13 November 2019

My life as a human test subject, or The effect of social media on my so-called life


One of the most powerful books I’ve read in 2019 is Catherine Price’s non-fiction book How To Break Up With Your Phone. I read it twice this year, first in the summer and then in October for the second time. In the book, Price sheds light on what is known of the effects of social media on us, human beings, thus far.

If you’ve been following up on the subject — it’s been talked about in the media a lot in the past year or so — none of it will come as a surprise for you. But it’s worth noting that the book brilliantly explains how we’ve all been turned into test subjects in a study we don’t know we’re being studied in. Based on my reading of the book, I wanted to conduct a little study on my own, to find out what the effects of Instagram in particular were on my psyche and my life in its entirety.

***

As I’m writing this, it’s been approximately six weeks since I deleted all social media apps on my phone. While it was never my intention to completely give up my phone during the month we — my husband and I — set out to be more intentional with screens, I was decided on not being active on Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn or any other forms of social media I usually use daily, and in that I mainly succeeded for over a month.

For me, the biggest habit change was definitely Instagram, which I’ve been using almost daily since 2015. I had already deleted my bigger account six months earlier, but now I was faced with not being on my smaller, personal account either. At first, for a couple of days after deleting the app, I experienced something akin to the phantom pains that people who have lost a limb say they have; I kept checking my phone, scrolling to where the app usually was on my screen, ready to click it only to discover it wasn’t there. It always came as a surprise — not the fact that it wasn’t there but the realization that I had totally forgotten that.

We all know this: social media apps are designed to be addictive. Steve Jobs knew this, and that’s why he put limits on his kids’ use of technology his company had developed, as did Bill Gates. From previous experience, I knew it was going to happen: I had withdrawal symptoms. But just like when quitting smoking, it became a lot easier after a few days. In fact, I quite started enjoying the freedom of mind that not being under influence gave me.

***

 At first, the greatest benefit was my clearer head: I was more present, more fully there in my real life, as I wasn't constantly wondering, worrying, and thinking about my other life online. I had marvellous times with my daughter in the afternoons when she came home from school, because I wasn't hurrying our conversations in order to return more quickly to the conversations I was having with my invisible friends. But it soon turned out I was more present for myself even. Because I wasn't under influence, I started remembering things I used to love, things I used to do; it felt like I was becoming more like myself than I had been in years.

I'm not saying that I'm pretending to be someone completely different from my normal self on Instagram, though I would like to point out that it's entirely possible that many of the people we follow on there may actually purport to be what they're not. That nice lady who's always so polite to her followers and seems like the nicest person on earth could actually be a total douchebag in real life. But that's not what I'm talking about.

What I mean by saying 'more like myself' is this: When under influence, we all pretty much live in tiny bubbles full of Instagram people. People we find like-minded and generally get along with. Little by little, our words and thoughts affect the minds of these friends, as much as theirs affect ours. We probably do not even notice it, but as we're constantly being inspired, we're also constantly changing, just a little, to acclimate into our bubble better, to have more relevant ideas to share. Sharing is caring, right?

Not under the influence, I felt like I had my freedom of thought back.

***

Another benefit, a great one, was the feeling of connection I was beginning to feel with the world at large, but with also other people around me, as the days of being sober-minded passed by. For years, I've been telling myself I'm an introvert who doesn't like being around people; hence social media is a great way to make friends and connect with like-minded individuals from around the world without actually having to meet anyone face to face. I wonder how many of us tell ourselves that?

It turns out that might not be my case. I found myself thriving in feeling connected with lots of people, from family to relatives to friends to complete strangers, when I didn't have my invisible friends to talk to. I actually started actively seeking real life connection by taking the time to call people, visit people I haven't seen in a long time, going out with friends, and volunteering for local children and youth charities. Folks, this change in me happened in less than six weeks

Could it actually be that I had been so sucked in to the invisible world, and was so much under the influence of it, that I had started telling myself fairytales about myself in order to legitimize my ever-present headaches that originated in staring at the screen?

***

The thing is, even as my life started slowly shifting from so-called to real and actual, I found myself thinking of Instagram every now and then. There really are people I missed chatting to online, and I wanted to catch up with them. Given that many of them were overseas, it wasn't very easy. I also had this nagging voice in my head constantly wondering whether quitting my bigger account had, in fact, been a wasted opportunity. People have this conception that you could easily make some money off Instagram, and that this will just magically happen when your follower count starts rising. Lots of people around me seemed to think I should've been milking my audience instead of resorting to oblivion.

So as to not be, or let everybody else be, eternally wondering what if, after six weeks of sober freedom I activated both of my accounts in one go. I had pictures ready, I had the words, so it was all done within a matter of minutes. The flood of messages welcoming me back on the app made my heart warm and swell with joy, and I instantly started connecting with the people I had missed. It was so easy, so natural.

The next day was a Sunday, which in our family is a phone-free day. In the morning, I felt a little hangoverish from the previous day's social media binge, but I soon felt better as I secretly took my phone in the loo with me and checked Instagram to make sure it was still there, that I was still there. I was! but the amount of heart-clicks on my photos didn't really please me, so I kept checking in secretly throughout the day even though I knew I wasn't going to be very visible on the app anyway, having been away and all.

