Sunday, August 3, 2008

Artist Residency

I have always been a bit of a sceptic about writer's residencies--why not just buckle down and write at home? And then, last year, I stayed home and graded and graded and then for a bit of spicy fun, I did some lesson plans and some course readings. When I wasn't obsessing about teaching, I was obsessing about how I wasn't writing.

Thus: Soaring Gardens, PA.
Time: 18 days
I applied for the residency with Lorissa (along w/ another friend who ditched us for the south of France). Lorissa and I became friends in Prague, where we attended a writing workshop. We're both nonfiction writers. Both writing about family tragedy. We arrived at Soaring Gardens at midnight and were instantly charmed by the old farm house, the sweet wallpaper, the spa bathrooms, the walls and walls of bookshelves. How were we so lucky?

In the mornings, we would sit on the back porch and drink coffee and watch the birds and critters. In the evenings, we would take long rambling walks around the farm land. In between, Lorissa wrote like someone with her hair on fire. I picked berries, sat in the hammock and read, and then casually opened my computer and revised here and there. And somehow, at such a languid pace, I got tremendous amounts of work done. It was lovely.

Soaring Gardens

Soaring Garden's Artist Residency

Taking walks with artist Lorissa

The raspberries were a delight!

A serious day of reading

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Teaching Ms. 29 books!

Ah Minnesota. I was launching into some teacherly nonsense when I was interrupted by the warbling call of loons. Loons! You can't compete with that. Nor with coffee.

I'm on the campus of St. John's. More particularly, I'm at the Ecumenical Institute, and I just finished a week of minster wrangling. In the mornings, the ministers talked with Eugene Peterson (of the Message Bible, among other books) about balancing pastoring and the writing life, and in the afternoons, I led out in a writing workshop. On the first day of class, each pastor gave an introduction--which roughly translated into this: Have you written more books than the teacher? The answer: Why yes I have! One lady had written 29 books. Another gentleman had written 4. Still another had written 8 or 9. "How did you get this gig?" they kept asking me during breaks.

It was an interesting gig. Not only did the 12 students attend, but so did my boss Don, so did Eugene Peterson, and so did Dave the moderator. I got to be Miss Bossy Pants and enforce a cone of silence around the person being workshopped. It went something like this: "Remember Silvia, hold your comments till the end." "Ah, hate to interrupt you again Silvia, but it's hard to listen when you're talking." "Silvia, great question, but why don't we dialogue after the workshop?" At first, I was terrified to have so many non-students just lurking around the table, judging all the weirdness that comes out of my mouth, but Don and Dave were great, and I began to prey on poor Eugene. He is a lovely person. He's like a thin, incredibly quiet version of Santa Claus. Each time the students gave me a I'm-not-buying-that-particular-brand-of-crazy look, I would say, "Eugene, What do you think?" And he would agree with me, each and every time!

At the end of the week, Ms. 29 books said this: "I know this is probably a stereotype, but usually it's a disaster when a young person attempts to teach her elders. But it turned out better than I expected."

Don kindly let me stay in an apartment for a week after I taught. It is beautiful here. I can see the lake from my desk and this afternoon, I walked down to a pottery studio and talked with the master potter over tea. He said that you can't properly throw a bowl until you're 50. Before then, you just practice.

There is no one else staying at the apartments this week. At 5 pm, everyone at the institute packs up and drives home. Since this is Minnesota, nothing is locked--except my apartment, I lock it good at night, which is ridiculous and redundant. The main hall is kept unlocked and all the apartment keys are hanging on the wall inside. Last night, around 1am, I heard footprints right under my window. I looked out and saw nothing. Then, I again heard a very distinct crunch of gravel, pause, crunch of gravel, pause. My cell phone doesn't work here and Silvia clearly has a reason to come back and do me in. I again peeked out the blinds, and there, just below my window was a deer walking, pausing, walking, pausing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

A dhow on the Indian Ocean
date unknown

Kaarina Fordham's letter to her father:

Uganda, April 6, 1980

"We have grown more tomatoes and red peppers from our own land. The rains stopped this time, but they will start again fortunately. Here it has been peaceful at school, but in Kampala it is just as unsettled. The Tanzanian soldiers are gone, but they stole so skillfully that they took many things with them. They also shot civilians if they dared oppose them. . . . Sonja and Sari just left to get milk. Sonja learned to ride a bike (I already told you about this battle) and she rides passionately in the yard. The children sang last Sabbath for the YM performance and they put Sari as the leader to conduct one song. It was something to see as the littlest kid stood on a block of wood and conducted the others. People, of course, laughed.

