29 April 2012

Birthday bike bust and weekend redux redemption

due to Xs birthday falling on a tuesday, we had a two-part celebration.

on the day of (april 24):
it was a lovely rainy, windy, grey (yet warm-ish) day in halifax. dave and i had done up the toy room with blue streamers and flowers on the ceiling. we also laid out the gifts my mom and al had gotten her (with our gift to be revealed after dinner). dave had to go in to work before X woke up this morning so i took a long video of her entering the toy room. she loved her pots/pans, stickers, and underwater animals.

*click here to view the youtube video of her opening gifts. fair warning, it is long (14+ mins) and unedited. i suspect you will become bored with it long before it reaches its conclusion (she notices the gifts at around 01:45 and things start to get really dull after the 6 minute mark), unless you enjoy watching small children who are not your own doing inane things. *

after spending time with the babysitter, X and i went out for ingredients for her birthday muffins (because thats how terrible i am, i didnt get organized enough to surprise her with them). we had to go to two different grocery stores to get all the stuff. then, mercifully, dave came home early from work so i was able to make the muffins without any trouble.

after dinner we sang, ate the mediocre muffins and gave X our gift, a balance bike. epic fail: she is a bit too short for even the lowest setting on the bike. :( we hadnt even contemplated that happening. she happily hopped on it though (with our help) and we drove it around the house. we plan to leave it out in the main room so she can ask to ride on it whenever she wants and get slowly used to it that way. and when she is tall enough, she shouldnt have a problem taking to it quickly (with any luck).

(closing her eyes to make a wish?; pensive and hopeful that her wish comes true?; tasting the birthday muffin)
on saturday (april 28):
most of the day was just a regular saturday, but we did gather ingredients for her favorite dinner...chicken and dumplings. and before making that, we did a batch of maple syrup cookies together. yum! and then after the meal, we put two candles in a cookie and did the birthday song again.

(munching on a dumpling; sweet, sweet anticipation of the candles/cookie; taking the candle-blowing-out seriously; its done...over. not to be done again until next year)

so, did we neglect to give her a birthday party yet again this year? indeed. in late march i had the intention to sit down and think about it and plan...but then the job interview offer came and things went into upheaval for a bit. in the moments when i was able to think about it, i just couldnt convince myself that i would be having the party for anything other than to placate my feelings of guilt if we didnt have one. she still is at an age where she doesnt care either way. and when it matters, we will do a party. as it was, i think this year was still celebrated well (even though our gift cant be enjoyed until later).

to X i say "thank you for being my lifes greatest teacher. as we show you the world, you show us our true selves. may you always challenge others to rise to the occasion. may you always feel that you are loved. and may you always march to the beat of your own drum."

27 April 2012

Job offer...accepted!

dave sent off his verbal acceptance of the job today. and now begins the contract negotiation phase. so i guess youd say we are 95% on our way to finland. though most other details remain fuzzy at this point.

i am impressed by daves level-headed contemplation of this job post. after we got home from finland, he contacted all his trusted advisors and set up chats with them. he had told the university of helsinki people that he would get back to them in a week or so, but he told me that if he didnt get a chance to touch base with all his advisor people then he would simply ask them for more time. he wanted and needed to make sure. i wont say im surprised by this behavior, but i will say that i was very proud to know that he was taking this so seriously and was being methodical about the decision-making process (this makes it sound like i had no say in the decision...not true. however, there is a personal side of taking a job post and a professional side. i cant answer or decide the professional side for him).

so, in the end we had daves professional pro/con list and our personal pro/con list (basically that which i posted pre-finland, with a few additional notes). we decided that, honestly, very few places in the u.s. would make us truly happy and those places havent been exactly exploding with job postings. daves type of geology (non-field based, mostly modeling) is currently less common in the u.s. (though this is changing) so his kind of job positions come up even less often than normal. plus, the treatment of junior faculty in the u.s. is pretty poor. they get a huge teaching load dumped on them, are expected to work themselves to the bone, and the attitude toward them is generally "sink or swim". not exactly a nurturing environment. we also felt that most places in canada were not to our liking. and, thinking about europe, there are just a handful of countries that have the right mix of job opportunity, serious science going on, decent grant funding likelihood, a desirable culture and government, and high likelihood for me to get a job as well. with the opportunity given to dave to ease in to a (hopefully) successful career via this job, the "pros" we listed of finland, and our general desire to want to be settled somewhere and start the next phase of our lives, we decided that this really was a top-notch offering. nothing is ever going to be ideal, but aside from the darker winters, there really shouldnt (we hope) be anything we cant at least hazard a guess at what it will be like to tackle. i hope this is enough to give us a good shot at success and happiness, you just can never be 100% sure.

things of note about the job:
the official position is "assistant professor" and its tenure-track. accepting the offer is the first piece of the pie. now begins contract negotiations. this part can last for various amounts of time, though there is always the possibility of the "deal" falling through (from either end). but, the university people seem reasonable and open-minded so far and dave does not come with tons of rigid demands, so perhaps i (and my future ulcers) will be spared a long contract negotiation phase.

