This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Hot wall

hetvaggHetvägg (”hot wall”). With marzipan. Just like it used to be for hundreds of years. While most people in Finland prefer their bun dry in hand, mine definitely likes hot milk better.

This is what people relish in the Nordic countries on Shrove Tuesday (called Fat Tuesday in Swedish). In Finland the day is “laskiainen”, an untranslatable “sliding day”. Not only because one begins the slide towards Easter and spring, but quite literally because one is supposed to rush down snowy hills with one’s behind seated on a coaster or in a plastic sled, regardless of one’s age and bone health.

Therefore, a Finnish or Swedish Shrove Tuesday is also celebrated with hot pea soup – and possibly a sip of arrack punch.

(Helsinki, Finland; March 2019)

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A deathly boring book

voleSpotted in the bathroom of the country cottage. Apparently August Strindberg can bore one to death. How the poor thing got into the bathroom and how we did not notice it, living or dead, until now is a mystery. I am so dreadfully sorry little vole, for not letting you back out in time.

(Loviisa, Finland; January 2019)

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Remote office in the remote countryside

takkaI am working from the cottage this week, surrounded by snow. There is no wi-fi but the invention of an iPhone hotspot can do wonders for work-life balance if one lets it. Everything but video conferencing works, and who needs video conferencing anyway when snuggling up behind the laptop in woollen socks and a thick homely sweater? Output quality trumps appearance and sense of style in my job.

And just because I feel like it: here is a repost of the wonderful poem “January” by John Updike.

The days are short,
The sun a spark,
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.

Fat snowy footsteps
Track the floor.
Milk bottles burst
Outside the door.

The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees of lace.

The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.

(Loviisa, Finland; January 2019)

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Colors seen and unseen

spectrum-1The low, early January sun found its way in through the dining room window just so. It hit the crystal chandelier and exploded into hundreds of little rainbows, all over the walls and the ceiling and the fireplace. For a long while the dining room became a crystal palace.

White light does not contain every color as such. In a way it kind of does, but when one breaks down white light into pure spectral colors there will be red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Pink and brown for example are not spectral colors and are instead blends of two or more colors. But why is violet (essentially blue and red mixed) a spectral color and not pink or purple, with just a bit less blue and more red? And how many colors are we actually missing because our human eyes cannot distinguish them? Ultraviolet and infrared probably, but are there amazing iridescent turquoises and greens and shades of yellow and even entirely imaginary colors that only bees and butterflies can see? If the electromagnetic spectrum stretches from meter-long radio waves into micro waves into that tiny band we perceive as colors – and then out into X-ray waves, what would the world look like if we were to perceive for example micro waves and X-ray waves as colors?spectrum-2(Loviisa, Finland; January 2019)

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Career choices

rome-7“Dress for the job you want, not the one you’ve got”, the (surprisingly effective) saying goes. If your career dreams include becoming a bishop, a cardinal, or even the Pope, this shop will help you fake it ’til you make it. If you can take the long stares from people you meet in the street, that is. And why not stare? This gear is absolutely fabulous.

(Rome, Italy; September 2018)


Completed: Day Zero Project

skeletoncoast-3Ever wished you could do this and try that and go there – without any of the wishes ever coming true? Why do we spend more time dreaming than making dreams reality? Why do we speak of wishes “coming true” instead of “being made true”?

I wrote the above three years ago, but it stands true today. And September 2017, one year ago, my Day Zero challenge came to a close. In January 2015 I set out to accomplish 101 things in 1001 days. Did I accomplish them all? No, because I listed quite a few major bucket list items to choose from, such as let go of past grief, learn a new language, and undertake major trips. But I accomplished 56/100, with another 6 items marked “in progress”. And I managed to visit the French Riviera not 1 time but 3 times, and same goes for practicing yoga on Bali. I found I loved those two places so much I kept going back. Perhaps without the Day Zero challenge I would still not know exactly what I have been missing out on.

Was it worth it? For sure. Otherwise I would probably not have spent a rainy day in bed in my PJs, watching movies and learning to knit socks. Or taken a ride in a hot-air balloon. Or accomplished some financial goals. Or traveled to Bali or trekked on the Everest Base Camp trail.