That evening, as the hangover kept easing up, the dread slowly set in. What the hell had I done? Having gained a clearer mind, a more social and fulfilling everyday life, and wonderful real connections, I had given it all back, in order to be under influence, in just a few clicks. No matter how noble my plan had been when deciding to activate my bigger account, it definitely didn't make up for the loss of focus resulting from being constantly occupied by something that isn't actually there. Whereas my small, personal, without-an-agenda account gave me no headache, returning to @ofsimplicity actually made me lose sleep.

I did post one more time. Just to make entirely sure. Oh yes, it was definitely anxiety that crushed my chest after hitting the post button. What if it was the post that would make me look like a total failure?

***

It'd take me months, I presume, to convince myself that an Instagram presence with the possibility having influence and making an impact is worth this. It has taken me exactly four days to convince myself that it is not. Never mind the possibly lost opportunities, there is no way I am willing to live with this constant dread of not being enough that Instagram gives me. 

As for my invisible friends online, I don't want to lose them, but I also want to be here for the real people in my real life, so this is a balance I will need to negotiate with myself as days go by. For now, I'll just focus on connection, not heart-shaped invisible likes.

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9 November 2019

things that came too early







Winter came early this year. Sometime at the turn of the month, which is befitting considering Samhain was traditionally a new year’s celebration of a kind, marking the end of a season, the end of an era in life. 

I’ve found myself driving, sitting in a train, walking and biking through the wintry landscape, Aah-ing and Ooh-ing all the way, but for the most part too on-the-go to stop and take pictures. For the past two or so weeks, I’ve been going to a neighboring town for career coaching every weekday. In the evenings and weekends, I’ve been meeting people, going to concerts, throwing and attending children’s parties, volunteering, going to the gym; all things that make me sound a bit like a battery-operated bunny, the kind that just keeps on jumping until its battery dies. But also all things that I enjoy, the being outgoing and busy and such.

In fact, last week it felt like a world of opportunities was born right there before me. At career coaching, I scored as an extrovert in Meyers-Briggs, much to my surprise. I suddenly became aware of all the amazing possibilities there were to further educate myself, to further my career, to forge my own path in this world while doing things I was passionate about. In the evenings I felt like someone a little different from my usual self; someone more social, more woke, more energetic.

Until Sunday morning came, and it all came crashing down as self-doubt set in. I woke up too early with all kinds of topical but trivial questions buzzing in my head like angry wasps, and I couldn’t find a way to fall back asleep again. I hate wasps. I especially hate the 5 a.m. wasps that make a hive in your head.

The same happened again in the very early hours of Monday morning, and by then I was convinced I was better off not making any changes, not taking any risks, and generally not going for anything that I didn’t already excel at. I was bound to fail anyway, because I was simply incompetent and unequipped for any of the potential career or lifestyle changes I had thought of making. Besides, not everybody liked me. In fact, most everybody probably hated me. I felt exhausted, sorry for myself, despised, and just plain idiotic.

On Wednesday, my period came two days early. Is that what it’s like when you approach middle age? Does your body suddenly start functioning unlike it has before, does it become more unreliable and irregular? Maybe. I haven’t googled that one yet. But, as I still felt as lousy as I had on the two or three previous days, I started wondering how many bad decisions, throughout centuries, have been made by my sisters, people of the womankind, because of PMS? That one I actually did google.

Almost all the pages I read through made me pull a face similar to the ok boomer face that you see Gen Z pulling, which is basically no face at all, just an indifferent gaze or a pitiful smile at the most, conveying the idea that the boomers in question obviously have no idea of what’s going on. I wonder how many of the health sites’ PMS pages have been written by male staff? I wonder how much research into this has been done by female scientists and female doctors after they finally became convinced it wasn't an imaginary condition and couldn't be treated with vibrators? I was too dizzy in the head to actually check on that. In any case, it did become apparent that people suffering from PMS or PMDD probably shouldn’t be making life-altering decisions because of depression, anxiety, and possible schizophrenic tendencies. I figured I better make an appointment, but it turned out the gynaecologist at my healthcare center is a man.

The last time I had an appointment with a male doctor, because of a weird sense of dizziness I had been feeling on and off for months, mainly at work, he told me it was probably because I was a sensitive person in a stressful job, i.e. a youngish female middle school teacher. Which I currently am not, anymore, but I am still dizzy. So thanks, but I’ll keep looking until I find someone who won’t presume I’m anything simply because I’m other.

Saturday came. I lounged about in a pair of bamboo leggings and a soft sweatshirt, feeling a tiny bit hungover from a dinner with a friend the night before that had stretched past midnight. It was a rare treat with a dinner + live music + a stand up show with an actual real life friend, but honestly, as much as I had been looking forward to it for weeks, I almost didn’t go. Because, well PMS, that nasty beast, made me dread it. On Saturday morning, despite the hangover, I was happy I did go, and thought about what I think is the greatest threat that social media poses: With all the connections online, it can be too easy to lose your need of connection offline. In real life, like. 