hierarchy on his campus of the university:
*dean of science (a physics guy who was itching to speak to dave at the interview and excited about him being able to help bridge the geophysics gap for students) 
**department of geosciences and geography
***three divisions of the geosciences and geography department (each with their own head): geology, geography, and the institute of seismology (pekka [from the interview trip] is head of this division)
****dave will be an assistant professor in the institute of seismology

what we know right now the job comes with:
-30 days (6 weeks) paid vacation
-7 weeks a year of no teaching
-teaching in english only (or least a very high likelihood)
-an opportunity to teach in the field, though its not a requirement
-eased in to the teaching circuit (no teaching the first semester (probably) and up to 2 classes per year [pre-tenure], 3-4 classes per year potentially in the future)

25 April 2012

Year 2X in review

the two year old round-up post (compare to last years).

the pictures (12 to 24 months in 9 images):

12 month weight: 22 lbs
24 month weight: 27 lbs
24 month height: 35 inches
number of teeth: 18
shoe size: 7
clothing size: 3T

new nicknames (used with at least some regularity): rup rup, kahlu-key-cheh, crazy sauce, wild wild animal, lady mc-baberson, goon-doggle, [bunny] buns

favorite go-to foods: bread, graham crackers, dried mango, dates, grapes, banana bread, pig meat

new friends born:
brooke m, sam c, everett d, lily e, owen g

new friends to come in 2012:
mister/miss barish, mister/miss jeffrey

trips taken:
- europe in june: france (rennes, grenoble, paris) and iceland
- michigan in july
- new york in november for thanksgiving (nyack, albany)
- boston in december for NYE
- florida in february for moms wedding
- finland in mid-april for daves job interview

best made-from-scratch kid song this year:
(to the tune of twinkle, twinkle)

puppy, puppy in the park
how i love to hear you bark
woof, woof, woof,
arf, arf, arf,
meow...how did that kitty get in the song?
puppy, puppy in the park
how i love to hear you bark

puppy puppy, how are you?
how i love to find your poo
look heres one. oh! theres another
dont step in it or youll anger your mother
puppy puppy, how are you?
how i love to find your poo

most favorite books: chicka chicka boom boom, one fish two fish red fish blue fish, dinner time, happy birthday to you, corduroy, press here

favorite activities: reading, playing with puppets, throwing rocks at the beach, learning about animals, playing with animals, seeing animals, stickers, playdough

words regularly able to read: X, zoo, up, no, hi, buzz, moo

a typical X day (as a 24 month old): up around 9a. breakfast and milling around until about 10-10:30a. go out to a playgroup or program. home for lunch. spend a couple hours with the babysitter. weather permitting, go outside with mama for a bit and/or run errands. dinner with papa at 6:30p. play for 2 hours (and/or take a bath). snack from 8:30-9p. bedtime by 9:30p.

X files - 24 Months Old - Not a baby, not yet a girl

thats right. i used a britney spears song title as the inspiration for the title of this post. what of it? it works. X is not a baby anymore, but she not really a little girl. she is an in-between toddler: the years of tantrums and meltdowns and brain and body blowing up and out at amazing speed. hopefully the pace doesnt break my neck, time will tell. im not very sad to wave goodbye to the baby years, though the evolution of walking and talking was a delight to behold. im sure the rest of the journey will be just as fascinating.

* note: now that she is 2, im not sure if i will keep X files every month or every 3 months or something. we shall see *

amazing/amusing phrases: you want me blow on it so i can eat dinner, you too tired to climb the stairs, you want to talk about it on mamas lap
obsessions: looking at poop (her own, bird poop on sidewalks, and most especially puppy poo), looking for flowers, stomping in puddles
food: reindeer
good books: if you give a pig a pancake, if you give a moose a muffin, stinky cheese man and other fairly stupid tales, tub people, strega nona, pete the cat i love my white shoes, the true story of the three little pigs, good-night owl, somebody and the three blairs, 20th century childrens book treasury
(indoor egg hunting; looking for shells; smiles at the park)
(sitting in her little kid chair. she loves that it is her size; sly smile)

X-citing developments:
1. teeth #17, 18. they decided to show up! hooray! 2 more to go.

2. sleep. what a joke. even after the teeth popped out i cant get a good nights sleep. i think the lifetime slept-through-the-night count is at about 4 nights now. i am trying to be patient.

3. car seat. we finally flipped it around (forward facing). after her most recent growth spurt, Xs legs were now long enough to firmly touch the seat back of the car. this new restriction seemed to piss her off to the point of making even a 5 minute drive no fun. she has always hated the restraint created by the car seat and this was just a level of uncomfortable she wouldnt tolerate. i was all for keeping her rear-facing for as long as it made sense (certainly some kids can tolerate rear-facing for much longer, and thats great). but, now that she is forward, she seems to like seeing the traffic lights and talking about what we can both see out the front windshield. weve also been letting her play and climb around in the car while its parked (a good cold weather activity to get out of the house), and she is much more pleasant about getting into and out of her car seat this way. plus, it helped her become more independent in the car routine process, which is always good (i open the door and she can climb up in to her seat and sit down so that all i have to do is buckle her).

