31 December 2013

End of the year in the city

end of the year. due to weather, lack of enthusiasm, and just the inevitable slowing down of exploring new things that comes after living somewhere for a while, we didnt do as many first-time things this month.

but we did get to experience the phases of fall turning to winter this year, in two parts...

phase I (november-ish): it felt like there was a week or two of real mourning of the earlier, warmer fall weather (i think too the people really mourn the loss of light, though i havent been as dragged down by that. i find the summer light is hard to deal with too and therefore find spring and fall to be a good balance for me). this time had its own changes like any other of course and it was interesting to see them come. many call this the "tv watching month" and i can see that. the people are normally so active, that if they want to give themselves a month to veg and boo hoo about their lost summer, then so be it. this year, november didnt get me down as much as i was expecting.

phase II: but, by the second week of december i was really wondering where the snow was. where were the winter temperatures? all our friends back in north america were posting their snow porn pictures and we had nothing, or rather, nothing but wind. this is when the grey and the low light started getting me down, the above freezing temperatures meant everything fell as rain and there was nothing to play in outside. we got very stir crazy, but eventually found our way to make do with all the playing inside, though i dont welcome those times. all told this dark grey, wet, warmish, perpetual nothingness went on for over two months. thankfully this is very unusual and i hope not to have this season repeated again for a while.

-kiasma. the citys contemporary art museum. for several months, to celebrate 15 years, they have their greatest hits on display. the museum is in a nicely designed building that was easy to maneuver with a stroller. while the art wasnt geared toward children, it certainly was child friendly. there were enough things that would be intriguing for a child and even one really fun piece that you could interact with. we had wanted to go to another museum that day, but this was a nice surprise. the cafe was good too and the gift shop was fun.

(interacting with the art)

-st thomas' christmas market. this is set up each year on senate square and is a traditional european christmas market. it sells basically only traditional finnish goods and food, but there really wasnt anything i felt i needed to buy. its a nice place to walk through and perhaps buy a small treat and warm drink from though. they even had pony rides.

-satu sopanen. she is a famous kids musical performer in finland, and she knows how to play to the crowd. a finnish mom friend invited us to her music show at one of the citys theaters. the set was great, as were the costumes. satu has great energy and that magic mix of traits you need to really hit it off with kids. i thought it was great for kids of any language, and i even had fun myself. X normally doesnt go crazy about new situations, but she right away got into this music show and we had a great time. we have since gotten her CDs from the library.

-flamingo spa water park. this place is rather expensive but has lots of pools and family fun with food options all contained in one spot. the showering and locker rooms were convenient and X had a blast. its certainly a fun thing to do a couple times per winter.

-dylan. a cafeteria-style place in arabia with a great spread and good tasting food. the place is efficient and busy with reasonable prices. i hear they are well-known for their brunch too. they even have a kids area. the place is a wonderful find, and has become our go-to restaurant. so comforting to finally have one of those.

-kakku & leipä keisari. a bakery with breads, pastries, and cakes. theres nothing gluten-free for me, but the sweet roll (pulla) and cake slice X chose looked wonderful. dave thought the cake was too sweet but the pulla was delicious. its nice to have a winning bakery not too far away.

-bambu. a grill place that has asian and mexican choices. its quick food but fresh and tasty and served in a nice setting. it was right around the corner from my finnish course, so that was a big win.

-classic pizza. a thin crust pizza place inside stockmann with gluten-free crust. oh it was such a heavenly treat. im very happy to have the option of pizza again every once in a while.

-ruohonjuuri. an organic food specialty store. its got a few useful staples, but mostly its not going to become a regular hangout of mine.

-hesburger. this was our lunch choice while at the flamingo spa water park. its finlands version of mcdonalds. as fast food goes, i was pleased. they have reasonable portion sizes with no pushing to super size and they had a dedicated gluten-free burger that gets made on a special part of the grill with special tools so they minimize contamination. i wont be a regular customer, but its nice to know there is a fast food option in a pinch.

-fishing on the vantaa river in vanhakaupuginlahti area. late october and november seem to be the times of year for fishing with big nets on one side of the dam, and fly fishing on the other side. on the weekends we watched several fish being caught in nets in only a 30 minute time span.

 (men with their nets; the fish they were catching...they would bang them on the heads to kill them and slit their gills. blah. X didnt mind watching it though)

-christmas lights in downtown shopping district and christmas display windows of stockmann. i thought these would mostly come after the christmas parade in late november, but we spotted at least a few lights up in early november. i didnt mind because its not blindingly christmas and is actually mood lifting for the early darkness. a big draw was the store display window at stockmann. i suppose compared to US or certainly NYC department store windows this wouldnt have been to impressive, but it was fun for families to gather around and wonder.

-christmas market in the old student union building. a lovely craft market in the city center in a fancy old building. its definitely the place to buy unique things for gifts.

finn notables:
-starting sometime in late fall, a law goes into effect that says everyone must wear reflectors on their outer gear (due to the amount of darkness and pedestrians). this is a non-ticketed offense.

-there is a finnish saying "if vodka, wood tar, and sauna cant cure it, it must be fatal". the winters are so dry here that ive been using a wood tar shampoo (relax, it works just like regular shampoo) as it acts as a natural dandruff cure. the thing is, my showers and hair then smell like smoked bacon. its honestly not too bad, and you wouldnt notice unless you were sniffing my hair.

-this went around the finland facebook groups im on, and i think its pretty cute...this is 'old finnish people in hats'.

-i cannot tell you how many small backpacks emblazoned with the patch from the company "fjällräven" i have seen. its enough to make me think they hand them out at birth or send them to all citizens for christmas. but this is a swedish company, so that cant be. it looks like the bags are about 60€ so how can they be that ubiquitous? it remains a mystery.

