Thursday, 22 December 2011


You may think it is a blessing if you do not gain weight easily. It might be if you are the sporty type but if you are not it is a totally different matter. As years go by you will realize it is, in fact, a curse. How could you ever motivate yourself to exercise regularly if you stay slim without any effort?

Kite surfer by the Golden Horn or Zlatni Rat, Brac, Croatia.

I have tried many times but it seems there just isn’t a drop of an athlete in me. I decided I need to introduce regular exercise of some sort into my agenda when I was turning 40 – with scant result. Then I set 50 years as the final limit to start taking the health of the rest of my life seriously. That never happened either. 

I admit it is rather nice to notice that the older you get the better your looks rank among people of your own age and sex. But I need to reach the level of endorphins when you not only get a free boost to your self-esteem but also achieve improved health as a bonus. I am agonizingly aware I cannot wait until 60 to make this change. Luckily my waistline has begun to help me keep this in mind.

Bikers gone boxing inside a stronghold in Kastela, Croatia.

However, I’m afraid the only method to force me into action is some military kind of command. So my lack of orderly fitness activities is actually due to my lack of a companion who would drag me to the arena. Didn’t I tell you I’m a master of excuses? Left, right, left, right, ex-er-cise!

Teresa Maria

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Some brandy does it

There is one pastry I love to see on my Christmas coffee table. The dough itself is so tasty that I always hope no one is near when I’m making it so I can scrape the remains from the bowl straight to my own mouth.

This favourite of mine is, unsurprisingly, a fruit cake but not the dark and heavy loaf-shaped one traditional in many parts of the world. It is a light-coloured fruity and nutty ring cake with traces of brandy that may be more than just a suggestion if your taste buds are sensitive.

Fruit cake with brandy

250 g  (8 fl oz)  butter or margarine
200 ml                (cane) sugar
4                           eggs
100 ml                dried apricots (chopped)
100 ml                candied cherries
100 ml                hazelnuts
100 ml                currants
500 ml                plain flour
2 teaspoons      baking powder
50 ml                  brandy

Cream butter or margarine and sugar together, beat in the eggs, stir in the fruit and nuts. Stir together the baking powder and the flour and stir the mixture and the brandy in the cream. Spoon in a prepared ring tin and bake in 175°C (350°F) for 45-50 min. 

Some people are not very keen on dried fruit in a cake, which is all the better for those who are. And if the ingredients include something you don’t like you can always replace it with the same amount of something similar. (For example, I don’t like raisins in any baked or cooked food so I’m using currants instead.) 

A slice or two of this cake will be perfect with a cup of tea or coffee on a cold winter afternoon or with a class of sherry or port as a dessert after a lengthy dinner. 

The cake will keep for several weeks. In fact, the flavours will be richer and the nuts a bit softer if you bake it a couple of weeks before you are planning to serve it. You can enjoy slices of the cake all through the holiday season – or even further if you are lucky enough to keep it safe from the gourmands of your company. 

Teresa Maria

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

First visit of snow

Some hints of it started to fall down a week ago. I didn’t believe it would stay much longer than until the following morning so I didn’t rush to post about it. Now I have to make a note: the storm we had on Friday brought several centimetres more and in spite of the sleet and occasional rain since then some of it is still here.

No matter how late we see the first snowfall it always comes too soon and as a surprise to many. Now not only some drivers but also nature was unprepared. We had such a mild autumn that many plants had started a second growing season. In November, some wildflowers bloomed and the trailing strawberry hanging on our porch tried to produce berries as you can see in the photo at the end of this post. 

Despite the first snow, the two roses by our house still have some green leaves. However, this is because they only started to grow in the autumn. I’ve nurtured my climbing Flammentanz roses in large pots and we’ve taken the pots in for the winter. Until now they have always survived the frost perfectly in the old cow house we have on our plot. 

Climbing Flammentanz in December. 
This spring, however, the roses didn’t show any sign of life even after weeks in a most sunny position and I feared we had lost them. The thought to part with my ‘Dancing flames’ felt hard so I decided to do it gradually – or in the best case witness a miracle. I emptied the pots in a large black waste bag, placed the plants on top, took them to a shed and let them be for a couple of months.