4. personality.
- she is obsessed with gross bodily functions (poop, barf, pee). she makes pretend games to encompass these obsessions. when we go outside we are always on the lookout for puppy and bird poop. one of her favorite things at our natural history museum is the display of different animal poops. in fact, when we visited the natural history museum in helsinki, she viewed their poop collection and correctly identified the bunny poop (out of a dozen or so other poops in the display)...i think she has a future in scatology. and she likes other gross things. outside she always points out trash and broken bottles and identifies decayed food bits (someone seems to be doing a banana peel experiment on our street, there are peels in various states of decay up and down the sidewalk). in fact, our street is so littered with student trash that we often have long relationships with the trash outside (i kid you not, there was a plastic bag stuck on a stick that we visited religiously for 2+ months until it finally blew away). i find this amusing, and she doesnt try to touch any of it, so, really i dont care, but the people walking near us must get a good laugh.

- she also loves finding flowers. this spring has been so much fun. starting with the crocuses i drew her attention to the flowers and what they look like before the flower comes out. hearing her say "ooh, ohh! i did not see that. ooh, ooh. daffodils!" is hilarious. and she is learning their names, or at least the local ones that we see growing out of the ground. and we can watch their growth progress every day when we explore the neighborhood.

5. communication.
- she has created a demonic/satan voice when she is being demanding. its pretty red-rum-from-the-shining creepy.

- she has developed a sigh for expressing disappointment or melancholy. its really funny. and she uses it at the right times.

- she says "sure" a lot now in response to things like "X, can you please pick up your animals?"

- she has been doing a lot of "this happened...but this did not happen" to describe different variations of typical situations. 

- one night while getting ready for bedtime i was telling X that her toys were getting ready for bed too. she saw kitty laying nearby and said kitty was sleepy too. i agreed. she said "she lost all her fizz" (a line from her "happy hippo, angry duck" book). and later when she was dawdling while eating her pre-bedtime snack i said that the animals/toys were waiting to go to bed. X said "be patient kitty!" lol.

6. crying spells. in keeping my eyes and ears open, im arriving at the understanding that her crying spells are close to the "trying threes" meltdowns. we do see occasional "typical" tantrums that i think of as being "terrible twos", but im increasingly seeing her shift to the meltdown behavior. so, its helpful to know its a thing that regularly happens and that we just need to set ourselves up to be calm and work through the particular thing that is causing the insanity. this will prevent me from going to the doctor unnecessarily again. damn, that was ridiculous.

7. homeopathy update. we are still working on remedies for her stomach stuff, its inching along slowly. but i will say that i am very pleased with homeopathy in the pain and sickness arena. for teething pain, cold symptoms (runny/stuffy nose and congestion), and coughing, homeopathy stuff has been fantastic for us.

momma mentionables:
1. *TMI alert* pooping at work. yeah, im going there. ive noticed that im so X-focused when we are at home and/or together that my body rarely relaxes and gives itself a break in the form of notifying me that it is okay to take care of bodily functions. or perhaps it knows the joy that is having a small child routinely follow you in to the bathroom and stare at you and talk to you about various things while you are trying to relax and relieve yourself. when will i get my privacy back? age 8? cant wait. thus, my body recognizes when it is at work. every single time. im alone in a quiet place, uninterrupted for 30 minutes and my body starts saying..."hey, you know what would be awesome right now...? going in to a public bathroom, closing the door and sitting in silence." disturbing the kinds of things you look forward to once you have kids.

2. men. i realized, or reminded myself of something. i like being in the company of males (this is not to say that dave isnt a man, or to sound like he isnt "enough"). ive always had male friends and have felt most relaxed with the flow and straight forwardness of male conversation. i like the honesty, the bluntness, the say-what-you-mean no-need-for-translation words they choose, and hell yes i love the crass. i had lots of male friends to play with in my neighborhood as a kid, i have brothers and a loud mouthed dad, i hung with boys at the lunch table and in class in high school, i have phil as a very close friend (and im lucky enough to have dave be understanding enough to let me keep him), i had glen as a friend and coworker in france, i had jean-jacques to be a friend and paternal presence in france, but here...ive got nothing.

yes, ive made some mom friends, and it is very important to know moms of kids who are Xs age, and moms who can help give you a sounding board. and i do very much value the women friends i have from pre-X life. i just think that, on average, men make me most comfortable with myself. i dont even have to talk, i can be happy just listening. if i do speak, i dont have to make sure my filter is properly working. as long as they dont hold back in my presence, i feel most at peace with men.

i re-discovered this while we sat with half a dozen frisbee guys during a break dave had in a tournament. they were poking fun at their buddy who was soon going to have a vasectomy. you can just imagine the jokes they were making...this went on for 30 minutes. i havent smiled or chuckled so much in a very, very long time. THIS is the part of me that i feel has shriveled and nearly died. and i really have no idea how i can sustainably nurture it back to life. as a stay-at-home mom (basically) i have very little possibility of hanging out with a group of males, let alone having them "let their hair down" if ive got X with me. the closest ive got is my new (additional) boss who is male and swears. i like him. it makes me smirk when we have meetings (i probably look like i have an IQ of 9 when i do this), and occasionally i throw out a "crap" or "hell" and a tiny spark lights up in my chest.

