24 July 2014

X-files - 4.25 years old - Emotional rollercoaster

so, i am now convinced that people who think there is use (or comfort?) in labels like 'terrible twos' and 'trying threes' are just those lucky few who were shocked out of some lovely bubble whereby their super agreeable, easy-going, and almost never grumpy baby started growing and at some point switched to entering more and more of the world around them, and, surprise, they encountered struggles and expressed opinions about that! well, my kiddo came out of the womb opinionated, and each age has been more emotionally charged than the last, i plan to no longer be surprised about it. turning 4 has thus far proven to be an interesting soupy mix of confusion, attitude, trials, and changes. weve had many fun times as well, but the times of tension have been so strong that it makes the difference in the highs and lows feel as exhilaratingly frightening as a rollercoaster.

obsessions: being a cat, pretending, poetry, singing, princesses (and their songs), stretchy animals, collecting and taking care of bugs, swinging

nightmares/dreams: i had locked her in a car in florida but she got out during a thunderstorm. once she got in the building lightening struck and everyone had to get out; papas mouth was on fire; the breakfast place in sweden wouldnt let her have fresh pineapple with breakfast; i had a boo-boo on my ankle (similar to a recent boo-boo of hers) that was bleeding

good picture books: the man who walked between the towersthumbkin explores at night, donald and the..., llama llama misses mama, mortimer, magic beach, zeraldas ogre, gentle giant, benjamin dilleys thirsty camel, little hoot, the berenstain bears in the darklittle sister rabbit

good longer booksmr boo [hannu mäkelä], foxy: finnish folktales for children, japanese childrens favorite stories [sakade]

good special interest books: uncover a shark, surprising sharks, tentacles! tales of the giant squid, where the sidewalk ends, usborne greek myths [amery], fairy tale comics, bug detective [maggie li], poo at the zoo, nicky the nature detective

 (insect enthusiast)
 (helper chef)
 (water lover)
(singing princess; nature nymph)

x-citing developments:
1. emotional rides:
-daycare anxiety. everything was going great until the adults in her daycare room started changing. one was sick for a bit, a favorite of hers (who was just a temporary student) left and a temporary male student arrived and has since left, and one of the most permanent adults in her room, whom she quite liked, seems to have up and left (they dont tell the parents, which irritates me). so there were weeks of revolving new adults who were in charge of her imposing the daycare rules to varying (and confusing) degrees, which made her nervous to a high degree. she started to get anxious about being left at daycare. it also made bedtimes harder (because she didnt want us to disappear) and the morning daycare drop-offs more tearful. i felt bad for her, but i know its a part of life, so i listened to her worries, acknowledged them, and tried to just let her know that we sometimes have to deal with things we dont like but that im here to listen and help when i can.

-growing pains. right after she seemed to get over the hardship of the changes at daycare she moved on to new struggles. these seem to stem from the changes that come with getting older. she was so excited and enthusiastic about 'big kid' things after her birthday. she was helping more, trying new roles on at home (wanting to help me get dressed, wanting to help serve us at dinner and snacks), but then at the same time those 'helper' roles were emerging she also seemed to be tantruming about simple things she already knew how to do and was expected to do herself. we had hour long wailing sessions about getting back in bed at night, blowing her nose, getting help on the playground, and not being carried home from daycare. all these things we had had a set routine for for some time, and she did them independently, or mostly, and suddenly she wanted to be babied a bit and would scream to try to get us to bend to her command. we didnt try to fight her or punish her, we let her know that we were there to help, but our ideas of 'help' werent the same as hers. she wanted 'help' in the form of us doing everything for her, exactly when and how she asked for it, but we offered to 'help' her by watching her do the task and stepping in only when necessary and staying close so she felt safe and not alone or scared.

-there have been a handful of times now where she will choose to climb a challenging (but doable) piece of playground equipment and 'get stuck' and scared on it. she screams for us to get her down right away. this has never been our policy on the playground, she has always climbed whatever she is capable of climbing and when she has gotten stuck she reverses and gets herself out of the situation, mostly by herself, with us there to spot or lay a comforting hand on her back for mental (and/or physical) support. it has always worked for us. lately, shes been getting herself 'stuck' (usually less than 2 feet off the ground) and having 15-30 minute all out scream fits. we are there, as usual, offering our presence, spotting, and a reassuring hand on the back but its not been enough for her at times. yes, the easy thing to do is just to grab her and get her off the thing and take her inside to calm down, but i dont think either of us gains much from that scenario. ive let the situations go on (much to the displeasure and shock, no doubt, of the neighbors), and we always come away with interesting findings (once our nerves have calmed down).

the latest situation was a long doozy of a scream fit on a ladder-like climbing thing in our new yard. she refused to get off or even try to get off the bottom rung. long after we had broken everyones eardrums, X decided she was finished...she bent her knees and hopped down, NO problem. she was mad at me for an additional 30 seconds and then we went together to a bench to sit and decompress. once things were re-stabilizing i asked her how she felt, what she felt in her body while she was on the ladder. she described feeling afraid to touch the ground because there were nightmares there. she mentioned some new rules we had told her would now be imposed (about teeth brushing, our newest arch nemesis of tasks, among other things) as part of these 'nightmares' and some other semi-coherent-based-in-reality things that were clearly bothering her, and it really put the screamfest into perspective. she had used that situation to offload a whole crapload of pent up life frustration. it must have felt good for her, while making me look a little insane, but i suppose those are the burdens im willing to take on until we can manage to move this kind of emotional off-loading to another, more mature, and suitable method.

