stuffed mice

It’s been a while since I started my stuffedmice shop on Big Cartel but haven’t mentioned it here. I’m working on my second small collection of notebooks. The first one – Pastels – you can see below. Creating in paper makes me happy and so I hope to share my joy with others. Welcome!

handmade notebooks - pastels

handmade notebooks - pastels

handmade notebooks - pastels

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When friends asked me what I wanted to do in Helsinki, my only answer was: take a ferry to one of those islands and swim in the sea. Of course, with the weather we encountered, the only sea I could swim in were sidewalk peddles – my optimism in the form of a swimming suit remained hidden in a travel bag. Luckily, I hardly ever truly need to do anything when being in a new place. I don’t come with a list of goals and places to see. Walking around, being somewhere different is enough.

Things always happen and it’s fun to stumble on them. When we arrived in Helsinki, we picked up a pile of brochures and a city magazine in English. OK, my reasoning for taking most of them was purely aesthetic – I can’t resist clean, functional design, otherwise known as boring. Plenty made their way to London, currently stationing on my desk from where they’ll be transformed to my visual diary. I mean, seeing designs I know from online research, printed and casually distributed in cafes or shops – that was unexpected. They really exist!

As it was, Helsinki Festival was taking place in the same week. The programme looked great. Needless to say we didn’t go to a single event. We even managed to miss the Late Night – Helsinki equivalent of Museum Night, though with businesses involved and much shorter opening times. By accident, we landed on a concert in Helsinki cathedral – part of the Helsinki Organ Summer – which we left rather promptly, as it wasn’t as good as the golden hour enjoyed by people on top of the cathedral steps outside.

But we ended up seeing some art.

At Kiasma, recommended by my friend Marcin (thanks Marcin!), we really enjoyed Kiasma Hits and, less so, Together – Marimekko and Kiasma – exhibitions. The building was a work of art in itself so we spent quite a while just hanging out inside.
There were no crowds and some of the installations were very interactive – one of the traits I love in any kind of art.

The real treat was Tove Jansson’s exhibition at Ateneum (no photos allowed). With illustrations from Tove’s childhood, early magazine commissions, Moomins – drawn, painted, in 3D – to abstract paintings, one visit didn’t seem enough. Especially when, because of the crowds, we had to move in very small steps from one display to another. I didn’t think it possible but my admiration for Tove and her work grew even bigger.

What else? I found my type of a bookstore – the Academic Bookstore has the best selection of books that interest me, beautiful and cosy interior plus a cafe. An instant favourite.

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Many, many reviews have been written about this show. It was all that and more.
To say it was the best concert I’ve been to is an understatement.
Kate Bush took her music and gave it a world, right there, in front of her fans.
I laughed, shook my head in disbelief and then was truly, truly touched.
Won’t even try to describe it. And it’s not a cop out. It was simply beyond words.

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I have this idea about sitting down near my living room window and writing a blog post. It’s a cheap idea and execution seems to be getting more and more expensive. But here I am, ready to organize my thoughts after our trip to Finland. Never mind the neighbours’ kids screaming their heads off in their living room. The time is now.

We planned Helsinki soon after our return from Copenhagen. It was so long ago that I don’t even remember why I wanted to go there – must have had something to do with my love for the North of Europe. The only time we’d visited was in 2009, when we changed flights to and from Japan and my fading memories were of some airport staff being super helpful in letting us smuggle our rice wine through the already restrictive boarded control.

In my head, Helsinki was this place where people worked and were endlessly creative. The rest of Finland was where they spent their weekends and holidays. How did I arrive at such ingenious conclusions? By reading Tove Jansson’s books of course.

My initial reaction was confusion. It’s the first city in which I couldn’t figure out directions and we got lost even before we reached our airbnb-rented flat. Asking people didn’t help – nobody knew the street we were after, even though we approached passers-by about one hundred metres away from its location. They tried to help but they truly didn’t know. Was it because of their ignorance or the poor urban landscape design of Helsinki? Whatever it was, the fact that everything – bus and tram stops names, tickets etc. – was in one of the most unfriendly to learn languages under the sun didn’t help. It took us days to tell the North from the South of the city, not to mention further details.