-i have not seen as much dyed hair on women here as in US, and when i do see dyed hair its very likely to be older women and appears to be more of the from-a-box variety. or if i see younger dyed hair, its usually purple or blue or bright red. 'regular' highlights and fancy hair like in the US just isnt seen as much.

-frustrated by the lack of snow. at least once we got to winter solstice i could remind myself that the days will be getting lighter and lighter, even if we never get any damn snow. this prolonged, crappy start to winter almost makes me afraid that i can catch depression, like its an airborne disease. the amount of people who have it here makes me nervous. i feel scared, like the more years we live here the more likely i will "catch" it. i honestly didnt have a problem with the darkness or the weather until i realized that snow wasnt coming any time soon. i realize too that when we arrived to deep beautiful snow last year that it was an unusual treat, i just didnt think we'd have a winter like this right after a winter like that. ah, i guess thats what the finnish sisu is all about. gotta be strong and patient.

-NYE celebrations. note: people, everyone, shoot off fireworks for about 6+ hours straight on new years eve. our building was surrounded by the sounds and sights of fireworks, all night. it was kinda nice to not have to leave your home to celebrate.

End of 2013: Reading/watching

random mesh of things here. man, im in a real reading rut. i need some inspiration for 2014, and a kick in the rear.

devils bride. 4.5/5. yes, this is a romance. i havent read many in a while but in the past year the ones ive read have mostly been irritating crap. this one was actually very well done for the genre. the "adventures" the characters usually go on and the messy tangled webs they get themselves snared in always bug the shit out of me and cause me to do serious skimming or abandon the book altogether. but this was fun, and mostly focused on the relationship and emotional stuff...you know, what ladies pick these books up for in the first place. anyway, i was pleased to see there are still good ones like this out there. the book "a secret love", which is also part of this series, was good as well.

chain reaction. 4/5. a young adult romance. it was, unknowingly, the third in a series of stories about a family of three boys. this was something different. it was about hispanic, "wrong side of the tracks" boys who find their way, messily, to the happy ending these kind of books always have. i thought it did a good job with gang violence, immigrant and class issues, and still honestly portrayed the emotions and life focus of teens in love. im not sure i need to go search out the other two previous books, though the first one looks quite good, but it was a pleasant surprise read.

30 rock. 4.5/5. just finished watching the final season 7. tina fey is wonderful. she was able to get so much out of her comedic muses (alec baldwin and tracy morgan) and she wrote about all manner of stuff: real women, celebrity behavior, power struggles at work, politics, parenthood pressures. she added a healthy dose of whacky and non-sequitors and everything worked. she didnt nail it every episode, but she should be very proud of her 7 years offered up from that show. she is an amazing comedian.

veep. 4/5 (seasons 1 & 2). this show is tricky, its from the guy who did the political comedy movie i liked "in the loop". he kept some of his favorite people from that and hired the guy who played buster in 'arrested development' and julia louis-dreyfus as the countrys first female vice president. its funny, the chemistry all works. its also depressing, because many times i feel like it isnt even a stretch of the truth, that its all very, very believable, and that makes me very, very sad.

downton abbey. 4/5 (season 4). after season 3 with the significant death at the end and drama drama drama i was thinking season 4 would force me to give up on it after a couple episodes, but they managed to rein themselves back in. the mary character is once again interesting and not so polarizing. everyone still shows their multiple facets but it isnt such a roller coaster. id say it almost got a bit dull at the end. im not sure exactly sure they know how to balance things on this show.

archer. 4.5/5 (seasons 1-4). this is a 30 minute cartoon show. its got a lot of known voices and the shows plot basically meshes spy/CIA life with 'arrested development' with potty humor. the man voicing the lead guy is perfection and the boozing, inappropriate, wacky, and weird characters on the show make it so fun to watch. its the perfect use of a cartoon to do storylines and humor that you just couldnt do in real life.

- looper. 4/5. good plot, fairly simple and easy to follow considering it included time travel. joseph gordon-levitts character plays a young version of bruce willis' character. its like a dream-come-true, right? the way he does the facial expressions and mannerisms of bruce, the kid is amazing. the additional cast: paul dano, emily blunt, and jeff daniels (who was in "the lookout" with joseph as well, though there wasnt as much chemistry between them in this one) were great choices. i felt there could have been more kick to the whole movie, but it was well done in general.

- perks of being a wallflower. 4/5. i guess this is what this generations teen drama/coming-of-age/romance stories looks like. i liked it. i like the honesty and the awkward but genuine relationships. the lead kid and the gay friend were great. id like to see more of them.

26 December 2013

Doing december celebrations

our first christmas season in finland meant figuring out how we would celebrate in yet another new country, while trying to figure out how the natives celebrate, so we can maybe integrate some of that next year.

we were only able to keep a rough hold on some past traditions for solstice/christmas, but were able to try out some new things that i think we'd like to keep, and we learned some of the finnish ways as well. so, i suppose we found some balance.

to start the month off, we decided to get an advent calendar of haribo gummy candy from the grocery store. it was a big hit (for X, but not so much for us). we decided to count down to winter solstice. advent calendars are much more popular here than in the US, for various reasons im sure. i thought it was a fun idea, but im not sure i want to do it again next year (or at least in the same way), dinner time became a struggle to get X to eat because she was too excited about the candy.

dave also spear-headed the idea and (most of the) follow through to send out holiday cards. its always nice to get them from others, but i always forget how time consuming they are to execute. hopefully those who got them enjoyed them. not sure they will occur every year.