I'm leaving now to see if I can find carrots or tomatoes from the land. The girls came back and both want space to write something. Wishes from us."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Los Angeles Times 2008 Festival of Books

Ah, lovely, literary Los Angeles. This morning, I went with four students and a colleague to UCLA for the festival of books. Since there were six of us, I drove one of the cars and even though I do not have air conditioning, and even though it was 98 degrees out, and even though I had warned the students that I'm a bad driver, one brave soul chose (willingly) to ride with two teachers. (This, unfortunately, becomes a relevant detail.)

UCLA is a beautiful campus. While I didn't see the ocean, I sensed its nearness, and I loved the eucalyptus trees towering beside the parking lot. The festival itself was crazy. There were panels and tents and events and, this being LA, even film stars. Julie Andrews was there to promote her memoir. (Apparently her childhood was filled with darker themes than dog bites and bee stings.) I mostly wandered around the exhibit tents and bought books, including Screaming Monkeys an anthology my teacher at Iowa State University had been working on at the time. It was fun to see it in print

So there I am, armful of books, moving from small tent to small tent when I see a novel titled: Skunk, A Love Story. Because I am a bad person, I hold the book up to my colleague and said, "hey, you should get this." I'm a little serious because she loves animals, but I'm mostly joking because--Skunk, A Love Story?

The man on the other side of the desk says, "Oh, are you interested?"

I noncommittally mumble something.

"Well, if you are, I could sign it for you."

We chat for a bit about skunk research. Apparently, he made some stuff up (that you can get high on skunk musk, for instance). In the end, I didn't buy the book. But it is getting good reviews on Amazon.

After eating a frozen sandwich, I attended a memoir panel. It was the first panel I've ever attended. (really!) Five years of creative writing classes and somehow, I never attended a literary panel. Now I have and the world is slowly righting itself. This panel was about place (natch) and self. There was even a debate about Truth and Accuracy. So all the memoir-y lions were taken out and dusted. Nevertheless, the panel was engaging. I didn't have time to buy books afterward, but I must, must, must get The Unheard by Joshua Swiller. The author was funny and smart and spoke unsentimentally about living in Zambia. I know, I'm so sentimental, but I'm beginning to realize that it's a disservice. You could tell he loved Zambia, but he just wasn't going to paint his experience with rose petaled sunsets.
On the drive back, I first pull in front of an on coming car. (long, angry honk) Then as I'm changing lanes and then changing lanes again, I nearly side swipe two different vehicles in my blind spot. This all happens in 5 flustered minutes. For the next hour, every time I change lanes, I notice the student in the back seat is also anxiously checking the next lane. When I dropped him off at his dorm, and he nearly hurls his body out of the car, I say, "well, you'll have some driving stories to tell."

His response: "Indeed. I sure will."

"Less of the indeed part," I say, ever the schoolmarm.

"Ha ha," he says. "You drove fine."

As he walks in front of the car, I assume my vehicle is in reverse and I almost hit him.

Friday, April 18, 2008


My nephew and I are taking taekwondo--half a world away from each other. Aidan is four years old, and he has just been promoted to a yellow belt.

I have been demoted to a purple one.

I got my black belt in Korea several years ago. Each morning, I woke up at 5:45 to attend class--a fact that still amazes me. My classmates were 15 middle school boys and 1 very angry middle school girl. They were all superior athletes and when I had to preform my pumsays, they would stand out of the teacher's eye range and demonstrate the steps I was getting wrong. I found the whole situation amusing, particularly my lack of talent--I think that's why I persevered through those dark winter mornings.

When I tell people I am no good at taekwondo, they usually think I'm being modest. I should be so lucky. I just joined a taekwondo institute in Riverside. The first day of class, I wore a track suit and practiced with the white belts. Afterwards, the instructor begged me not to wear my black belt to class and discourage the other students. Instead, he gave me a purple belt--and hinted that he was being overly generous.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, I'll be taking classes with adults, but on Wednesdays, I will be joining the teen class. That should be interesting (or terrifying).

Monday, April 7, 2008


Back in July, I did this complicated apartment search. Much to my delight, every apartment in Riverside had a.) a balcony b.) a pool. (No fridge, however.) For a while, I was dreaming crazy and looking at places with fireplaces and fitness centers.

