Here's what I am (well, actually, was, since I am now in my pajamas) wearing today. It was a chilly day, and it was snowing for most of the day. (Heck, it's still snowing.) It's really starting to get to me that gone - gone! - are the days of frivolous dress-up. I find that it is almost impossible to wear clothes just for the fun of it around here, right now. I need my clothes to have a purpose. A part of me feels sad about it, the other part happy.
The best part about having to dress practically is that the nonsensical pieces of clothing in my wardrobe are so easy to ignore. It is easier to ask questions such as "am I really going to wear this?", due to weather-related issues. It's easier to put style-related things in perspective, it's easier to resist impulsive buying. There are no imaginary monthly nights at the opera in this part of Finland. It's easier to dress for who I really am at this point in my life, than for who I once, maybe, in a dream, wanted to be. There's comfort in that.
The sad part has to do with the monotonous day-to-day stuff. I am okay wearing a pair of jeans and a sweater every day, but there are days when I long to wear a skirt. Or high heels, even. And then I realize I have to go shovel snow at the cottages, then at my mom's, and then at our house. When one is looking at two hours of snow shoveling, there is simply no point in wearing a skirt or a pair of high heels. It's just not going to happen. Now, that's not to say that I will never wear a skirt again. I will, when the time comes, when we are more settled, when our daily routines don't revolve around chopping wood and heating up the cottages half of the day. Until that day, you'll be seeing me in clothes like these, on a good day.
Yesterday Chris and I went for a walk, and we happened to cross paths with this lovely lady and her owner. It turns out that they live just around the corner from us. What cool creatures horses are! Their eyes are full of emotion and intellect.
Also, meet my new accessory.
Reflective vests are a must around here. It starts to get dark at around 3 pm, and there are no streetlights. Dangling reflectors aren't quite enough for passing cars to notice people walking by the roadside, but these are. It's amazing how effective these suckers are. No, they are not stylish, but oh well.
I was going to accompany this photo with a text that compared glossy fashion blogs to fashion magazines, and how much I miss the times when almost all style bloggers just posted somewhat grainy pictures of the clothes they actually wore (like myself above). But I just don't feel like writing about that right now, and I am sure there is a post about that somewhere in the No Signposts archive anyway - I can't remember. Anyway, instead I'll mention that yes, that is an ice lantern by my feet - my mom made a bunch when it was really, really cold -, and yes, it's the time of year to start feeding our poor little feathered friends!
Here's a fun fact: the green-ish sweater I am wearing today is the same one I wore back in November of 2008 when I first met Chris face to face. Every now and then I look at the sweater and think that I'm ready to part with it, but then I remind myself of how I felt as I made my way to the arrivals hall at JFK, wearing this sweater with a pair of skinny jeans. I was nervous, anxious, happy, terrified. And there he was, waiting for me, the man I would later marry. How time flies, and my gosh how much I love this sweater!
You know what I hate about "real fashion"? Well, a lot of things, but what often ticks me off is that the clothes are totally unwearable. Not unwearable in the too-artsy-type of way - I think there is a place for pushing-the-boundaries, no-one-could-really-wear-that-type of fashion. I'm talking about season inappropriate clothes. The whole season-thing in fashion is problematic for many reasons (and of course one doesn't have to adhere to it, I know), but it just annoys me to see bare legs and tiny little dresses for fall/winter, and entire collections featuring cut-outs and barely-there clothes for a season when we all just want to stay warm. (The same goes for things like head-to-toe-leather for summer.) So here's a welcome change.
I am not really a fan of Chanel. For the most part Karl Lagerfeld seems to regurgitate that same old stuff year after year. Some of it is pretty, some of it strikes me as too young-girl-wants-to-look-like-a-rich-old-lady. But this, to me, is refreshing.
This is wearable, it is season-appropriate, and women of many ages could wear this. I would wear this. Okay, the mix of patterns might be a little restless, but for me the time to have fun with colours, patterns and textures is fall/winter. The cold and the snow are serious enough.
I came across this men's shearling coat at one of my new favorite flea markets (I have quite a few of those these days - it turns out that flea markets in the Finnish countryside are fan-freakin'-tastic). So here's the thing: the coat is way too big for me, but it is warm. When I say warm, I mean the type of warmth one experiences in front of an open fire. The type that keeps not only your skin warm, but your bones also. The coat cost 6 euros (and for the record, if I had found it at a second hand store in Helsinki, it would have cost ten times as much). I would normally never tell people to buy clothes that are the wrong size, but when it comes to close-to-zero-degrees-Fahrenheit or colder, I'm all for it. When it's cold-cold-cold, one needs layers. And layers are no good if you don't have room for them under your coat. That means it's okay to oversize.
My other tips for staying warm in the winter:
1) Keep your head warm. Don't worry about your hair-do, wear a hat, preferably one with lining.
2) Keep your fingers and toes warm. Wool mittens (or felted ones) and wool socks are the best. Layer them if you need to. Don't forget legwarmers. Invest in a good pair of winter boots.
