Apr 15

Big Questions, No Answers

a picture of me in my straw cowboy hat

Pondering the Big Questions of the universe…

Not knowing what continent you’ll be living on next year brings up lots of questions. You know, Big Questions. Meaning of life questions. Ones that can only be discussed ad nauseam in detail, never answered. And have I mentioned that those discussions require wine? And chocolate?

I think my subconscious, fueled by these discussions, directed me when I chose the reading materials for my literature class this week. I chose Anton Chekhov’s The Bet. OK, my ego might have been involved too, probably because saying “when I taught Chekhov this week…” was totally on my Lit Geek bucket list!!

On the surface, this is a story about the morality of capital punishment versus life imprisonment, a worthy topic to be sure. Digging deeper, however, you find a story about our motivations as humans in a materialistic world. One man in the story is driven to consider murdering another in cold blood to avoid financial ruin. The other spends fifteen years in isolation and study, only to eschew both the money he’s about to earn by winning the bet and the society that values money over all else, or, as Chekhov (in translation) puts it, “exchange(s) heaven for earth.” Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 07

Books for your 8-12 year olds

Last week’s post on children’s books spurred some great discussion on Facebook about my recommendations for children’s books. As much as I love-hate all the memes going around, whether they’re asking me to list my top ten books (only 10?!) or challenging me to surpass the BBC’s assumptions about how many books I’ve read from the canon (trust me, it’s more than 6), anything asking me to provide a finite list proves a great challenge.

That’s because I’m obsessive when it comes to reading. Take a look at my Goodreads account and you’ll see that I’m genre-promiscuous. I’ve read the complete works of Shakespeare, but I also (re)read Twilight and *gasp* thought it was a great story. I read fiction for very young children like Neil Gaiman’s sweet Remember the Milk and at the same time, I really enjoy a meaty piece of literary or historical fiction like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 06

A Foodie’s Dream Day Out

raw ingredients

The raw ingredients for our Emo Cooking Class

One of my favorite traditions in our expat community is the PTO’s Cooking Club. About once a month, someone invites a group of ladies over to their house and shows them how to cook a meal from their home country. In my time here, I’ve attended Japanese, Russian, Korean, Hungarian, Polish, French, Indian, and German cooking classes and have co-hosted three consecutive Thanksgiving cooking clubs.

This month, the cooking club did something a little different. This time, our cooking club was hosted by one of Helsinki’s hot new restaurants Gastrobar Emo. Owned by the same folks as Michelin-starred Olo, Emo adds a dash of European flavor to its reasonably-priced menu, earning it a Michelin Bib Gourmand.

I love eating gorgeous food. But I love learning to cook it myself even more. Especially when Matt, my favorite sous-chef (ha ha!), is by my side and there’s a glass of sparkling wine in my hand. Oh yeah, did I mention that a sommelier came with the class? How can I order one of those for home use?

On the menu for the three course lunch and cooking class were two things that I still struggle with in the kitchen: scallops and venison. Both notoriously easy to overcook, I looked forward to expert advice and I wasn’t disappointed. We seared half the scallops and marinated the others in a bit of lemon juice ceviche-style. Served with hand-whisked dill mayo and pickled cucumbers and radishes, it was divine. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 03

On children’s books

a boy reading a book

My son, book in hand (as usual).

I remember sneaking into the hall closet in our front entryway when I was maybe ten years old. My mom had this old wool trench coat with both collar and sleeves trimmed in fur. For some reason, I fixated on that coat. It seemed like the type of coat that one would find in The Wardrobe. You know the one I mean. The one that would take me to Narnia. So I’d close my eyes and reach out my hands in the dark, feeling for that fur and hoping that the next thing I’d touch would be fir of the evergreen variety.

I never made it to Narnia (if I had, I would have thwarted Aslan himself to remain there and wouldn’t be blogging now!), but that sliver of hope, no, that certainty that getting there was possible sticks with me almost thirty years later. And I have C.S. Lewis and my mom to thank for that. C.S. Lewis for writing The Chronicles of Narnia and my mom for never saying no when I asked to go to the library or asked for a book on our frequent trips to the bookstore.

Now, I have a unique opportunity to relive reading my favorite children’s books for the first time. And no, it’s not senility. It’s parenthood. Nature or nurture, I’m not sure which, provided me with two little ones who always have their nose in a book just like their mama (and their papa). So even as they choose today’s mega-hits like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the American Girl series, I get to interject a few of my favorites.

Lily reminded me of the heartbreak in Black Beauty. Gabriel & I relived the devastation of losing Thorin Oakenshield together. And, most recently, I got to console my son when he awoke in the night convinced that he was Harry Potter, mumbling spells under his breath and rubbing the spot on his forehead where his painful scar ought to be. To regroup after the intensity of the Harry Potter series, I’ve turned him loose on My Side of the Mountain. So of course he’s planning to run off in the wilderness in search of a peregrine falcon and a hollow tree in which to live.

These stories are absolutely real for my children, just as they were for me when I was their age. So I didn’t have an answer ready when someone recently asked me why I was “just writing children’s books” instead of literary fiction. Sure, I love literary fiction as much as children’s books. I love words that have more business in adult fiction than in a novel for nine year olds. I would like nothing more than to some day write something that could be compared to the work of Barbara Kingsolver or Donna Tartt. But, as much as I loved their books, their words, and their stories, they never made me believe so utterly in a fantasy world that I went scrambling into a dark closet hoping to end up in Narnia.

