stuffed mice

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I will blog for Christmas, you can plan on me… was my first thought as soon as I woke up yesterday. December’s finally here and those of you who visited this place in previous years know well that it’s one of my favourite times of year. OK, correct: it is my absolute favourite time of year. I started my usual countdown with attending a pretty unusual event – I was invited to a Christmas wreath making workshop at a Scandinavian florist shop! All courtesy of Three Mobile who asked me to test the new Samsung Galaxy Alpha‘s camera.

Flor Unikon is based near Angel in North London and run by Pasi, originally hailing from Finland, and Paul. The moment I saw this cute corner shop adorned with lights and surrounded by beautiful flowers, I knew the evening would be special. Soon after we’d gone inside, we gathered around a table topped with dried fruit, nuts and berries, listening to Pasi’s instructions the place turned into elves’ workshop. There were gingerbread cookies, mulled wine, Christmas carols playing softly in the background and curious passers-by peeking through the quickly covered with condensation windows. It was Scandinavian meets Dickensian Christmas evening.

Taking photos when learning a new skill can be tricky, especially for somebody like me, who loves switching to the “seeing mode” and forgetting about the whole world. All photos in this post, except the last one, were taken with Samsung Galaxy Alpha. I edited them in VSCO Cam app and Photoshop. Considering the poor available light I think the camera did pretty well! Admittedly, it took me a while to switch from my old iPhone’s functionality to Samsung’s playfulness while using the handset. In the end, I failed miserably at being nerdy and cool, and simply switched off all effects that I’m sure many people just love about this phone. What I really appreciated though was the possibility to use voice commands or gestures over the phone’s screen to operate it. Very useful when one’s hands are dirty! Both of these features are available on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.

Off to the wreath making itself – it is NOT easy! Well, not at first at least. I was the slowest student and it took me longest to cover the straw ring with fir. In hindsight, I gave in to my habit of perfecting things, instead of practicing wabi-sabi for a change. In the end, I had to rush with decorating and dominated the heated glue post for a bit, sticking orange slices, cinnamon quills and small cones at a speed of light. This wouldn’t have been possible in the past, mind you, since traditionally all decorations are to be attached with the use of ever-helpful wire. Thankfully, I made it just in time to, with dirty, sticky fingers and a complete Christmas wreath in a Flor Unikon paper bag, head off to Moro for dinner.

I knew Moro from bookstores as I often saw their characteristic logo on cookbooks so it was a pleasure to visit their restaurant. Even more so, as the fellow bloggers and organisers of the evening turned out to be super interesting, funny and kind. I caught the last train from North to the South East of London and this happens only on the best of days.

Thanks to Three for a great evening!

Christmas Wreath Making

Christmas Wreath Making

Christmas Wreath Making

Christmas Wreath Making

Christmas Wreath Making

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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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StuffedMice Blog Helsinki

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