(two outtakes from the winter card pics)

and, all through the month, X and i made cookies. these had to be gluten-free, so i had a stack of recipe hopefuls, got my solstice gift (an electronic food scale) early to help, and we attempted to see what kind of tastes and fun we could get out of it. for the most part the gluten-free aspect didnt mess the process up, but i found we would just binge eat dough and/or cookies and feel terrible afterward. even X would avoid cookies for a few days, until i would reboot and we'd make a new batch. at least we can modify the recipes next year to be less sweet and only choose a few of them, and maybe have definite plans to give them away soon after. i think we ended up making: roll-out sugar cookies, ginger molasses cookies, and oatmeal cookies. i liked the oatmeal ones the best.

(Xs daycare also had a christmas party with a tree unveiling ceremony)

for the actual day of solstice, we made pancakes, ate lunch at stockmann, and gave our gifts to X after it got dark (4p).

(cool masks for solstice)

for christmas eve and christmas, we gave X her gifts from grandparents and friends (spread across the two days), again, after dark. we also attempted a christmas dinner of ham and whatnot but that did not go well (smoke filled the apartment and the food was a couple hours late).

(this is the grey, wet christmas weather we had. its like halifax wanted to send us an in-person greeting card.; X got princess gear from marmee and pal for christmas and then wanted the princess to marry the prince. she made dave dress up.)

as for finnish christmas traditions, there are plenty. its definitely their favorite cold weather holiday and the one holiday steeped in the most tradition it seems. its very focused on keeping up the magic and fun for the kids too. and from what we saw, basically people seem to make their holiday vacation from christmas eve through january 6 (epiphany).

christmas eve is actually the biggest day. for your immediate family you make a table full of casseroles (basically all kinds of root vegetables: potato casserole, rutabaga casserole, carrot casserole, etc), some ham, and lots of variations on fish dishes. the rutabaga casserole called 'lanttulaatikko ' is made of rutabaga, bread crumbs, cream, syrup, eggs, and spices. you sip warm spiced juice (with or without alcohol) called glögi. all these items are part of the christmas eve dinner, but actually the day is scripted right from the morning. you have breakfast as a family, go out for a walk or something outdoors, come in for a hearty porridge lunch and then the dinner prep begins. once everyone is having dinner, a family member will come in dressed as santa (in the days before santa was the gift-giving character, it was a goat or a pig costume) and hand out the gifts to the children. so for finns, santa actually comes to you in person, there is no overnight magic (and parents also probably like not being woken up extremely early in the dark morning to do gifts).

christmas day is then reserved for the more religious families. you get up and do church if that is your thing, or if not, you spend that day quietly at home with your immediate family again, enjoying leftovers and time with your toys.

boxing day, the day after christmas, is then the day you start venturing out of your house to celebrate with extended family. and still no stores are open and the streets are eeriely quiet. being a family without others to celebrate makes this a pretty boring few days. kindly, our landlords and their parents invited us over for boxing day. it was a nice traditional dinner setting and we talked of interesting things. they enjoyed X and after she warmed up to them, she was very talkative and comfortable. i think we all had a good time.

once stores reopened and life started up again, we bought some christmas lights on sale and hung them up. so, belatedly, our apartment felt more festive. and, we figured out where to get christmas trees so we will do that next year, and that should be nicer.

its interesting, finland is the land of pine trees so i was curious to see their christmas trees. they often sell them in small batches outside large shopping stores, one christmas tree area near us was just along the road near a bus stop. and, these trees are small and rather charlie brown-esque. they arent the enormous 20 foot douglas firs you see in some american homes. these trees are also not treated with any chemicals or sprays to make them look nicer or last longer (those chemicals can also be nasty for humans and pets), thus people typically buy them and decorate them as a family on christmas eve and then they are taken down and thrown away on january 6.

16 December 2013

If youre going, to san fransisco...be sure to bring...home some gifts

dave attended the huge annual AGU geology conference in san fransisco this year.

he was gone for 9 days, rode on 6 airplanes, crossed 10 time zones, twice, gave a well-received talk, chaired some other session(s), and generally did well by his career and had a busy but professionally nice time (plus ate mountains of delish cali/san fran food. jealous). it took the poor man like 2 weeks to get back to normal sleep patterns once back home though.

and X and i? we were prepared, enough. we had dinners made and daycare and finnish class to keep us busy. we had grey, windy, crappy weather so having to find entertainment for 4 weekend days was not my favorite task ever, but we managed. we had a great time when he was previously gone for 5 days, and i think thats around my solo parenting threshold. 9 days, at least in the winter, isnt my cup of tea. but, dave kindly did some shopping for us while in california, he filled up his whole suitcase (yay to gluten-free goodies, maple syrup, new clothes from target, etc).

(the bounty)

06 December 2013

Subdued independence day

the finnish independence day is a reflective and peaceful holiday. they really are a humble people.

i think its helpful at this stage in the game (having lived in the country for almost a year now) to review some history...so, see below for that. but in direct relation to this independence holiday i will say its interesting, especially to contrast the american 4th of july. granted, americas celebration is in the summer so that affords an easier outdoor celebration but the partying, fireworks, and general patriotic 'merica-kicks-ass emotions that vibrate through the country as it celebrates are not felt here. part of that might have to do with the fact that we are now a world leading, dominate-in-many-ways country that has way more people and land than the country we won our independence from. plus we are political allies and stable with the UK, and they are across the ocean from us. this just isnt the case for finland.