Saturday was quiet, and it gave me a lot of head space. I gave everything a lot of thought. I felt replenished by real life connection. I felt like I had been reminded enough of the importance of actually doing things. I hoped this had been carved on the very stone of my being: Real people, real doing, real work of life, above everything else. I hoped it had been carved deep enough, by now, that I might remember it in the face of the changes I was about to make.

I’d been telling myself I need to move this here little online journal to a different domain & make it more fancy before returning to my Instagram proper, because I had gotten it into my head somehow that I really really had to. I feel the day of return might be coming too early, in this respect, given that I don’t feel particularly inspired to do anything too technical right now, but I do feel inspired to return to Instagram. It’s these mental blocks we set on our own paths, man, they do keep us blocked in a pattern of the same old, same old, and hinder us from doing the work we want and need to be doing. I think I might be done with them. Them, and the word 'but'.

Consider this here my winter manifesto. Never too early for one, I reckon.

2 November 2019

stuff i loved ... in october






It's been a busy week for us, this week. October turned into November without me even so much as realizing it. It was my first week of career coaching, and we had a children's Halloween party on Wednesday, and I went to a wonderfully entertaining choir concert with a friend last night. Socially, I feel like I'm stretching myself to my limits this week, but it's sometimes good to stretch yourself, isn't it? Today we're planning to visit my grandparents and then go to a Halloween party at our friends' later in the evening. I'm taking this short while writing this as a necessary breather and a moment of pausing. Because October really had some great insights to offer. Here's some stuff I loved:

READING NON-FICTION
Early on this month, my friend Amanda sent me a copy of the latest issue of Taproot Magazine. (Note to self: send a thank you note.) I loved so many of the articles in it, in fact I absolutely fell in love with the magazine, and especially Amanda's piece on how to build your own cider press. I definitely recommend the issue for anyone into slow, seasonal living & DIY.

I've also been inspired by how the Japanese embrace the seasons, the fleeting little moments of life, and the constant change in and around us, while reading two non-fiction books on Japanese culture: Every Day A Good Day by Noriko Morishita, and Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton, both beautiful reminders to take moments of calm to appreciate everything life has to offer. 

DIGITAL DETOX
Removing all social media and podcast apps on my phone early on this month made my screen time drop by 62 per cent in the first week. Needless to say, I got a lot of things done that I always dream of doing but never find the time for. The greatest benefit, though, has been being more present in real life for my family and friends.

BEING MORE SOCIAL AND OUTGOING
Usually this time of the year I'm getting ready to shut myself into a quiet hygge bubble for the winter. I think it's the combination of not being on social media or working full-time that has made me more outgoing this October. From a weekend hiking with my nearest and dearest, to going out for coffee or to the gym with friends, visiting relatives, and even having the energy to take my daughter to seven different thrift shops during October, I've definitely hung out with my real life tribe much more than usual. It's sometimes a bit of stretch for me, as I said above, but a good one.

OCTOBER WEATHER
This is something I pause to appreciate and embrace every year. Where I live, October weather is something you can't count on to be constant; rather, it's ever changing. From the first sunny and frosty mornings to a stint of early-summer-like temperatures (we planted rhubarb bushed we got from friends!) to the snowy week we're having now, October weather has been full of wonderful surprises, and I've just loved it.

***

It's snowing this morning, and I'm about to go down to the basement to gather our basement-of-horrors decorations into a bag I'm taking to my friend, so she can decorate her house for the next children's party of all things scary and icky. The following week will be as full as this one's been, with concerts, gym dates, career coaching, children's parties my daughter is going to, as well as the usual everyday stuff of needing to come up with a nutritious meal for the family each night, and do the laundry so we each have clean clothes to wear, and having to decide what to do with my life in general.

It's a busy season in my life right now, but I'm embracing it, and I'm grateful for it, because I know the quiet lulls I sometimes feel like I'm in need of will be there waiting when the season changes. I hope November is kind and gentle to you, and you head into the holiday season with a thankful heart. 

29 October 2019

lessons i’m unlearning at career coaching

When I was on my first summer holiday from Uni, I went to a summer cottage with my family and relatives. It was an annual affair, my father’s siblings gathering together with their families at this huge cottage by the lake every summer for games on the lawn, walks in the countryside, some fishing on the lake, evening barbecues, swims in the lake after a sauna at night.

I can’t remember why I decided to go, but all cousins my age had opted out that summer, feeling all too adult for a week at the cottage with their folks. So I spent most of my time reading books I had brought along, sometimes taking the time to entertain my younger siblings and cousins.

It was after my first year of studying English language and literature at a top Finnish university. The studies had consisted mainly of basic linguistics, literary theory, academic writing and translation studies, and as I was reading The Lord of The Rings in English for the first time, my mind was all over; my recent studies definitely affected the way I read, and some of the time I found myself unable to just enjoy the book. I made the mistake of telling this to everyone that happened to be in the living room one afternoon. There I sat, reading, and then suddenly, frustrated, put the book down and exclaimed it was difficult because my mind was constantly working out how I’d translate certain sentences into Finnish and what a translator might do with the all the names in the book.

