En Puhu Suomea

 Lunch with our cousins in Kotka, Finland.

Lunch with our cousins in Kotka, Finland.


In my last post, I wrote about how coming to Finland felt like the beginning of a movie.  I’d never thought of it that way until my friend, Casey, suggested it.  I’m fascinated by this idea of writing our own stories.  Movies are made up of short 5-15 second clips much like an Instagram or Facebook story.  String together enough of clips and you have a scene or sequence.  Combine enough scenes and sequences and you have a movie or a story.

I don’t know that this trip would make for a very interesting movie.  There’s been no peril, big action, dramatic reversals, or really much angst.  It’s mostly been a lovely time reconnecting with family, making new friends, enjoying the peaceful serenity of the thousands of lakes, driving through the country side and finding joy in the little challenges of everyday life.  If this trip were a movie, it would not be a block buster.  Maybe it’d be one of those patient, gentle foreign films, with a lot of cloudy skies, a subtle plot and subtitles, lots of subtitles.

Emily and I have a protocol for arriving in a new place.  We go to the grocery store and just look around.  We commit to not buying anything on our first trip.  We developed this protocol after visiting many islands living on Fezywig.  Scout the landscape.  Do reconnaissance first.  Then come back to spend money.  After Emily and I did our recon, Eli and I came back with a list and did a proper shop. It was challenge enough to find whole milk instead of skim milk when we didn’t know the Finnish words.  We had to learn how to weigh produce and print the label so it could be properly rung up at the register.  We had to find the sour cream, which was with the milk and dairy, rather than with the cheese and spreads.  Was it a good price?  What was the best value?  Working in a different language and currency made the basic task of grocery shopping an adventure.  

Ironically, I also learned that saying, “Puhutko Englantia?” [do you speak English?] wasn’t doing me any good. I’ve grown up listening to spoken Finnish most of my life, so though I don’t speak the language, I have a pretty good accent. Everyone seemed to think I was curious about their language skills rather than asking for help.  They would rattle off something Finnish that I didn’t understand.  I had to switch to, “Anteeksi.  En puhu suomea.”  [I don’t speak Finnish.]  Then people understood and would speak to me in English.  

Reading parking signs. Reading freeway signs.  Knowing in which bin to recycle plastic, glass or metal was a challenge.  These were the daily puzzles.  We were back to basics, but we really had it easy.  Most people under forty-five speak very good English here in Finland.  Many people over that age also speak very well. We have all kinds of translation apps that we simply hold up to a sign and it tells us what it says.  Google Translate is far from perfect but pretty amazing in my opinion.  And in Finland so much is printed in Finnish, Swedish and English.   

I suppose this is the point I’m getting at:  what’s easy for one person is difficult for another person.  Judge not.  What’s easy for you can be a genuine challenge for me.  And what’s easy for me may be a mystery to you.  I think it’s so important I don’t compare myself to others to see if I’m succeeding or failing.  If I’m learning, growing or progressing, I’m succeeding no matter how far ahead or behind I may be.   The beautiful thing about life is it’s not a race.

If there are moments from this trip that make the cut of this hypothetical obscure foreign film, here are a couple:  Emily and I stand curbside downtown next to our car.  For five to seven minutes we stare up at and discuss the sign with the parking stipulations.  I make three or four trips back and forth to the parking meter before putting the receipt on our dashboard and walking away from our car. 

Another scene:  We are driving in our small white car, racing into downtown Helsinki.  We are late. Alison and Jane are about to miss their bus.  We stop at a red light.  I tell them to just get out and run for it.  Cars honk as they cross traffic at a non-cross walk.  The light turns green and I press the gas.  I proceed to drive down the bus-only ramp at the bus station, coming face to face with a line of twenty buses heading the opposite direction.

Last clip:  I ask the cashier at the shopping mall if she speaks English.  I am hoping to change a ten euro bill into coins.  Puhutko Englantia? She speaks to me in Finnish and holds out both her hands, one hand with one kind of coin, the other hand holds another kind of coin.  I freeze and don’t dare speak.  My eyes widen.  Everyone behind me in line is staring.  Here’s a forty-four year old man who looks completely Finnish, yet can’t decide whether he wants change in 1 euro coins or 2 euro coins.