they got their independence from russia in 1917. they didnt directly have to fight a war to win it, at the time, but there has always been lots of pressure and tension simmering at that border. in fact, knowing more about the history and relationship, im daily amazed at how this little (finland population: 5 million; russia population: 143 million; finland size: 338, 000 sq km; russia size: 17 million sq km) country was able to stave off the pressure to absorb the russian language, culture, and politics. if you look on a map of russias neighbors, finland is the only top-performing and certainly the only socialist nation. and also, finland is very, very close to st petersburg, and not terribly far away from moscow, the two most powerful cities in the country. how do these people do it? they manage to remain calm, diplomatic, and patient with the russians and their scary world decisions. their position is one that is delicately balanced on the head of a pin, any waves made could unnecessarily bring about unwelcome changes in the relations. thus, perhaps, their independence day isnt about glory fireworks, chest-beating patriotism, or arrogant 'we are finland' partying. even though they were able to fairly diplomatically gain their independence and later, brave and ballsy finnish soldiers kept the russians at bay at the border (during the winter war) and protected their country from invasion and conquering, they recognize that many died and it was a cold and brutal war which led to a hard post-war life. so, they choose not to celebrate, but to remember and commemorate. traditions seem to include televising war movies, enjoying blue and white treats, military parades and the government has a formal reception party. that is all.

additional side note: my finnish teachers father fought in the winter war with russia (after finnish gained its independence, but was threatened of invasion by russia). she said that if the choices for 'world leaders' are russia (or another communist country) and the US...she is certainly happy that the US is "in charge of the weapons and rules the world".

history of independence facts (please excuse any over-simplifying):

-3000 years ago: southern finland had 3 tribes: finns, häme, karelians (there were also the sami but they were artic circle nomads)

-700-ish years ago: "finland" became a province of sweden (finns were never treated as serfs)

-by the mid-1600s the swedes became more powerful in "finland"

-1788-1790: war between sweden and russia ended with russia gaining some land of "finland"

-1809: russia signed a treaty with sweden to make "finland" the "russian grand duchy of finland". this was basically a good thing because it meant lots of new buildings were built and care was taken to develop the land (under czar alexander II).

-however, under czar nicholas II (beginning rule in 1894) things got harsher

-february revolution (1917, in russia): czar nicholas II abdicated and was later executed

-october revolution (1917, in russia), aka 'red october': the bolsheviks overthrew the current russian government and paved the way for finland to ask for separation and independence

*russian rule of finland ended on december 6, 1917

-finnish civil war from 27 january to 15 may 1918 between the reds (social democrats) and the whites (non-socialist conservatives)

-after WWI, the u.s. sent food and a 10 million dollar loan to finland. finland was so faithful to its debt repayment that u.s. schoolchildren at the time were taught that "finland always pays its debts".

-winter war (1939-1940, during early WWII): soviets attacked finland looking to take back parts of finnish land on the border. finnish soldiers were bad asses and actually held their own, and the border. they were the ones who first created "molotov cocktails". eventually they gave some land back to russia to end the conflict. this cemented the challenging relationship these two countries have with each other.

-the $300 million in war reparations finland had to pay to russia post-WWII actually fueled finlands economy, in the long run, and started them on the path to the nation that it is today.

03 December 2013

The hunt for a paycheck

a job update for me:

so, in august, once i had finished the project i was working on from my canada boss, i promptly emailed something like 10 people/leads. i hadnt found any concrete, specific job positions to apply for, i was just openly asking people about jobs or advice. most of what i heard back was that budgets werent there to hire anyone though they would be interested in someone with my skills. two people wrote back with potential further leads: a job opening that fit my skill set, and a potential use for me in a professors research group (he didnt get back to me until much later, see far below).

the job opening was for a project coordinator at the finnish institute of molecular medicine (FIMM). the project aimed to catalogue as much of the genetic variation of the finnish people as possible. i wrote the cover letter and sent in my stuff in early september, but the open application time didnt end until the end of the month. a couple days before the application period ended i heard from them that i got an interview, set for two weeks later.

the interview was interesting. things definitely proceed differently in this country than the US. the first words out of the lady who met me in the lobby were 'weve been very busy lately with all these interviews'. oh, okay. glad to know the process is very transparent, but it seemed a little intimidating. then i met with the two lead researchers (one got his PhD at UM) and another PhD researcher. they were all very kind and friendly. after telling me about the job, they let me tell them about myself. there were no 'what are your strengths/weaknesses' questions or 'tell us why we should choose you over another candidate' or anything where they were trying to quiz me on my knowledge, or any power plays of any kind. it felt much more like a date, like they were trying to see if we would work well together, if, mutually, we could benefit each other and be happy. at the end of the interview they said it would take another 3 weeks before they would notify people. damn, they must have been interviewing dozens of people!

in the mean time, i found a posting for a job position at the THL (basically their national health research institute) for a temporary researcher on youth health data. it seemed cool, i was perhaps a bit under-qualified for it (i think you needed a PhD) but i applied. the job application deadline was the next day, so i had to hand deliver my application (im not eligible to apply on-line), so that was a little nerve-wracking.

alas, by mid-november it appeared that both job options were dead for me (though i hadnt officially heard from either), so i signed up for a month long, everyday, all day (9a-2p) class of beginners finnish. well, at least i will have slightly advanced myself in something by the years end.

my next idea is to work unpaid for one of three research groups at the university that do work i have skills for (alcohol research, social inequalities, and genetics), and hope that, in time, there will be money for me. i sent emails out accordingly.

well, two weeks in to my finnish course, a sociology/public health researcher i had previously emailed (see beginning of entry) contacted me and agreed to meet and discuss research projects with me. he is the head of a large research unit but was friendly and approachable. while a busy man, he sat for 1.5 hours with me at a cafe. at the end it still wasnt clear what i could expect in the way of an end result (could i hope for a paid job one day if i did an unpaid project? would i feel pressured to get a PhD?). i was a bit frustrated to realize i would have to start confused, uncomfortable and at the bottom of the research world here. but, after a day of moping, i pulled it together and got to reading the research papers he had sent me in order to help me narrow down my areas of interest. heres hoping for some good things for 2014. im motivated.