anyway, the only other thing to add to this discussion is that i also realize that most of my closest women friends have really fun partners. sometimes i wonder if i like the women all the more because they offer me a chance to hang out with their men. :) and i think, with that sentiment, i may have a solution...to find moms who have cool husbands so that i can get both of my basic needs met. i think thats right, because the few moms im most "attracted to" (tee hee, is that the right phrase?) seem to also have cool partners. so i guess my compass is still working, i just need to keep listening to it.

19 April 2012

Thoughts on finland (post-visiting)

the summary of thoughts about finland, post-visiting.

weirdest trip ever: obviously, the trip was done for the interview. but to go to a new country, a new city and not get out to all the tourist sites and try to pre-plan where to eat/visit/do was strange. i wasnt going to visit, i was going to assess if i could have a life there. thus, i really wanted to just "be" in the city and see how it made me feel. i wanted to visit the playgrounds, walk the streets, visit the grocery store, do a kid-friendly museum and maybe see a library. basically to attempt to gain some insight into daily city life. i still felt like we happened upon several of the citys tourist draws, though of course several were missed. it was a new way to "do" a city though, and i actually think it was liberating to not have had a checklist to run around and feel like we needed to accomplish. i'll have to keep that in mind for future travel to new countries/cities. 

impressions of finland/helsinki: 
- as i said, when the plane landed i felt "this looks like halifax" (and wasnt sure what kind of feeling to have about that)
- the drive in to helsinki from the airport was nondescript
- while we did have sun and decent spring temperatures while there, we also saw the grey, cool, breezy, rainy days that we so often see in halifax (happy point: helsinki gets less than half the annual precipitation that halifax does)
- the same flowers were coming up as in halifax (perhaps just a week behind)
- the city (what little we saw) definitely felt european but also just like a nondescript busy city. there was nothing that gave me a takeaway image of helsinki: the buildings are a mix of russian influence, highly modern, and historic facades.
- the mid-april light was already plentiful (something like 5:30a sun up, 9:30p sun down). my body was having a little trouble figuring out how to respond (although, to be fair, it was getting tons of mixed messages about when to sleep)
- the tram was easy to use (there is also a metro as well as trains and buses. none of which we experienced)
- basically everyone speaks english, but it doesnt make reading signs any easier
- people seemed happy to be at work
- tons of people are lactose-intolerant, and many others have other food allergies, so the country is very capable of making food modifications  

- there were tons of moms out and about, and they were not slowed down by the city pace or the weather
- everywhere felt very kid-friendly (at one point, a girl actually stopped and got off her bike to coo at X. and the hotel had put a crib and child potty in our room before we got there and they had kids books in the lobby)
- playgrounds are nearby most clusters of apartments. good city planning, what a novel concept.

personal impressions
- im still trying to figure out how people ward off the damp cold (a process started in rennes, and one i have yet to master in halifax, perhaps helsinki could finally resolve the issue for me)
- i realized that busy downtown city life likely isnt for me (or our pocketbooks), i like the action of a big city, but i like to have a neighborhood that is a little more quiet and "everyday" for real life. im not sure how far out of the city center you need to go to find this balance.
- X did a good job at the brunch and dinner we were taken to, but i dont really wanna do anymore restaurant dinners for work with her. its exhausting and i cannot actually participate, or when i do, something stupid comes out of my mouth and halts the entire conversation.

* fun fact: ann arbor is about 42° N, rennes is about 48° N, halifax is about 45° N, and helsinki is about 60° N. inching, inching, inching up the globe... *

summary of thoughts:
i kept feeling like our previous experiences had all been leading up to this: the european lifestyle/pace/experience wasnt shocking (thanks to rennes), the weather wasnt shocking (thanks to halifax), the food wasnt shocking (we even managed to avoid all food issues with X. no tummy aches or red bum. a first ever in travel), the grocery store and "everyday" experiences werent shocking. and there was the sheer dumb luck of "meeting" hannah, my ideal "guide" for the finnish. to choose finland...the action seems to fit on the path without much force (which is not to say without fear). i guess, the only problem was...nothing wowed me about helsinki. and my fear of the darkness in winter (and accompanying lingering cold) still takes hold of my mind. but, i figure, being healthy, and situated, and stable in helsinki would be an entirely different experience (compared to how i was during the visit).

for me, i currently feel no "perfect" place exists. i dont feel a particular pull to anywhere in the world (at least not one that would satisfy everyone and their work needs [damn you nyack]). i know lots about what i dont want (though still not enough to make a confident decision), but a permanent move would be a new stage in life and im pretty clueless about what i do want. im trying to view it as a positive.