En puhu suomea.  But I’m learning.  We leave tomorrow, but we’ll be back.

 Helsinki Cathedral / St. Nicholas Church, Helsinki, Finland.

Helsinki Cathedral / St. Nicholas Church, Helsinki, Finland.


30 Years to Finland


It’s been 30 years since I’ve been to Finland.  My mother is Finnish.  She moved to NYC at age seventeen to be a nanny.  A few years later she met my dad and they got married.  I’m half Finnish.  I used to spend summers in Finland as a kid.  My last summer there I was fourteen.  My mom worried I would be bored spending all day in my grandmothers two-bedroom/one bath apartment, so she signed me up for a cycling race.  I was big into cycling at the time.

 Me with my great-grandfather, Pappa.  No wonder I think accordions are cool, and Madonna.

Me with my great-grandfather, Pappa.  No wonder I think accordions are cool, and Madonna.

I was too young for my driver’s license, but I was desperate for independence, so I would cycle all over Northern Virginia to do what I wanted and see my friends. I had the fingerless gloves, black shorts, clip-on shoes and everything. But I rode relatively short distances 10-25 miles.  For my flight to Finland, I packed my bicycle into a big box planning to ride when I got there.  When I arrived, my mother informed me I was registered for the rather grandly named Tur de Finlandia, not to be confused with the Tour de France.  The Tur de Finlandia was 180km/120 miles and it was to be held in two weeks.   That didn’t leave me much time to train.  

My quick-on-my-feet training strategy was to have my mother drive me out of town and drop me off.  I would then ride home.  I did this every other day for two weeks, extending my distance until my last day I rode 150km/100 miles from Lahti—where my grandmother lived—to Helsinki where they had Pizza Hut.  The plan was for my mother to pick me up in Helsinki and go to Pizza Hut to celebrate. I was desperate for American pizza.   Unfortunately, my mother never showed up.  

It started to rain; pouring rain.  As I waited alongside the highway, with only my biker shorts, short-sleeve biker shirt, no food and only a little water, I started to shiver.  It was pre-cell phone/internet, I didn’t speak the language and back then most Finns didn’t speak English as a second language.  I didn’t know what else to do, so I got on my bike and started to ride home.  Long story short, after an hour of riding in the pounding rain, I saw my mother speed past in the opposite direction.  She kept going.  But then I saw break lights.  She almost didn’t see me because the rain was so heavy.  She hung a u-turn, pulled over, wrapped me in a blanket and gave me a big hug.  She’d been looking for me for hours. We later realized there were two highways, the old highway and the new freeway.  She had originally driven the freeway. I had ridden the old highway.  Two days later I raced in the Tour de Finlandia.  Riding alone, without a team, the older bikers called me the "Américan poika," American boy.  They spoke to me in broken English, smiled at me and encouraged me as I set a new distance record for myself and completed the race as the youngest registered rider.

 In my riding bib after the Tur de Finlandia.

In my riding bib after the Tur de Finlandia.

 Getting driven home after the race in the same car with which my mother picked me up in the rain.

Getting driven home after the race in the same car with which my mother picked me up in the rain.

That experience did a lot to shape how I saw myself, my family and the world.  I knew I could do hard things.  I knew the world could be merciless; the sky could crack open and pour down on me.  But there was also so much generosity; complete strangers took me under their wing and helped me. And I knew my mother loved me and would always look for me to bring me safely home.  That was 30 years ago.  I haven’t been back since.

I've since gotten married, Emily and I had five kids and over the years we’ve sent our older daughters to Finland so they could meet my grandmother, my uncles and see the “mother land.”  This past summer my grandmother passed away at age ninety-three.  She was happy and healthy to the end.  My mother and Karina went to the funeral.  Now the rest of us are going.  I have the key to my grandmother’s apartment sitting here on my desk.  We have one-way tickets to Helsinki.  I told this to my friend, Casey, and he said, “Sounds like the beginning of a movie.” Grandmother passes away, haven’t been there in 30 years, you have the apartment key, one-way tickets.  I wouldn’t disagree with him.  For me, the question I love is, what kind of movie will it be?  

Don Miller, a favorite author of mine, opens one of his books with this:

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn't remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either”

If it won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.  I’m going back to Finland after a long time. We’ll be gone for all of fall and most of winter.  I’m not sure what story will unfold while we’re away, but I look forward to trying to write my best story.  

