24 December, 2010

Such is the Mystery

...the mystery of why I Just.Don't.Blog anymore. Well it's partly laziness (of course) - this *is* Yours Truly we're talking about. But I think it's mostly the insidious Facebook to blame.

And ex-Facebookers probably blame Twitter for no longer Facebooking.

But how do these conclusions possibly make sense? After all, Twitterites are well-aware they're limited to 160 characters, necessitating short, sharp, concise, to-the-point tweets. This should cut out all the filler material and make Twitter-viewing far more information-rich and enjoyable when it comes to keeping up with friends (at least in theory).

Somehow, Twitter has done the opposite for most people I follow. For every one person who posts "Baby Benson arrived this morning, mum & baby healthy, more info soon!", I seem to get hundreds who do nothing but tell me about expeditions to the corner shop to buy milk and bread. I think it's because they expect 160 characters to be too short to be meaningful; and so they've given up completely on quality, and just post day-to-day drivel. It spreads by peer pressure. When all your friends post garbage, why not get into the swing of things with garbage of your own?

So but anyhoo, I was thinking about Facebook. And I realised that quite often these days, I post in Facebook things that previously would have gone into a blog. Opportunity is the biggest part. Facebook is there, I have it open anyway to see what my friends are up to, and it's easy. Couple that with social interaction and instant gratification - I get dizzily excited seeing who has "like"d my posts today - and it's a gimme. Blogging just doesn't provide that kind of feedback. I'm not left to wonder if someone, ANYONE has read what I typed.

But it must be acknowledged that like Twitter, there are space limitations. Posts can only be so long. People will only read so many "replies" where you try to jam in more rambling parts of your update. There are apps and addons to enable bigger posts (Notes being the main one), but they're in the "too hard" basket for many people to bother reading, and it's a clunky and inelegant Facebook addition.

When it comes to quality for blogging, Facebook just doesn't cut it. Blogs do.

So in my heart of hearts I know full well that I'm pumping out drivel in Facebook. But it's easy. It's just a little sad that it partly satiates my desire to write, actually write. Sadder still if my writing "skill" becomes an unused muscle which slowly begins to waste away.

16 December, 2010


My kids began their schooling in Finland as part of a cultural melting pot, in a special immigrant class. Irony: Finland has very little immigration, a very short history of immigration, and really, most of the general population have not much of a clue when it comes to the real issues surrounding immigration. Australia, on the other hand, is a nation of immigrants. Australia is arguably not particularly good at integrating them (why integrate when they can always find fellow countrymen there to socialise with anyway) but you would think that as Aussie kids they'd be quite accustomed to being surrounded by cultural and religious diversity.

Not so. Two years in Wellington left them insulated from all except disadvantaged indigenous kids and redneck white-European families. (Before someone protests intolerance  I'm well aware there were some exceptions. But when the only main types of "culture" which pervade your school life are those two, it has a massive impact on growing minds.)

So it has been a mixture of wonder and amusement as I hear them tell stories of their classmates, their attitudes, their beliefs, and their dietary habits. One in particular, a nasty Eastern-European boy with a mouthful of attitude, constantly belittles my children for eating pork. I am grateful for the fact that my kids are old enough (just) to appreciate that they're NOT filthy for eating it, and that TardBoy's religion makes him feel that it's wrong, and his mouth is too big. We've also discussed the fact that one other kid has the same religion, doesn't eat pork either, and yet never says cruel things to those who do. One of Jay's close friends. He has class.

That kid is from Somalia. I'm going to call him Hakim-Khalid. My kids have expressed amazement at these Somalian kids. There are another 7 kids in the class named Hakim, or Khalid, or Ali-Hakim, or Khalid-Abdi, or a combination. Many of them couldn't write, couldn't cope with learning their ABCs, and have blackened, rotting teeth. When they first attend school, they turn up without warm clothes and accessories, until well into the snow season - not for a lack of clothing but a lack of understanding how to protect themselves from cold. Hakim-Khalid is typical in that his tiny stature is evidence of having lived a very harsh life before he got to Finland.

Several months into school, we were discussing some of the immigrants I had met while learning Finnish, and particularly the subject of given names. I use a "Finn-ised" first name and my husband's surname, so people are quite unaware I'm an immigrant until I open my mouth. Those who have black skin are not nearly as lucky, and likewise those whose name is difficult for a Finn to pronounce. While Finns are almost never openly racist - since they rarely open their mouths to a stranger at all - there's the racism you'd expect from any nation anywhere in the world: If I'm choosing someone for a job, I'll just never know if someone with a very foreign name can actually function well in the local language. Easier to throw that application in the bin and go with the man named Tapio Leevi Nieminen, who is so obviously Finnish.