during our tuesday "decompression chat" in helsinki i expressed to dave that i felt several concentric circles of confused feelings surrounding me. i feel lost on many levels. first (outermost circle), where am i supposed to be, in the world? second (next inner circle), who am i: in the world, in my world, to the world? (what do i contribute, who am i to the people who know me [or who was i and am i still that], who will i be, who should i be). lastly (innermost circle), what am i? (a mom, a friend [if so, when and how], a wife, an employee. and what will those "jobs" look like if i transplant myself, yet again).

beyond this, i didnt formulate many other thoughts because dave was wanting to talk to his trusted advisers to digest the job offer further (oh, did i neglect to mention he got a job offer? sorry) so i didnt want to go full tilt "life in finland" mode ("say what?" you say, "she can chew over this more?" indeed. i can and i will). so, again, i went in to a holding pattern. not convincing myself into or out of any one lifestyle, yet. just letting it all marinate.

*side note: it took about 5 days in halifax to get back to some feeling of normal (non-jetlag). ugh, worst jetlag ive had.

18 April 2012

I fin[d] this land to be...familiar

the trip to finland (sorry, its all in one post). in many (though certainly not all) ways, i found it to be reminiscent of halifax. not sure exactly what to make of that, but there it is.

april 13 (friday):
- left home at 1p. i was still sick.
- 1st flight (3p halifax time): a full flight (thus X was on our laps), but thankfully she was content to watch "garfield the movie". one sucky thing was that my ears would not pop on the descent. it hurt like hell and it would be this way for all flights today.
- toronto (landed 5:20p halifax time): had to go through 2 silly internal check points (where they nearly rejected us and would have made us funnel back out to the main airport check-in counters and security lines).
- 2nd flight (7:40p halifax time): full flight again (thus, X was on my lap again). we got a bulkhead seat thankfully though. we sat near a family with a little girl a bit younger than X. they played for a while. X did great until she had been asleep for about 2 hours. the plane got very hot and she got pissed. we were "those people" off-and-on for about 2-3 more hours. thankfully the flight was smooth and she slept (sort of) and the food was decent. aside from the heat, another irritant was being on a flight filled with high school music students. i forgot how grating teenager speak is.

april 14 (saturday):
- frankfurt (landed 3:20a halifax time): got off our plane via stairs onto the tarmac and loaded on to a bus. after a long bus ride, we were dumped back inside to wait in a customs line. then we went through security again. then we had a long trek through the terminal. we made it to our next gate just in time for final boarding call.
- 3rd flight (4:50a halifax time): at least this flight wasnt too full and X got her own seat. thankfully she was patient on this final leg of travel and slept for half the flight.
- helsinki (landed 7:15a halifax time. 1:15p helsinki time): an easy arrival. a university guy met us (complete with a "Dr Whipp" sign) outside baggage claim and had a comfortable van, with child seat, to drive us to our hotel in. and thus began the part of the helsinki trip known as "putting your best foot forward", except i hadnt slept all "night" and didnt know my ass from my toe. the guy (Tapani) was friendly and welcoming. he pointed out things as we drove to the city. he was kind and soft spoken, not overly energetic or engaging, which was nice because i was too brain dead to feign conversation.
* at this point, i tried hard not to make any permanent first impressions of helsinki due to my exhaustion, but what leaked into my thoughts was this: the weather and airport were similar to halifax, it seemed generically european, and nothing scared me about my surroundings.
- hotel: arrived at hotel helsinki where another geologist (Pekka) met us to introduce himself and chat with dave about the following days goings-on. 
- explore: damn jetlag. i felt like i was drunk, on a boat. i was bleary-eyed and wanted to be put out of my misery, but it was only 3p. ugh. we stumbled around the corner of the hotel onto the shopping street (aleksanterinkatu) and attempted a visit to stockmann (basically, finlands nordstrom). then we hit the sokos grocery store. damn was that overwhelming. most food labels were in finnish and swedish only. we managed to find a few items and purchase them. then we went back to the hotel because it was grey and drizzly and windy outside. for dinner we managed some take out from base camp (a nearby nepali restaurant). it was "meh" for me, and one dish was waaaaay too spicy (i had a coughing spell for 15 minutes), but dave liked his stuff.

april 15 (sunday):
- sleep: despite exhaustion, i couldnt sleep for a few hours in the middle of the night due to being wacked out. X too. it made for a tired start to the day.
- breakfast: the hotel buffet was yum and huge and free. i had rye porridge and oven pancakes and bacon and eggs and cereal. yeah, i was hungry. the buffet was nice because things were labeled as being "lactose free". i guess like 20% of finns are lactose intolerant (as a nation, they are also one of the biggest consumers of dairy [per capita]...coincidence...i think not).
- morning action: we went to a nearby playground (near the botanical gardens). X loved it, though she was seriously displeased with the lack of puppy poo to be found on the streets of helsinki (a theme that would exist throughout the visit).