My godfather smirked. Then, laughing, he said “She’s been to university for one year, and now she can’t read normally anymore.” While I didn’t quite understand what I’d said wrong, it was apparent from his tone of voice that he found me laughable, ridiculous and highly irritating. It wasn’t the first time his tone of voice had indicated something similar, and in fact it wasn’t the first time and adult male’s voice had implied I was a silly little show-off, but this time did turn out to be different. It was different because it was the last time I cared.

***

During my first three years of school, my teacher was an aging lady with heaps of experience. She was strict and sometimes even a little scary, but she was also fair and encouraging. She never belittled anyone in front of the class or made anyone a laughing stock. She taught us to be creative, and it was in her class that I became a reader and a writer, in love with stories of all kinds. During recess, us girls would make up plays and practice them, and during Finnish lessons we would be allowed to perform them to the whole class. She never said anything at all discouraging about our childish plots and poor acting.

After third grade the lady retired. Our new teacher was a young man straight out of teacher training, and it soon became apparent his philosophy was that boys will be boys but girls will behave, or else. Me and my friends were sometimes left behind to be told off and once were given detention for retaliating against boys who had been teasing us at recess. It was improper behavior for girls.

In Finnish class he would sometimes read aloud the stories we had written. My stories were picked a few times, which at first made the aspiring Emily of New Moon in me happy. But every time he read my stories he had this sarcastic smile on his face, and as he purposefully read the names of my characters in a pretentious, sneering manner, I felt ridiculed, was blushing, and gathered my stories were silly and that I wasn’t a good enough writer. In hindsight, the fact that he often picked my stories should’ve told me they were good. But his tone of voice and his manner of reading suggested otherwise.

In fifth grade we started studying history, which instantly became my favorite subject. In the course of the following few years, I read so much young adult historical fiction, adult novels, and also history books, and was absolutely certain of one day wanting to be a paleontologist. As a twelve-year-old, I was stupid enough to mention this in a conversation at my orchestra practice. The (adult male) instructor instantly laughed, painting out that ”there’s no actual work to be done in that business,” implying that while it might be interesting, it wasn’t an actual job or a profession one might aspire to. As I didn’t really know any better, I believed the grown-up I looked up to and respected.

In middle school, our guidance counselor once asked us to make posters of our dream jobs; we were to write a job description, find out how we’d need to educate ourselves to reach that dream, and what kind of work we might expect to do if we did make our dream job come true. It was all very scientific; we weren’t expected to describe why we dreamed of such a thing, just figure out the how of it.

I can’t remember why it was, but what I really really wanted to work in was acting. I can’t remember ever dreaming of fame, just the idea of turning a text into something three dimensional and more real fascinated me. As I wrote ’actor’ in Finnish as the headline of my poster, I was corrected. It needed to be ’actress’ because I was a girl, and this was early nineties Finland. So I changed it, and made a beautiful artistic poster that perfectly met the brief. The only comment I got then, or ever, from our teacher was that acting was a really tough line of work to get into, so I was not to put all my eggs in that basket, especially with my grades. Oh, and also that he played volleyball with my dad every week, so we were practically friends. 

No guidance, no counselling. He retired the next year and was replaced by the kindest and warmest of young women counselors, but by that time I had already learned that a) all my aspirations were pretty silly and impractical, and that therefore b) I was better off not telling adults what I dreamed of. In fact, I stopped dreaming of much of anything after 8th grade, and just rolled on with it, the educating I mean, keeping my grades up. 

***

I still am not sure why my godfather said what he said. It made me feel humiliated, and I mulled over it for a few days, sulking, until I told myself it was because he was an unkind man. Maybe he was envious of my easy-going education, having not finished his Master’s degree himself decades ago because of personal issues with a professor. Maybe he was resentful of a university education altogether. Maybe it annoyed him that his own kids were still searching for their place in this world while I was seemingly set and so sure of myself. I don’t know what it was, but having thought it over, I allowed it to change me. I was done listening to grown up men belittle me, ridicule me, and generally resent me for being an outspoken young woman. I was done hiding myself and my opinions.

At Uni, after that, I became the person who talked back to her English and American professors who were constantly complaining about the lack of conversation in a Finnish classroom. I told the Creative Writing professor off when he yet again complained we never defended our texts in class vocally enough. He pretend-hid under his jacket and behind his table, and then tried to ’calm me down’, like I was a Shakespearean woman scorned, who hath unleashed all her fury upon him.

Another professor once told me, after a class in which I had once again been one of the few people to contribute, and had perhaps questioned his view of the orcs in Lord of The Rings as an embodiment of pure evil, that when I was in his class, he always felt that I probably knew more than him. Neither I nor my mom supposed it was meant to be a compliment exactly, but I decided to take it as one nevertheless. It was an acknowledgement of my bravery, and my ability to express unconventional ideas.

But I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, my education, or my bravery. I had stopped dreaming, because none of my dreams ever had been considered practical, or realizable, or worthy, and I had internalized that mindset. In an aptitude test, I wrote that my two greatest career goals were a ski bum in the winter and a taxi driver in the summer, wink wink. Eventually, I became a teacher by accident.

