentary Minimalism, as well as his Youtube channel amassing millions of subscribers. The podcast is inactive since quite a while, but he managed to record 100+ interviews about starting from the ground up as a creative entrepreneur. In later episodes he moved towards topics like minimalism and health, and his experience as a stand-up comedian and conversational skills makes the episodes seem shorter than they are. This is my go-to for cleaning and other random household chores.
  2. The Goop Podcast
    Yes, I am a scientist by training and I love the Goop Podcast. I listen to it every night as I get ready for bed, and most nights even in bed, if I cannot sleep right away. The breadth of topics, from psychology and longevity to social issues and business, means I always learn and am never bored.
  3. Pörssipäivä
    The long-standing Finnish radio show on investing and money markets. I have several investing and personal finance podcasts on my list, but I am still stuck on this one, also because I still have some stock market investments in Finland. I usually pull up an episode in the evenings while making dinner or ironing clothes.

Soon I will be up-to-date with both Goop and Pörssipäivä. Can you recommed me a new favorite?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2021)


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Lost

“It says we can see this island at sixty degrees starboard, so have to be here, just off that rock.”
“No way, sixty degrees starboard means we’re already way past that island, so we must be right here… wait, that looks like dry land?!”

And on and on, for another two hours it went, before we solved our position and direction, using some very unorthodox methods of projecting off the map. Reading a map is relatively easy when you know where you are. But how about when you are out at sea, need to broadcast your position to ask for help, and you think you recognize a landmark off the map but have no idea exactly where you are? For very obvious reasons, this type of problem was the main one, repeated throughout my sister’s navigation course book.

In the end, navigation with a map is all very simple logic and trigonometry, but boy did it take me hours and a quite some googling to swipe away the dust and cobwebs over the section in my brain that stored the crumbled remains of a navigation course I attended some fifteen years ago. My sister pushed on with admirable resilience, after realizing that the classes she invested in all fall would not guarantee a passed exam. Two days later and with the help of Youtube tutorials (in Danish!) we were finally able to find ourselves, on demand.

(My sister’s exam was canceled due to COVID, of course. But hopefully this time around the skill is not lost).

(Loviisa, Finland; December 2020)


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A mindfulness exercise

Pomegranates sustain my life force throughout the winter. I crave that juicy goodness, impossibly red even when it stains my fingertips, and the satisfyingly crunchy mouth feel. The juice is packed with vitamins, and the seeds with healthy oils. And no, I do not buy juice nor even the cleaned, pre-packed seeds – I take an entire pomegranate and clean it out by hand.

Neither do I violently whack it like Jamie Oliver seems to prefer (not only is it brutal, it is messy and still leaves lodged-in seeds to be dug out afterwards). Instead I cut off the top and bottom, slice the fruit in two along the vertical ridges (where it naturally splits with light prying), and then split both halves again. The seeds come out by turning the clusters inside out. Soaking the quarters in water before starting helps if the fruit seems dry.

Coaxing pomegranate seeds out of their shell is gentle, methodical work. The more one rushes or exerts pressure, the worse the outcome (and the mess!). Perfect mindfulness practice for winter days – and the reward is a bowlful of summer energy.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; December 2020)