Now that it is warmer, I have been sitting on my balcony, reading. I just finished Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. It is very good. Disturbing, but good. His sentences are a marvel. He has stripped them of any excess, and yet, they have still retained their warmth. He also uses a lot of dialogue, but it doesn't feel talky.

It is Saturday, market day. Lucy wakes him at five, as arranged, with coffee. Swaddled against the cold, they join Petrus in the garden, where by the light of a halogen lamp he is already cutting flowers.

Friday, April 4, 2008


There's a lovely farmer's market in Riverside. I thought my father was coming to visit this weekend and so I bought ingredients for stew and for salad and for side dishes. Turns out, I got the dates wrong. My father's coming next weekend. I guess I'll be eating well this week.

Swallow the Ocean

My MFA buddy Laura Flynn came to La Sierra and gave a reading on Wednesday. It was a triumph. She read from her memoir Swallow the Ocean--which is a poignant book. Laura also talked with one of my classes and had dinner with senior English majors.

It was tremendous fun to play host. Here is my office. Here is my school. See all the students smiling at me in the hall. (Yeah, I know, they probably want to stab me with a shiv, but they do smile sweetly.) It was like a rhyming show and tell.

So listen up, Minnesota--it was a beautiful 70 degrees in Riverside, and it was snowing in Minneapolis. How's that? Now don't you want to come see me? Laura couldn't stay very long, but if she had, I could have taken her to the beach, to the Getty museum, to the spray tanning place down the street. In other words, it would have been a cultural extravaganza--and if you come visit, all this plasticy goodness awaits. (And don't believe those people who call Riverside the armpit of California.)

As you'll see from the pictures, Laura is 6 months pregnant with twins. She was a very good sport about what turned out to be a very full day. If you haven't read Swallow the Ocean yet, put it on your booklist. It's really good.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


My grandmother is doing better. Thank you so much for the kind thoughts.

My aunt and uncle moved her to a nursing home near their house. I went to see her yesterday. She was sleeping when I came in. I woke her up, and she seemed pleased to see me. I asked if she was doing okay and if she liked it there. She said. "It's okay, but I have to, I have to . . ."

My grandmother rarely says anything substantive anymore. She doesn't talk about missing her husband who died several years ago and whose death devastated her. She doesn't talk about being scared or lonely or in pain. She never complains. (A few years ago, she complained so much that she was kicked out of an Adventist retirement center. We never told her why.) Anyway, I was pretty shocked that she was going to make a statement about her condition and was quite anxious to hear what she had to say.

She got distracted, but finally picked up the thread, "I have to wait around a lot."

Ah, I thought, I bet. "Are you bored, Nana?" I asked.

"I have to wait around before I can sleep," she said.

I had brought Nana mango juice, and so I ran around the nursing home trying to find a straw. It is a cheerful place. Lots of flowers in the lobby, several community rooms, a garden with fountains and benches, cheery wall paper, nice paintings. The halls were filled with residents chatting, and in the lobby, people were playing board games or watching TV. The only creepy detail: a lady kept screaming, "Help me. Help me. Help me." That was heartbreaking.

Nana took a sip of mango juice and gave a horrified look, the kind of face one makes when tasting something sour. "Delicious." She said. She took another sip and that was that. Though she would occasionally say, "mango" to humor me.

I had barely arrived when Nana looked at the clock with great concern and said: "It's 3:30, I guess I have to sleep." Since I'd only just arrived, I decided to keep her company, regardless of sleep needs. She said, "It's nice of you to come." Then: "I guess you have to go now." Then: "I should probably get some sleep." Finally, I took the hint.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"You just can't imagine how hungry a body can get."

My grandmother had a stroke last week. Considering everything, she's doing amazingly well. When I visited yesterday, she was sitting in a wheelchair, drinking strawberry Ensure. She said "talk to me," and I found that I was out of words. I finally leaned into her ear and shouted some about teaching. It seems as if she is going to recover, something we wouldn't have imagined last week. I'm so conflicted though. Getting old in America is brutal.

My grandmother was moved from the hospital to a nursing home, as she can't return to her assisted living apartment. The hospital nursing home is temporary--while we look for a better place. There were four ladies in my grandmother's room. The one across from my grandmother asked me what time it was. She was waiting for lunch. "You just can't imagine how hungry a body can get," she told me. I offered to find someone to bring her a meal, but she told me there were 10 aides and over 100 patients and not to bother. The meal did come before I left. While I was in the hall, a nurse walked by with a baby and you could see each person's eyes brighten as the baby passed by--the baby also helpless, also needing constant care, but cute and portable.