Jay was very thoughtful about this and asked if his Anglo first and surnames might stop him getting work when he was older. My husband was frank about it. "It might make things a little tougher. But it will be MUCH easier than for a Somalian."

Again, he was thoughtful. Then he observed, as if it were the first time he ever noticed, "Kids always ask me why I came to Finland. They never ask Hakim-Khalid why he came to Finland. Why not?"

Now there's a thorny question. It's impossible to answer without being harsh and being racist. "Jay, unfortunately, most Finns don't care why Hakim-Khalid came here. They all know, already. Or at least, they think they know. He's black, therefore they think he's probably a refugee, who came to Finland for a better life. And many people will treat him like he's a waste of public money who doesn't deserve to be here."

Silence. "But everyone likes Hakim-Khalid, Mum. He's cool."

"Yes, he is, once you take the time to get to know him. But strangers decide why Hakim-Khalid is here, just from the colour of his face. They don't understand why a white foreigner is here. That's why they ask you, and never ask Hakim-Khalid. If he's so cool, why doesn't anyone ever ask him why he came to Finland?"

It gave Jay something to think about. I don't like upsetting my kids, but I like them to have a view of what the real world is like. If you don't understand the world, how can you ever change it for the better? Jay is going to stand right beside some racist haters, at some point - and when it happens I'd like him to think about how people treated his black friend, and I want him to speak up and tell them it's wrong.

06 October, 2010

Home-made Potpourri

This one is another great idea for a home-made Christmas present. It costs very little and is easy to make.

Get an old jar (it doesn't matter what it looks like) and clean all the label off. It doesn't even need a lid. Now collect flowers whenever you see them, and add them bit by bit to the jar. Leave the jar on a warm windowsill, uncovered, so that the blossoms dry out. You can also add fragrant leaves like eucalyptus and lemon-scented geranium, or small buds of anything with an interesting scent. Remember to keep the flower heads whenever a dead bunch of flowers is going into the bin!

Once you have a good amount that's nicely dried out, add a few drops of your favourite scent. You can even use inexpensive perfume for this (keep an eye out at garage sales and dollar stores). You can add bulk to the mix with pine cones, small leaves, or even pieces of bark and stems.

To give it as a gift, you can present it in a few different ways. It can go in a cellophane bag tied with a ribbon or twine; you can give it in a nice fancy jar, a small inexpensive jewellery box, a nick-nack container (check your second-hand shops!) or you can even click here to make a simple box from origami - you just make two, one slightly bigger for the lid. Even an old bottle would be suitable as long as you can get the potpourri inside!

05 October, 2010

Gifts in a Jar: Bubblebath

Probably the simplest home-made gift ever, but it can still be really nice.

Get a pretty jar from your local dollar store or second hand shop. You could even use an old wine bottle if it has a screw-top lid. Clean well and remove any labels.

Back at your dollar store, find some nice-smelling bubble bath or shower gel. (Optional: perfume, essential oil or other scent if you wish to add it).

Fill the bottle with the bubble bath. Make a pretty label on your computer, or decorate a small gift card to attach to the bottle. You can dress the bottle up with ribbons, a bow, a silk rose, or raffia. If you wish, you can add a sprig of rosemary to clear bottles to add to the look. For kids, put in a small toy and decorate with stickers. Check more bottle-decorating ideas by looking at images on Google - some of them are just amazing!

01 October, 2010

Phew, it's been a while

And I haven't blogged in so long that I've forgotten how to type. Maybe.

I've been a busy little bee today in the kitchen, baking a cake for Jay's 14th birthday tomorrow. When it comes to cakes... and my cooking "skills"... um, there aren't any. I can cook an ordinary packet mix and it will taste acceptable, but the aesthetics of my decorating leave much to be desired. So today, much as I expected, my cake tastes like pretty much nothing. The banana can be detected (this is acceptable) but the chocolate cannot, and this is, well, disappointing if not unsurprising.

The real surprise so far is having extracted the cake from the tin without it disintegrating. I pondered how horribly sweet the icing would be on a tasteless cake and went a'Googling, and discovered Ganache. It's now cooling so that I can check if it will be thick enough not to slide off the cake in a gooey mess.

My industriousness has led to me thinking about Christmas. It's late for an Aussie to begin thinking about Christmas. It's ridiculously early for a Finn to, since the over-commercialisation of Christmas hasn't yet saturated the Helsinki streets, and you can wander into a shop on December 23 here and be out of the checkout in five minutes flat.

I have a few tried and tested ideas for do-it-yourself gifts, and I'd like to add a few more. Stay tuned... but don't hold your breath in case I completely forget to post anymore!