**side note: along the way here, ive gotten what feels to be the overarching message that people with masters degrees here usually proceed on to PhDs (at least in the health field). whereas in the US there is a definite use and job market for people with masters degrees in public health, here they dont seem to know what to do with it. i dont want to feel pressure to get a PhD just because those are the only paying jobs/programs. blah. and...hello, there must be a bottleneck in the job system somewhere, once these people are done with their PhDs they want to be employed somewhere right...? well, i eventually heard back from that THL job, 28 people had applied! and like i said, from that FIMM genetics job i got the impression that dozens of people were interviewing for that job, and that many were PhD or post-doc level people. but, i will not be bullied into a higher degree. i'll just get more information on what my options are and find a way to make a place for myself. only IF it feels right and desirable to get a PhD would i choose that path, and previously and currently that is not a goal or desire of mine.**

30 November 2013

Lonely thanksgiving

thanksgiving was hard this year. at least in canada they celebrate the holiday (a month early of course), so if you want the holiday spirit you just have to adjust your calendar, or, dear me, celebrate the wondrous day twice. but here. nothing. its just not as easy to get pumped up.

but we tried. X and i cut and glued and crafted a couple of turkeys to perch on the windowsill by our kitchen table. we even invited our vegetarian finnish/jewish-australian friends to dinner...but their kids got sick the day before. :( so we were alone, in the dark, sharing a meal with only ourselves and not the rest of the surrounding population. it might not seem like that big of a difference, but when the decorations are at the store, the tv commercials are thanksgiving related, the people are all shopping for the same special meal items at the store, it all contributes to the feeling. when that feeling is gone and you arent able to share the traditionally enormous meal with any additional friends or family, its just...a drag. and as ive said before, its my favorite holiday, and each year it seems the blow to my holiday makes me sadder (or perhaps this will be the lowest. heres hoping). but we'll keep trying, its not a terrible consolation to drown my sorrows, and meat, in gravy.

anyway, for our thanksgiving 'feast' we had roasted a chicken, made gravy, stuffing, a sweet potato casserole, and an apple crisp. they were all surprisingly tasty and i even found cranberry jelly at the store (no cranberry chunks in it though, thus dave was not satisfied). we also sipped glögi throughout the day (a finnish spiced juice that is the base for their holiday mulled wine).

our friends actually briefly came over to get some food to take home (we had made so much) and then the three of us had a nice big dinner together of which X ate a lot and we lounged around. thus, pretty average thanksgiving behavior. i also found that the beginning of the (subdued) christmas spirit in the air made things a little brighter.

(X and dave making stuffing. she was actually eating the super stale bread. blah)
(our little craft turkeys and the sparse thanksgiving meal [minus the meat and gravy]; our small and unfancy thanksgiving dinner)

24 November 2013

Kick-off to the christmas season...finland style

well, theres no black friday or un-respected boundary such as thanksgiving to denote the beginning of the holiday season here in finland, so i suppose they just choose to start things off one month before christmas itself, sounds good to me.

i really appreciated the subdued nature of the festivities. there was a gathering of people in senate square, there was choral singing, hot food/drink stands, a free carousel for kids, and the parade began from there. the parade only moves along maybe a dozen city blocks and it is neither loud nor littered with corporate sponsored junk floats. it is short, simple, and filled with enchanting costumes and magic. well done finland.

the funny thing was, we didnt even know it was parade day until we were eating our typical sunday lunch at stockmann. we then decided to mill around the city center and see what we could see: we saw the big public ice skating rink was set-up on the square by the train station, we saw the christmas lights that had been strung on the shopping street of helsinki (from senate square down to stockmann) and we joined in the festivities on senate square before taking a place curbside to wait for the parade (it technically begins when santa arrives on senate square to turn on the streets christmas lights). as luck would have it (for everyone), X caught a quick nap before the first police car of the beautiful little parade passed by. it began with a gorgeous old wooden tram, and then it was sprinkled with snow angels/snow people/fairies/snowmen, 4 separate troops of different dog breeds, and a single horse-drawn carriage driven by some kind of forest witch carried a very authentic and classic looking santa in the back, his caroling elves followed behind, and lastly there was a line of historic firefighting vehicles.

 (senate square fun)
 (snow angels; toy soldiers and dolls)
(fairies; historic fire truck)

and while there was a busy glush of people leaving afterward, we were still able to get right onto a bus and back home to thaw out. it turned out to be a great and unexpected sunday...and the official beginning to the holiday season here.

10 November 2013

Finnish fathers day is in the fall

i quite like having finnish fathers day (isänpäivä) in the fall. since there is no thanksgiving here, its nice to have a holiday where you are thankful for someone.

our fathers day (weekend) festivities...

friday: dave and other fathers were invited to stay for breakfast at daycare. X quite liked it, and it was a nice excuse to do something special at daycare.

saturday: X and i gave dave some time to himself and had lunch and a playdate with some new friends. weve been playing with these guys since late summer. the mom is finnish, the husband is australian-jewish and they have a girl who is one month older than X and a boy who is nearly 2 years old. they are very fun and welcoming and helpful. ive greatly appreciated their company, and feel so lucky to have found them.

sunday: all of us went downtown to the natural history museum. first we had lunch, then we toured the museum (dave had never been), X wasnt as impressed with their bat exhibit as i expected but she made us look at every single one of the bugs in the museums bug collection. she also quite enjoyed the evolution of the universe area (mostly for the dinosaurs). then we had dessert and headed home.

gifts: X had made a craft for dave in daycare, and the two things i ordered arrived late, so...whoops. i got a picture book about rocks for him to share with X and a stick-to-the-window bird feeder with bird seed. once these arrived, they were well received.