Yesterday, we moved my grandmother's things out of her apartment. I took her table--it is lovely and I have been living for many years without one. But I said no to the nick-knacks, to all the elephants my grandmother has collected, with their trunks down, not up--a detail of vital importance to her. I should mention that I'm not entirely without a heart, I have a beautiful quilt my grandmother has made. But I am interested in the items that we cherish but others do not. In Finland, my aunt and I sorted through my grandfather's slides--this was about a year after his death--and we threw most away. They were pictures purchased (lovingly) from museum gift shops. They were also pictures he took of strangers, people he had met on his travels: a smiling tour guide, a church elder. We kept only the pictures that captured our faces or those we recognized. I thought of my photo albums, and how they will be viewed by others. Picture of Salzburg? Throw away. Picture of smiling pig advertisement? Throw away. Picture of cow? Throw away. Picture of graduation? Keep. (or so I hope)

Saturday, March 22, 2008


"I was walking down Fifth Avenue today, and I found a wallet. I was going to keep it, rather than return it, but I thought: Well, if I lost $150, how would I feel? And I realized I would want to be taught a lesson." Emo Philips

"You have delighted us long enough." Jane Austin

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Farmers Market

Twice a month, I wheel my grocery cart through Farmers Market. It is a long way from my home, but I'm drawn here, pulled by the tangerines, green tea, and maeil coffee.

When I arrived in South Korea in 1998, I would wander through the grocery store, baffled. What is this? What is that? Even food that should have been familiar felt unfoodlike. The whole experience was otherworldly. The man standing in the produce aisle shouting out a string of numbers, the kimchi bar with its blood red cabbage, the console of nuts, shrimp, fish, dried bananas, dried mushrooms--all waiting to be chosen and then blended into a breakfast powder. (I would become addicted to a vegetarian version, including: sesame seeds, dried carrots, coconut, nuts, grains, dried mushrooms, and dried fruit.) But that first month, I was always hungry.

Now in California, I come to the Farmers Market. Outside in folding chairs, three ajashis sit and sell Korean newspapers. I nod deeply, throwing my shoulders into the motion. I want to say "anyanghaseyo," but sense it would mark me as the earnest pretender, which I, in fact, am. The store looks a bit like Lotte, a bit like Krogers. The produce section has the global staples: tomatoes, apples, cucumbers, garlic. The prices though are cheap. Grapefruits: 2 pound for 50 cents. There are also Korean staples: sesame leaves, lotus root, bokchoy. Normally, I am the only whitey, and this pleases me. I like to sink into the Korean announcements, the cutie packaging of choco pies and pepero. I buy fruit (grapefruit and tangerines and Asian pears) and I also buy ginger, red pepper paste, green tea. I toss the tea in my cart, three boxes at a time. I would drive here strictly for the green tea, which tastes so different from the American version that one can hardly believe they share the same name. It's like the difference between a giraffe and a moose.

But here is my confession, my guilty, guilty confession. The other items I can justify, but the Maeil coffee is an SUV purchase heavy and pointless. I think of the environmental footprints of these drinks, packaged in Seoul and then flown to LAX and then driven here, and I know that I should keep on wheeling my cart. And yet, and yet. In Korea, after a hard day of teaching, I would dart into a convenience store and purchase a Maeil coffee and know my day was going to be okay. When I first saw them here, lined up beside the milk, I wanted to cry. I stood holding one for a long time and finally decided to sell my environmental soul for the Cinnamon Latte.

The last time I visited Korean Market, there were other whiteys in the store. What are they doing here? was my general attitude. They were probably thinking the same about me. A friend recently pointed out this website: I am guilty of # 71, among others.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Frog Day

In South Korea, my students called me "test queen." Or rather, they called my sister "test queen" and I picked up on the name by virtue of being the exact same person. True story: I once taught a student at Pusan University of Foreign Studies. He spent four months with me--four months observing my fashion triumphs and disasters, four months listening to my corny jokes, four months watching me wave my arms about as I tried to be entertaining. He went on to take several English classes from my sister--who also taught at PUFS. Through idyll chit chat, my sister discovered that he thought we were the same person. In fact, he was startled to learn she had a sister, more startled still to discover that he had been in my class. So here is my question: If you're going to be remembered as someone else, do you take more chances? I mean, if my students were going to remember me as Sonja, why didn't I dye my hair green and yellow, sing half the lessons, and make students dance if they came to class late or if they were text-messaging?