05 August, 2010


Day 1
To child A: Here's some money, go and buy yourself an icecream. (Goes and buys self an icecream)

Day 2
Child B: She got an icecream yesterday, so I want an icecream too. (Holds out hand for the money, goes off to buy self an icecream).

*** ***

Child B comes home with a box of 6 icecreams.

Parent decides that's good value, however, the intention was for the child to have ONE icecream. As a compromise, she will allow him to have 3 of the icecreams, and everyone else in the family may have one of the icecreams each.

Boy has screaming fit about them being his icecreams and his money. Boy cannot understand the concept of "Mum was only offering one icecream, regardless of the cost of the icecream and the fact that your sister spent that much and only got one for her money".

Golden family times.

07 July, 2010

Generation Alpha

I've discovered that I can (successfully) disassemble a laptop, remove and clean the fan, and reassemble it. It turns out that if you remove a solid chunk of built-up animal hair, the running temperature reduces from near-silicone-overheat-forced-power-off-point down to a much more pleasant 40.

I now have a whole new admiration for laptop computer engineers. There's not a square millimetre of wasted space in those things. I kept identifying parts and thinking, whoa, that's tiny! The components are all like... techonogical and stuff.*

I've also learned today that: not only are Baby Boomers greedy, and Generation X whiny, broke, perpetual uni students, and Gen Y selfish tech-savvy brats who never move out of home, but... some of the Generation Z are now already into their teens. And it gets worse. The first of the next generation are being born and they don't really have a name for them. ("Kids Born After 2009" just doesn't have much of a ring to it.) Some people are calling them Generation Alpha, but it's slow to catch on. Probably because everyone, like me, is still learning that Gen Z even exists, let alone that they're being superceded. I suppose most sociologists (being Gen X'ers) are either busy with their Gen Y teenagers or potty training their Gen Zs.

I've decided to do my bit for sociology and help promote the name.

Congratulations to my school classmate Kerry, who this week welcomed her first grandchild to the world. It's probably also the first grandchild from our year, too. Bring on the rest of Generation Alpha!

(Note: My children have already been STRONGLY warned not to bring any Gen Alpha into the world on my watch. I'm terrified enough of grey hair caused by my own children!)

* "techonogical" is not a typeoh.

06 June, 2010


My son just noticed something funny as we were having a conversation about cosmetic surgery. We were discussing lip filler injections, lip plumping creams, the bee-stung lip look, celebrities with too much lip filler, people who put so much crap into their mouths that they look like a duck - that sort of thing. EVERYONE in the conversation, at different times, stuck their lips out in a duck face, just to try it out.

Try it out one day with your friends and laugh as they all pull the face.

A friend of his sent an email this week with a bunch of fun facts. Whether they are all fact, I'm not so sure. For instance, I happen to KNOW that it is possible to sneeze without blinking. (Yes, I tried it. It's pretty difficult though.)

But one fact said it's impossible for you to touch all your top teeth with your tongue at once.

And you're trying it now, aren't you?

And you're grinning like an idiot too, aren't you? Hahahaha!

03 May, 2010

Thoughts to Ponder

Cars. Public streets. The right of the driver to, um, merrily park their car on a street.

A friend of mine was verbally abused today for daring park her car on a public street where there happened to be an adjacent house. I might add, there were no legal parking restrictions either.

The crime: for parking her car there and thus waking the resident baby. Also, she was apparently guilty of being a "dwarf c$#%". The lady in question is neither the latter word nor a dwarf.

Now I've raised a baby or two myself, including one who apparently thought (still thinks) that SLEEP KILLS!, and therefore should be avoided at all costs and for as long as possible. Amongst a fog of depression and insanity I can vaguely remember the sheer frustration of this typically-baby behaviour. I was probably capable of screaming abuse at a complete stranger, had I possessed the energy to get off the couch and draw breath.

But c'mon. Using an expression like that, at a complete stranger, who did nothing but park her car? The abovementioned screaming abuse... I'm sure I would have reserved it for a stranger who, say, honked her horn. Or revved her car while the muffler was missing. Or who belted on my front door and rang the doorbell repeatedly, barged in, and then shook the baby's bed until the kid woke up.

Personally (placing the inexcusable choice of words aside for a moment), I'm pointing the blame squarely at any parent whose kid is so sensitive to noise that they wake up from the sound of traffic. If you want your kid to sleep, don't get them depending on utter silence. I'm not suggesting you run a cement mixer full of bricks next to the baby's bed. But if the kid can't cope with an adult conversation in the living area... or say, a passing motorist... well then, good luck when they're 5 and can hear a 9pm movie on the tv that they'd like to watch.