 Alison and SJ visiting my grandmother in Finland.

Alison and SJ visiting my grandmother in Finland.

 The old highway from Lahti to Helsinki.

The old highway from Lahti to Helsinki.

People Like Us Do Things Like This


September is a month for momentum.  Kids are going back to school or returning to more structured homeschool days. Families are shifting their routines. It’s the perfect month for re-evaluating the way things are and focusing on how you want them to be.

 We enjoyed structured school days in Hawaii--prepping for our upcoming travels through Europe

We enjoyed structured school days in Hawaii--prepping for our upcoming travels through Europe

One way we’ve done that is by crafting personal and family mission statements.  You can make it as detailed or simple as you like. You can use words or graphics as suits your preferences.  

My personal statement is about a page and a half.  It’s kind of tedious and too long for me to remember, which means it’s hard to live by. It’s a good starting point, but I need to rewrite it.

Our family mission statement is more memorable.  We formatted it like David Letterman’s Top Ten list.  It’s called, Top 10 Reasons to be an Orton.  Each item on the list is something Ortons do—or strive to do.  It is the foundation for our family culture.  If there is one thing our family has in spades it’s culture—not the ballet and opera kind—the This-Is-Who-We-Are kind.

People like us do things like this.

 Our family culture is  -face first -trial & error -figure it out 

Our family culture is  -face first -trial & error -figure it out 

Seth Godin is one of my personal heroes.  He’s known as the “godfather of modern marketing.”  Seth boils branding or culture down to its essence:  “People like us do things like this.” The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves shape what people think of us—and more importantly—what we think of ourselves. Let’s tell stories we want to be true.

If you don’t have one—a mission statement, a story, or a culture—I dare you to make one this month. Don’t stress.  You can always revise it later.  If you want to share, we’d love to see them.  The Fezywig blog doesn’t take comments, but we love hearing from those of you who email us:  hello@fezywig.com

I’ll go first.

Top 10 Reasons to Be an Orton—Ortons:

10.  Discover solutions

  9. Laugh a lot

 8.  Take care of their bodies

 7.  Create and enjoy beauty

 6.  Give generously

 5.  Encourage others

 4.  Engage in adventures

 3.  Explore the world

 2.  Make and keep friends

 1.  Keep the faith

 It doesn't have to be fancy - just write it down

It doesn't have to be fancy - just write it down

We should probably update the list to reflect the gratitude we feel in and through everything.  When we do, I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, this is working for us.  People like us do things like this because we decided to and we wrote it down.

One more thing.  Ortons make music and we play this original song from our daughter, Karina, every September.  

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Your One Wild and Precious Life



My grandma Wanda turned ninety-nine this week. Ninety-nine.  That’s fifty-five years older than me.  If I had fifty-five years ahead of me, what would I want to do with them? If I had five years ahead of me, what would I want to do with them?  If I only had one year ahead of me, what would I want to do with it?  

The fact is we all have time, but none of us knows how much.  My grandma has spent every year of her life learning, exploring and connecting. She and grandpa have seven children and were serial entrepreneurs running everything from an in-house tinted photography studio to a refrigeration warehouse (pre-home refrigeration era) to a big band.   Grandma mostly worked as a journalist and at ninety-nine, you would think she had seen it all. Yet, she’s still delighted to learn. In her 80’s she went up in a hot air balloon.  Always a huge reader, she switched to audiobooks when her eyes stopped cooperating. She stays in touch with friends and visits family every week.

Whether I have one more year or I live to one-hundred and five, I want to learn, explore and connect just like Grandma Wanda.  Life is short no matter how long we live.  This question from Mary Oliver's poem, The Summer Day, lives in my heart and bears repeating:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


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Podcast & Preorder

"Seven at Sea," is available for pre-order on Amazon and we're excited to celebrate the occasion by sharing our podcast interview with Kristin & Laura of The Progress Project.  They had great questions for us about how we organize our lives, how we approach big undertakings and what we're doing now.  We learned a lot talking with them and even had fun brainstorming how to help Kristin put in motion her dream of spending summers in the British countryside with her family.  We created a couple hopefully-helpful freebies for them to share with listeners.