In South Korea, I gave lots of quizzes--and unfortunately didn't make a single student dance. In Riverside, I do the same. "Take out a nice clean sheet of paper," I say, and I feel like my high school history teacher. Sometimes if the class looks particularly glassy eyed, I'll say, "put a smiley face on your paper"--and, this surprises me, most of them do it! Sometimes they even scrawl below the smiley face, "Have a nice weekend, Mrs. Fordham." [shudder]

I then launch into the quiz. "What fashion item," I ask in all seriousness, "did Jeeves disapprove of?" Some of the students furiously scribble down, "Alpine hat." The keeners even include, "with a pink feather." I continue, "Bertrum’s aunt asks if he's taking Jeeves to Toitleigh Towers. Bertram says, yes, of course. His aunt then tells him to watch out. Why?" And so on.

First, isn't it bizarre that I've been entrusted with these students? Obviously, I've been teaching a long time, I know what I'm doing, etc., etc. But really, when I'm standing up front asking a question about an alpine hat, I feel deliciously like an impostor. My next question could be about oranges or skipping giraffes or skipping giraffes that juggle oranges.

Second, I once heard you should never teach an author you love. I adore P. G. Wodehouse, and after two days of sharing P.G. with my students, I'm beginning to concur. My students are cranky. "But he uses such big words," they complain. "We didn't understand any of it." "But he writes about alpine hats," I counter. "You have to love a book about an alpine hat." They disagree, nonhumorously.

Besides humor literature, this quarter I'm also teaching a journalism course (!), and a remedial reading course. Each Friday, in the reading class, I bring in a poem--everything from Pablo Neruda to Billy Collins to Maya Angelou. Today, my students brought in their favorite poems--everything from Emily Dickinson to Tupac Shakur. After class, Student A told Student B: "When you read your poem, you sounded just like Beyonce."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

George Clooney

It's spring in Riverside, spring with a vengence. Birds singing, flowers blooming, all that good stuff. With warm weather comes the need to expunge the excess and be filled with light.

My target: my hair. Each day, I would think: too long. For a few practical weeks, I was considering a very short bob and actually going to a hairdresser, rather than sawing away at my hair myself, as per usual. I didn't go and didn't go and as time passed, I started thinking, why not get it all cut off, like Sabrina? (I blame that film for many hair cut decisions.)

Yesterday, I went to a fancy salon, armed with a photo (of longish short hair) and shored up with determination. An hour later, I looked like George Clooney (think ER days).

In high school, I got my hair cut and the beautician cut off more than I was anticipating. I disolved into a puddle of tears. I wept and wept and would not be comforted. I was finally dragged to the back of the store and given a box of tissues and a free cut. My aunt who accompanied me was mortified.

Yesterday, I shrugged my shoulders and then did some shopping and some cleaning.

So am I less vain now? Or is high school really more brutal than anything that comes after? Or is there a duller reason? Have all those bad hair cuts in the past kept me from getting emotionally involved?

Actually, I'm not even sure I hate the cut. It's short. It's different. It's no fuss. And I appreciate how fast I can dry my hair. I am, however, looking forward to a longer version of the cut--the version in the photo.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Last week. I was freakishly busy, and so I almost didn't visit my grandmother on her birthday. "I'll go next week," I rationalized. "She won't know the difference." But my goody-goody nature won out, and I made the drive.

When I arrived, my grandmother was sleeping, but she sat up and said, "I thought you were coming today. That's why I left the light on." Later, she asked me if I'd been "galavanting."
"How old are you, Nana?" I asked.
"60!" she told me, all wide eyed and frankly a little annoyed at my birthday singing and happy clapping. Sixty must be the age she used to imagine as "old" and so she held on to that number. Usually, I agree with Nana, but somehow I couldn't today.
"You're 87," I told her.
"Oh my," she said. "Oh my."

We sat in the garden for about 30 minutes. I was ready to camp out in her room, but she told me very firmly, "Thank you for coming. It was so nice to see you. I'll walk you to the door. I'm going back to bed!"

About this picture, she said: "You have a nice memory."

I said, "thank you."

She continued, "You'll have something nice to remember sitting in the garden."
And I do.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oh California

The weather in California has apparently been newsworthy. "Storms!" the reporters say breathlessly. "More torrential rains coming our way," they promise. "Stay tuned." And then out of nowhere we see a car floating in several feet of water.