-her daycare/preschool had their end of the year/summer party. each room of kids (there are 4 rooms divided based on age) had their own song to perform for the parents. X had been singing her song at home for weeks, it was about mice and the kids made mice hats and got mouse tales. but when we arrived at the crowded school grounds she suddenly lost interest in the song. she came out with her group of kids but she didnt do the actions to the song and got pouty and upset, but she didnt want to leave the line of kids. afterward, while waiting for the other groups to go, she got to sit on her favorite daycare grown-ups lap, so that was a positive thing. and i can understand that she got overwhelmed, it was her first 'performance' for such a big group so i think there was just too much unknown/surprise about it. maybe better luck next year.

-sensitive. she has become quite sensitive with her hearing. she gets startled or scared easily in certain situations, and i think, going along with this, its why she still screams/shrieks pretty loudly in reaction to certain situations or emotional moments...her scream volume is so loud (as it was as a baby) that it makes me think it 'helps' her body/brain to block out offending stimuli or emotional waves and puts her into her own little bubble of sorts until she can protect herself to come out. ive seen this kind of explanation given for sensitive kids, and you can almost see the process occurring when you watch her struggle. its been hard to deal with her volume of noise, but it helps me to frame it like this in my mind so its easier for me to want to help during what would normally be a really offensive, painful attack on my ears and brain.

2. digestive.
while her digestive issues to food seem to be waning, it seems her spidey sense for other aspects of smell/taste have 'improved'. she can tell when a 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper has been added to a whole pot of soup...the soup is then too spicy (it 'burns' her lips) and she wont eat very much. shes not strictly a picky eater though, because she will still try everything, and will eat things like goulash, shrimp, salmon, etc. she is also noticing all kinds of smells and finding them to be undesirable. cut grass is the latest one i dont understand (i love it!).

-xylitol (a natural substance proven to prevent cavities that is used often here in gum and toothpaste) seems to make her have to pee repeatedly. this happens to dave too. strange. but when theyve both had it they make a huge amount of trips to the bathroom. when they avoid xylitol, all is normal. good to know at least.

3. bedtime.
-she likes to have 'talk time' after story time at bed time. she also likes to remember what topic(s) we were talking about so we can talk about those things the next morning on the walk to daycare.

-mid-night funny. before i go to bed i usually check on X to make sure her blanket is still on her and she hasnt rolled to the edge of her bed, etc. lately ive found all kinds of silly things in her bed with her, arranged in amusing ways. shes very quiet about it, but clearly she is not actually going to bed at the time we think she is. one night i went in to find her stuffed stingray toy tucked into her IKEA doll bed that she had placed next to her in bed. another night she had arranged her collection of (live) bug jars up near her head in bed. i had to laugh.

4. physical. she figured out how to swing by herself lately. she can lean back and pump her legs and go endlessly, and high. her joy in figuring it out for herself finally was contagious. she has always loved the swings, and now that she can do them herself i think it will be a really easy way to spend lots of time on the playground.

5. personality.
-expressing herself. she has been expressing her happiness and comfortable-ness with other people more easily lately. she is now very comfortable with her little friend and her family who live in our same building and she even plays alone in the yard with the girl. ive seen her run out and say 'oh im so happy to see you. i love you. isnt this fun!?' she is also very comfortable with my friend tracie. its very interesting to watch her expressing herself more to others.

-pretend. she definitely uses pretend characters and scenarios a lot more now. and not just for fun play stuff. she seems to make herself into a certain 'character' for daycare and will sometimes tell me how 'the gruncher' felt about something, or how 'the cat' feels about a certain situation at home.

-nature explorer. she has held tadpoles at the beach on the vantaa river, regularly handles insects, and we have even kept snails, ants, caterpillars, millipedes and beetles in jars at home. she is fascinated by them and likes to pick leaves for them and mostly takes care of them thoughtfully. she used to keep them on her dresser at night but now we keep them on the porch in the new place. weve even had some moths hatch out of their caterpillar cocoons. so shes learning and seeing a lot.

-she likes to do dance routines to music now, and she does a lot more of listening to the lyrics and doing what the actions for the songs say.

-i got a disney 'fairy tales' music CD from the library, not realizing it would just be princess music (yeah, im not smart) and X totally became obsessed with learning the lyrics. we spent a few days sitting on the couch with the songbook that came in the CD pointing to the words/lyrics as the music played. she made me sing along (be glad you werent in the house) until she knew the songs well enough to sing them herself. then she started 'performing' them, and she has asked me what the songs mean and what certain words are and why the princess feels that way. so while it did turn her into the world of disney princess things, i find that her interests in it are very broad and actually educational, so i havent been as nauseated. side effects however are that she likes to have her hair brushed and braided now and she wants to grow it long (thanks rapunzel).

6. quotes/anecdotes.
-while reading about the heart/blood one day she stopped and asked me 'mom, does your heart beat faster when you feel love?'

-at dinner one night she asked us: 'do you think there should be more grown-ups in the world?...do you think there should be 2 more grown-ups? because one day i will be a grown-up and the baby will be a grown-up.'