I’m not saying I’ll ever write something as transporting as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Even my grandiose ego is not that overblown. I’m just saying that I consider it a lofty goal, a heady challenge, and something worthwhile. I hope C.S. Lewis got to see a child creep into a wardrobe at least once. I’m pretty sure life-affirming wouldn’t even begin to describe it.

Mar 23

A Morning with Tove Jansson

Photo of Tove Jansson

Visit the Tove Jansson exhibit from now through 7 September at the Ateneum Museum in Helsinki.

As much as I may dream of spending a morning with beloved Finnish author and painter Tove Jansson in the flesh, a morning at Helsinki’s Ateneum Art Museum visiting the Tove Jansson exhibit still thrilled this Moomin fan. The exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jansson’s birth and demands a visit if you are in the Helsinki area in the next six months.

Tove Jansson created the iconic children’s fantasy world of Moominvalley and populated it with strange and wondrous imaginary creatures in tales published both as books and comic strips. The principal characters of this world, rounded white-bodied trolls called the Moomins (or muumi in Finnish), go on adventures with an unusual assortment of friends through a world that seems a lot like Finland–full of forest, seas, and sweeping valleys. Released as World War II came to an end, I imagine the child-like innocence of the characters as well at Jansson’s fanciful drawings appealed to many people who had known nothing but deprivation during the war. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 18

In Defense of Mr Business

Like most other elementary school parents in the known universe, I <del>endured the torture of</del> took my kids to see the Lego Movie this winter. And while I found the 3D glasses unnecessary and the plot schmaltzy, the final scenes between Mr Business and Emmet/Will Farrell and his son almost made it worth the Everything is Awesome ear worm. Almost.

Since we saw the movie just over a month ago, we’ve been working on a LEGO city of our own in the play room.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 16

My Finland Bucket List

1962585_10152254624693469_1410410709_nWe tend to move about every three years, so when we celebrated three years of life in Finland this fall, I inevitably started to feel the itch. If you’re an expat, you know what I’m talking about. I love Finland, but I’m also that person who could move every three years for the rest of her life and still not get to every place on my list. Because, you know, I’ve only lived on two continents, and I want to travel more in Asia and South America, and, and, and…

Anyhow, since the practicalities of life as a corporate expat mean that I have no idea where or when we’re moving on, I started to work on a different kind of list: my Finland Bucket List. It’s amazing that you can live somewhere for three years without doing all those things that are typically Finnish. But life happens, especially life with young children, and at some point you realize that you’ve got a lot of things to do before you move on.

Food
No one who knows me is surprised to learn that I have done well in this category. In fact, I’ve tried forty of the 42 traditional Finnish foods on this list.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 12

An update and a contest

Things have been a little quiet this month here at Terminal Verbosity because I’ve been busy working on the submission package for The Outlands. I’m excited about the progress I’m making, the feedback I’ve received, and of course about the story itself, even as I face the daunting prospect of submitting (and the inevitable rejections that come with submission). Anyone dare to guess how many rejections I will receive in 2014? I’m shooting for 30, and that’s a whole lot of pitch packages to put together!

One fun little thing I’m doing is throwing my name in the hat for Writer’s Digest’s “Dear Lucky Agent” contest. The genre this month (middle grade) just happens to fit, so I’m entering. And you should too (you know who I’m talking about, oh great critique group ladies!).

I promise to get back to some real blogging soon…at least until the summer travel frenzy starts!

Feb 06

Because Bacon!

a large plate of bacon

A big plate-o-bacon

I’ve been struggling with what to write about this week. I’d love to say something meaningful about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death, but I think I like what Russell Brand had to say better than anything I could put together. Likewise, I’d love to offer my thoughts on the upcoming Sochi Olympics. But I’m home with a sick child and not feeling great myself, so instead of stalking FB all day for news of my soon-to-arrive nephew (!!) I’m going to talk about bacon. Because bacon, duh!

A friend and I were talking last week about the rage induced by kids futzing around in the morning instead of getting ready for school. The potential for rage only increases when you add cooking a healthy protein-laden breakfast to the mix of morning chores. Oh how I long for the days when I could eat a piece of toast with my coffee and not have to take a mid-morning nap to sleep off the carbs…

Anyhow, here’s one easy solution I’ve come up with to the protein in the morning dilemma. Because while I’ve embraced eating leftover steak for breakfast, I’m not quite up for left over arctic char. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 30

A Few Cutting Remarks

WP_20140130_001On G’s seventh birthday, we bought him a gift that many of our friends and parenting peers thought was both insane and inappropriate: his first pocket knife.

I grew up a consummate tomboy and I have the scars to prove it. I still enjoy whittling a green sapling to spear a marshmallow over the campfire, and nothing makes me think of my father more than sharpening a knife on a whetstone (although I use honing oil now instead of spit. Sorry Dad!).

So when my six-year-old son asked for a pocket knife so that he could whittle sticks, I had a hard time saying no. Matt didn’t have any concerns either, so we got him a knife. And over the past two and a half years, he’s done great with the knives (yes, he has more than one now). He has carved home-made birthday presents, his own marshmallow-roasting sticks, a couple of olive pokers, a few spoons, and more whittled-down-to-nothing nubs than I could count. Read the rest of this entry »

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