***

My daughter is now ten. Her life goal is to become an anime artist, which to any practical adult sounds like a pretty far-fetched goal, and one fairly unlikely to actually come through. But I will never ever tell her that. Instead, I buy as much anime and manga for her as I can. I take her to art classes twice a week in the evenings (the other group was full when we signed up, but I got her into it anyway by contacting the teacher). I buy expensive, quality art supplies for her. I watch drawing videos with her on YouTube. I critique her work, when asked, in a serious but encouraging manner. 

I know she’s only ten. I know full well that next year, she might want to be something completely different; an astronaut, a vet, a midwife, an experimental physicist. But until then, I will never ever tell her I think her current career of choice isn’t a very practical thing to go for. 

As for me, I'm still unlearning. It has slowly dawned on me that my conceptions of my limitations and lack of competence might be more imagined and imposed than actual and real. I'm trying to unlimit myself, think of all there is out there one could pursue if opportunities were equal. And when I'm done unlearning, I'll go and seize them, as if they were.

27 October 2019

syyslomaviikko // autumn holiday






(In English below.)

Mentiin lapsen kanssa bussilla mummolaan, katseltiin sumumaisemia ja aamuvaloa. Perillä kierrettiin kaikki kirppikset, löysin mitä etsinkin: kaksi jakkua, neljä euroa. On käyty muillakin kirppiksillä, kahdessa muussakin kaupungissa, silloin satoi ja oli ankeampi lokakuu. Löydetty kasa kirjoja, tauluja seinille, kaikkea mitä en muista. Kyläilty mun tädillä, viimeksi varmaan kaksi vuotta sitten, jotenkin jaksan olla sosiaalisempi kun en ole sitä somessa.

Lomanloppuviikonloppuna suunniteltu kurpitsajuhlat ensi viikolle, ostettu ostokset, kaiverrettu viiden kilon kurpitsa ja syöty keitto, käyty salilla ja syöty creme brulee -suklaata, katsottu öisin hieno La Fôret kun lapsi nukkuu, kaikkea melko sopivassa epätasapainossa siis.

Olen paljon paremmin omassa itsessäni ilman puhelinta ja somesovelluksia. Joskus mietin, että millainenhan olisin nyt, jos en koskaan olisi alkanut edes bloggaamaan, silloin vuonna 2005.

***

We went to granny's by bus on Monday, watched the foggy morning unfold outside the bus windows, saw the light become brighter. Once there we did a round of all the flea markets and found what we were looking for; two blazers for me, four euros. We've been to other flea markets in other towns as well this week, those days were muddier and rainier and more Octoberish. Bought a stack of books, small paintings, can't remember everything. Visited my aunt too, for the first time in two years; I find myself having more of a social being within me than before, without social media.

Ending the holidays with a weekend of party planning, grocery shopping, carving a 5 kilo pumpkin and making soup, going to the gym and eating creme brulée flavored chocolate, long hot baths, and watching La Fôret at night when the girl's asleep. All sorts of things in a perfect imbalance, that's us.

I feel like I inhabit myself more fully without a phone and social media. Sometimes I wonder what I would be like now if I hadn't started blogging all those years ago, back in 2005.  

***
Sweet Pumpkin Soup:

around 2 kg pumpkin
pinch of salt
150g soft cheese
300ml cream
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt to taste

Place chopped pumpkin in a kettle and cover with water. Throw in a pinch of salt and bring to boil. Cook until pumpkin is soft enough to be puréed, then pour water out and purée pumpkin.

Throw in the cheese and mix with a spoon until it melts. Pour in cream and add spices. Once you're ready to serve, put the kettle back on the stove for a little while and heat the soup up.

24 October 2019

a trip up north







A couple of weeks ago we went on an adults' trekking weekend up north with my sister and her partner. We rented a cabin in Kuusamo, around a four-hour drive from ours if you make stops, and set on the road on a Friday afternoon. It was my sister Piritta’s birthday, so in the evening her partner cooked us a delicious meal at the cabin after which the celebrations aptly continued with popping open a bottle of champagne that had travelled there in my backpack.

After an early night we woke up to a sunny Saturday and proceeded to hike the Little Bear Trail in Oulanka National Park. The weather was magnificient, the views were stunning, and after about three kilometres in (one-fourth of the trail) an old foot injury of mine started bugging the hell out of me. (It still hasn’t healed, and I’ve got a doctor’s appointment booked.) Nevertheless we proceeded as planned and enjoyed the fresh crisp air, the amazing hike along the river Kitka, and the warmth of a cup of coffee (or few) in the outdoors.

We spent Saturday evening lounging about at the cabin, popping in and out of the sauna for hours, and taking turn playing our favorite songs with the theme of 'hidden pleasures', from the songs and artists of teenage angst years to stuff we might listen to now if on our own. The evening stretched on, wine and beer were involved, and any thought of possible outdoorsy adventures the next morning were let go off.