-conversation: (X) 'momma, did you love me even when i was in your belly?'. (me) 'yeah'. (X) 'did you think to yourself...this baby [meaning herself] is going to be crap?' (me) laughs.

19 July 2014

Buddy brunch and pics of the pad

what a gorgeous weekend day!

sunny, high 70Fs, breezy. these are the perfect finland summer days people live for, and we got one on a saturday so everyone could enjoy it together. today we also spent the morning welcoming our first guests with a brunch. X made friends with this english/finnish-speaking girl at daycare and they happened to (at the time) live in the building behind us, so both of our families got to know each other and weve been hanging out with them more and more. now we actually live in the same building and i think a real lasting friendship is mounting.

anyway, they came for french toast, eggs, bacon, scones, and fruit today and we all had a lovely time. the girls played all over the house testing out all the best nooks and crannies that even this smaller apartment has to offer (theres Xs bedroom of course, but also our balcony has a loft and the walk-in closet became a cat cave pretty quickly). after a nice chat with the parents, their younger daughter needed a nap so they went home and X and her friend continued to play. for hours.

dave and i sat around twiddling our thumbs. we arent used to getting a break on the weekends like this! and all through the late morning and early afternoon little kids from our building were ringing our doorbell to get the girls to come out and play, but they were still working at playing throughout the house. finally after 2-3 hours inside, we made a snack and got them to eat with us outside and then they were motivated to play in the yard and ran off with the gang of kids (they all are about the same age and go the same daycare around the corner), leaving us in the dust.

its a new thing, adjusting to X just being off with friends in the yard, on her own. i havent known how to relax in the house because ive always had to be 'on', watching, being present. but she knows all the paths/places around here and the kids are all very conscious to stay in the yard (they dont wander to other yards/playgrounds...that ive seen). plus, there are so few cars that ever come down our road (and the kid are very aware and alert each other too) that things are just so safe its like a dream. and on these beautiful summer days it all seems that much more surreal, to have her outside living this old-fashioned american childhood. you can still get it here in finland and i just love that.

i also love that we have, more or less, settled in to the apartment now and it really feels like home. my least favorite place is the bathroom, because its a bit tight, but all the other spaces are roomy and well-thought out and it feels really spacious for the size that it is on paper (810 sq ft). i think we will be very happy here. here is a tour of the place, in pictures:

(welcome. our entrance/hallway; the first door off the hallway is our bedroom)
(in the back of our bedroom is an archway into a walk-in closet; the other end of the walk-in closet is a shelf [aka babys changing table] with a nice window)
(the view from the bedrooms)
(the walk-in closet also exits into the next room, our office; Xs room and bunk bed!)
(IKEA stuva set-up across from her bed)

(the bathroom at the end of the hallway has 2 rooms...the toilet room and the all-purpose wash room)
(the living room flows right over into the kitchen in back)
(nice open kitchen with a shady maple tree outside)
(the balcony [with drying rack and kids loft/nook] is off of the kitchen; and our view from the balcony...boulders for eating ice cream on, a flat picnic area above that and off to the left is a deep shady yard)
(the yard has a play house, sandboxes, a slide, swings, climbing equipment, picnic tables, clothes lines and a carpet beating station. it reminds me of nice campgrounds from northern michigan; buddies on the slide)

17 July 2014

Titanic 2.0 prepared for launch

so ive got about one month left, or a few weeks, or no time at all, depending on what the kiddo decides. im feeling better at this stage that i was with X, and the weather has been kind so i dont think i can complain.

1. lately ive realized that i cant recall what its like to hold and manage a little baby anymore. i know i did it, and its not that im scared, i just cant remember.

2. i havent found the right words to describe what ive been feeling, but its something like i can tell that this baby is my buddy. like we are in this together. i dont remember this kind of feeling with X, though its not like i didnt feel connected to her, it was just different.

3. i had an unexpected, random, lovely surprise in discovering that a fellow health researcher, in our research group at work, is also pregnant. we basically have the same due date and are pregnant with our second kiddos. she and her husband are both finnish, her husband travels a lot for work, and she seems similar minded in many aspects of life and seems interested and motivated to hangout during maternity leave. im happy to have added a new friend to the repertoire, and its one who fills of hole of being able to relate to work struggles too. nice to be slowly rounding out my friend needs here.

4. for anyone interested in more information about giving birth in finland, this webchat lecture was a nice summary. it was given by a finnish doula who trained in the US for a group here in finland called 'duo' that supports intercultural families. fyi, if you click on the link for the video, the lecture starts around the 5 minute mark.

1. tmi. my week 28 dr appt confirmed what i already knew, i had a pregnant lady 'down there' area trifecta. perhaps two of the issues are more well-known and are slightly more easy to joke about (in trusted company), but this third one was new for me. googling around though, i find, once again, that i am not alone. you can read more here if you are curious, this mama says it with more humor than i can muster.

2. nesting. dave says i am doing this much more noticeably than with X. i say its mostly because im just antsy to get settled in our new apartment. i cant help with lifting or doing much of the other moving grunt work but im excited to get into a new place thats a little bit larger, and this time the things we will fill it with are all ours. we can settle in more and really get comfortable.