(riding the bouncy seal at the playground)

- lunch: we had a brunch buffet meal at sunn with tapani (the guy who picked us up from the airport) and another geologist and their spouses. the restaurant was on the second floor of an old building overlooking the senate square in front of the helsinki cathedral (senate square is apparently bounded on each side by buildings that represent the 4 main forces in finland [political, religious, scientific and commercial]). a lovely view. at lunch, i found it hard to express my enthusiasm for a potential life in finland or to, generally, act social (as these kinds of meals normally require), but i had X to keep satisfied. i was able to chat with tapanis wife though, which was nice. she was very tolerant of X (actually, everyone was) so i tried not to feel too bad when i had to leave the table so long before everyone else was done. X did okay at the table, but once she was done eating, she wanted to get out and walk around. and, when she got bored of wandering around inside, we walked around the square in front of the church. while climbing the steps up to the church, some high school students talked to us and were very nice to ask what we thought of helsinki and make other chit chat (i was envious when they seamlessly switched from finnish to english when they engaged us). and then everyone was done with lunch so we regrouped and they showed us around a little bit. part of the university of helsinki is located nearby (in fact the geology department used to be right around the corner from senate square, until it moved to its new campus in kumpula). our lunch companions showed us to a nearby playground for X as well, and then they left us to the rest of our day.

(photos taken by tapanis wife: X and i on senate square [you should be able to find X bright blue jacket]; the helsinki cathedral above senate square [we are tiny specks in this one]; sitting on the steps to the cathedral, the students who talked to us are the group of 3 on the lower left side of the pic)
(photos by tapanis wife: X rediscovered the joys of the slide in finland; not sure if you can see, but X is on a bouncy moose)

- explore: the weather was very nice today, so we wandered from the playground down to the waterfront. it was very beautiful and appealing (much more so than halifax). we also saw the place where the seasonal outdoor farmers market (kauppatori) is on the waterfront. then we walked the esplanade back toward our hotel. how very nice and very european. the place to feel the pulse of the city, and to be seen. after we turned off the esplanade, we stopped at h&m kids near our hotel to get X a few things.

(papa and X next to a waterfront boat with the uspenski cathedral in the background; mama and X riding a turtle near the grounds for the market [kauppatori])

- dinner: we were tired and it was sunday night. thus, we ended up at one of our hotels restaurants called memphis. what foul food.

april 16 (monday):
*dave left by 9a for his interview*
- breakfast: X and i scrambled in the morning to get ready and go down to breakfast before the buffet was closed. we made it.
- morning action: we went to stockmanns 7th floor cleaner service to drop diapers off for laundering (while slightly better than iceland, finland still doesnt have many laundromats). we also went down to the sub-level to their grocery store. a patient employee showed me the food labels at the bakery and prepared food counters with the finnish words for "without lactose/milk/soy". armed with this information i was able to gather a decent lunch for us. it was quite a posh grocery store with tons of choice. then i attempted to find the nearest branch of the citys library (based on uncertain directions from the hotel staff). it was a no go. bummer, because i would really have loved to see the childrens section of a finnish library, since its a place we utilize so often in halifax.
- lunch: back to the hotel for food (from stockmann) and some rest (the combo of being sick, jetlagged, and not in european-city-walking shape really kicked my ass).
- afternoon action: we headed out to find the aquarium (based, again, on hotel staff directions). again, it was a no go. i was too tired to make a massive search once i realized i didnt really know where the entrance was. at least we got to experience the citys tram. as we walked back to the tram stop we saw a playground, so X and i went to check it out. then we went back to the hotel and i was totally dead. since i didnt know when dave would be getting home, to entertain X i got in the bathtub with her and let her have a looooooong bath. dave came back at about 4:30p, and it was clear he had had a good damn day. he said the interview and teaching lecture went well and he learned lots of interesting things about the job and the department.
- dinner: the cleared air post-interview made us excited to get out for dinner. we chose the nearby zetor. it had great atmosphere and decor for X (farm/country themed with a little [empty] stage with lights on that she ran around while waiting for food to arrive). the food however was heavy and fatty and occasionally salty. ack. X did eat some of my stew meat with potatoes though. after dinner, we wandered through the biggest bookstore in scandinavia: akateeminen kirjakauppa. X got a finnish sticker book.

april 17 (tuesday):
- breakfast: did the hotel buffet as a family. 
- morning action: i ran to stockmann to pick up the diaper laundry (miraculously, they did it right and got everything back to me). then we met pekka in the hotel lobby and he took us all on the tram up to campus. we saw a few buildings of the natural science campus, and the inside of the physics/geology buildings and the department that dave would be working in. nice digs, the sharpest campus buildings ive seen on most any campus. while dave poked around the department, X and i sat for a bit in their common/lounge area. everyone who encountered us was very nice and friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be at work (it may sound simple, but the vibe of contentment at work is not one i regularly encounter).
- lunch: X and i headed back to the hotel for food and a break. on the way back to the tram, we encountered Xs daily dose of puppy poo, which greatly satisfied her. then we got lunch from the other hotel restaurant, fransmanni.
- afternoon action: we walked to the natural history museum. what a gorgeous little collection (they only had 3 smallish floors of stuff) with lovely animal scene displays. X was in heaven. they had a great "nature of finland" floor. and, happily, a collection of animal poop too. X, needless to say, was beside herself with joy. the only downer at the museum was when we started to have our snack in the (empty) cafeteria and were asked to move to the (dirty) snack area on the 4th floor because we werent purchasing anything in the cafeteria. and then the museum closed and we walked (or rather, i dragged ass) back to the hotel. dog tired again.