3) Don't let your bum freeze. Pick a coat that covers your buttocks.
4) About those layers: thermal underwear is key. Good ol' cotton works somewhat, bamboo is better. Wool, alpaca, angora... you might feel a little itchy, but you'll be warm for sure. For athletic purposes, choose wicking gear - it keeps you warm and dry.
5) This is more of a psychological tip: accept the fact that sometimes warmth and health must come before style. It's better to be sensible than to get sick.
Fur is always controversial, but I am going to say something about it anyway. I am including this in this post because there is no denying that fur is warm. It is, believe me. It is warmer than anything else out there - yes, down jackets and heavy-duty sports-gear included. But like we all know, fur comes with a lot of baggage. The animals that were made into coats and hats had a very rough life. Writing about the animals and their treatment in detail is a topic for another blog post altogether, but here's a tip: if you have no problem wearing fur and choose to buy a new fur piece, pay close attention to its country of origin. Don't buy Chinese or Russian fur - the animals are treated much, much worse, and the end product is of much lower quality in those countries than, for example, in the Scandinavian countries. Also, if you buy faux-fur, be warned that there is a chance that it might be real.
When I was a little girl, this animated clip was frequently shown in the children's TV-program, Pikku Kakkonen (it means "Little Two" - the program was shown on Channel 2). The animation was shown to warn kids to not walk on thin ice. Every year, they'd broadcast the clip many, many, many times. I'd wait for the moment when the naughty bear arrives safely to the studio, reaches his position with the rest of the animated characters, and says in that slow, low voice: beware of thin ice!
I know of grown-ups my age who feel traumatized by the clip to this day - they are still scared of the time of year when the ice starts to creep in, to cover the lakes and the sea. Well, I guess the clip worked back then. I've never in my life attempted to go walking on ice that I wasn't sure about!
See how shockingly stylish I am these days..? A couple of things dictate the way I dress at the moment (and no, I am not exactly proud of this):
1) how quickly I can scramble out of bed and get into a set of clothes (due to the chilly morning room temperature at the summer cottage),
2) how many layers I can fit in,
3) what I can wear at the house renovation site, but also to go run some errands at the village.
I've come to the realization that the easiest route is a pair of jeans and a thick sweater. I layer a thermal undershirt, a long-sleeved undershirt and then the sweater, as well as long-johns under my jeans, and two pairs of socks, usually. The lumberjack jacket pictured here is optional - I have worn it a lot because it is warm, and the good thing is that I can easily change into a neater coat if I have to go to the county office or the grocery store. It's amazing what a nice coat can do to an old pair of jeans and a sweater! Same goes for work boots and the hat/scarf combo. I keep this funny but-oh-so-amazingly-warm hat around for when I am outside or at the house site, but I also have a neat, spare hat to wear in public. I keep a pair of nice winter shoes in the car so that I can switch in and out of the work boots if I need to.
The ice came today. I can hear it cracking and creaking as it sneaks in inch by inch, covering small sections of the lake front first, then bigger ones.
As the ice takes over, the swans are leaving. We have heard them calling at night - the eery honk-honk sound lingers over the peninsula as they are preparing to get the heck out of here.
Greetings, earthlings! Long time, no see! I haven't had much time or energy to write... or to do much at all, except hang around in dirty overalls and get firewood. I guess it wouldn't be fair to say that life has felt a little rough during the past few weeks and months, because of course things could be much worse... but let's just say that life has thrown a bunch of challenges at us recently. We've ran into all sorts of trouble with the house renovation, and we are nowhere close to moving in yet. It hasn't been easy to live in very close proximity to my parents' - there are reasons for why children move out, and even more so, why they remain moved out. Chris has been dealing with culture shock, sometimes more, sometimes less successfully. He's learning how to deal with the non-talkative nature of the countryside Finns. It's not easy at times. The important thing is, of course, that we are together, and that we are hanging in there. The cats are doing okay, too, although we can tell that some of them are starting to feel a little antsy in the small summer cottages they inhabit. We are making progress at the house, little by little. We have walls...
...we have veranda windows...
...and we're working on choosing floor paints.
So it's not all bad. Finland is beautiful, albeit cold - we are actually facing a severe cold front at the end of this week. Well, at least we've become masters of heating up the summer cottages - it now takes me less than five minutes to get a fire going!
Greetings from an old summer cottage! First things first: thank you all so very much for your kind words regarding Blue's passing. I miss her horribly, and will miss her for a long, long time. I know that letting her go was the right thing to do, but man... losing a pet is difficult.