I don't wish to disrespect the ominous floating vehicle, but truly, the crazy Riverside weather has finally peaked out after three days of drizzle. When I moved here six months ago, my apartment began rattling and continued rattling for nearly a minute. California's reaction: a state wide shoulder shrug. I had to google "earthquake" and "Riverside" to confirm that there had indeed been one.

I finally--and this is embarrassing to admit--swooped down on a local beach. Please don't judge me. I loath the traffic. Nevertheless, I printed out my mapquest directions, grabbed my camera and left all my grading for another day. A Minnesota writing buddy of mine was visiting Newport Beach. Actually, we were first Prague writing buddies. We met at the writing workshop there, and most notably, spent a weekend (along with another Minnesota friend) at "Uncle Harry's Hostel" in the middle of the Czech Republic. "Uncle Harry's" turned out to be a house and the owner--who was not named Harry--loathed tourists. This was not a careless conjecture on our part. About his job he said, "I hate tourists," and he said it without a light laugh or twinkle in his eye. He proceeded to stomp about the house for the next two days. My favorite moment was when he walked into the kitchen where I was reading, turned out the light--it was night--and then walked out. The three of us with our Minnesota Nice retreated to whatever room he wasn't in, giggling passive aggressively.

When Lorissa said she was coming to the LA area, I was excited to meet her for lunch. California is no Uncle Harry's Hostel, but we do have some mighty fine strip malls, not to mention lovely beaches. Turns out, I adore Newport Beach. It's one of those shaggy, seaweedy, wild beaches. The sky was grey and deliciously gloomy. It was perfect weather for poking around on the rocks and looking at the water and talking seriously about writing (or in my case, not writing).

The beach was so lovely that I promised myself I would return soon. It had only taken me about 45 minutes to drive to Newport and with a little more nerve, I might even make it in 30. I was brimming with self promises--to write more, to drive more, to see more, to be a better, fuller, more interesting me. The beach can do that to you.

And then I hit mid-day-no-reason-for-a-jam-but-but-hey-why-not traffic.

It took two hours to get home. Oh California. When will I learn to carry a good book on tape?

Friday, January 18, 2008


After years of sending mass e-mails, I've finally evolved into a blogger.

And it coincides quite nicely with my latest triumph: Piirakka.
When I was a kid, my mother made piirakka about once a year. She would enter the kitchen with a particular blend of doomed crankiness and determination. Hours later, we would hear her muttering unhappily, "They look like ugly cows." A few hours more and she would serve them with soup and candles--which was as fancy as it ever got. While we enjoyed the piirakka, the truth is--my mother never much liked the looks of them. One Thanksgiving, I volunteered to help my mother. Mostly, I was assigned rolling pin work. My general feeling was: not so difficult.
Then I tried to make them on my own--and I tried and I tried. From Santa Fe to South Korea, I baked my miserable piirrakas and my family's general consensus was: "Not so bad. No really. Seriously. They even taste a little bit like Finnish piirraka. Yum! Yum! I'm going to have another!"

Google was no help (there were recipes, but they were disasters), nor was a trip to Finland. Even though I climbed into an hole that was cut into the frozen Baltic Sea--I still couldn't get a recipe. ("We buy it," everyone told me.)

Amazon to the rescue. There, I found this cookbook--for wanna be Finns.

While I was doubtful about a recipe that called for 1 cup of rice and 6 cups of milk, I placed my fate in the worthy hands of Beatrice.

Not only were the piirrakka delicious, more importantly, they were beautiful. My mother would have been so jealous. There wasn't a cow among them. Or maybe I have low standards. Judge for yourselves.

(By the way, this is not my apartment. This is my father and Karen's house in Santa Fe.)

So far, I haven't tried any of the other recipes. The rye breads look too ambitious. And the Fancy Fish Loaf, Fish Potato Scallop, and Lapland Chips (made with one pound frozen reindeer meat) look too meaty. And the cabbage roll? Let's just say they were a childhood burden. (I'll add that the "roll" part is made with boiled cabbage leaves.) Okay, it sounds like I'm knocking Finnish food. The truth is I LOVE most Finnish food. The cheese. The chocolate. The bread. Oh the bread! And the apples and the berries and the beet casseroles and the ice cream and the tea!

And it turns out, I love blogging too. I'll leave you with a recipe for Herring "Caviar." Let me know how it turns out.