3. exercise has made me feel so much better. i cant believe what 20 minutes a night can do. it makes me feel pretty flexible and energetic. until about week 32/33 i had energy for it every night, and as a result i was always waking up feeling pretty good. at around week 35/36 the energy for exercise has come back so ive been trying to do it when i can. my feet and legs are not up for it every night, but when they are i can still manage the whole video and feel nice afterward.

4. out of breath/heavy. around week 32/33, all of the sudden i felt quite heavy and i also started to feel rather out of breath. this combination contributed to increased tiredness (i assume).

5. nauseous/uncomfortable sometimes. this seems to be coming from uncomfortable positions the baby is choosing to settle in rather than from food.

6. allergies. i spoke too soon. some flower or something opened up and ive been sneezing and have an itchy, runny nose and sometimes itchy eyes for weeks now. not so fun to have an additional reason to be uncomfortable. and i really have to drink a ton of water to counteract all the nose blowing, which then makes me a pee machine. its hard work staying hydrated!

week 28/29 dr appt: this was my first visit with the doctor (the previous visits were with the public health nurse). we did all the same measurements as with the nurse, but she also checked my cervix (normal in all ways). i gained less than 2 lbs in the last three weeks. the babys heartbeat was 130 (she thought s/he was sleeping).

(week 29/30 bump this time; week 29 bump with X)

kela package: at around 30/31 weeks i received word that my application for maternity leave was approved and the amount that i would receive (its listed as a per day rate and is based on your salary and other life situation issues, even women who were unemployed previously get a 'maternity leave' payment). it also mentioned that our government-issued box of baby stuff would arrive soon. and it did. you get a notice and you go to pick it up at your local post office. it weighs about 8 kgs, so dave carried it. we unpacked it as a family. its pretty rad. the box has a nice piece of foam at the bottom and it can really be a baby bassinet. there is a full set of bedding, a sleeping bag for warm naps in the stroller, a full set of cold weather gear, pants, bodysuits, rompers, sleepers, it seems like a selection of all sizes to get you to age 1. there were also little accessories (bibs, socks, tights, hooded towel, bath thermometer, brush, nail scissors, baby book, practice toothbrush).

(the box and its contents)

week 31/32 appt: i have gained the exact same amount of weight at the exact same time point as i did with X. everything at the visit was normal. babys heartbeat was about 135. the nurse said the baby was mostly head down (a little angled) and that is good, but the baby can still change positions. at week 34 they want the baby to be staying head down. if baby isnt, we get an appointment at the hospital to try and turn the baby.

(week 31/32 bump this time; week 31 bump with X)
(week 33/34 bump this time; week 33 bump with X)

week 34/35 dr appt: all measurements were normal. didnt gain weight (this is misleading because i was measured on a different scale than previously). baby heartbeat 150, head down (but not 'fixed' yet). the kiddo is riding pretty low but that means less heartburn for me so that is nice. apparently my cervix is at a 2 (out of 3) and softening, but still closed, so its at a normal stage for this point. i am now done with doctor visits for regular pregnancy monitoring (the final visits are all public health nurse). 

tour of hospital (kätilöopisto): this is the hospital in central helsinki that i hope to give birth at. the tricky thing is that in finland, when you are in labor you call your first choice hospital to see if they have room for you to come in, if not they direct you to the next closest and available hospital. so the choice is not really up to me, but thats okay, we'll just see how it goes. anyway, we had a tour of the hospital in english, so that was nice. noteworthy things about the hospital: they have tons of equipment (birth balls, birthing stools, rocking chairs, midwives trained in acupuncture, a room with a tub, etc) available for use. the mom is considered a client not a patient and you are treated like a regular, healthy person. you are met at the ward by your midwife and taken to the room that will be your delivery room right away, you get your initial check in there, labor in there, and deliver in there, no moving around. on the recovery wards you are encouraged to be as independent with baby care as possible while being supported by post-partum midwives along the way if needed. 

(week 35/36 bump this time; week 35 bump with X)
(week 36/37 bump this time; week 36 bump with X)

week 36/37 appt: everything was normal, except my hemoglobin was a bit low. baby heartbeat was 130. apparently only gained half a pound in 2 weeks, but each of these rooms i have gone in lately has a different scale so im certain these numbers are not as they seem. babys head is down and we are all set for basically being full-term now. any day or week now...

07 July 2014

Yeah we're movin on down, to the backside

moving week. it arrived, finally!

our new apartment is actually just behind and down the hill from our old apartment in the same style of building, though this apartment is slightly larger (810 sq ft as opposed to 670 sq ft). the landlords are a lovely finnish family who are moving with their 3 boys to take over the dads family farm (they grow hay). our old landlords are kind people, and we are lucky enough to have these nice new landlords as well. very lucky.

we started moving on sunday june 29 by having a student in daves department help dave move all our boxes from the old apartment to the new one. this occurred in only two loads and we were finished in the early afternoon. our moving day was rainy but it went well and everyone was getting excited to make the transition.

on june 30, IKEA delivered all of our new furniture in the morning so we could get started on the next task...making the new place our home. it took 7 days to build all of the 14 pieces of furniture but it was worth it. after daycare, dave and X began on her bed, she was a real helper (very excited too) and loved the end result. it was so nice getting her a bed that really suited her, instead of just getting by with the bed we used in the old place. she loved practicing climbing up and down the ladder of her bunk bed.

