Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ice, snow, cultural cliches and kicking sleds...

They say you can never go home again, meaning that you can never return to the place you grew up in, as the person you once were. And, change being the only constant, it is definitely accurate to a certain degree, but really I've found the opposite to be true. Maybe you can't ever get back to your childhood self and maybe the places you remember growing up are long gone, or the people have moved away, never to return, or to be seen again. But at the same time, the moment you return to the place(s) you grew up in you begin to capture little bits and pieces of who you once were.
For instance, it sure seems to me that whenever I return home, my mother starts organizing my life like I am a kid again, sending me to hairdressers and dentists and shaking her head at my dress, silly ideas and eating habits.

And, as surely as late-in-season snow storms seem to pass over this country again and again since I've come here, memory after memory starts drifting up from wherever we hide our old selves. I start remembering all the small things about my homeland, my younger self; "This is where I kissed this boy or that." "This is where my climbing tree was, the one who's leaves I spent so many summer days reading Anais Nin and Sylvia Plath." "This is the way we walked to school and to town, hand in hand with my best friend." Or simply "That is a magpie. A rabbit's foot print in the snow. A Weeping Willow."
I remember things I don't even recall ever learning. Words for activities I no longer participate in, for holidays I don't celebrate, ideas that have no more meaning to me. I remember lyrics to hymns I've not sung for years. Whole chapters of books I've not read in years. I remember how to skate backwards and make Russian fish-stew.
There's a few things most people elsewhere in the world seem to know about Scandinavian countries (I have no illusions. They are all kind of interchangeable in people's minds.); how everyone has access to a sauna and a summer cabin, no matter their social standing, how it's cold and dark in the winter and how the sun never sets in the summer. How everyone's blond and wears bright Marimekko-colors and eats meatballs and weird fish. How there's more wild nature than people, but how all those people have smartphones, or whatever the latest technology happens to be. And none of those, or most other pre-conceptions of Scandinavia are wrong, it's just that underneath all those cliches, there's a million little things that no one else knows, that make this country feel like home.
There was a snowstorm that followed me here from Iceland the day I arrived (and prevented my luggage from making it all the way with me), and standing on the bus stop without gloves, hat, or winter coat, the smell of snow felt overpowering, the feel of it scratching under my feet so overwhelming that I felt totally transported for a moment.
Being here is a little like visiting a museum dedicated entirely to your former selves, each taste evokes some small avalanche of childhood, each old toy and cup speaks this language I feel like only I can understand, yet at the same time every candy bar and street sign and the theme song of the evening news is universal parlance shared among every Finnish person.
I look at people my age in wonder and realize we grew up with same kid's shows and political scandals and those weird rubber mud-suits and you guys have no idea what I'm talking about do you? That's 'cos I've never seen a rubber mud-suit in America, or anywhere else in the world.

I feel like a part of me is completely understood and free here, never having to explain fermented milk, or mandatory paid maternity leave, or yösää to anyone ever.

Yet another part of me is constantly alert to the fact that I no longer belong at all. That I've grown and changed in ways that don't fit those old places anymore.
That from here on out, I will always just be a visitor here.

And that's really okay. This place will always be a part of me. I'll carry its storms and frozen lakes and magpies, oven-baked milk custards and millions of library books and all my friends and family with me wherever I go.


Each time I come here, I feel a little more at ease that I'll probably never really live here again.


I love looking at my mother's amazing collections and hearing family stories and revisiting memories and words.
My mom has one of the best decorating tastes I've ever seen, mixing decades colors and patterns effortlessly. For the last almost thirty years she's worked as a set and costume designer, so it's not wonder of course. Sometimes I wonder if it's because of growing up in such a unique and carefully curated environment that I've always been rather more relaxed about my decorating style.



At the same time, I feel like I've definitely gotten my love of old things, instead of new from her, my taste in folklore and romantic styles, and my utter indifference to minimalism.
It's fun to look at your family and see aspects of your own self reflected back. Of course sometimes it can be more than a little painful too.