02 May, 2010

Loose Threads.

1. We invited my mother-in-law for Sunday dinner today and I made a lamb roast. (Above picture is not my lamb roast - photo posed by models.) The oven was too hot and the lamb was ready a whole HOUR earlier than it should have been (and by the time we realised, the lamb had shrunk dramatically and was already well done). I forgot to cook the onions. The carrots were raw. The meat was so tough that poor husband took a long, long time to carve it. The gravy was subsequently half cold by the time we ate. Lessons learned: 160 degrees on the oven, remember the onions, and I desperately need to learn time-management for my meals.

2. The potatoes, fried in the pan juices and marinade, were fantastic. Marinade: garlic, mixed herbs, oil, mild American mustard, steak spice, vinegar, pepper, salt and lemon juice.

3. I did figure out the secret to the bread. Well, two secrets. One is that you need to weigh the flour instead of measuring by a cup. The real discovery though, was that an overripe (black) banana thrown into the dough makes it perfect. The bread is lighter in texture, softer, and doesn't taste like banana.

4. My house in Wellington is sold! Well, 90% sold, as contracts have exchanged. It will be such a relief, and my poor mother will be able to stop running around like crazy over this.

01 May, 2010

It's Preposterous

...to be asked to shell out for something which should be free.

The disturbing part is how many airlines are openly flouting the law. I'm referring, of course, to the recent flight disruptions associated with the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafiallajökull.

(I hope I've pronounced that correctly.)

According to EU law, anyone unable to travel thanks to a cancelled flight has certain rights. These include (but aren't limited to) accommodation, taxi to and from the airport, meals and two phone calls. These rights are not affected regardless of whether the airline was at fault, and they still apply if the cancellations were caused by a natural disaster such as a huge load of ash in the sky.

While I have no doubt that the law was intended for times that the unforseeable was limited to, say, one whole plane that couldn't fly, or one whole runway closed, or one whole airport closed, or one whole country's airspace closed - for better or for worse, there is NO CLAUSE in the law which allows an airline to get out of these obligations, regardless whose fault it was.

Ok, ok, I'm just a blogger, don't take my word for it. Check out the plain English version of this law on Wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_261/2004 .

Ok, ok, Wikipedia isn't always accurate - so if you're brave, the actual legal text is here http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32004R0261:EN:HTML:NOT . Note carefully: it's written quite clearly that if the disaster wasn't the airlines' fault, they get out of paying compensation money. But there is nothing saying they get out of providing the hotel, taxi, food and phone calls.

This law extends OUTSIDE the EU when a passenger is flying into, or out of, the EU. So yes, if the customer is stuck in the USA but trying to get to the EU - they're still covered by the law. So it's particularly galling that airlines are flat out saying "no". I have heard first-hand from passengers that the airlines are saying they won't. They are also refusing to give passengers a copy of the regulation - which by law, they must do.

These reports are coming from at least one airlines' Official Facebook page. Not mentioning any particular airlines (let's just say it's three letters in the alphabet, in a row, and is vaguely royal and reminds me of clogs and windmills). Shame, shame, shame. One airline's partner in the USA is even telling passengers they're entitled to these things, and directing passengers to call their airline - and yet the call centre of the airline itself is still saying no? Shame on you. I think you'd better get your collective story straight, before someone thinks to start a class action suit, don't you?

I've been very lucky that (touch wood) my flights aren't affected by the ash. I've been "fortunate" enough to have important legal documents badly delayed by the disruptions though, and I can only imagine the distress of people who were stuck on the wrong side of the world for weeks on end, without the cash to feed and shelter themselves. Airlines saying no should have been horribly embarrassed to allow that.

But in a dirty nod to a rather entrepeneurial UK-based airline Flybe, I have just received an email with this abhorrant invitation enclosed.

Note carefully:

(1) They're offering to provide accommodation if I'm unable to depart. This is the responsibility of the airline even if I don't buy the insurance.
(2) Car hire: If I can't leave home, why would I need this?
(3) Ferry: I presume they're offering this instead of a flight. If they don't fly me, they MUST either get me there some other way (like say, a ferry) or give me a full refund. Paying for insurance to get a ferry doesn't look quite so attractive when it's the slower, lesser-value solution they had to give me for free anyway.

Or, let's look at the second part.

(1) Accommodation if I'm stuck and can't get home. This is the responsibility of the airline even if I don't buy the insurance.
(2) Travel expenses... hrm, do you mean like meals when I haven't got a kitchen to cook in, and a taxi back to the airport because I haven't got a car, and a few phone calls because I haven't got a phone? These things are ALL the responsibility of the airline even if I don't buy the insurance.