(helping to put the slats in her bunk bed)
(helping to build a kitchen chair)

on july 1 we were cleaning the old place and shuttling things back and forth from the old apartment to the new one. my friend tracie was wonderful enough to come by with her car and we took a full carload of our last minute things over to the new apartment.

on july 2 (we had gotten permission to stay an extra night in the old apartment because the mattresses werent ready to sleep on in the new place) we took the cat over to the new place and all of the final things. now we were outta the old place and on to settling into the new.

it took us until sunday, july 6 to really have things unpacked and be in a state that we could, if necessary, comfortably entertain guests, or welcome a baby. and now we have the fine tuning details left.

im quite happy with the new place and X has already been enjoying the playground area. she has a good friend who lives in this building so they have been out playing together. her transition over here was pretty easy, her sleep wasnt nearly as affected as i expected. i think it was really time to make her a bedroom that worked for her. so that has been great.

30 June 2014

Reading/watching - First half of 2014

-i read bestsellers 'whered you go bernadette' and 'me before you' but thought they were just fiction filler. unless its a certain kind of funny, thought provoking, or romance (when im in the mood), fiction just doesnt grab me as much as non-fiction. and even then non-fiction has to be the right kind of interesting person or subject to draw me in. ive noticed that christopher hitchens and kurt vonnegut are the kinds of writers who i will read whatever they write, regardless of subject matter and always have a good time. so perhaps rather than going after the latest bestseller i should really just find what i like and bathe in it, letting those stories guide me to new ones.

-stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers. 4/5. non-fiction with about 13 chapters of information on various things that dead human bodies get used for or have had done to them throughout history. i thought it was interesting, and was presented with humor as well as respect. michigan was mentioned several times in various chapters pertaining to cadaver use and disposal. it really turned out to be an interesting topic for a book.

-the edge of never. 4/5. this was a good relationship book, but id be hard pressed to call it a typical romance novel. i really enjoyed the use of the greek lovers story of eurydice and orpheus too. i would recommend this to anyone who just wants a good solid love story to read.

-welcome to the monkey house. 4/5. a collection of early kurt vonnegut short stories. he has written about all manner of random topics, but most of the time with a special twist that always makes you think, usually in such a way that your horizons are broadened and your acceptance of something that is 'other' comes more easily. i need to get more of his books.

-don jon. 4/5. joseph gordon-levitt wrote, directed and starred in this one. love him. good story about the reality (or non-reality) of romantic movies and porn and about finding and making real connections with people. it was something different in a genre littered with formulas.

-blended. 4/5. another romantic comedy starring drew barrymore and adam sandler. their first two movies together were so great that this one couldnt beat those, but it was still fun. they have a goofy, sweet chemistry that just works in whatever off-beat plot they wander through. it started out a bit too silly, but they reined it in and it was really cute and sweet. there were tears and laughs and an adorable 'blended family' story. adam sandler hasnt done much well in the past several years, but i think he must see he needs to stick with drew.

20 June 2014

End of spring 2014 - city summary

weather: we had a super lovely early-arriving spring with unprecedented sunshine and warmth. whereas last year we were still waiting for the snow to completely melt into may, this year we were seeing wildflowers and tree buds in april. it was great. later in the spring we actually gained more cool and rainy days. sometimes it hardly feels like summer is around the corner. i think its really been frustrating the finns. we had snow for a few minutes on june 18! for me, this one particular year, i must say im enjoying it. to have the mix of sun and clouds, warm and cold days, its keeping me from being a sweaty, hot, uncomfortable, grumpy pregnant lady. so this year i am okay. and if we want to have an indian summer later, once kiddo is born. i am ALL for that. :)
(spring evening family walk)
-petexpo. this was held in the messukeskus and had mostly purebred cats and dogs, but also lizards, frogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, hedgehogs, and a whole host of other exotic pets. there wasnt much for the uninterested adult, but X and her little friend who went with us loved it. X wanted to go up and down every aisle of cat carriers and peek inside. we were pressed for time so we couldnt see all the exotic animals which was a real bummer for her, we will have to return next year.

-samba carnaval. this is a music and dance festival that takes place on senate square. in the later afternoon there is a parade through the downtown. thankfully X dozed before the parade because then she had the energy and patience to handle the nearly 2 hour parade extravaganza! wow, its been a while since ive seen one that long. but with all the music, dancing, feathers, and costumes, it was definitely a worthwhile time, perhaps not something i have the stamina to do every year, but it was fun.

-helsinki fashion house. this is mostly a wholesale place, i think, but they have big sales open to the public here a few times a year, we went in mid-march. a friend invited us so we took our girls and wandered around looking for deals. we ended up with some nice kid accessories (winter hat and mittens, a few princess items, and some nail polish). we also had a nice post-shopping break in the downstairs cafeteria with a sweet treat. it was crowded, for finland, but absolutely NOTHING compared to american-crowded. i can handle that any year. in fact, it might be a fun mother-daughter thing.

-helsinki university great hall. dave and i went to an award event here (he had won a grant earlier in the year). its one of the universitys oldest and most formal buildings. it was a pretty space, but i think having UMs law quad buildings to compare them to meant it wasnt especially impressive for me. and the event itself was un.believably. boring. the monotone of the administrative speakers and the contrived speeches that the guest speakers were forced to take part in, coupled with the weird interlude of a jazz ensemble was almost too much for me. afterward there was an appetizer/champagne reception. we grabbed some food and bolted. i told dave he will fly solo if he is invited to one of those again.