02 November 2013

All saints day

all saints day is a peaceful day here in finland, as would be expected i suppose.

we were headed home from the city center today and got off at the bus stop near the cemetery. it was just getting dark which was the best time for a walk there, it made the candles that people were lighting to remember the dead seem all the more beautiful. since we were in the largest cemetery in finland i suppose it shouldnt be a surprise that it was busy, but it seemed strange for a cemetery to be that full of living people.

there was a large central area where candles were lit, perhaps for passed love ones who werent buried in that particular cemetery but were maybe cremated or buried somewhere else, and also many of the graves had fresh pine boughs and heather flowers laid at the foot of the gravestone, and candles of course. it really made for a beautiful walk, plus, X likes to ask us to pronounce the names on the gravestones, so in that way perhaps we did a wee tiny part to remember the dead. i like this holiday, and i think its great to include kids and talk about death and let them feel comfortable with cemeterys and to see that people still think of others even once they are gone.

p.s. small side note: there is no halloween in finland, though it seems to be getting picked up as a private thing that friends will celebrate by having parties, so they can still offer the chance to wear costumes and get a little candy to their kids.

27 October 2013

Learning to cope with all the bicycles in copenhagen

our reward for making it through the busy stress of daves first teaching semester was a short trip to copenhagen (or, as it is known in-country: københavn). it turned out to be a nice, relaxing choice.

the one thing that struck me right away, however, was overwhelming at first, and was certainly the most unusual thing for me, in terms of departures from my regular life, was all the damn bikes. we made it from the airport, to our first destination (the aquarium, see below), and a metro ride before we finally emerged in downtown copenhagen. we came up from the metro underground and there were bikes EVERYwhere! i mean rows and rows of double decker bike racks, too many bikes to even be contained in the racks, they were strewn everywhere. granted we got off at perhaps the most central (therefore busiest?) metro stop called nørreport so maybe this was the citys biggest concentration of bikes, but it doesnt matter. it looked like there had been a tornado and all the bikes in the world had been thrown here, or if there had been a plague that wiped out an entire nomadic bicycling community of thousands overnight. something like that is how it felt to have arrived on this scene. 

we mostly walked during this trip, or occasionally used the bus or metro, so we never first-person experienced this enormous section of society (cycling). however, i can say, that bikes rule that town. and its great that they win out over cars, but walking made me feel like a third class citizen. the cars were just an ignored group going about their business in the middle of the road while the bikers, in all their hipster gear and clothing and scarves and hair flowing in the breeze, were leaving pages of magazines to enjoy the fresh air and invigorating charge that was biking to work or pleasure activities. there were no people in exercise biking gear or helmets here, these were regular people going about their regular lives. the city, nay the country, is so darn flat that you neednt break a sweat when you get on your bike. its the fastest, most logical way of life. amazing, though ive never lived in a place flat enough to take up biking with any seriousness. but, back to being a 'walker' in this city...well, the bikers have such priority that by the time you get to the sidewalks, as a walker i felt sandwiched or pinned between the walls of the shops and the rather wide bike lanes. plus, bikes also had the ability to park on the sidewalks in front of the shops. so being a walker was challenging, but pushing a stroller almost made you feel like a damn idiot. 

anyway, not to continue to act so shocked about the bikes, i will say i was starting to accept them by the end of our 4 days. and nothing against them, i mean, if we lived there or were staying for a longer period of time i would love to rent a bike (the family/kid hauling bikes were SO cool!) and really do it right, but that wasnt in store for us this trip. the city is very lovely and i would like to come back, so perhaps there is hope of that becoming reality. or at least we will be better prepared should we ever visit the netherlands. :) 

(city-chic biking in the downtown)

thursday (10/24): we had an easy direct flight to copenhagen and since we hadnt seen food options on the map near our first destination (the aquarium) we decided to grab something in the airport before we left. wrong. we had a time-consuming shitty lunch at olearys pub. lesson learned.

then we had a short, easy metro ride to the brand new national aquarium of denmark (den blå planet). what a gorgeous place, it was laid out for ease of enjoyment without the pressure. im glad it wasnt crowded when we went though (it has apparently been PACKED since it opened in march 2013), we could see what we wanted and not feel crushed. i loved the reef tank, i think we could all have sat there for hours. it was a very relaxing space.

(at the aquarium)

afterward, we took the crowded metro to the city center. after getting over the shock of the bikes, we took a short bus ride over 'the lakes' into the hipster neighborhood of nørrebro. i would highly recommend this neighborhood to anyone who likes to visit citys and get more of the 'how locals really live' feel, rather than just the tourist experience.

anyway, we had rented a familys apartment for the weekend (from airbnb), so we checked in with them, unpacked and went to the nearby grocery store. it was jam jam jam packed with people because it was 20% off day (food is very expensive in denmark). when we finally got back for dinner, we were pooped. so we just ate and watched a movie.

friday (10/25): after breakfast in the apartment, we headed out for the morning. the bakery around the corner was a perfect place to stop each day. X chose a chocolate cream pastry while dave got his standard cinnamon roll. both looked great. they ate their treats on our walk through the nearby assistens cemetery, the burial site of famed author hans christian andersen, among other famous danes.

on this walk, in which our end destination was supposed to be a playground, we noted the large number of thrift stores this neighborhood had and decided to enter one. they were VERY kind to children here, and we found some lovely, rather inexpensive baby doll clothes. then we focused on finding our destination playground but had no luck so we took a bus across 'the lakes' to the edge of the city center. i got to choose some things from a nice bakery with gluten-free treats, oh man it was yum. i chowed down while we peacefully walked back across the bridge and along the water. we found another thrift store (with only kids stuff) and a small playground to finish off our morning. we had lunch at the very filling and tasty nordic noodle and headed back for a nap.

then we walked over to the gorgeous tower playground. what an awesome play space, the design firm apparently has designed tons of playgrounds in denmark, and i now i want to go find every one. i also liked that the playground drew in enough locals to really get a look at regular copenhagen family life. the weather was definitely damp on this day, like halifax, and the kids gear was rather different from helsinki (hat styles and the choice of outer layers). its so interesting how each nordic country seems to have its signature way to outfit kids against the elements (i noticed this in iceland too).