 Kristin and Laura who generate all the goodness at  The Progress Project

Kristin and Laura who generate all the goodness at The Progress Project

 Link here for the  podcast and show notes   Link here to listen on  iTunes

Link here for the podcast and show notes

Link here to listen on iTunes

As for the book, we've delivered the final manuscript to our editor.  Advance Reader Copies will be sent to reviewers in September. The book releases March 2019.

In the meantime, we've created sevenatsea.com where we'll be posting more about the book as the launch approaches.  Thanks for your enthusiasm.

E + E

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Meet Our Mentors

Meet Our Mentors

A few weeks ago I wrote about drinking the Kool-Aid and how we can leverage our natural inclination to conform by deliberately choosing who we want to follow and then giving them lots of space in our brains. That’s what we did with Totem.
In early 2014 our family of seven moved out of our small Manhattan apartment into an even smaller boat where we lived for most of that year.  We did lots of two-steps forward one-step back preparations.  We’ll tell more in our upcoming memoir available March 2019. Nothing beats just starting, but one of the most important steps for facing our fears was finding mentors.

Read More

'Ohana Means...

'Ohana Means...


May Day Epilogue:  The 6th-grade king showed us Aloha at the May Day –Lei Day celebration.  Then, his family showed us 'Ohana.  

In the strange way social media works, a May Day attendee posted a video of Lily and the king on Youtube, our friend texted me a link, so I commented on the video with a link to our Facebook page.  Within 24 hours of Lily crashing the court, Erik and I were texting with the king’s mother, Julia.  His grandmother asked, “What are they doing for Mother’s Day?” Whatever we were doing, we changed our plans and arranged to join the king’s local extended family.   

Read More

If Your Friends Jumped Off a Cliff...


If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?  If you are in Hawaii, the answer is probably, yes.  One of the most popular spots is on the south side of Waimea Bay, on the North Shore of Oahu.  A black monolith rises 30’ up and pushes 20’ into the Pacific.   That’s where our family, including Rob and Maddie – who have become family – decided to go cliff-jumping.

 Erik from below - to see the view from above, you'll have to climb it yourself

Erik from below - to see the view from above, you'll have to climb it yourself

The Family That Jumps Together

Eli, who knows what he likes, found some shade after watching the others jump.  Erik, Alison, SJ, Maddi and Rob have all done jumps like this, or higher, before.  Erik, Alison and SJ jumped 50’ feet down the black hole of a grotto a few years ago.  Alison and SJ thought jumping this cliff was scarier because they could see what was coming.  

I don’t know if it’s more nerve-wracking to see what’s coming or to go in blind.  I’d never done either kind of jump before.  I was content not cliff jumping.  Isn’t that pretty normal?  In any event, I was towing Lily down the beach, through the water, on a boogie board.  By the time we arrived, Maddi had caught Rob’s backflips and twisty dives on video. The party was over.  In the playback window, my husband and kids looked like tiny daggers dropping into the ocean.  Go family!

 Aunty Maddi in midair - love that hair!

Aunty Maddi in midair - love that hair!

Then Alison said, “You wanna go up, Mom? I’ll go with you.”  Her eyes and smile were wide open.  She wanted to share this.  I decided to go for it. 

When I turned to climb the rock, Lily had already started up ahead of me.  First, how did she suddenly get so fast?  Secondly, she’s sat on the end of many diving boards promising to jump only to walk away.  I didn’t foresee her stepping off a 30’ drop.  

However, She regularly surprises me and Lily has been jumping from the side of the local pool this season.  I didn’t know what would happen.  Instead of shutting her down two feet off the sand, I decided to help Lily explore her options.  We could always climb back down.  

Lily’s Jump

I noticed the south side of the rock had a couple of lower perches, only 5’- 6’ above the water.  I guided Lily over the slippery rocks to the wet sandy ledge.  The family migrated to watch.

Erik waded into the ocean to catch Lily, but she insisted that Rob, who had also taken her surfing, catch her.  Rob waded into the ocean.  

She and I stood on the little perch holding hands.  Erik and Rob beckoned from below.  SJ was a few feet behind them filming with a waterproof camera.  Maddi cheered from shore where she was also filming.  More confident kids queued up behind us.  Lily froze.

Lily perched.jpg

Anticipation is the worst part of fear.

