30 September 2013

Mid-2013: Reading and watching

i hardly experienced much new material during this middle 6 months of the year. i suppose that directly correlates to me not feeling totally settled or comfortable. its a good litmus. i go for light and airy or re-read/re-watch things ive enjoyed in the past instead.

night circus. 4/5. i wasnt sure what to expect of this one, but i was pleased. it was fantasy, mystery and romance. not too heavy in any one realm, and a new twist on romance that kept me interested in all facets of the story and the circus. not every thread of plot came together in the end but it was enough of a delight that i can say that i really enjoyed the read. im not usually one for large fantasy worlds or circus themes (i couldnt do "water for elephants") but this worked for me.

treasure island. 3.5/5. i can be entertained by the occasional pirate story, but ive never really sought them out. they can be filled with adventures, yes. but i prefer struggles and journeys on land much better (being shipwrecked is fine though). however, this tale was a decent one, definitely for the young adult crowd as its narrated by a young boy who plays a large part in this high seas adventure. of course the famous john silver character was nice to encounter, but the story felt, at times, like just kind of a play by play of events.

a discovery of witches. 3.5/5. i suppose i should give it a 4 out of 5, but somethings holding me back. this was like a dan brown meets twilight/buffy the vampire slayer lore story (well its part of a trilogy to be exact). the two leads were intelligent, attractive PhDs and the plot highlighted lots of history, science, and literature. so if any or all of that is appealing this is a good story in that sense. i just felt, like i do of most stories that span more than one book, that things got a bit contrived (i felt that even halfway through this one, and this is book 1).

friends. 5/5. i re-watched every episode of all 10 seasons of this show over a couple of months. despite it being my favorite show ever, i had never watched it marathon-style. and i hadnt really watched the show at all since i packed my DVDs away 5 years ago. so, it really was like going "home", wherever that may be...in my heart i suppose. an added bonus was that even dave re-watched many episodes with me. that show was so fun and the characters so memorable and real. i found myself feeling of course most like a monica, but this time through i also found chandler and ross in me too. and that made me smile. the early seasons were so great, and then the characters grew, and while often i wasnt as in love with the later seasons, i certainly appreciated the details and the depth the actors got to take their characters to. dave and i discovered that while the character of ross often annoyed us as a person, david schwimmer, the actor who played him, was a physical comedian genius. ah what a great show. i could go on and on. thanks for the good times friends (and friends who watched friends with me :)).

- dexter. 3.5/5 (seasons 6-8). i caught up watching the final seasons of dexter recently because the show was ending with the 8th season. as with perhaps 90% of the shows fans, i must say that the best of the show was in the first 4 seasons. however, i still found it interesting enough to work through the rest of the story lines to get to the end. undoubtedly i was disappointed with the series end but i wasnt actually thinking it would end with a hollywood happy ending. its a drama about a serial killer, why would it end with smiles and rainbows for everyone? i think they made some of the right choices, but also seemed to have lost some of their cleverness in those final seasons. regardless, i am still a fan of the show and was happy to watch it for the past 8 years.

- drive. 4.5/5. ryan gosling. that should be review enough, but i will also add a phenomenal supporting cast, gorgeous camera work, and an intoxicating musical score. my gut was tight the whole last hour of the movie. the script must have been only about 20 pages long but the scenes were all gripping. ryan was able to play gentle, caring, and loving in the same space as ruthless, cunning, brave, and violent. there was one scene of the back of his head while he was carrying a sleeping child (swoon), and there were scenes with him violently killing someone. it all worked, and im absolutely convinced that there is nothing and no one the man cant play. im a forever fan.

22 September 2013

Autumnal equinox

the official beginning of fall. we tried our hand at starting a new tradition, spent some time together, and enjoyed the weather.

unsurprisingly, the seasons feel very distinct here. and while fall comes a bit earlier and is shorter than some other places weve lived, i thought it would still be nice to mark each of the seasons now, instead of just the winter solstice. since the summer solstice is also a big deal here, i figure it will be easy to keep it up and see how traditions evolve over time. this year was a nice beginning.

here are the things we did to mark the day (some of them we would normally do on the weekend anyway, but they were nice all the same):

- i made a trail of leaf "footprints" from Xs room to our room for her to follow in the morning.

- i created a treasure hunt with (8) leaf card clues and a small "treasure" at the end. each clue led you to the next clue, until you reached the end. the clues started at the bookshelf, got her into her jacket and out to the playground, and ended behind a boulder. her "treasure" was waiting back inside, only a modest booty of a small box of crafts and 3 books (little whistle, buford the little bighorn, and jip and janneke).

i was pleasantly surprised that she was interested in the leaves that i had glued on her clue cards too, she found similarities and differences in them, and later she was happy to note that they were leaves we had on our own playground, so we then learned their names.