(walking up to the playground gate; family photo in a mirrored building at the playground)

on our walk back from the playground, we gave X her first bubble tea experience. dave chose the more traditional tapioca 'bubble' tea while X and i went for some weird burst in your mouth super sweet 'bubbles'. she loved both of them of course. then, in the short block or two walk from bubble tea back to the apartment, i was able to get some tasty gluten-free dinner take out (from beat root, middle eastern food), while dave and X had a bagel sandwich dinner. we had a really great afternoon together, and to finish his lovely day, dave went out to meet a friend (a colleague from dalhousie) for some drinks at the beer-enthusiasts dream locale: mikkeller & friends bar.

saturday (10/26): after breakfast in the apartment and another trip to the bakery and tea shop around the corner we made our way to the neighborhood library where we found enough english books to entertain us for a bit. then we dipped into another thrift store for baby doll clothes (this owner was also very nice and gave X some treats) before choosing a place called soupanatural for takeaway lunch.

(reading furniture in the library)

after lunch at the apartment, we decided it might be time to head across 'the lakes' and actually see the city center today. so we crossed the bridge, hit the gluten-free bakery for yummies for me and wandered into a dreamy gourmet food market. this place, called torvehallerne, is on a cobblestone square and comprises two glass buildings. every food stand is drool-worthy and the selection is wonderful, though pricey. the fish markets were gorgeous and caught our attention right away. seeing all the fish laid out in appealing ways was fun for X and the fish counter guys even passed her a lollipop. she was in heaven. as we walked around the market, she was even bold enough to try some samples that were out. i have to highly recommend this place, and wish that helsinki can create one of these some day.

(giant monkfish in the display case of one of the fish counters)

next, we took the metro to the neighborhood of christianahavn. we passed by the gorgeous shining spire of the 'church of our saviour' before stepping into the strange self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of freetown christiania. this place used to be military land but then devolved into kind of a squatters town where you can buy cannabis. we felt safe the whole time we were there, though im sure we arent the right kind of people to really 'get' the vibe and mentality of the 800+ residents who live there. there were signs inside the area that said photography was not welcome, though honestly, at least on the paths we walked, the place wasnt really as much of a spectacle as you might imagine.

(mural where we entered freetown)

after freetown, we decided to walk back into the city center. we stopped in to the huge department store called 'magasin du nord' for some of their chocolates and a smoothie at the 'joe and the juice' inside. the department store was enormous and fancy, something like londons harrods or paris' galeries lafayette. i still like finlands stockmann better, it feels much more user-friendly and accessible.

we left the department store and X promptly fell asleep so we peacefully strolled through parts of the more historic city center. many of the areas of the city center we had previously seen were clean, square, stone buildings that were nice but rather bland, but this part of the center had low buildings of many colors and much more character. we didnt make a circuit of the must-see things in the city (for example, we didnt even attempt to go see the little mermaid statue) but in this way our visit was more relaxed. we werent feeling pressure or like we were missing some essential copenhagen experience by not seeing these things. or maybe we did, but there is always next time. i saw enough to know i liked it and would like to come back. the city center didnt whip me into an excitement frenzy though, rather it was the things we did more on the outskirts of downtown that were memorable.

after our walk, we found ourselves back at the gourmet market for dinner. i got a gluten-free panini while dave and X got a great looking pizza from gorms pizza. she also dazzled the fish guys into giving her another lollipop. then we walked home and relaxed for the evening.

sunday (10/27): after breakfast in the apartment, we cleaned up the place. X and i went to the tower playground again while dave picked up tea and pastries. this time, the tower playground was even more interesting because the previous day we had seen, in person, several of the citys historic buildings the playground was modeled after. such a cool cultural gift for the kids of the city.

(this picture doesnt do justice to the true height of this slide. it was like sliding from the second story window of a house. very fun, even for adults.)

when we left the playground, dave pulled out a huge chocolate cream pastry for X to have a couple bites of, and when she saw it she paused, widened her eyes, and whispered "my eyes lit up!". we both busted out laughing. priceless. then we gathered our stuff and bussed and metroed it back to the airport. we checked in easily and grabbed some lunch. we had an easy flight home and were welcomed back by fog, drizzle and darkness. lol. (we had also experienced daylight savings time overnight today).

*click here for the full album of our trips pics.*

24 October 2013

X files - 3.5 years old - Busy bee, curious cat

such an active little thing with tons of diverse interests. shes certainly one of the most intriguing people i know. she can absorb so much now and sorts through it to find her biggest interests and uses that to drive her ever onward. its fun to be pulled along on the journey, and we feel lucky to be the ones who get to privately travel the early part of her path with her. we are also learning so much more about life.

obsessions: hearing stories (made up or from books), her (toy) animal friends, dessert

good picture books: on a beam of light, drat that cat!, nicos octopus, creepy carrots!, jumanji, the dark, meg goes to bed, very tricky alfie atkins, the big orange splot, the caterpillar and the polliwog, who needs donuts?, what can you do with a shoe?, the magic bed, aunt green/aunt brown/and aunt lavender, everyone poops, arthurs reading race, the day the crayons quit, mog and bunny, the story of the little mole who knew it was none of his business

good chapter/longer books: cloud tea monkeys, buddha at bedtime, jip and janneke, folktales from africa, the acorn tree and other folktales, orpheus and eurydice, theseus and the minotaur

adventures of tim series: tim and ginger, tim and charlotte, tim to the lighthouse

good special interest books: a first book of nature, whats it like to be...a bee?, are trees alive?, creepy creatures