Kids jumped past her on either side.  Twice she determined to climb back down but got intimidated.  Jumping was physically easier.  But jumping was really scary even surrounded by loving encouragement and offers of help.  She could witness kids on either side of her jumping, splashing, and swimming to shore. But that was them.  It’s different when it’s you.  Finally, Lily jumped.

This sequence shows her jumping (No, I didn't push her), uncle Rob catching her, a big splash and triumph followed by the painful realization that she belly flopped.  The seeds of trying again have already been planted.  

We were so excited for her and so proud of her.  Her jump was more dramatic than any of ours for two reasons.  First, it was her first time so uncertainty was sky high.  Second, she was really scared. Those are powerful hurdles and overcoming them is always a reason to celebrate.  

Sometimes hard things are scarier the second time because you really know what’s involved.  Lily jumped twice more.  She found techniques to mitigate her fears – once riding on Rob’s back and once holding both of my hands.  She seemed more nervous each time, yet still determined to jump again.  Each time we felt that rush of excitement for her accomplishment.  

 Lily was totally calm once she outsourced the decisively scary part

Lily was totally calm once she outsourced the decisively scary part

My Jump

After all that, Alison and I climbed to the top for our jumps.  Lily had shown me that anticipation is the worst part of fear.  I went straight for it; jumping at least three times higher than anything I’ve ever launched myself off before.  

Typical of me, an inordinate number of existential thoughts rushed into my mind and I didn’t give one thought to what to do with my body. Alison, on the other hand, pointed her toes and kept her arms close completely prepared for a smooth landing.

I’m not saying you should jump off a cliff just because your friends are doing it.  But if you’re thinking of doing something for the first time or something that makes you nervous, it sure is nice to share it with people who love you. 

Go Lily.jpg

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It's a...Book!

An author friend says, “Writing a book is like having a baby with a square head.”  

We’re excited to announce the co-conceived, co-written memoir of our family’s year at sea.  It will be available in 9 months. 


 We’re so grateful for our amazing agent, Emma Parry at Janklow and Nesbit, and thrilled to be partnering with Shadow Mountain Publishing to deliver this baby.  

Click here to stay in the loop with all things Fezywig.

Wendy and the Surface



My favorite part of the class was to lay on the ocean floor and stare up at the surface.  The light shimmered across it, the same way the water sparkled from above, but with a muted, quiet kind of beauty.  I was taking a scuba certification class and I was swimming along thirty feet below the ocean’s surface for the first time in my life.  My body drifted with the surge in unison with the school of yellow fish.  I looked a sea turtle in the eye as it swam toward me.  We stayed below for the better part of an hour.  I was in another world.


This week my friend, Wendy, passed away.  She was young.  My age : ) She has an amazing husband, David, and a daughter the same age as our Lily.  She’d been battling a brain tumor for five years.  She was a sweet, kind, beautiful person.  She loved our girls and had them over often.  Her family would come to our home and we would play music and sing together.  Even when going through chemo treatments should would send us kind notes and make encouraging comments online as we went about our lives. 


As I lay there on the ocean floor looking up I couldn’t help but think about how this world and that world are so close.  I don’t know the physical location we go to once we die.  I know our body stays here, but I believe our spirit lives on, and it goes somewhere.  I believe it goes somewhere close, on the other side of the surface.  We are the ones who are below water. We are breathing from tanks and the bubbles from our lungs always float up.


It’s a beautiful and inspiring place below the surface, but it’s not our natural home.  Our natural home is above the surface, breathing air from the sky, green leaves rustling in the wind, the sun on our skin.  I believe that’s where Wendy is right now.  She’s above the surface, watching, smiling and waiting while we swim for the better part of an hour.  We’ll all surface eventually.  The tank only holds so much air.  And then we’ll all be there together.  I miss you, Wendy.

Say that I'm crazy or call me a fool
But last night it seemed that I dreamed about you
When I opened my mouth what came out was a song
And you knew every word and we all sang along

To a melody played on the strings of our souls
And a rhythm that rattled us down to the bone
Our love for each other will live on forever
In every beat of my proud corazón

We watched Pixar's Coco this week.  What a beautiful story about family, death and love. If you haven't seen it, check it out (song audio below). Above are some of my favorite lyrics from the show. Something tells me Wendy likes this song too.