The older I get too, the more I enjoy spending time with my family, the more it's just fun and less wrought with tension.
My mom and I like to play games, look at photos and go thrifting together. My aunt and I discuss the latest books we've both read. With my cousin we discuss our parents, their weakening memories, their idiosyncrasies. We remember our childhoods. Laugh at our past selves, but rather tenderly.

There are so many things I want to do, so many places I would like to visit.
Yet a strange timeless inertia also always makes an appearance. Since I have very few responsibilities, I am free to roam and write and read, completely unlike at home where there's always some chore waiting to be completed, some social event to attend.

This freedom too, brings me back a little, to those years growing up in small town, with nothing to do, but dream, nowhere to go but walk around the empty streets.


Of course we've already done tons of things. These images, for instance, are from my parents country place, half an hour outside town, where we've visited neighbors, kicked our strange sleds around the hills, watched for the tracks of rabbits and foxes and lynxes.


I've collected the smells of earthen root cellars and attics and other familiar places. Eaten countless buns (pulla) and drunk more coffee and tea and fermented milk than is probably good for me.



I've walked on the frozen lake and sat in the sauna and bought potatoes and carrots from a man in the market place dressed in ice-fishing overalls and gone out to pee in the middle of the night in -20℉ temperatures.








It's good to be home. Even if it isn't my only one any more.

Where do you call home? Is it somewhere you live or somewhere you're a visitor? Do you have many homes or just one?


  1. Mulle nousi tosi paljon tuntemuksia pintaan tästä postauksesta. Mä niin tunnistan just ton vapaudentunteen siitä, ettei tartte selitellä vaikka jotain yletöntä kahvinjuontia tai saunanakuilua... että tietää olevansa sellasten ihmisten parissa, jotka tietää että Matias Sassali lauloi Elämää juoksuhaudoissa.

    Mä oon vähän sellasessa oudossa vaiheessa tän paluumuuton kanssa just nyt. Meidän NY:n talo myytiin eilen, ja mulle tuli tänään aamulla ihan yhtäkkiä sellanen paniikki, että apua, nyt me sit ihan oikeesti asutaan täällä maalla. Suomessa. Mulla on ehkä sit kuitenkin tässä ollu joku alitajuntainen fiilis siitä, että me mentäis vielä takasin Binghamtoniin.

    Mä just yks päivä yritin opettaa Chrisille potkukelkkailua. Se ei oo koskaan myöskään hiihtänyt, eikä tajua ollenkaan, että ALV on valmiiksi lisättynä kaupan hintoihin. Tällasta täällä. Että mitä hittoa tästä kaikesta oikein tulee. Missä mun koti on? - sitä mä lähinnä meinaan. Äh, ihme vuodatus. Hitsit kun pääsisin Stadiin kun oot siellä, olis niin kiva tavata!

    P.S. Tää on 6-0 omituisin kommentti, jonka olen koskaan jättänyt yhteenkään blogiboksiin. :D

    1. Eiku T siis ihana kommentti. Kiitos siitä. Tää on niin tätä. Kaks maata. Ja ei se talviurheilu vielä mitään mutta kun minä yritin tätille häiden aattona selittää että ei oo valssia kun kaikkialla maailmassa ei joka poikaa lukion tokalla opeteta valssaamaan.

  2. this house is so good. i really love the branches over the picture frames and the collections along windowsills. and i think you can go home again. home will always be home and it will be different even when it is exactly the same, but it will still forever and always be home.

  3. wandering around my own house this morning, then reading this, i am struck by how much of a HOME my rambly tumble-down boring little mid century house has become over the years we have lived here. our backyard holds the graves of several dear furry friends. and the remnants of our own wedding in the grass and trees that overlooked it, and the whispers of a new baby's cries and laughs, and the voices and shadows of the family and friends who have lived here and sang here and danced here and cooked food together and cried and stayed up late watching stars in the backyard or taken walks under the moonlight (US!) round these neighborhoody hills. i have never been satisfied with the aesthetic of my house and still want my rural dream home one day, but for now i will appreciate this home of mine and its secrets and loves.

    your mama's home and collections are so inspiring and beautiful. i can see why the finnish people wear bright colors and have rosy cheeks and are lovely to look upon...that expanse of white snow, the contrast of a red sled or a wooden cabin,a dapple of sunlight, a plate of buns and eggs, it all looks so striking with that land as backdrop. i wish you well in your old stomping grounds my dear. i know you are soaking it all up, exploring, remembering, and thinking and daydreaming and wandering with vigor and thoughtfulness and delight.