In late August when I was resigned to the idea to throw them away, I noticed they had revived after all. By then I had learnt my lesson and I finally planted them properly. No winter can be any worse underground than the -34°C (about -30°F) we had last season, most likely also inside the old cow house that hasn’t seen any cattle since the 1960s. 

It will take a few summers to see the roses flourishing like they used to but with proper nourishment and some love they should be completely renewed. Little by little just like their owner.

Teresa Maria

November strawberry.
December green fields. And a 'river' runs through it. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

My gold-brushed marriage

Some years ago, the Finnish master goldsmith Kristian Saarikorpi designed a clever ring called Puzzle. It is made of two loose parts that fit together like the pieces of a puzzle but can’t be completely separated. It is available in different materials in both glossy and matte finishing according to your choice.

The symbolism of two individuals belonging inseparably together fascinated me, which is why I chose Puzzle for my engagement and wedding ring when I remarried a few years ago. (Saarikorpi has since then designed e.g. a ring called Wave with two separable engagement rings and a third one to be placed in between as the wedding ring but I still prefer the inseparable Puzzle.)

All jewellery items from Saarikorpi Design come with a lifetime warranty but my ring’s maintenance was long overdue, partly because the goldsmith no longer works in Helsinki. My ring also needed a bit of enlarging to ensure that I can wear it in all temperatures without having to take any inspired measures if it is suddenly stuck, such as pouring on my finger a bottle of ice-cold water from the minibar in a Spanish hotel room.

So we finally made a day trip to Fiskars to visit Saarikorpi’s studio and have the ring resized and the white and yellow gold pieces brushed to their original matte grandeur. I love the finishing and wonder why it took me so long to take the trouble to have the ring maintained. Another piece of evidence to the long list of my recent crimes of indolence, I’m afraid.

In addition to creating unique handcrafted pieces, Saarikorpi has for several years now pioneered in computer-aided jewellery design in his studio in the picturesque arts and design centre Fiskars village some 90 km west of Helsinki.

The history of the village dates back to the mid 17th century when Fiskars Ironworks were founded. The village has seen many changes during its 260 years of existence, not all of which were for the better. Since the 1980s, however, Fiskars village has revived into a major arts, crafts and design hub with many shops, exhibitions and studios. It is a popular tourist attraction especially in the summertime. I know now both Fiskars village and my marriage deserve the annual excursion and golden brush-up.

Teresa Maria

This door to a former cow house now leads
to a goldsmith's studio.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Freedom wasted

Time is incorruptible.
Every now and then I have to remind myself about one of the very basic facts of life. That there are only 24 hours in a day and that the amount of hours is the same for each and everyone of us, even for the most productive, most talented, most famous people.

How is it possible that I often feel the 24 hours are not enough for me to have anything meaningful done when those at the very top of one field or another with admirable scientific or artistic achievements, or responsibilities and difficulties the size of a mountain do not have a minute more?

Naturally, these people generally have staff or family to take care of all their domestic and other ‘less relevant’ tasks but still this is a mystery I cannot explain but in one word: timetable.

I realize I’ve grown to give myself too much slack, perhaps to compensate for the past couple of hard years. Even though I hate the thought of routine in my life, it is now time to abandon the reward excuse. Then I need to build up a daily and weekly timetable­ – and learn to follow that. It won’t happen overnight but I’m promising myself to get there bit by bit.

If I can’t accomplish more now that I am free I might as well spend my days at an office and feel miserable. Then I would at least get a salary.

Teresa Maria

Monday, 28 November 2011

A HUGgin experience

We have enjoyed an exceptionally mild autumn, although recently it has no longer felt a luxury. There’s no sign of snow yet so the days are depressingly grey and dark except for an occasional hour or two of sun once or twice weekly if we are lucky. This is an unfriendly time for anyone and even more so for someone trying to carry out some changes in his/her life. Therefore a little bit of indulging is most appropriate to boost your spirits in the darkest season of the year.

