Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

“The Finnish have a concept called sisu,” explained my Dad. “It means courage, and the strength to make it through tough times. My grandparents had it, my dad had it, all of you have it — and I like to think I do, too.”

My three-year-old daughter was peering through the computer screen at the small digital tiles representing my parents, my siblings, my nephews and nieces, and the photograph above featuring my grandfather, Aser Nurmi, and my great-grandmother, Susana Nurmi, arranged in the standard mirthless portraiture of nearly a century ago. My father was in the midst of delivering a fifteen minute Zoom presentation on Finland, home to his father’s family, that he had tailored to the high distractibility of his six grandchildren. As such, there were references to reindeer and Santa Claus (Finland’s Lapland region is his fabled home), a song about the continents led by my mother (a former Montessori schoolteacher), and occasional bursts of side commentary by little voices. It was the inaugural installment of a four-part series he and my mother have developed to celebrate the different cultures and geographies of our ancestors.

There was something profound about my three year old daughter staring into the eyes of her great-grandfather — probably around her age at the time the photo was taken — through the window of my Macbook. Something dizzying about the fact that there were faces from five generations of Nurmi family members represented on that call. Something moving about my father’s invocation of sisu, a familial and cultural inheritance multiple generations down the line — this year of all years, when so many of us are finding ourselves the branches that snap rather than bend in the buffeting winds. Altogether, it was fifteen minutes of discovery and reunion that were welcome in this period of isolation. It was, frankly, just the perspective I needed on that cold Monday morning just after a holiday that felt quiet in equal measures sweet and grim.

There is an old proverb: “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.” I don’t think anyone is laughing at the 2020 tempest, but I couldn’t help but think, as I looked at the stern set of my great-grandmother Susana’s countenance, that her sisu might be part of the reason we are still afloat in these parts.

Hoping you find a moment to gather your family to you, to press your heart to theirs, even if only through a 15″ screen, today or some time soon. And wishing you a hearty portion of sisu to make it through the year.


+One of the strongest memories I have of my grandmother (Italian! married to Aser, above) was actually something my father discovered after she had passed away. (You might need tissues…)

+More musings on good roots and on being a good ancestor.

+Another recent invocation of my Finnish heritage.

+Unrelated to anything above, I can’t stop staring at these pillows. They remind me of a dress from Agua Bendita.

+Speaking of botanicals, this top (or the dress variation) are so chic. They are like Brock Collection meets grandmillennial chintz. J’adore.

+How are you doing on holiday shopping? I’ve updated my gift guide for small children a couple of times over the past few weeks, and this stocking stuffer guide is full of smaller items that could be bundled together! Email me if you’re looking for something specific — I love shopping for you.

+Chic fall/winter clothing finds for children.

+Meeeeep! I did not realize my Thanksgiving dress also came in a child’s size. Might buy to twin with mini…

+Dramatic collar, jewel buttons, cropped cardigan — AHHH. All my favorite microtrends in one place. Difficult to resist. Would look tres chic and on-trend with a silk slip skirt and some jeweled mules.

+I can’t stop buying holiday decor…do I need these?

+Such a fun holiday dress — perfect for NYE.

+Velvet dress with embroidered bunnies for a little one.

+We gave mini this tent for Christmas last year — we often keep it collapsed in her closet but it’s fun to pull out, especially for indoor picnics.

+Cute little puffer for little ones in great colors for under $25.

+Another good stocking stuffer option. Mini is VERY into dress up these days.

+Love the statement pockets on this pullover.

+Have you done any holiday baking yet?

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16 thoughts on “Sisu.

  1. Beautiful writing about a beautiful concept! Sisu … I’ll be turning this word over in my brain today. Thank you for sharing it. I also love the idea of hosting a call to explore ancestry with little ones. May have to borrow this idea in a few years when my nieces are older!


  2. I love the way your family stays connected! And what a gift for all the kids to hear about ancestry from their grandfather. Looking back, I wish I had written down more stories from my grandparents, who were new parents during WWII in the Philippines.

    Ugh why is Agua Bendita so good?!? Ooh and that pillow… great find!

    PS. Charina Sarte (your shopbop link) is a designer from the Philippines! Thank you for featuring more WOC designers 🙂

    1. Hi Mia – I am so with you on writing down the stories of our parents/grandparents. You just made me realize that there are so many great stories my father-in-law tells about growing up in a military family, living abroad, etc, that I want to somehow document. Maybe just even start a Word Document to capture it all somewhere…

      I love Charina Sarte!!!


  3. I spend a lot of time in Florida during the winter months. I wondered if you could help me find short sleeve statement shirts or tops that I can wear with black slacks or jeans. I don’t like to show my upper arms . Jewel embellished or great colors that I can enhance with jewelry. Thank you!

    1. Hi Laura! I hear you! I love the blockprint trend that has been going on for the past few seasons, and think it’d be perfect in Florida. Check out SZ Blockprints:

      I know it’s long-sleeve, but the material they use is very breathable and lightweight (I wore their dresses all summer long, in even 90 degree heat!), so this top caught my eye:

      I also love these beautiful finds:

      And this kurta would be SO chic with white jeans:

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you are looking for something else…


  4. I’ve been conducting a deep dive into my genealogy, both as part of an in-progress DAR application and to capitalize on the breadth of documents, pictures, and knowledge my late-80s grandmother holds. I never previously understand (and frankly, eye-rolled) people who got *super* into ancestry, but wow… now I get it. Tracing my family’s roots back to an Atlantic voyage to America in 1631 is pretty cool.

    Your post reminded me of a recent question I saw – would you rather meet your great grandparents or your great grandchildren? Definitely thought-provoking…

    1. !! Ahh!! Great question. Both!? My instinct is my great grandparents because I feel I owe them so much and would love the opportunity to be able to express that gratitude…

      SO cool about tracing your family’s roots — my English side of the family came over to the colonies in 1630 as well!! WOW.


  5. This is amazing! It’s so cool that your parents are doing this. Could they maybe put together a presentation on my ancestry as well? 😉 When you mentioned your mom’s song about the continents, I immediately thought of the countries of the world song by the Animaniacs circa 1990s. Ha! Something tells me that’s NOT the song she used!

    Side note: Speaking of Finland, the PBS show Nature just had an episode about Lapland. I sort of half-watched it while doing other things but still found it interesting. And there is a character with the last name Nurmi in the book Iron Lake It was good, if you enjoy police procedural/murder mystery type books.

    1. Hi! My sister-in-law told me about that show on Lapland! Going to see if we can catch it with Emory some time soon. I think it’d be a cool way to reinforce some of the conversation about Finland. So funny to meet a Nurmi in fiction!!! I’ve never met anyone (in print or otherwise) with my maiden name.


    2. Re: Nature – I’d recommend maybe watching it by yourself first to verify that it’s age-appropriate for mini. Unless she’s already comfortable with circle of life and food chain concepts!

  6. And saunas. Don’t forget the saunas. The Estonians, just south of the Gulf of Finland, share the steely reserves to outlast whatever life throws at you. With the help of saunas, some vodka and good herring.

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