So, let's sum up what my calculations say that I get for the value price of £6.99 per person per leg (total cost: £55.92):


What an... attractive... deal, Flybe. Sign me up for a dozen.

29 April, 2010

The Seven-Legged Spider

If you, like me, enjoy a good clever chain email filled with wit, you'll have heard the story of the seven-legged spider. (Yes, yes, I recognise the paradox in that sentence: deal with it.)

If you haven't heard the story, read this page and then come back here.

I've been spending many an hour of late perusing the other articles on that site. I could wax lyrical on the sheer genius that is David Thorne. I could waste valuable time patting the heads of the righteously indignant, reassuring them that he only has an audience because people like them throw tantrums.* But I won't, because those people prefer tantrums to paying attention to wisdom, and that's eleventy bajillion minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

So in leiu of such a panacea, I have redeemed myself by inviting more than a thousand people to the birthday party of a complete stranger (a friend of a friend) who publically listed her birthday drinks on Facebook.

* I SO wanted to write "tanties" there, because thowing a tanty is infinitely more tough than throwing a tantrum, but for those who didn't understand what a tanty is, the graceful flow of my repartee would have been irrevocably lost.

14 April, 2010

Hmmm writing?

So I've submitted an article to Helium for the first time in ages. I wasn't too enthused about the subject though, and it shows (currently ranking just above the middle). I need to put some quality in. Maybe next time? Blah.

Tonight I attempted home made pizza. The base was absolutely fantastic! I did have to add more flour than the recipe asked for, but that's ok, all flours are different. I made the dough in the breadmaker and threw in 4 tsp of pizza herbs to it. Pizza dough recipe

The toppings weren't so perfect though. I made one with barbecue sauce, because I ran out of tomato. It was ok, but overall the pizzas were a bit sweet (pineapple and sweet corn overdose). It needed something more on the salty side of things. Still, I can still award myself 7 out of 10, quite respectable for a first attempt. And the crust was a 9.

11 April, 2010

Finnish Lessons: 2010

Over the Winter, my Finnish has basically frozen in time, just like the weather. I'm now in yet another beginner class. The grammar is just fine, I can read and write the lessons no problems. I can merrily parrot the answers to the teacher's written questions. Unfortunately, the moment anyone opens their mouth and speaks to me in Finnish, the babelfish in my ear turns it into perfect Swahili. It's not an exaggeration either - (well, maybe the Swahili thing is) - I'm presently on my 12th teacher and bored stupid by the course contents, but utterly unable to undertand what the teacher actually says.

The part that's REALLY sad isn't that I'm crap at oral Finnish. The part that's saddest is that when I confessed this to a classmate, she knew exactly what I meant. A bystander overheard and admitted that she, too, had done this class before and had returned because she couldn't use any of the grammar she'd been taught. Incredulous, I asked one of the guys. Same old story. People all over the place manage to grasp grammatical structures but never actually speak Finnish outside the classroom.

So an epiphany of sorts is just waiting to be seen by the powers that be. Newspapers reporters churn out article after article about how "difficult" Finnish grammar is and how Finland simply MUST spend more on teaching the grammar to the immigrants. Universities conduct studies on newcomers and find that nobody finds the Finnish courses very useful. Staff examine the course contents ad nauseum, writing new books and inventing different approaches to the same thing: imparting the grammar. And all for naught.

It isn't grammar alone we need to learn. Books can do that; why attend a class if I can study a grammar book at home? Will learning to create a perfect sentence help me, if speaking a sentence is so awkward? Isn't it better to talk "like a weird foreigner", my mumblings full of grammatical errors, but knowing enough to get my meaning across?

We need to practice speaking. PRACTICE; what a concept! Guess what, universities, hosting a conversation class is cheap - just take a copy of the Metro into class, no other preparation required. No photocopying, no exams to mark. Just have conversations about different topics. Or is that too simple?

Jam 5 immigrants into a classroom with a teacher and no pens, papers or books. Lock the door for an hour a day. They'll learn more in that 60 minutes than in the last 60 hours of homework.


You know what's weird? This blog (untouched for quite a while through sheer laziness on my part) is still consistently getting 10-ish unique hits a day. I wonder if they're all bots?

So as you might have gathered, I hammered the "post" button a few dozen times today and spewed out a bunch of posts I'd written a while ago, which had been sitting idle backstage. The dates aren't necessarily accurate and suddenly I've gone from Christmas preparation posts to the present day - when the snow is melting and Spring is peeking at us in sporadic bursts. Do not adjust your set, etc.