  4. Well... I never really know what to call home! Probably my 97 yr old granny's house in England, though I only lived there for 2 years when I was a teenager. I was born in Germany, went to England when I was 3 and French-speaking Switzerland when I was 8, back to England (s. above!) then to German-speaking Switzerland, where I married and brought up my daughters and have spent 30 years, now, very close to the German border but feeling more English. So am I now Swiss? In lots of ways, yes, I assimilated well and speak the dialect without any accent etc. but culturally, I'm still a mix. We finally bought a house 7 years ago so that is very much home (it's a pretty special old house!) but when I go to my granny's, that's really the centre of my universe, if I'm honest - only my family isn't there, so I love to come home again! We also have a house in Brittany (over 20 yrs now) and love to go there to the shore every year and we have close connections with Ticino and Italy, too, so there's another aspect...
    Maybe home is just where family is!

  5. What a beautiful written post. A real eye opener.

    For me this would be my grandparent's home.

  6. it all looks so beautiful!! I love the interiors of the cabin, the wood with all the bright colors and natural artifacts! so much lovliness. I dreamt about playing in thick blankets of snow this winter but it was not to be in the pnw...happy travels to you! xo m

  7. such beauty! your mom's cabin is a dream! perfectly eclectic. i love all the colors, wood and branches and flowers. it must be strange to go back home. i really can't imagine as i've always lived in the same area my whole life. i suppose i'd call home my actual family more than a place. neither my mom or dad live in my childhood home but i do drive past it occasionally and think that the current owners don't know that my dad planted those trees or that my sister and i use to mow the lawn... i'm glad you get to go home :D have fun!

  8. Beautiful pictures, I am in love with that lovely horse. It doesn't look too different there from winter in Ohio where I grew up. I hope you had a great trip

  9. 'Momma once told me
    You’re already home where you feel love...'

    From the band The Head and the Heart's song 'Lost in My Mind'

    The crystal photo in the window is my favorite. And those lovely sleds! Are they used for transportation across flat ground? Here in Austria we hike up mountains then ride woven sleds on metal runners down trails kilometers and kilometers long.

    I'm a North Dakota girl at heart, my mind was educated on the East Coast, my spirit bloomed in California... but my feet, oh it seems my feet pledge allegiance to no place! Ghana, Costa Rica, South Korea, France, Spain, Austria. I'm married to a French man & we've been living in a medieval village in the middle of the Austrian Alps for the past three years. Between my own and now our seemingly annual migrations & those of my families semi-annual migrations across the United States, I have have been thrown into the fires of change more often than I would care to count. Just another scorpio, rising from the ashes yo!

    It'd be lovely to make a neat summary about what I've learned in all this time, but I think that the quote above does it best for the time being. Thanks for sharing & for asking questions... it's such a pleasure to check in here! xx

  10. Such a great collection of words and photos. I loved the whole post. Totally sucked me in. I always forget you are from far away Finland cause you fit in so well here. A Lopezian at heart! I think... Looks like a magical place to be as a kid though. All the cute little houses and wooded sleds. Definitely take some film while you are there, the light like you said looks amazing. Nice to see some photos of your childhood memories, enjoy your time away! Rain rain rain for a solid week here. But light until 7:00 so cant it complain. Oh so happy Maliska started a blog... what is it? I couldn't find it...

    1. I know, I couldn't find it either! I was kinda pokin fun at her in my comment. It's a blog but it's super secret? Hey email me your addy and get a bday present ;)

  11. This is my first official hello, though I have been following for years! Its about time, for goodness I meant to comment in your post some time ago when you asked all of us, the quiet mice in the corner, to say hello....