Helsinki is not one of those obviously beautiful or cool capitals. It ain’t Berlin. It ain’t Copenhagen. Its outskirts made me laugh and feel uneasy as they reminded me of my home town, back in Poland. This was NOT something I wanted to experience in my favourite part of Europe. Shady bars, really really bad eateries, slot machines in supermarkets (!) and corner shops (!!), little drunkards having a fight or two. I haven’t seen this many men with long hair and the looks of hard rock or heavy metal fan in need of a shower since primary school. So yes, hash tag WTF.

And yet, the place grew on me. Its infamous cuisine – dismissed by, dear lord, Berlusconi – was fabulously simple, with a huge focus on fresh produce. Its matter of factness – this is where small talk is considered unnecessary and something like the English shallow “let’s keep in touch” gets its depth and meaning. Its love for nature and functional design. Its obvious need for good coffee. But most of all, its small ego.

As much as I read about a Finnish need for being recognised for various national achievements, I didn’t see that hunger for exceeding, so prevailing in Copenhagen for instance. “People seem to lack ambition here,” observed Karol at some point. And no, it wasn’t when I spotted a sushi bar with Comic Sans used for all its branding. I disagree. Finns are ambitious. Nokia, Linux, Marimekko, Arabia, Ittala, Angry Birds, Artek, Fiskars, sustainability – they all confirm this. What’s fascinating is that Finns seem unfazed by other people’s opinions about them. And for that, I can only like them even more.

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This is a true story. And if any negative energy fucks me up after its publishing… well, consider yourself dear reader a witchcraft crime witness.

I got us a SPA day out – announces Karol. ( It’s just miles from where we live and in some shitty wannabe luxurious hotel we’ve never heard of – he doesn’t add) Hooray, hooray, off we go with our stiff necks and twitching eyelids. I’d say we’re getting pampered but, as a non-native, I somehow always associate this word with diapers. So anyway, water least-active sports and back massages await. Weeks pass, the day comes and I meet Ela.

Ela is dressed in black. She sits behind her desk and asks us for some information. Karol dislikes her. I’m more interested in the Christmas catalogue on a nearby table than offering her any attention, really. Before I get asked to switch from the latest technology offers to the number of cardiac arrests, organ transplants and chronic diseases on the health questionnaire that is. Of course I joke, Ela laughs, we-are-fa-mi-ly. After signatures, we follow Ela to the dark side and are asked to choose our treatment rooms. I go straight ahead. Karol turns right. Little do we know that directions are allocated. The right belongs to Kasia. Guess who I end up with. Correct!

What is it with massage places and Enya? I mean, does she get some commission for having her sail aways played in every beauty salon? I keep wondering. Enya’s music is as certain in so-called relaxing spaces as dumb dance music in most gyms. It puts me off the whole experience. Not sure about you, but in moments like these, I simply can’t wait when playing music in public spaces becomes politically incorrect.

Ela says get undressed and I’m too shy to disobey. Of course she leaves the room (but in hindsight I’m convinced Ela sees through doors so to hell with my modesty) and promises to come back. She’s quick. I hardly manage to put my face down onto that circular head rest when she knocks on the door. Oh, the blissful relaxation… let me just switch off and sail away, sail away… Or maybe not.

what do you do? – asks Ela and touches my leg.
(Shit! Thought it was a back massage! I haven’t complied with the Presentable 21st Century Girl rules so fuck, my legs are hairy! – I don’t say but suddenly get all tense)
Yyy, I’m a graphic designer – I say with my face stuck in the cushioned circle. Ela begins massaging my tigh. She chuckles.
I know your double! My friend looks exactly like you and is also a graphic designer. In fact, she’s visiting me here in about two hours.
(Never joke with strangers, unless you wish for a fa-mi-ly reunion – I take mental notes and say nothing)
Do you work in your profession? Asks Ela and so I confirm with a moan, simply because my massaged leg hurts.
You’re lucky then – she states.
(Oh please, please, just don’t give me the lucky you bullshit – I think considering the floor)
Because my friend has tried for over a year now but hasn’t been lucky so far – Ela continues.
Has she tried doing an internship? You know, for no money or very lttle money, to get her foot in the door? asks Marta-the-savior, Marta-the-surely-must-be-some-solution.
She can’t afford that says Ela and Marta-the-savior says something like oh or even oh, well (thinking: oh, how surprising).

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