- we had a pancake breakfast.

- we did a nature walk in the kumpula neighborhood with dave (and discovered snails, a ladybug, and lots of mushrooms). our walk ended at a wonderful playground (intia).

- we had lunch together at a nearby cafe (kahvila kapusiini) with dave before he had to go up to work (weekends have been busy for him as he prepares his course).

- X talked me into going to the nearby thrift store. we came away with a new bag of plastic bug friends and a whale shark toy. theyve been her new best friends ever since.

- X and i enjoyed a nice stroll through the nature of arabia/vanhakaupunki before going home.

20 September 2013

30 days to gluten freedom

so, im gluten intolerant. what i once would have described as a tragedy, now seems just a mere annoyance.

where to begin? ...for the past several years ive had a niggling feeling that gluten might be an issue for me, but giving up bread and whatever else seemed laughably impossible, better to just deal with the (health/life) consequences. well, i was wrong, but thankfully i dont feel bound up in feelings of "if only...". now was the right time in my life to take this on and as it turns out it was indeed the root of many mild-moderate level problems over the years, possibly for my whole life.

after getting home from our summer travels, i was able to finally get ahold of a blood test i had requested before we left. i had been inexplicably fatigued to a strangely paralyzing degree for too long and i wondered if i was anemic since ive usually hovered around the low end of "normal" most of my life. well, no, my iron levels were fine. there really wasnt any other explanation i could think of but to finally turn to that long standing idea of gluten sensitivity.

well, why not finally try it? weve spent the last few years getting used to managing Xs sensitivities, lets attempt this one now that hers are under control. i had lots of suspect symptoms that, combined, made it seem like an obvious guess: chronic fatigue (and/or insomnia), intestinal/digestive issues, a particular type of chronic skin rash (charmingly described as "chicken skin"), brain fog, headaches, unexplained tingling/numbness in extremities, and being prone to depression and anxiety. none of these separately are dire of course, but the way theyve managed to worm their way into my life and take turns playing a central role in making me feel uncomfortable hasnt been very pleasant. plus, its nice when several nebulous and fairly mysterious annoyances can all, basically, go away from just one action; id say thats a large win.

ultimately, i was tired of feeling these things so regularly, and with winter approaching, i didnt want any reasons to be feeling bleak, if i could help it. plus, ive got a bit of a family history regarding intestinal issues so the motivation was here from all sides. here we go.

changes in the past 30 days:

- i first focused on just a few major gluten changes (to make the transition easier). i needed to find replacements for pasta, cookies/dessert, crackers, and bread. the gluten-free (GF) pasta is great, i cant tell a difference. the cookies are hit or miss, but once i found the brands that make decent cookies, that area has been satisfactory. ive found one decent cracker replacement too, but, alas, the bread...the "fresh" stuff is basically all shit. frozen GF bread has been miles better but still not something to fall in love with. ive also dabbled in making my own baked goods, the typical GF flours mixes i found here are a blend of the cheaper foodstuffs: corn, rice, and potato. ive not been impressed. but the GF oat flour (often oats are processed on gluten equipment, so its a grain you need to get specifically labeled "gluten free") and buckwheat flour have been much tastier choices. now its just fiddling around with recipes to get them to taste to their full potential.

- after only a few days i noticed a couple major changes: no gas pressure/pain or mega bloating (this is pretty major for me). in the past month ive certainly overeaten (whoops), so ive felt full, but nothing like i used to, with the painful pressure. and while some days i still feel a bit tired due to boredom, i dont experience my usual 2 hour huge dip in energy. i mean a dip in energy so large it was hard to keep my eyes open or my mood up. having that feeling vanish was very strange. it almost made me feel like i must have been faking it before. but i wasnt. it was very real, the feeling of being wrapped in a blanket and pushed to sleep. but that has vanished.

- after a week i noticed more: no more panicky hunger. this is a little hard to explain, and certainly impossible to make anyone else understand how real and urgent the feelings were when i was having them, because they seem so silly when you are sane. but, previously, even as i was eating a meal or snack i would sometimes already be worried about the next time i would get hungry: where is my next food going to come from?, will it be enough to satisfy my hunger?, what if it isnt?, it was quite a cycle and it made it hard to live in the present. but now thats gone. its been weird waiting around for those anxious feelings, but not having them come. this is what normal people feel like!? who knew?

also, previously, strenuous activity (including just walking up a hill) would make my energy level dip way low. it was honestly like walking through deep water at times, id just try to kick my legs forward to make them keep moving. but now im actually happy to chase X around outside when she asks me to, instead of saying no. i feel unchained. free.

lastly, my mind feels clear now. i didnt realize it was struggling, but now i see it. there would be feelings, reactions (mostly snappy, impatient reactions) that never felt like me. immediately i would sort of stand outside of myself and cringe "why did you just do/say that? thats not you". im not trying to sound crazy or like i dont take responsibility for my actions, but there would be an element or a split second where it sometimes felt i wasnt in charge/control, something else was. i'll go further to say that, while im not suggesting i was autistic-like, i think i now do have a tiny understanding of the changes that ive heard about in regards to seemingly autistic people "getting better" after dietary changes. i get how that could be possible, especially for children.