(reception food; dave liked the practical champagne glass holder that was attached to each dish)

-håkansbölen kartano in vantaa. our landlords invited us to lunch the day after easter and we happily accepted. after eating our tasty meal (hungarian goulash and 'american-style' cheesecake) we went for a walk on the beautiful, natural, public, estate lands that border their backyard. rolling hills, a mansion, stables, streams, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing trails. very serene.

-sandro. this restaurant is in the artist/hipster neighborhood of kallio, but had quite a varied clientele when we went for brunch. the atmosphere was really nice, there were beautiful spreads of food (tasty north african/middle eastern dishes) bursting with really great flavors. its definitely worth the price every so often.

-kaski. this is in the latokartano neighborhood nearby. we were too strapped for time to shop or cook one weekday dinner, so we tried this place. it had a nice atmosphere, friendly waitress, decent food choices/prices and it tasted pretty good.

-ristorante dennis. this is a local chain of pizza restaurants with gluten-free options. the pizza was tasty, there were lots of choices, and its a nice place for kids too. im happy to find another good eat-out place.

(she loves her pineapple/ham pizzas)

-manteli lounas. this is the cafeteria for the business park across the street from my work. the full lunch buffet is close to 10€, but the food is good. its too pricey to be a regular choice, but if there is nothing palatable at the university cafeteria at least i have a second option.

-koti pizza. a local take-out pizza joint, great for those times when we just dont want to cook. its in the next town over so we still have to make the plan to either do the bus round-trip (at least you can pre-order your pizza on-line) or choke on the 8+ € delivery fee.

-kosken ranta. a cafe/restaurant at the waters edge in vanhakaupunki. it has outdoor seating and overlooks our favorite nature spot in the city. X and i stopped in to have a dessert after a picnic one fine spring day. i have to say, this place is great, we will be back.

(post-dessert happiness in the wildflowers)

-martina. a generic cafe/bistro place. we had an average lunch here one day. we had wanted to try the place around the corner, but it was closed and this turned out to be a tolerable alternative.

-punavuoren peikko. a kids clothing store in the downtown design district. they carry finnish and some other nordic country designs. some of the brands are at decent prices, others are pretty pricey. but its on a nice block in a nice neighborhood, so its worth a stop-in anyhow.

-international market on hakaniemi square. this occurs the first sunday of each month. tents on the outside market square of hakaniemi are set-up selling a number of things, mostly food. its a nice place to walk through with the family.

(actually not international, these are fried finnish fish at the international market)

-falkulla farm. we went here on a sunny sunday afternoon with friends. we had a picnic and X and her friend rode their bikes, they fed the goats copious amounts of greens and everyone had a lovely time...despite the heat and sunburns (on the adults, not the kiddo).

(feeding goats)

-arabian street festival. we did this neighborhood block party-type thing again this year. the weather was totally perfect this year (last year it was rainy). the yard sales, music, dancing, street performing, graffiti artists, art students crafts and wares, children and children activities, treats, and the sales at the finnish home design stores were so fun. and being able to do them all in basically a one block area was great. i think we'll be doing this one every year.

(first chocolate ice cream cone, ever, at the street festival. it was a hit. lol)

finn notables:
-i love hearing non-americans size up people of other nationalities. my doula was telling me that when it comes to work ethic and work behavior, norwegians are similar to finns. they get to the point, make a plan, and do what needs to be done. she mentioned swedes as being more wishy-washy and that you can come away from a meeting with swedes with pages full of notes that dont amount to much and still wonder what the plan is and what your role is. but her opinions on the danes were really amusing. as a people, in general, she said that since the danish people are from the oldest kingdom in europe, they tend to think and act as if they are superior. her opinion on their work behavior was that they will race to be the first to apply for project funding, describing some lofty idea, but when it comes time to put the plan in place they have no practical details laid out for how to actually get it done step-by-step.

-from work colleagues, (im learning all kinds of 'insider' tidbits. i love it) i was told more about drinking behaviors in finland. the finnish guys i ate with one day said that the purpose of drinking in finland is to get drunk. its not about pairing a well-selected bottle of wine with the perfect meal, or about that one glass of celebratory bubbly, or that high quality drink to wind down at the end of the weekday...no, you drink...to get drunk. this explains the VERY typical weekend drinking purchases i see of perhaps about 80% of people at the grocery store buying 8-12 cans of the cheapest/shittiest beer on the shelves. this is their serving size to get drunk. working people only do this drunk drinking on weekends because they dont want their behavior to interfere with their ability to do quality work. however, i am also told that, at least for the typical person, driving is taken very seriously surrounding drinking issues. if you have two beers, you know to take yourself out of the driving pool. even one drink of something stronger than beer and you are designating someone sober to drive.

