Back at school, sort of speak

Last night I attended a small, unofficial reunion of old school mates. The occasion was ’20 years since taking A levels’. The last timeI had seen most of these people was over ten years ago, but it felt like a shorter time. One reason for this is Facebook, but the more important reason is we spent 6 years together at school, from the age of 13 until we were 19.

Those intense years are the time when you are feeling most awkward, when you are on the verge of coming the grown-up you will eventually be, but not quite there yet. This can only mean that certain strong roles are taken up, clicks are formed and acts of cruelty are performed.

Last night brought all this back vividly. I had looked forward to seeing these people and it was mostly a pleasant evening. But it also showed how those old roles are so easily put on when they are the ones you used to wear when around these people.

I was all ready to talk about matters like grown-ups do. I did manage to do this with some people, but there were two girls (well women, but for me they are always girls), who just degenerated back to their – I don’t like using this word, but can’t think of another one – bitchy little selfs, like those twenty odd years never happened.

What made me most cross was the way they started to laugh at one of our class mates who wasn’t present. I tried to say let’s not go there, but it didn’t help. Then another ‘girl’ said: “oh come on you bullies”, and that had a small inpact. And even then they argued that there had been no bullying at our school. I tried to voice a slightly different opinion, but the conversation went elsewhere and the matter was dropped.

This episode however left me feeling a bit restless. When travelling home I was even angry at myself that I hadn’t pushed the topic further and told them how I had felt at school. Because last night reminded me again of it all.

I wish I had told them that I often felt slightly unsure when around them, that I often felt they must be laughing at me too behind my back like they were laughing at our class mate yesterday. That I often thought how lucky I was to have one really good friend at school, otherwise it would all have been a lot worse experience for me. How I always knew that even thought I got along with most of my class mates, I was never part of the inner circle.

But then again what good would that have done? It would have made the athmosphere too serious, when everybody just wanted to have a good time. I also doubt these two would have been able to process such talk in any kind of mature way, instead they would have got defensive and talked ill of me after I left. So maybe it was better this way, at least no bridges were burnt.

Anyhow, the evening also made me remember how relieved I was when I started my studies at the university. No one there knew me in beforehand. There was no baggage from those incertain teenage years. Also, eveybody was there out of their own free will and learning was what most people wanted to do. There was no longer a need to be embarrassed about wanting to do that. I felt at home even though I had actually liked being at school, despite the things mentioned above.

I have since then found my place in this world and it seems that most of my class mates have too. I guess those places are so different that the only common ground is our shared past. I just wished we could at some point meet on it as grown-ups.


The unbearable emptyness of my head

So, this is basically a blog post about why it’s so difficult for me to write a blog post. Sounds rather self-conscious and even pretentious, and it probably is. But the problem is real enough.

I hesitated for a long time before setting up my blog. The main reason was that I felt I have nothing particularly interesting to say. I very seldom have clear opinions about matters and if I do, there are people out there who voice them a lot better than I do.

If you know me in real life, you might find this strange. After all, I’ve been writing professionally since 1998. Not full time, but still. But you see, my writing has always been based on things done or said or written by others. I’m not a creative writer or a creative thinker. I’m an analyst, an interpreter. And now we are coming to the actual point of this post.

The only way I might be able to produce something original enough for my standards, would be if I wrote about things I’ve seen. About performances, to be exact.

That is what I used to be interested in, even passionate about. And that, my friends, seems to have gone away. That abilty to sit in a performance and get exited or irritated about, and then afterwards analyse and pour down on paper why exactly I felt what I felt.

It’s true that I have a four-month old baby. But this numbness started well before that. It’s been two years since I wrote a review. Two years without feeling that urge to pick something apart, to get deep into someone’s creation and to see what made it tick, or where the trouble was if it didn’t tick at all.

I think I know why this has happened. I used to be able to do this as a part of my work. There was time for it. But in the past few years my work has changed, other things have been judged to be more important, and in most part rightly so. But it still makes me sad that this thing that used to be ‘the passionate core of my job’, as a consultant once put it, has been more or less lost in the process.

Not only have I been lacking the time for writing, but my mind has also been stretched between so many different things at work, that the creative space that any kind of writing requires has been virtually non-existent.

I’ve now been on maternity leave for little over five months. I has started to dawn on me that I’m not tired simply because of lack of sleep, the tiredness runs far deeper than that.
So maybe it is not such a big wonder that I have found it hard to get exited about performances if I have been left with too little mental breathing space.