- at the end of these 30 days, ive even noticed that my arm and leg rash ("chicken skin") is slowly fading. ive had this skin issue, continuously, since at least high school (carbo-load for swimming much?) so im assuming it will take many months for my system to sort that one out.

reflections on this dietary change:

the GF experiment is done. im sticking with it. i feel so much better, physically, mentally, emotionally, and even though i do still look at the bread dave and X eat and mildly wish i could have some, the urge is not there, because i know it wont taste good enough to justify how crappy i will feel for the next 24 hours. which is not to say i will never eat gluten again, im not just sure when i will find the right reasons to test my mind/body like that. plus, im still working on fine tuning not eating gluten in my regular life.

it can be tricky because gluten can be hiding on shredded cheese (a bit of flour keeps it from sticking together in the bag), in soup bouillon cubes, in processed meats, in baking powder, in medicines, and other things im learning about. these effects are more minor obviously because its not like ingesting a loaf of bread. but, the key is listening to my body, realizing that its more tired than it should be, thinking back to what i ate, and finding a replacement product. i think ive got most of the bugs worked out, and its been worth it, especially compared to how i used to be.

anyone who knew me when i was younger and spent any time with me would know that i was not pleasant when i was hungry. i always thought it was a blood sugar thing, and maybe in part it was/is that, but it certainly was also a gluten thing, i see now. i clearly recall trips with friends where i was manic about finding the next place to eat, talking about it, thinking about it, needing to know when the next meal or snack was going to be. it was pretty consuming. i would try to keep my mouth shut, but often i would get frustrated, not understanding how others werent as crazed and hungry as me. i cant believe i didnt drive dave crazy.

in college, i basically stopped exercising (being on sports teams was my exercise as a child) and mysterious IBS-like symptoms really flared up. that was a terrible time of knowing where all the bathrooms on campus were and freaking out about that like i did about hunger. then in grad school panic attacks got added to the pile. i eventually kicked the panic attacks just before we left for france. the IBS-like stuff calmed down significantly a bit after that, and then i was just left with the hunger panic i always had. then i got pregnant and the hunger panic mixed with the hormones and nausea of the first 4 months was enough to drive me over a cliff. i see now that it didnt have to be that terrible. my body was being seriously abused from all sides. the excessive feelings of exhaustion and brain fog and anxiety and when i was depressed feeling, sometimes it was a heavy depressed. the hormones, the new life transition, the tiny insistent person with a whole slew of her own challenges (dietary issues, strong-willed, highly sensitive) and several moves without much support locally. wow, i guess i should wonder how i didnt end up on the news.

but once we finally got to finland and life started to really settle down, i was still left with this terrible fatigue. it didnt seem normal. so i tried this out. and i swear, the first week without gluten i must have had a shit-eating grin constantly plastered on my face. i felt high. i could not believe that i had the same brain, same body but felt alive in a totally different way. of course that is not a sustainable feeling (gosh, wouldnt that be great though if it were?) so it has faded, and settled into just a more even-kiltered me (i like to think).

in general, instead of feeling my usual frustration of "why didnt i know about this sooner!?" im feeling upbeat and focusing on the positives. i can make things better, experience things more positively, more easily feel like me instead of a confusingly, inexplicably crabby version of myself. i was lucky to have anyone willing to be around me, hell ive often been pissed at myself for my tone, attitude and scowls. now, im not saying theyre all gone. lets be reasonable, im still me after all :), just a less lost and weighed down in an irritable, panicky, exhausted fog. i like myself much more these days, and maybe you would to.