On our drive back on Sunday, we did two fells in one go, taking a gondola to the top of the ethereally foggy Ruka fell in Kuusamo (above), then driving by car to the top of the southernmost fell in Finland, Iso-Syöte (below). My appetite for adventures in Lapland was momentarily diminished, even though we didn't venture to up to Lapland at all, but not completely satisfied. If anything, my hunger for sceneries with fells and mountains grew while eating; more weekends like this, pretty please.  


mock ramen soup with cheat's kimchi

Well this post has been boiling up in my drafts for weeks.

I wanted to write a simple post about this very simple vegetarian everyday soup served with a super fast cheat's kimchi, the recipes of which I came up with when my daughter was (again) asking for something Japanese-inspired, and when (again) I found, upon looking in the fridge, that the miso paste I had counted on having for my soup was in fact months beyond its best before date which to me was too much beyond for a fermented product.

Thus was born one of our new favorite autumn soup recipes, essentially a play on the traditional dish of ramen noodles with vegetables & broth, but without the miso broth or the soba noodles (unavailable in our small town) which would make it a little more authentic. Hence the name, mock ramen soup, a devout fan’s reference to the classic Gilmore Girls episode in which Richard, grieving the loss of his mother, refuses to eat anything but the mock turtle soup of his childhood memories.

Some have suggested that mock turtle soup might just be the original American chicken soup for its soul-healing qualities, andI think this mock ramen soup might very well be the vegetarian version for just that.

* * *

However, as I started writing this post on a vegetarian dish that could easily be made vegan depending on the choice of stock one decides to use, and also a dish that really might be considered a horrible form of cultural appropriation (ramen noodles and kimchi do not even originate in the same country!), I found  myself thinking, increasingly, about how very dogmatic we have become when it comes to the food we eat.

You have the strict vegans who promote a plant-based diet for ethical and health reasons that I completely get. However, I worry about their protein intake sometimes, looking at their instagrammed plates practically devoid of any source of plant-based protein that even vaguely mimics the animal proteins our system craves to function properly. Do they eat enough nooch (nutritional yeast) to cover their B12 needs? Do they eat soy-based products to take in some proteins that most resemble those you would find in animal products? Do they take supplements for calcium, or drink nut milk with added calcium in it? Because our bodies actually do need all these vitamins and nutrients to sustain themselves.

Then there are the devout carnivores who will defend their right to eat meat until there are no more pigs to slaughter. They'll tell you humans have always been omnivores and that we need meat for our bodies to function. Therefore, they'll tell you, it is ok for them to eat their 500 grams of factory-produced steak every day, should they feel like it. We need meat, they'll say, we need our proteins! Except, what they fail to tell you, and I suspect they fail because they don't know it, humans don't actually need to be consuming as much animal products as we Westeners do these day for our protein intake to be sufficient. In fact, we are currently eating loads more protein than our bodies need biologically. How's that for a possible reason for our weight-gaining epidemic?

No reason at all, would be the answer from anyone on a keto or paleo diet. While ketosis is sure to have you losing weight, that weight loss won't be sustainable unless you keep eating the way you eat while on your keto diet. I worry sometimes whether our keto friends, having lost huge amounts of weight and feeling great, have a ticking time bomb in their blood veins. Saturated fat will do that to you, increase your risk of heart disease, cholesterol problems, and even cancer. I'm not making this up, there's science to back it up. Just Google it if you don't believe me.

The dogmatic eater group I love the most, I think, is the non-dogmatic group. What is this silly sugar-free nonsense anyway, they'll ask you. You'll find them wondering why on earth would anyone make their cinnamon rolls gluten free and lose heaps of the structure and taste that a regular wheat roll would have. They'll encourage you to listen to your body, and eat what's healthy for you and your environment, and to set no stupid boundaries around what you will and will not eat.

Then they'll sneer at your non-dairy, sugar-free waffle batter, which feels a tad (or a bit more) unfriendly and dogmatic, but I love them anyway, because they are wise; I do believe we should be eating whatever feels good for our bodies and anything that our ethical reasoning can vouch for.

***

In the light of all that, I figured a little primer on why we eat what we eat in my family would be a fun thing to share before actually sharing any recipes. So as to not sound so very dogmatic, because honestly, I am not. And also, I am not here to condemn anyone, though my heavily applied sarcasm in the previous paragraphs might suggest I am all for damnation when it comes to other people's food choices. We all eat what we eat, and who am I to say what's right and wrong. (Though I do have some very nutritional science facts-based opinions of my own on that matter.)