(elephant in the foyer of natural history museum; X peering in to the lit portals of poo)

- dinner: we had dinner reservations with two geology people (pekka and tapani again, no spouses). pekka came and got us at the hotel and on our walk to the tram we popped in to finlands fashion mecca, marimekko. i think im in love, the place could definitely drive the dreary winter doldrums away. but anyway, we were off to dinner at saaga, a mid-scale restaurant featuring lapland cuisine (lapland is the northernmost part of finland). i was less than excited to have to corral X at a fancy restaurant at the end of a long day and long travel trip. X did pretty well but she and i again spent a lot of time away from the table trying to keep our minds occupied while waiting for the food to arrive (a trickling fountain, and a bear skin on the wall were major fascinations). while others enjoyed a couple courses to their dinner, i ordered only an entree: reindeer. and it was pretty good, not gamey at all (X liked it too). after the main course was eaten, X and i bailed.
- decompression chat: after X went to bed, dave and i finally got to touch base on what had happened since we arrived. i extracted the info about his interview, the job particulars, and feelings about the department and position and other things (we didnt chat monday night because he passed out when X went to bed due to several previous days of lack of sleep and stress). from what dave told me, i am truly impressed by him. he seemed well received and his talents seemed to be recognized and appreciated. the job sounds basically ideal (more in a future post), and thus, we started talking about the future and what it would mean to live in finland and started the process of thinking through a move. we only talked in generalities and really very little about finland specifically. mostly just, what it would mean to move, what we would have to experience, how we feel about the process in general and vaguely finland in general. and then we were dead tired.

april 18 (wednesday):
- morning action: we got up, ate, and packed. i went to stockmann to get X some chicken for the flight home. surprise, some HUGE annual sale was going on! i think i rubbed elbows with half of finland. and then tapani met us at the hotel to drive us back to the airport.
- 1st flight (1:20p helsinki time. 7:20a halifax time): a full flight again! thankfully it was short-ish.
- munich (landed 3:50p helsinki time. 9:50a halifax time): we made it to our next gate with about 20 minutes to spare and had time to grab some rice for X (we relied 0% on the airlines offering anything X could eat).
- 2nd flight (4:40p helsinki time. 10:40a halifax time): full again! ah! and at first we had the two middle seats of a four seat row. wtf!? they were able to convince a lady to move around though, and we got the two middle seats in bulkhead. X dozed once for 45 minutes but was otherwise awake for the entire 8+ hour flight! it went as best as it could i suppose, but i was so, so, so done traveling when we were only 4 hours in to the flight. ugh.
- montreal (landed 1:10a helsinki time. 7:10p halifax time): we had to go through customs, collect our baggage, recheck our bag, and get to our gate. then we had about a hour to wait before we boarded. thankfully, X was RUNNING around the airport (burning off the last of her steam).
- 3rd flight (3:30a helsinki time. 9:30p halifax time): ANOTHER full flight (yes, that makes 5 of the 6)! thankfully X was able to be convinced to sleep without much fuss and the 1.5 hour flight passed relatively easily.
- halifax (landed 5a helsinki time. 11p halifax time): got our bag, rode the shuttle bus (with a woman who name dropped "jean-claude van dammes wife" in regards to some compliment she received about her diamond ring from said lady on her caribbean vacation). then we transferred the sleeping X into her car seat with moderate success and she went back to sleep for the rest of the ride home. i then got her in to bed easily when we got home and very shortly joined her. mercifully she was convinced to stay in bed until 9a (halifax time) the next day.

*click here for the full (yet still sparse) picasa album of the trip.*

14 April 2012

Thoughts on finland (pre-visiting)

so, i started documenting my flow of finland thoughts after dave was offered the interview and our flights were booked for the visit.

move-to-finland pros:
*the school system
*the possibility of escaping the city via car, train, boat, and plane (halifax really only offers escape by car and [expensive] plane)
*its in europe
*most people speak english
*the university is good and has health research going on
*the quality of life for the citizens is very high
*the vacation behaviors of finns would allow long periods of time (possibly 2-3 weeks at a time) to travel to the u.s. every year
*helsinki is a more populated city (1 million in the greater helsinki area) than weve ever lived in, so, presumably that would mean more to do, see, experience

move-to-finland cons:
*its very northern (this means cold weather and large swings in available sunlight)
*its a bit detached from mainland europe
*its fairly expensive to get to and from [the u.s.]
*a move like this would mean more, new culture shock
*its far from friends and family