...and what does dave think about all this?: as a member of the less observant sex, he told me he has certainly noticed that i have more energy, and that my enjoyment of things has been boosted due to the added energy. my mood seems to also have become more balanced. lol. gotta love him. maybe he has always had the ability to scrounge around for my more positive traits and to focus on those while the rest of me was a wild mess. what more can someone ask for in a partner? :)

10 September 2013

Fin[n]ding love

its been 9-ish months since we arrived, roughly the same amount of time as we lived in france...

and im already as in love with this place as i was with france, but in a different way of course. with france everything was so new and scary and exciting and it was europe! oo la la. i loved the food, the culture, the everyday life patterns that were so different and yet so inviting. the language, the people, and the scenery all soaked in and left me a different person. when we left, i promptly forgot any of the struggles and pain of france and continued on with an all-enveloping afterglow which forever lifts my happy memories of the country up on an unrealistic pedestal. but when i think about it in times of honesty, it would have been tricky to have made a permanent life there. women in the workplace seemed like they had a bit of a hard time, as well as foreigners. and, to work in my field would have required a long time of getting my language skills up to speed and figuring out how to move through the system and convince someone to hire me.

and as for nova scotia, the place just never felt like home. unlike france, the province itself never felt like it offered me a chance to discover a new, enriched version of myself. and maybe its not fair to say that we didnt discover new things about ourselves (hello, parenthood!) or maybe the timing of major life events happening in nova scotia ruined some of the ability for us to make the place our own, but im not sure. i didnt feel like i found support or a way to fit in and be a part of the community we lived in. i felt like i was alone and the city, the province, the way of life was just not soaking in, enticing me, or leaving me feeling changed. the people were all as kind as can be and some of the places we went to were just amazing. i have some good memories but nothing that calls to me, begs me to come back and re-entrench myself. i certainly want to visit and explore places we didnt get to or spend more time in places we enjoyed and left too soon, but its not anchored to my being.

and while its too soon to say that weve anchored our bodies and lives in this fin[e]-land, for me, its safe to say that if we left right now it would always tug at my heart strings and i would find myself daydreaming about it. i love the city, such a great balance of modernity and metropolitan liveliness with opportunities for quiet solitude and immersion in natural beauty. im loving the people with their quiet way of being respectful toward everyone and devoted to children and working hard and not being loud and in your face and judgemental. im appreciating the lessons that nature teaches you here: every day things are changing, moving forward, but theres a cycle and a rhythm and nothing is really gone. if you are willing to be patient, a day like this will come again. it also encourages you to find the balance of reminiscing about days gone by and hoping for happy times to come with learning to stop and appreciate what is now. these are all things that have started to soak in here and have changed me again. and of course there is also a bit of idealism, purposely forgetting some of the less desirable aspects of life here, but dwelling on them certainly doesnt do any good. there is no perfect place on earth. everyone weighs positives and negatives and makes decisions about what the best choice is, under the circumstances. for now, im excited to see where life here takes use, im glad we arent needing to leave, like we were in france, and im glad we arent itching to leave and get on with a future vision of our life, like we were in halifax. for now this feels right, and im so glad about that.

01 September 2013

Fun finn facts #5: food 2.0

here are some new food facts weve discovered since the last food post i made and some new foods weve tried.

finnish food/drink:
-lapish flat bread (rieska). there are potato, barley, and rye varieties apparently. it kind of looks like greek pita bread, but less fluffy. it looks like it would be dry and bland, but its great. its soft, simple, a bit dense but you could eat a million of them.
-square hole-y bread (dont know what else to call it). dave and X love this stuff, cant get enough. its a tiny bit sweet, soft and yet firm enough to be used for many things: sandwiches, mini pizzas, appetizer dipper, etc.
-pommac pop. this is an unusual pop that they also make popsicles out of. its used as a non-alcoholic champagne too because its got a similar flavor and is aged in oak barrels for 3 months.
-cloudberry liquor. cloudberries are fairly rare in the world (they only grow above the arctic circle) and are very popular here. this liquor has a nice, sweet flavor.
-jaffa. a popular pop. i love the popsicles made from this stuff (the original orange flavor).

food notes:
-i still havent found any good orange juice like i could in the US. it seems a bit watered down here, and its certainly not sweetened (which is nice), but it also seems that people arent big on pulp here, so i havent found any good "full pulp" brands yet.

-finns take exactly the amount that they will eat for meals and then they proceed to eat every bite on their plate. its like my (depression era) grandpa, at every meal. i feel so ashamed of myself. as a recovering picky eater, i am never sure if im going to like that "game stew" or "herring bake" so i may take a few small piles of things or sift through the onions or peppers i dont like. by the end of the meal im grateful ive shared a tray with X because i can pretend its all her fault my plate isnt spotless.

-ive discovered there are basically no hard candies for sale here. tons of gummies, salty licorice, and chocolate though.

-i did actually find a ziploc bag semi-equivalent here. yay. no need to fill up my suitcase with boxes of baggies.

-celery is not a high demand item here apparently. there is only a small sad pile of it at the grocery store, and many times, if you shop on sunday, you cant even find it.