-i think this alcohol behavior also helps crack the code on finns coffee consumption and other curiosities. along the same 'drink to get drunk' goal, i think their coffee goal is 'drink to get buzzed'. i have read that finns are something like the worlds leaders in coffee consumption, per capita, and yet all ive heard is how crap the coffee offerings are here. dont think that because consumption is high that flavor and quality rivals france, italy, turkey, or other countries where i hear coffee actually tastes like something worthy of being praised.

and then it got me thinking...well, this northern country has had a long history of harsh winters, isolation from much of the rest of the world (which includes the fact that waterways were iced over much of the year before the times of powerful icebreaker ships, so nothing could get in or out), and even once technologies were opening the world up to them, the world wars hit and there was lots of uncertainty for finns. when they made the goal to buckle down and pay off their war debts, it kept their behaviors in the frugal zone. since they werent importing lots of fancy foods from warmer climates they were doing what they could with their meat, fish, potatoes, and other root vegetable staples and basically eating to be full (to go along with drinking to get drunk and caffeinating to get buzzed, regardless of quality). armed with their traditions and sisu, they marched along accepting these realities, and actually made their country a wonderful place to be alive, even if it meant not having fancy, extravagant luxuries in food and frivolous indulgences (though this is slowly changing, of course). it certainly puts the people and their ways in greater perspective.

-easter dessert. so the traditional easter dessert here called is mämmi. its basically water, rye flour, and molasses. i cant try it because of the gluten but dave said it basically tastes like molasses pudding. not something he would crave, but edible. X seemed to think it was decent, though not awesome. i must say too that if you wanted to make something edible that looked like fake poo...this would be the stuff. very realistic. :)

-this year, with easter being late and vappu/may day (may 1) shortly thereafter, i think tons of people used this excuse (coupled with the unprecedented lovely weather) to just get the hell out of town. even the week before easter, over palm sunday weekend, people were leaving in droves. according to peoples behavior at work this was a good time to take 2-3 weeks off. i really want to get into this finnish vacation groove some year soon. also, with the month of may comes like 5 public holidays, so really its a quick (some might say bipolar) changeover from the hardworking, dull, hermit-like winter finnish behavior to the relaxed escape-ism of the warmer weather vacationing behavior.

-further, any nice weather day along the way before true summer vacation comes is fair game for finns to leave work early. they really watch the weather updates and especially if cooler, grey weather is on the horizon, a sunny warm day will nearly guarantee people are leaving work early to be outside, have bbqs, take the kids to playgrounds, get out of town...it can almost make you feel like there was a hurricane evacuation issued, thats how many people have the same idea at the same time.

-work sabbaticals. (note: the exact details may be a bit off here, but the general program exists in finland). a finnish mom friend was telling me that in finland, once youve been in the work force for something like ~10 years, you can take, essentially, a sabbatical. this where you get 6 months off work with something like 75% of your pay while you are off doing whatever you want...vacationing, focusing on a serious hobby, watching tv, whatever. they take someone else out of the unemployment pool to fill your position in the interim and your job is held for you to come back to. you can take this sabbatical something like every 5 years or so. ive certainly heard of this in the academic world, however usually sabbatical there implies you are still doing work, but you are permitted to do it at another institution, as a way to further your collaboration bonds. its SO cool to hear about it as an option for all jobs here. and you get a real break.

-of all the salad bars ive seen here, ive never seen one with shredded cheese as a choice, despite their massive love of dairy here.

-we went to our bank to open a savings account and get advice on other investments. we got the savings account, but it turns out that due to u.s. regulations we are unable to get advice about how to invest our money in another country. to the womans knowledge, we are the only country in the world with this rule.

-i got my finnish drivers license. it took some paperwork and collecting some items before applying, but it only cost 51€ and expires in 15 years! awesome.

-id say that the longer daylight hours started affecting my sleep in mid-may, so i dug out an airplane sleeping mask. it helps, but in the weeks surrounding midsummer its just hard for me to get real rest. its a sleep challenge of a different sort, compared to winter, but its still a challenge i dont really enjoy. it seems my body is still most used to its american life, which is most closely approximated here in the months surrounding the spring and fall equinoxes.

-midsummers eve. this is the day before summer solstice. it is celebrated here in finland with lots of drinking, bbqing, and sitting around bonfires all day/night at your woodland cottage. the highways are packed the days before midsummer as people are leaving the city in droves to start their official summer vacation...to be back in early august, if theyre lucky.

15 June 2014

Turks out naantali is lovely but boo to moominworld

i really wanted to see one new part of finland before our summer and lives got crazy. we had a free weekend where we werent ready to prep for the apartment move yet and were able to easily get away, so we seized the chance and went to the western coast of finland, kind of in the middle of the archipelago region. what a lovely little getaway, but it only makes me want more. more. more!

we rented a car, which we picked up after breakfast. the road west was nice, full of trees, wildflowers, and tunnels. plus, we got to test out a finnish rest stop (clean/nice), but when we got out of the car we were hit with more grey, wind, rain, and cold than we had dressed for. we werent quite to our destination (the weather hadnt been predicted to be this cold) yet so we hoped for the best. it was still grey when we arrived in turku but the temperature and wind were more manageable.

turku is the oldest city in finland and used to be the capital (until it was moved to helsinki in 1812, when russia was in charge). also, being on the western side of finland, there is more of a swedish-speaking population here, the citys swedish name is åbo. when we drove into turku it seemed like a hodge podge of building types and time periods, at least from the direction we entered town. we parked near the market square and made our way to lunch: china & thai palace. yum, the food was simple, fast, and flavorful. we hadnt had good thai in a while so we were pleased.