And let’s face it, considering the amount of performances I’ve seen since 1998, maybe it’s not so surprising there is a certain fatigue. But I still hope that one day it comes back, the excitement and the desire to engage in the intellectual process that is required when writing a proper review. Then I would have something that I would be happy to post regularly in a blog.

Feeling guilty

Has it really been only five days since I wrote my previous blog post? Time really becomes a relative concept when you are spending your days with a small baby. For instance, the first weeks have gone by incredibly quickly. On the other hand, it feels like it was ages ago when I wrote that previous blog post.

The reason for the latter is that three of these past five days have been a bit challenging. The baby has been unwilling to fall asleep easily in the evening/night. Instead we have had serious feeding marathons, lots of crying, and lots of walking with a swaddled up baby.

Luckily I’ve not been doing this all by myself as my husband has done most of the walking. He has also obliged to be the baby’s matress, when he has finally managed to make him drift away.

Again, these have not been extremely difficult situations. After all, we have not needed to go for car drives, for example. The point here is how hard it has again been for me to cope with these situations. I tweeted a few days ago that it’s a special kind of sense of failure, when you can’t make your baby to accept the breast nor to fall asleep.

When I think of my reactions rationally I know that I am not a failure, not even close. And yet I cry daily, mostly because I feel like I have somehow made a mistake again.

The problem is that I feel guilty far too easily. It’s one of my main personality traits even when I’m sleeping enough and not filled with hormones. So it’s easy to imagine that in this current situation it’s not less dominant.

Let’s take an example of how easily I feel guilty. I hesitated about writing this this blog, because I was afraid it would upset all my lovely twitter friends who wish to hear I’m doing just great and life is wonderful with a baby. How daft is that?

But then I decided that it’s better to be truthful and to say, yes, I’m not feeling so great all the time, but that’s just the way it is. It does not mean I’m a failure, either. Instead I’m the mother of a gorgeous four week old baby, who at the moment is going through a not so delighful period. I am allowed to feel tired and I am not going to stress about what other people think or say. And yes Mum, I know it would be important to be in a positive mood, but you stating such obvious things is not helping. It just makes me feel guilty for not being able to do that. And I’m tired of feeling guilty.


Four weeks with a baby

It’s been a long break from the blog. The reason for the break is one of the best there is: four weeks ago (October 9) I was in labour and early on Monday morning a little dark haired boy entered this world.

Since then we’ve been getting to know each other. Everyone I’ve spoken to about having a baby and everything I’ve read on the subject said don’t think you can control the situation, the baby will be in charge. I thought I had taken this in, but it has turned out I really hadn’t.

Let’s just say that hormones, sleep deprivation and a person with a tendency to make plans in order to be in control of their every day life are not the greatest combination. Or at least that’s what such a person feels like when they realise they are not in control. I wont lie to you: I have been surprised at how difficult things have momentarely felt. Daily meltdowns with crying have been experienced. And yet we’ve not had it so bad, I know for a fact things could’ve been a lot more difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, our little boy is adorable. He obviously has a mind of his own. He is very alert and active, when he’s not eating, that is. Which is not very often: I have no idea how many hours I’ve already sat in this sofa, in my “feeding throne”. And yet again, it could be worse: the baby has a natural rythm which makes him sleep in longer patches during the night, allowing me as much as 6 or 7 hours of sleep during the night.

But still these first weeks have mostly been about feeding. The main challenge has been finding a good feeding position. So far I’ve managed to find only one that allows me to be fairly relaxed. It can only be achieved with the help of five different pillows and a foot rest. (Hence the nickname throne.) Not an ideal situation if one would wish to feed somewhere else than at home. Actually at the moment I haven’t found a position that I could manage somewhere else easily.

The other thing has been the baby’s massive appetite and his short temper when it comes to tolerating hunger. The marginal between a pleasant start to eating and a full blown crying that prevents him from settling down to eat is, especially in the evenings, only a question of minutes, if not seconds. And let me tell you, there is nothing what so ever wrong with the lungs of this little munchkin.

So there have been times when finding a time to go to the loo has been a challenge. I’ve also eaten most of my meals while feeding: the feeding position allows me to use both of my hands. Of course it feels a bit risky to be eating with a baby in your lap, but what can you do?

In all this the thing that has kept me together is my husband who is taking very good care of us. The fact he’s at home too is really a luxury and I’m very aware of that. So in my brighter moments it feels silly to complain at all, the first weeks with a baby are suppose to be difficult, so woman up! But these thoughts wont help in the evening when the baby’s been eating for hours and doesn’t show any signs of sleeping, where as you are dead on your feet (or in my case, on your butt).