Life is not a rehearsal. You are the star of your show, every day, regardless of whether you are up for it or not. Trust me, the past few years I have mainly not been up for it. Yet life has happened anyway. It tends to do that, every day. We can choose to either drift down-current, or rig the sails, list our goals as bearings, and use life’s unpredictability and impermanence to change what we wish changed, and do what we always dreamed of doing.

So list your goals and begin doing instead of dreaming. For inspiration, here are my completed goals. And by the way, I am, too: already working through a 101 Goals, Vol. 2.

2015 completed
  1. Host a board games night (we made this an annual tradition with my cousins)
  2. Learn to knit socks  (still wearing the ones I made!)
  3. Make candles
  4. Spend a rainy day watching films in my PJ’s
  5. Get back in touch with 2 old friends
  6. Spend a weekend at a spa by myself
  7. Make jam
  8. Travel to New England
  9. Crochet a quilt
  10. Find a career mentor
  11. Get an Indian head massage
  12. Install a mirror in the hallway
  13. Have a hot stone massage
  14. Go back to Kathmandu
  15. Read my old journals
  16. Clean out my wardrobe  (this expanded into KonMari’ing my entire apartment)
  17. Go to the French Riviera  (goal completed 3 times)
  18. Eat at a Korean restaurant
  19. Complete a coloring book
  20. See a performance at the Helsinki Music Center
  21. Hire a cleaning maid  (one of the best decisions of 2015)
  22. See a play at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London
  23. Find a penpal and write real letters  (I found several!)
  24. Read all moomin books
  25. Practice yoga on Bali (goal completed 3 times)
2016 completed
  1. See a Broadway musical in London
  2. Throw a tea party for ladies only
  3. Watch a meteor shower
  4. Take classes in yoga philosophy
  5. Have a picnic on an island
  6. Photograph the sun from the equator
  7. KonMari my apartment
  8. Tie a note to a balloon and let it go
  9. Ask 20 friends to suggest one book, and read them all (I loved this one)
  10. Learn to make Limoncello
  11. Install a sliding door to my bedroom
  12. Go trekking in Nepal
  13. Have a picnic on the beach
  14. Travel by train instead of flying (took the train from Paris to Biarritz. 5 hours)
  15. Influence a person to make a Day Zero list
  16. Visit Riga again (took my mother along)
  17. Get a new wristwatch (ended up being my uncle’s wind-up watch from the 50s)
  18. Visit a Buddhist monastery (both in Nepal as well as in the French mountains)
2017 completed
  1. Read 20 books per year
  2. Ride in a hot air balloon
  3. Visit Zanzibar (where I learned how to dive!)
  4. Join Earth Hour every year
  5. Save up 5000 euro either in cash or stock (this turned out to be much more)
  6. Do an annual detox (á là Gwyneth Paltrow – and I found I loved her (expensive) cooking)
  7. Go to the dentist once a year
  8. Collect 1 investment gold coin per year
  9. Volunteer with dolphin research again  (I ended up spending a month in Namibia)
  10. Watch a Cirque du Soleil show  (in London)
  11. Visit an observatory  (in Helsinki)
  12. Pay off student debt
  13. Put away $10 for every goal completed
In progress
  1. Find joy  (mostly completed in 2018)
  2. Attend a TED Talk event  (completed fall 2017)
  3. Let go of past hurt  (mostly completed in 2018)
  4. See the opera Aida  (completed spring 2018)
  5. Learn French  (switched to Spanish in fall 2018)
  6. Read all books on the 106 books of pretension list  (completed fall 2018)

(Brande, Denmark; September 2018. Photo from Skeleton Coast, Namibia; July 2017)

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106 books of pretension

ramsesbookLovely ones, do you remember the meme doing rounds on blogs in 2008, called “The 106 Books of Pretension”? It was a list of the top 106 (why one-hundred-and-six?) books marked “undread” by Librarything users. The “pretension” referred to books considered classics, or modern classics, that were actually unread by many avid readers and literary aficionados.