my first inclination (post-interview acceptance) was to roll with it and gather all the finnish information i felt comfortable getting acquainted with (i didnt want to spend gobs of time being insane about looking into life in finland, in case things didnt materialize). then i started critically thinking about a move. i was basically thinking about the above pro/con list. i got a bit excited. then i realized that i was basically making my assessments based on simply moving the current life/routine we have here to finland and how this life could be harder/easier based on the above pro/cons. well, smack-me-in-the-face, i suddenly realized it wouldnt be like that. dave would be establishing himself in a new part of his career as a junior faculty, starting out at point zero on the tenure track. he would need to get his office and lab set up, meet and start building bonds with colleagues in his department and across campus, he will need to be present and visible AT WORK (no more working from home!), he will need to be building course material up from scratch, he will need to start thinking about where to draw his graduate student pool from, he will need to get used to being in the solo driver seat of his career, and so on... i will be more alone than i ever have been. and i will simply have to suck it up because there is no way around the grunt work that comes at this stage of the game.

on the plus(?) side, i wouldnt be able to get a job right away. we would need to move, settle in, get acquainted, get comfortable, and establish a routine. once X seemed acclimated, i would THINK about the possibility of day care (even part-time) or a babysitter or anything. i wouldnt have a way to meet researchers or get started with work right away if i wanted to. the kind of job flexibility i currently enjoy took time (pre-X) to establish my work habits with my boss, to get her to trust me and to teach me about what she does. i cant jump right in to something like that. so, it would mean my only "job" while there, at first, would be to settle the family. it would mean real, true free time in the evening and weekends. nothing else (work-related) would be grabbing at my time but X and dave and life. i havent known that feeling in a while.

bottom line, finland would be a whole new, unpredictable, mega challenge (frankly, any professorship dave would take would be this way). and just like that, my excitement turned to fear. not unmanageable fear, but fear nonetheless. this would be the first time we are really guiding our own ship (the post-doc was suggested by daves PhD advisor and then steered by jean and chris, the post-doc advisors). this would be totally our decision, and it would need to be treated as permanent. and all the hardships would need to be committed to and mounted by us. its really, really scary. 

to quell the scary, i reminded myself of things i could do (that i currently dont do enough of) to re-connect with my calm: movies (old ones especially and new ones), music, and yoga. im not a music snob, in fact, i love soundtracks best. things that transport me to happy images or memories. fun, easy songs. these things will help, wherever in the world i find myself.

and then, as if to put a total stop to the free flow of anxiety that all this finland stuff was causing, i got sick the weekend before the trip. a cold (complete with fever), a cough, fatigue. i tried my darnedest to take care of myself (and X, who of course also acquired a cold with cough), i even had the babysitter come when i was too sick to do work just so she would take X for a bit so i could rest. *TMI alert* another rad thing was that the night before the flight, i was sick with my cold as well as experiencing the massive migraine i always get pre-period. i wouldnt say it was a good thing to occupy all my waking hours trying to just get healthy, but it did take my mind off other things. 

also helpful, i got another very nice email from hannah a few days before we left. so, i went in to the finland travel physically weak, but mentally prepared. and thats not half bad.

08 April 2012

Egg-static about egg hunting

Xs first egg hunt was a huge success.

a playgroup friend invited us to an egg/treasure hunt at point pleasant park today. sure! it was a grey, breezy, cold day but the rain stayed away so that we could have a successful egg hunt. the spot was perfect for a egg hunt: a nice open area with an old wartime tower in the center. there were 19 hiding spots located on a hand drawn map.

X had never done this before so we had to show her what to look for and what to expect for the first few hiding spots. then, once she got it and found a few herself she was shaking with excitement and so proud of herself whenever she found one. in the end, she couldnt eat the snacks or chocolate eggs that were part of the hunt, but we had brought skittles, a X-safe chocolate square, and some banana bread to make amends. she didnt notice the difference and felt so giddy to be eating an entire chocolate square by herself (she normally gets a small bite of mine). she talked about the egg hunt the whole rest of the day and we played egg hunt back at home too. she gets a huge kick out of it.

(searching for an "egg" [they were really plastic bags with various things in them]; found one!; chocolate smile!)
(savoring it; cocoa smile with mama)

07 April 2012

Ladies night and the mood is...decent

i agreed to a "ladies night" when asked by a coworker of daves (janice). cant remember the last time i did this.

the "ladies night" was hosted by janices friend who she met while TA-ing (teachers assistant-ing). perhaps needless to say, i knew barely any of the 15+ faces there (and i was possibly the oldest one there, though that is not certain). specifically i knew janice, was acquainted with one other, and had a vague facial ID on another. other than that, i was totally out of my element. hell, i was out of my element in lots of ways: these were younger women, who were still in (grad) school, most were not married, and only janice and i were mothers (i believe). they also all seemed much more comfortable chatting and drinking wine and being social than i ever was (let alone now, when ive gotten so horribly out of practice at it).

the good news was that i fought the last minute urge to cancel and i didnt feel any more awkward than i would have 5 years ago at a similar function where i didnt know anyone. i also engaged in a lengthy conversation with a woman who i had never met until this event. i count these all in the positive column. maybe i will be able to re-acclimate to the regular adult world. one day.