Last Saturday, I went with my husband to a most ear-hugging concert at the HUG (Helsinki Universal Guitar) Festival. They have such a welcoming logo that seeing it alone will make you want to book tickets. We love ‘la guitarra española’ but had heard hardly any classical guitar live earlier. And what a feast it was!

The concert started with performances by the Artistic Director of the festival, the excellent Finnish (flamenco) guitarist and composer Raúl Mannola. In addition, it offered breath-taking shows by Antonio Rey, the Spanish flamenco guitar virtuoso and composer who has in recent years won all the guitar competitions he has participated in, and the legendary American guitarist and composer Ralph Towner whose caress of the strings is as stunning as ever at his seventies. 
The ease with which these masters handle their instrument is phenomenal and the music they produce is pure magic. We were served some serious HUGging!

Ralph Towner playing his own tune Jamaica Stopover.

Thanks to modern technology you can relive feelings from an uplifting concert at home even if most of the CDs were sold out by the time you were at the counter. Looking forward to a new live ‘guitarrista’ experience on our next trip to Spain.

Teresa Maria

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Perils of planning

Ive always had great admiration for people who are able to jump into working on something the minute it comes to their mind. I don’t refer to the easily inspired ones, those who forget all about their worldly obligations when they suddenly become absorbed by a compelling notion. Even I may have been guilty of such behaviour every once in a while, and that is not necessarily a quality to admire. I refer to the efficient ones who happen to think about something they would like to do and when you turn your head they are busy implementing their idea.

My best friend at university was one of them. She always had some small everyday project or other going on, and I bet she still has. For example, she might think it would be nice to have a particular kind of sweater and the next day she simply bought the yarn and started knitting.

Pieces of Marimekko fabrics waiting for their perfect use.

It seems I’m always stuck in the planning phase. No, I’m not one of those who make a roadmap for each of their tiniest projects with a budget, a timeline and descriptions of things to consider and of those that might go wrong. On the contrary, I rather avoid making any kinds of definitive plans on paper. That doesn’t mean I don’t make plans. For me, planning is a process brewing in my mind almost constantly without requiring much attention or awareness. Still I find my domestic accomplishments modest.

Making a definitive plan would imply abandoning all the other alternatives the situation at hand might offer or could be solved by. I’ve only just realized this may the poison that’s making me suffer if a written plan is demanded. I can’t stand the thought that the options would be limited to just one. – Or is this another excuse because it’s painful to admit your own lack of initiative?

No more pondering about the best use for a piece of fabric or ball of wool for the absolutely optimal outcome. No more postponing the little things to a more suitable moment. I’m promising myself to implement at least one, however small, idea or thought every day at once when I come to think of it or notice that something needs just a little bit of attention to make it right. Quite a lesson to learn, I can assure you.

Teresa Maria

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Keeping life open till late

Like so many of us, I’m a master in finding excuses. There has never been any difficulty for me to list dozens of perfectly valid reasons anytime to postpone the fun and creative things I would love to do and am currently unable to but will definitely accomplish one day. There was always something more pressing, more worthwhile to take care of first if I were to consider myself a proper and praiseworthy member of the team: family, workplace, circle of friends, neighbourhood, you name it. 

New beginnings.

Even right now, I could give you an impressive account of things waiting to be urgently tidied out, filed, recycled, rearranged, refurbished or repaired in and around my house. The present list would include quite a number of jobs requiring hours and hours of work. Moreover, many of them are – at least if you ask my husband – obstacles to our future happiness. But even so the burden of unfinished and awaiting tasks is blocking my view so that I’m unable to see the rest of my life. It provides me with a wall to hide behind and avoid plunging into the unknown, although more fulfilling tomorrow that I both fear and yearn for but still believe to be waiting for me, not just yet. 

Wasted potential.

The escape must end this instant. There cannot be anything more pressing ever to require my attention than living my life fully, the way I’ve wanted for ages but haven’t been able to because I’ve been too cowardly, too inefficient or simply too lazy to get a grip of my potential.

Please join me on the journey into venturing towards what might be perfect for me. I’m learning to keep all the doors of my life open till late for any number of new things to enter. Some of them must be simply wonderful. 

Teresa Maria

Open till late with a wide choice of options.