So here's a partial synopsis of our food philosophy in this family:


  1. We eat gluten free because my husband has celiac which means he might develop intestine cancer should any gluten pass his lips. And in case he doesn't, you'll find him in the loo floor for the next 24 hrs anyway, because gluten upsets his stomach terribly. 
  2. We do not drink or use milk because not doing so seems to have cured my daughter of asthma, eczema, and other related ailments. We do dairy, but you'll never find actual cow's milk in our fridge.
  3. We eat a lot of (seasonal) vegetables because they've got all these amazing vitamins in them.
  4. We eat lots of seeds like sunflower and flax, but not so many nuts as they don't really grow in Finland. Mind you, importing them from across the Atlantic has been proven to be better for the environment than eating factory-produced meat. Same goes for fruit, and we eat a lot of imported fruit in this family simply because not a lot of fruit grows this far north.
  5. We don't eat a lot of meat mainly for climate reasons. (Here's a link to the most credible study I've seen on this, and believe me I've read a lot of scientific studies on this during my Nutritional Studies stint at Uni last year. If you're European and would like to find out more about the impact of specific food groups, the BBC have a great calculator.) When we do eat meat, we try to eat local and organic. Mostly chicken and lamb. We're also extremely happy to eat game any time it's available, like rabbit or elk or birds, because we think that's the most humane choice of meat available.
And that's about it. That's why we eat what we eat. Onwards!

***

Anyway, this was supposed to be a post about soup.

Which in this household we find ourselves craving for when it gets cold outdoors, because that's when it gets colder indoors as well as we're trying to reduce our consumption of energy, even if it is from a sustainable source. As the north-east wind shakes your windows in its attempts to get in, a bowl of steaming hot soup in front of you is the definition of cozy comfort. 

And because all things cozy appeal to me, I've posted recipes for veggie soups before, like Our Winter Soup and a carrot soup that ended up being known as Sun Soup in our family because of its color. The soups I've posted have mostly been of the puréed kind, as that was how we convinced our daughter to eat just about anything when she was little. Not digging the eggplants in ratatouille? Purée it, throw in some pasta, and call it a spaghetti soup. Refusing to eat beans? Throw them in a puréed soup. She's a true omnivore now; we haven't yet come across food she will not at least try. 

(Also now, at the age of ten, she is able to convincingly quote her mother to her friends: 'according to scientific studies, you won't know if you really like or hate something until you've tried it ten times, because that's how many times it takes for our taste buds to adjust'. Super proud.)

Lately though, she's been on this Japanese cuisine binge, wanting to have sushi and noodles always and always. She'd be happy with just some yakisoba noodles quickly fried and seasoned, but I figure plain wheat with lotsa salt isn't really a meal, and yakisoba is a rare treat in our little corner of this world, so I've tried to come up with ways to cook Japanese-influenced meals with the limited ingredients we have available here in the middle of nowhere.

Of the following recipe I am especially excited about because it's quick, simple, and can be made with whichever veggies happen to be at hand in your fridge (you could even use frozen ones from your freezer on a busy week night). So, without further a-do, I present unto you:



Mock Ramen Soup with Cheat's Kimchi
(serves 4)

300 grams vegetables of choice prepped and chopped as needed*
1 small Chinese cabbage
1 litre water
Pinch of salt
200g of rice noodles (or any which variety you have at hand)
500ml vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons of Tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
1 teaspoom of shriracha
1 lime

* Chop your chosen vegetables so that they will cook through in approximately the same amount of time. I used green beans, kale and broccoli in my soup because they happened to be in season and in my fridge, but you could just as well use anything from carrots to cauliflower.

For the Cheat's kimchi:

Finely chop the leafy top parts of the Chinese cabbage. In a bowl, mix chopped cabbage, shriracha and the juice of one lime. Set aside to soak in flavors.

For the Mock ramen soup:

Boil a litre of water with a pinch of salt. Chop the rest of your Chinese cabbage. Once the water is boiling, place your veggies in the water and cook until almost done. Then add your noodles in the same pot, and cook until tender. Strain noodles and veggies, and divide into bowls.

Pour your stock into a kettle and quickly bring up the heat until steaming. Add tamari and rice vinegar and mix with a spoon.

Pour hot stock over each noodle bowl. Place desired amount of Cheat's kimchi on the side of each bowl (taste kimchi before serving it to children though, it can be surprisingly spicy). Serve with a side of eggs fried in sesame oil for added protein unless vegan or allergic.

* * *

I hope this post won't amount to just a lots-a-do about nothing and you'll enjoy this simple soup recipe as much as we did. Let me know if you end up making it and how it turns out. Wishing you cozy & gloomy October  evenings with bowlfuls of comforting soups.

15 October 2019

notes to self (on rainy days and mondays)



Yesterday morning, as I put my daughter's new rose pink parka jacket in the wash for the second time in a couple of days, I cursed myself for the things I'd set myself up to do on a Monday that seemed like another gloomy, rainy October day.

It was not the laundry that annoyed me; in fact, I can think of no happier reason to do laundry than washing a ten-year-old's jacket for the simple reason that she had again been rolling on the ground with a friend and also almost fallen into a ditch in the forest while playing. I cursed because I had promised to go and buy tickets for my friend and I for an event in November, an event that tends to sell out quickly and that you can't buy tickets to online. It looked nothing like an ideal bike-ride-to-town weather outside, and I really really didn't want to go.