So it’s been an interesting four weeks with ups and downs. Luckily I’d say more ups than downs and the main character in all this drama is definitely thriving and has given us many laughs already. They say things should calm down after six weeks or so and we only have two more to go. In the end these four weeks have gone surprisingly fast. But it would be nice if things would get a bit more predictable. It would, for instance, be refreshing to see other people, which we have not really been doing. But that will start happening, sooner or later.

Feta-spinach-onion pasta

Here is one of our trusted fast food recipes. A veggie pasta dish that can be made in 20 minutes. A friend of mine had once something like this in a fast food pasta place, so I tried to do my own version. And the rest, as they say, is history 😉

Ingredients (2 servings)

  • 4–5 dl of pasta
  • 1 big or 2 small onions
  • olive oil
  • 150 gr of frozen spinach
  • 8-10 slices/pieces of sun dried tomatoes
  • 200 gr of feta cheese
  • black pepper, salt & basil

Start by putting the pasta water on the stove. While cooking the pasta, prepare the sauce.

Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add the sliced onions and stir for a little while.

red onions on a pan

And in the beginning there were onions.

Then add the defrosted spinach and stir a little while longer. Next add the tomatoes cut up in small pieces and season with pepper, little salt (remember, feta coming) and some basil.

spinach and tomatoes

Red and green.

Finally, add the feta and, immediately after that, the pasta. Let the ingredients warm up until the feta starts to soften up, and your done!

pasta added too

It ain't pretty, but tasty for sure.

Lentil-carrot sauce with noodles

This is once again one of our regular dishes and once again originally from the excellent Pirkka magazine. And yes, also fairly quick and easy to prepare and all veggie. Oh, pics courtesy of Walter Waffle aka @waltwaffle.

Ingredients (4 servings)

  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons of red curry paste
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 dl of red lentils
  • 3 dl of orange juice
  • 4 dl of water
  • black pepper
  • salt

Peal and chop up the onion and the garlic cloves. Peal and grate the carrots (rough blade).

Gratin da carrots

Heat up the oil and let the garlic fry in it a few secs before adding the onion. Stir for a minute or two, then add the red curry paste.

Stirring like mad

Stir a bit longer before adding the carrots. Then add the rinsed lentils and the OJ & water.

Coming through, people, coming through!

Let the sauce boil in low heat for about 15 mins / until the lentils are cooked. Season with pepper and salt. Serve with noodles of your choice.

The quality of the orange juice affects the sweetness of the sauce. Personally I prefer it to be on the sweet side. We often make a bigger portion than described here, as the sauce survives freezing well.

Oh yum.

Sports, sports and sports

Today I spent over three hours today watching the broadcast from the World Championships in Athletics taking place in Daegu, Korea. I haven’t done this for many years now but it made me feel instantly at home.

You see, I grew up watching sports on the TV. Any sports, really. Both my parents were and are eager “bench sportsmen”, like the expression goes in Finnish. Our favorites were the winter sports, like cross country skiing and ski jumping, but we also always watched the big athletics championships. And tennis. And figure skating. And the Olympics as such. At one point the only things that didn’t interest me were boxing and wrestling.

The golden statue of legendary cross country skier Helena Takalo, located in her hometown Pyhäjärvi.

The thing is that it wasn’t just our family. Finland is very keen on sports as a nation. I remember when I was still in the lower grades at school how we gathered during the winter Olympics in the school gym hall to watch cross country skiing from the TV, all of us together. Naturally, those were the days when the Finns did very well, both men and women.

Nowadays (aka for the past maybe 20 years) the biggest passions nationwide have been directed towards ice hockey. When we won the first of our two World Championships in 1995 the celebration truly brought the nation together. It probably was exactly what we needed after the depression in the beginning of the 90’s. Especially as we beat Sweden in the final. In Stockholm.

Historically, however, cross country skiing has been this country’s sporting backbone. One of the national legends are the Finnish soldiers on skis who were essential in bringing about the “miracle of the Winter War” against Soviet Union in 1939–1940.

Many generations of Finns have memories – mostly less glorious – from the skiing competitions at school. It used to be an essential citizenship requirement to know how to ski. And to ski means to ski across the fields and thorough the woods, using the power of your hands and legs, not some silly down-the-slope-you-go kind of showing off.

Against this background it might be understandable what sort of a blow it was when in 1998 it was revealed that the Finnish men’s skiing success of that time was brought about with the help of illegal substances. The whole nation was stunned. Silenced. Robbed of its innocence.

So, today I watched sports. It felt nice. Even though the last Finnish hope failed – in the men’s javelin, another of our traditional strongholds – and the commentators described Finland’s performance as a disaster. Yet it felt nice.