(lunch noodles)

after lunch we went down the block to the fantastic main library branch. since the weather was still kind of yucky we were happy to go in and explore. there were so many nooks and creative spots for kids and kids at heart, so much more than dusty books on shelves to intrigue the mind, and the library had one wall of all glass windows looking out onto an interesting courtyard with art sculptures too. the place was almost too interesting, we didnt actually get any reading in. lol.

(one of many views of the kids area)

our next stop was the 100+ year old toy store called casagrande. the shelf presentation wasnt anything to write home about, but the toy selection was wonderful, and the owner was chatty. we ended up getting a new animal toy for X (a snake) and some awesome kinetic sand (really cool product from swedish company, waba fun). we also found out we can email the owner to have toys mailed to us (even though the store doesnt actually have a webstore), so that will come in handy for unique things at gift-giving times.

then we started just wandering around. we made it into the turku market hall and got some treats (GF vanilla/cherry pulla, raspberry macaroon, gingerbread cookie, and an apple pulla) and then walked a few blocks along the citys central canal/river. there was certainly lots more to see, but we were ready to just settle into our cottage and relax a bit. so, we grabbed some simple dinner stuff from the grocery store and headed 15 minutes north toward the town of naantali.

(turku market hall. so far, all the finnish market halls weve encountered look similar)

we checked in to our little red cottage at tammiston tila, a nice piece of property with an old wooden farmhouse, gardens, and a few cottages. after exploring the grounds for bit, we had a dinner of fruit and sandwiches. then we headed into picturesque naantali in search of dessert and a nice end to the evening. we won on both accounts. the town was rather packed because it was the final night of their music festival and the sun had finally decided to make its glorious appearance. the little harbor of naantali is perfectly situated to soak up every ounce of the eternal summer sun of finland. the town seemed very much like the little coastal tourist town gems of northern and UP michigan. it was so lively by the water, and the place was filled with families and couples of all ages, it could enchant anyone. we got ice cream from a little window and sat in the sun by the docks people and animal watching. then we wandered around, played at a playground, and headed back to the cottage.

(naantali harbor; playground fun)

in the morning, breakfast was served in the bright and comfy farmhouse dining room. the selection was perhaps good for most peoples diets but it was certainly not that great for people needing gluten free fare (probably the least varied offerings ive had at any nordic place weve been). to add to our leaving day experience, when we checked out we found out the linens we had rented for the cottage were 12€/person!! are you f-ing kidding me!? the cottage was quaint and the property was nice, but i cant possibly fathom going back there. nope. unfortunately this was just the beginning of our costly day because our destination was moominworld (the disney-like franchise of finland).

we did manage to dodge the 8€ parking fee for moominworld and just parked on the street in naantali. we did take the (free) moominworld train from the naantali town church to the bridge onto the island. the park entrance was 25€/person (only kids under age 2 are free)! while i will say that the island the theme park is situated on is very naturally beautiful and serene it is not worth the price, in general. when we first entered the park, we did the walking/exploring adventure through the moomin side characters storyland. and that was fun, though a little scary in tone at times (i have found that nordic stories/authors for kids are not afraid to be a little scary or 'controversial'). then we toured the whole of the moomin familys iconic house (up to the 4th floor attic and down to the cellar). and next was moominpapas area, that was fun because of the water play area.

(bridge at the end of the storyland; water play in moominpapa area)

lastly, we continued along the forested trail past moominpapas with little stopping points of other lesser characters play areas. there was a 'barefoot trail' where you were invited to take your shoes off and walk on sand, rocks, smooth stone, and through water. X loved that, but ended up slipping in the water and needing to change her clothes. then our visit descended to its dissatisfying (at least for the adults) ending. we had a nearly 40€ lunch at 'moominmamas kitchen'. it was a buffet place (which we thought would be better than the hamburger/hot dog/fries stands elsewhere) with mostly meatball, hot dog and mashed potato offerings with a few additional soggy or bland foods. and again there wasnt very much for me to choose from. sucked. then we zipped through the gift shop where there were thumb sized moomin figurines for nearly 5€/each. ha! we left that place empty-handed. and we completed our moominworld day by catching a moomin musical show that was going on by the entrance/exit of the park. what a dull and uninspired show. ugh.

(barefoot trail)

so, in summary, the park was situated on a truly lovely island in a great little gem of a town...the rest...was crap. it was the most un-finnish place weve been to since we lived here, and if they were trying to take a page from american theme parks/tourism they only really seemed to have stolen the yucky parts, with just enough 'finnish'-ness sprinkled in to be offensive and feel manipulative. the moomin franchise has actually slowly been bugging me more and more since weve lived here. its the biggest literary export of finland and the characters are all over the country and are basically a symbol of childhood. the stories seem wonderful (they are for older kids so we havent gotten to reading them for ourselves) but the branding and usage rights for the commercial aspect of the famous family are distasteful, at least in contrast to the rest of finnish culture. its so off-putting that i think i will be avoiding pretty much all moomin things in the future, except for the books. thats where the real, original enchantment and value is.

anyway, to end our trip, we walked off moominworld and stripped off the yucky feeling to be re-wrapped in the loveliness that is naantali. its called the sunshine town for a reason. the sun brightens up its harborfront for pretty much the whole day in the summer. we absorbed the energy of the relaxing people, got ourselves another ice cream treat, and ended our mini vacation on a good note. heres hoping we make it back to the west coast sometime soon.