Fifteen minutes before I had to go it started snowing. First it seemed like a drizzle, just slush falling from the sky, but it soon turned into fluffy white flakes that looked quite lovely. I got dressed and decided to leave my glasses at home, for I knew in a matter of minutes they'd be so wet with soft melting snow flakes I wouldn't be able to see in front of me. In the mirror, without the glasses, I glimpsed at someone who looked uncannily like my old October self in former October self-portraits. (Like this one, or that one.) It was like I was my own doppelgänger. It made me smile, just a little, but it was a smile that lasted all the way into town as I rode my bike through the snowfall.

When I got to the old, restored house they were selling the tickets at, there was a line of about thirty people in front of me. The trees around the magnificent house were all shades of autumn, and the people in the line were talking about reality TV, a Finnish photographer everybody found amazing, and how slowly the line was progressing. Nobody was cranky about it though, except maybe the guy just before me -- he had cycled thirty kilometres from the neighbouring town to buy a ticket, and had brought lunch with him to eat somewhere before cycling back, but had forgotten to bring a spoon with him. Upon hearing of his self-imposed misfortune, everyone in the line was helpful, suggesting places where he might be able to borrow a spoon. Finally the ticket office ladies secured him a space and a spoon to eat on the premises, and he seemed pretty happy.

As I chatted to an old now-retired colleague of mine about the concerts we intended to buy tickets for, I suddenly started feeling more and more like my old self, the pre-2016 Instagram craze period person. I don't know what it was; whether it was about the atmosphere of the small-town line slowly progressing towards a common goal of purchasing tickets, or the whole doppelgänger thing, or my week-long Instagram break, or the fact that I had read through all my previous October blog posts in the morning, all of them, stretching from 2009 to 2014. It had been a beautiful trip down the memory lane, and I had really appreciated the easiness of navigating the archiving system. (Just imagine trying to find all of your previous October posts on a more modern application of the social media concept.)

I don't know what it was, but it enlivened me. Instead of riding my bike straight back home like I had intended, I decided to make a stop at the craft shop on the other side of town to pick up some wooden beads and show the owner the woolly hat I had made with the yarn she helped me choose. Then I figured I might just as well pop into the charity thrift shop next door to buy some candle-making equipment, and I was glad to discover that a) on Mondays, they had everything 50 per cent off, and b) they were happy to keep my glassware haul until the evening when I could pick it up by car on my grocery round. (I later went back with my daughter and we made some pretty awesome discoveries, like the Gardenista book at the price of 2 euros.)

I felt increasingly pleased for having actually gotten around to going into town on a Monday. I also felt like this was a story worth telling, even before I went to the coffee shop on my way back home. I don't know at which point exactly I started thinking blogposts had to be about something, something specific like a how-to or a recipe or a capsule wardrobe, but I suppose it was right at the time when we started thinking blogposts were articles and blogs simply an extension of our online presence on other, faster ways of communicating and sharing with people. But what about stories, my soul suddenly seemed to be screaming. Stories! Opinions! Philosophies! With unlimited space! 

So anyway, it was pretty much lunchtime so on to the coffee shop I mentioned. Because I couldn't decide which one I wanted more, I had a serving of both croissants and cheesecake with my green tea, the name of which could loosely be translated as Lapland lust. (Which was why I picked it.) To my utter delight and great surprise, the coffee shop happened to be giving away free loaves of oat bread -- of the kind they used to sell before they discovered that around here you really can't compete with the supermarkets when it comes to selling bread, no matter how delicious and real your bread tastes like.

I couldn't remember the last time I had gotten some bakery-made bread, and it brought out the hidden inner city girl in me. I told myself to remind myself that it was definitely worth it riding your bike into town on Mondays sometimes. In fact, I felt I was worth it, and therefore, before taking off, I bought a copy of my favorite Finnish fashion magazine in the kiosk next door, because I do love fashion magazines and all things frivolous occasionally.

No, scratch that, I love them like all the time. Doesn't mean I buy into them, I just love browsing them. I'm large, I contain multitudes, as Whitman would say. Sometimes it's just too easy to lose those multitudes in the ocean of boxes that social media tries to contain people in. I used to belong in several boxes in the past, I used to feel conflicted about that sometimes, but I didn't try to shove and squeeze myself into just one. I feel like I might be done with that? At least until I log back into Instagram, haha.

Back at home, I had two large cups of coffee with my fashion magazine, and then me and the girl enjoyed some beautifully fluffy, tasty oat bread as an afternoon snack. (It didn't taste anything like plastic, unlike some of the "real" "bakery-made" supermarket varieties we've had the displeasure of acquainting ourselves with.) In the distance, the sky looked wild, like it might start snowing again, and the rose pink parka jacket looked like new again.

There was a curious sense within me, of somehow being both an old and a new version of myself at the same time, like myself 2.0, and I told myself it was a story worth telling, even if it wasn't about anything specific like a newspaper article or didn't have a point to it like a how-to. I thought I'd write one that'd be like a doppelgänger of all my previous October posts, and yet nothing like them, because no day, month, or year in one's life is like any of the previous ones, which is why we continue to evolve, to change, to bear within us the days of yore and the days to come, our ancient selves as well as the people we hope to become.

The sky looked wild, the parka looked like new, and I was in love with all of it, the all-encompassing allness of everything all at once and nothing in particular at all.