A few days after Blue was put to sleep, Masa and Illusia joined me in Finland. They traveled as cargo, and as you might imagine, the trip was pretty stressful for the two kitties. But they got here safely, which is all that matters, and they seem pretty happy with their current surroundings. We are staying at this little summer cottage while our new house is being worked on - the renovation is coming along slowly, and who knows when we will be able to move in! The cottage is located right next door to my mom's house, and we are staying here because my stepfather is allergic to cats, and obviously Masa and Illusia can't stay at the main house. It's nice to have a mini-house of our own here, but the cottage has no running water. No bathroom, either. It's almost like camping, really. Luckily my mom's house is a hop and a skip away, across the yard. Here's what the cottage looks like inside:
And here's a familiar face: Illusia seems pretty happy to be back in Finland. Masa is still feeling timid, but he's coming around, slowly and surely.
Here's my new haircut. I decided to go shorter again. I think it fits my personality better somehow.
Blogging is going to continue to be a little sporadic, but I guess you are all used to that by now! Who knows if I ever get to a normal posting-routine..!
It's been a while. I haven't really felt like blogging because there has been so much going on - almost to the point where life has felt a little overwhelming. The move, the house renovation, being apart from Chris and the kitties... as if that wasn't enough, we had to make a tough decision regarding our oldest cat, Blue. Blue was diagnosed with a thyroid problem earlier this year, but medication was available and she was doing fine. Soon after I had left the United States Blue started showing all sorts of strange symptoms. Tests revealed that her kidneys were failing. There were also signs that suggested that she might have suffered from intestinal cancer. We could have tried a myriad of treatments and maybe given her a few months to live, but considering Blue's age and our overall situation, the vet advised us to let her go. This past Saturday Blue left for her final journey.
Chris tells me that the other cats in the house have been looking for Blue. Not Masa and Illusia though - they have arrived in Finland safely, after a rough day in the cargo. Chris will join us in about two weeks, with Audrey, Lyric and Willow in tow.
This is how glamorous I've looked recently! Impressive, no? The net-hoodie is a necessity in the forest due to some really evil little moose flies that dig their way into your hair and cause havoc on your skin - hence the protective gear. It's not exactly stylish, but hey, what can you do. My mom and I have spent some relaxing moments in the forest recently, looking for mushrooms. The ones below are pretty but poisonous.
It's been wonderful to spend time roaming around the forests. One huge reason is the flora I can recognise. I don't know if I've ever really mentioned it here on the blog, but I was a major nature nerd growing up. I knew all the birds and the plants. I knew animal tracks and sometimes woke up at 3 am in summer mornings to go listen to nightingales. Even though my active nature-loving subsided a little bit as I grew up, I cherished all the things I had learned over the years. As silly as it might sound, one of the toughest things about living in the US for me was not knowing the bird calls or even the names of the local weeds or the most common plants on the side of the road.
Now, back in Finland, I enjoy knowing what grows around me more than I can really express. It seems like such a silly thing, really, but it is immeasurably meaningful to me.
When my mom and I walk in the forest, I go crazy with the camera. I am like a child, photographing familiar tree trunks and different types of moss.
And like a child, I enjoy finding the mushrooms I have known for so long.
When I wrote that our new house was rough on the inside, I wasn't kidding! The interior is pretty raw at the moment. The previous inhabitants had done some work in the house in the 1980s, but the choices they made back then weren't exactly our cup of tea. The old wood floors were covered with cheap linoleum and the walls with ugly paneling. Radiator pipes and electric wires were drawn on the surface of the walls and the ceiling. We could see that the house had a lot of potential, so we decided to reverse the house to its original condition and then work from there. After two days of intense wreckage, the 1980s kitchen is gone, the linoleum is gone, the paneling is gone, the radiators and the pipes are gone. At the moment the house resembles an empty shell, but the old wood floors, as banged up as they are, give me some hope that one day the house will live to its full potential. As the old structures of the house are being revealed from underneath the layers, little glimpses into the life that once was, emerge. Below is where the old phone used to be. Back then, phone numbers had only five digits, and the wall was as good of a place as any to serve as a phone book.
And now: Reader Request! Terri of Rags Against the Machine asked to see more pictures of my mother's old sauna building. This sauna was built in the 1940s.
Here are some pictures of the interior.
Above you can see two wood-burning stoves-of-sort: on the left is what us Finns call kiuas. The burning wood heats up the stones, and when water is thrown on the stones, wonderful hot steam is released into the air. On the right is the container for hot water. Old saunas don't have plumbing, so water is either pumped or carried manually in buckets into the sauna from the lake. A portion of the water is heated in the wood-burning container, and the hot water is then mixed with cold water, in buckets, until it is comfortable to use for washing up.
Here is what the rest of the sauna looks like.
The floor is concrete but wooden floor panels are put on the floor before one enters the sauna, for comfort and cleanliness. In the picture here the wooden floor panels were lifted up to dry on the right-hand side. The buckets of cold water are usually kept on the floor or on small benches, but here they are still waiting to be placed on the floor as the paneling is still up, and they are on the seating area instead. In this sauna there are three levels of seating: the heat is the most intense on top.
The best time to relax in the sauna is in the evening. The lake shore is quiet and the water still.