    What a lovely post as always Milla. And so timely for my life as well. The little bug of nostalgia has been creeping into my mind lately, as I recall my childhood. Now that I have a child of my own, I hope to recreate the magic that I felt when I was his age. But I have my struggles, as I currently live in Los Angeles, and this monstrous city simply doesn't seem all that magical to me. I grew up in (what used to be) rural San Diego...hills, fields, grasses, tumbleweeds, granite boulders, creeks, old trees for climbing, horses, chalkrock, secret routes to friends houses, a good does of that freedom and safety we used to have back in them olden days :)

    And also a big 'ol thanks to you....I looked at your moms pretty little cabin, so full of color and charm, and coveted the feeling of being surrounded my all those lovely little treasures, wishing I had such a place to visit. And then, last night as I was straightening up my own home before bed, I looked around at all of the little treasures I have collected and displayed over time, and realized that I DO actually live in such a place. Its so easy to be blind to what surrounds us every hour of every day.

    So, my personal reminder for the day, prompted by your post.....Home is where I am, and if you lack some magic - make your own ;)
    Blessings and Light!

    1. My dear, thank you for your sweet comment and thank you for reading. What an important lesson to remember, we do all live in a lovely place, ourselves, our families and even the homes we make. Thanks for the reminder to cultivate it. Love the one you're with, right, it works on the home and house too ;)

  12. Dreamy! Good question....where is home exactly. I thought I knew.

  13. dear Milla, i have been haunting your blog for years as well, and always found your writing so beautiful and thought-provoking. this post, particularly is so deeply touching to me.

    i spent my childhood in Siberia, and then my family came to the US in the mid-90's. we moved around the Midwest and Southwest, and i eventually migrated to Northern California on my own. now i am in the Pacific Northwest, amazed at the beauty of Oregon, and how similar it is, in some ways, to the forests i knew as a child. i found a home in the Arizona desert once, in the dusty/magical town of Tucson, perhaps because i had a wonderful community of friends there and a rhythm of life that i enjoyed (although the everpresent sun was something i could never quite get used to.) perhaps Oregon will become my next home - who knows?

    the homes of our childhood seem the most sacred of all, even if we can never return there - for me, it has been quite difficult to return to the woods where i roamed as a kid (it is remote, and expensive to travel to), and because Russia has changed so drastically in the past 10-20 years, even the people and the traditions are not the same any longer. i joke with others who came from Russia as children that the country of our childhoods is like some bizarre twisted fairytale - indeed, maybe the greatest myth of the 20th century - that is now only preserved in the memories of immigrants and older folk who have isolated themselves from current life. the only physical objects that hold a record of that time for me are a handful of toys, some drawings, and old photographs...barely enough to fill one small suitcase.

    it has been difficult, at moments, to feel so displaced, to have so little record of myself, and that time in my life. yet i think it has made me value intangible, invisible connections more than anything as an adult, and place little trust in the materiality of what surrounds us. my childhood home is a set of dreams, feelings, memories - it is my family's stories told over and over again, against a changing backdrop of houses, cities, and acquaintances - those are things that can never be lost, and can never be taken away. it is true that home can be contained within precious, lovely things, familiar places, and well-worn paths...but i think that the essence of home is that unseen, powerful magic that ties us to our past, to a time when others cared for us, and kept us safe. that is home for me.

    1. Wow Natalya, this is one beautiful piece of writing, you know, if you ever want to guest post about Siberia I'd love to read all about it! Thank you so much for sharing and reading and commenting, oh you fellow Northland Girl.

    2. thank you so much for your kind words! i would love to do a guest post about Siberia, though where i spent most of my childhood is a peculiar combination of wilderness and science...

  14. What a wonderful place! Thank you for sharing so many pictures.

    And you described so perfectly how I feel when I go to see my parents and the place I grew up in.
    (I've lived in another country for over 12 years now.) I used to do the same thing, seeing doctors,
    getting my hair cut etc. :-)

    1. Anke, where are you from originally, you live in London, right? For me I feel like I trust Finnish dentists and doctors way way more than their American counterparts. Irrational, but that's how I feel. If I ever got really sick (knock on wood) I'd probably head to the home country. Then again we do have a saying that if sauna, tar and women don't help you'll probably die, so ;)