Out of the 106 books I had perhaps read around 35. I saved the list, and started reading the remaining 70+ books. I told myself, this is a list of books a civilized person should have read during a lifetime. There were books I had managed to skip during high school English classes. Books that had recently been made into movies. Books that many talked about the moment they were published – and the talk never ceased.

I discovered the curious stories of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; and of Cavalier and Clay. I found I loved Dostoyevsky and Neil Gaiman, and that the great Grapes of Wrath bored the wits out of me. But most importantly, I exposed myself to once-revolutionary thoughts; great stories; and incredible minds. Book after book I explored thought-worlds that changed the world we perceive as real. Censored books like Madame Bovary. Slandered books like Lolita. Shocking books like In Cold Blood. Classics like Homer’s Odyssey. And I realized that often we repel insurgent views because we hate to be told by a visionary storyteller. Books much hated have become books much respected. It was not the book that changed, but the collective mind and the world around it.

Only four books I could not finish: the Iliad (an account of who fought whom and how they died); Gravity’s Rainbow (I thought I would love this one! Did not get past 150 pages); The Silmarillion (come on, can you really blame me?); and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (what is wrong with me??).

Finishing off this list of 106 books was part of my Day Zero Project. I can now tick this goal off the list, after 10 years of reading (not with perfect adherence to this goal). The list of the top 106 books tagged “unread” at Librarything has changed surprisingly little: 95 are still on the list today. What a great shame as most of these books really are gems worth the effort.

For your reading pleasure, here is the original list from 2008. Have fun exploring 106 new worlds.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  2. Anna Karenina
  3. Crime and Punishment
  4. Catch-22
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude
  6. Wuthering Heights
  7. The Silmarillion
  8. Life of Pi
  9. The Name of the Rose
  10. Don Quixote
  11. Moby Dick
  12. Ulysses
  13. Madame Bovary
  14. The Odyssey
  15. Pride and Prejudice
  16. Jane Eyre
  17. The Tale of Two Cities
  18. The Brothers Karamazov
  19. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  20. War and Peace
  21. Vanity Fair
  22. The Time Traveler’s Wife
  23. The Iliad
  24. Emma
  25. The Blind Assassin
  26. The Kite Runner
  27. Mrs. Dalloway
  28. Great Expectations
  29. American Gods
  30. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  31. Atlas Shrugged
  32. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  33. Memoirs of a Geisha
  34. Middlesex
  35. Quicksilver
  36. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  37. The Canterbury tales
  38. The Historian : a novel
  39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  40. Love in the Time of Cholera
  41. Brave New world
  42. The Fountainhead
  43. Foucault’s Pendulum
  44. Middlemarch
  45. Frankenstein
  46. The Count of Monte Cristo
  47. Dracula
  48. A Clockwork Orange
  49. Anansi Boys
  50. The Once and Future King
  51. The Grapes of Wrath
  52. The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
  53. 1984
  54. Angels & Demons
  55. The Inferno
  56. The Satanic Verses
  57. Sense and Sensibility
  58. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  59. Mansfield Park
  60. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  61. To the Lighthouse
  62. Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  63. Oliver Twist
  64. Gulliver’s Travels
  65. Les Misérables
  66. The Corrections
  67. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  68. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  69. Dune
  70. The Prince
  71. The Sound and the Fury
  72. Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
  73. The God of Small Things
  74. A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
  75. Cryptonomicon
  76. Neverwhere
  77. A Confederacy of Dunces
  78. A Short History of Nearly Everything
  79. Dubliners
  80. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  81. Beloved
  82. Slaughterhouse-five
  83. The Scarlet Letter
  84. Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  85. The Mists of Avalon
  86. Oryx and Crake : a novel
  87. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
  88. Cloud Atlas
  89. The Confusion
  90. Lolita
  91. Persuasion
  92. Northanger Abbey
  93. The Catcher in the Rye
  94. On the Road
  95. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  96. Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  97. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
  98. The Aeneid
  99. Watership Down
  100. Gravity’s Rainbow
  101. The Hobbit
  102. In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  103. Treasure Island
  104. White teeth
  105. David Copperfield
  106. The Three Musketeers

(Brande, Denmark; September 2018)