 (summer girl)
 (cardboard butterfly wings; bucket o snails)
 (flying across marimekko bean bags; tire swing - finnish style)
 (testing the waters of her pedal bike; big jumping)
 (last day at linnanmäki. she was brave enough to ride solo on the horse)

X-citing developments:

1. daycare. its going well. she has a close friend there (someone else whose native language isnt finnish, but isnt english either) and has some older kid friends on the playground. she has several grown-ups she also calls her friends and she is socializing more each week. she seems to love the food and is really enjoying herself there. weve slowly added time to the length of her daycare day so she could be exposed to more finnish and her curiosity for the language has skyrocketed, even in the first week of increasing her time (she went from 8-noon originally, but now its 8:30-2p). if it was possible, id keep a list of the finnish words she now knows and has used. theyve told me she answers in finnish now to questions she is familiar with.

2. traditions.

family dinner. this is becoming real fun now. she can usually actually sit at the table for the whole meal, and as long as we all sit down together, with everything we need for the meal at the table, we can keep her attention focused and actually all eat slowly and calmly enough to share things from our day. she tells us what she did and ate and learned at daycare and then she asks dave how work went. we discuss events that happened in the world or in the city if they are interesting and just generally keep connected with each other.

flashlight walks at night. we dont have a set routine for this but after dinner since its been getting darker, weve taken the flashlight and gone for a walk through the nearby woods. i think it helps her to see her neighborhood and home in a whole new way, and to not be afraid of the dark. i forgot how different and exciting things can feel in the dark.

3. wonder week. i dont think these are ever going to go away. before her half birthday we had a week or so of very messed up sleep. she was irritable, sensitive, and clingy all for unknown reasons. daycare was even noticing it and curious about it.

4. nightmares (ive kept a list of those she tells me about): a bone crushed the roof of our house. a needle poked her. nutmeg (the cat) barfed on her leg. dishes crashed and broke. she was inside a mouth with teeth and got munched.

5. hidden talent: describing tastes. she seems to have a finely tuned palatte. she has tried things and been able to describe them very well. she had a jellybean flavor she didnt like and said it tasted like kitty litter. dave tried it and agreed. at a restaurant she tried a hearty, dark bread that dave was unable to describe to me, but within two bites she was able to tell me it tasted like raisins, which dave agreed was true.

6. personality.

-we have been working on meeting new people and how to talk to people you dont know or feel comfortable with (this is really coming up a lot with daycare interactions). we dont require her to perform, smile, or talk to people who try to interact with her if she doesnt want. we do require that she says 'hi' and acknowledges them, but beyond that weve been focusing on not being rude and taking her time to get comfortable (because once she is, then she is always quite happy and engaging and talkative, but pushing her to get comfortable before she is ready just doesnt work).

-for many things, she now wants to have exactly what im having (a pony tail, some milk in the same kind of mug, a candy of the exact same flavor bitten into by both of us at exactly the same time). for the most part, i think its cute and im aware that it will be short lived and soon what i am doing will be the height of uncoolness.

-emotional firestorms (screw calling them tantrums). phew! these are only manageable to deal with on a full stomach and enough sleep. im working so so hard on my own anger buttons during these moments and hoping against hope that i can help her formulate better anger management skills than me. in calm times, we talk about the times when she and i were upset, and i think we are making very interesting progress. these things might be hard or uncomfortable for some people, but i somehow find it to be among my favorite kind of thing to talk about with her, the tricky or embarrassing stuff.

-she is becoming a finnish kid. she has asked to play outside by herself (and lasted up to 5 minutes before coming to get me). she has woken up from a nap outside in her stroller and calmy and quietly walked inside the apartment building and knocked on our door. she is very comfortable with our yard area out front and knows to look for cars and to get to the side and can open the door to our building all by herself. this is not to say that we leave her alone for long, or routinely, but there are times when we feel okay with her being more independent.

7. likes/dislikes.

HATES: having any part of her clothes even a tiny bit wet. thus, we can go through 6 shirts in a day.

likes: mazes and hidden pictures, "tropical ice skating" (her terminology. this occurs in the living room and is basically dancing involving some slides and twirls), photography (my camera pisses me off with its suckitude so ive begun letting her take pictures with it. she seems gentle so far and has a lot of fun with it. she even takes videos. and some of her shots are really interesting).

8. learning.

-finnish. out of the blue, she counted up to 9 in finnish for me one day (i think she can get up to 20 now). it was so amazing to hear that come from her mouth. and a week after that she came to get me for bedtime stuff and called me "äiti" (finnish for mom). i was grinning all night long. its just too cool. every day after that it she seems to come home with a new word she knows from daycare. a week after that she came home with short phrases and promptly left me in the dust in terms of finnish comprehension. after a week of trying, she figured out how to roll her 'r's (this is a part of finnish pronunciation). so cute, and now she even rolls some 'r' sounds of her english words. lol.

-she knows our local tree leaves. when she picks them up she goes and tries to find the tree it came from. she can spot the tree even if its in the woods off the path, or from a tree with branches that start high up. because of this curiosity, we can now name all the trees in our typical walking/playing route.

-back in finland (after our north american summer trip), we rode in to the city center and X saw a couple of trams pass along the way. she noted their #s and told me where the route was going to take the tram (to the pool, to the sea/water). i was impressed. she also remembered that the bus we were currently riding on (one we dont normally ride) would have taken us to the house of a friend who we had been to only once, back in march. she even remembers details about where certain (non-regularly used) nature paths/trails take us. her memory is stunning.

-she knows the days of the week in order and can keep track throughout the week of which day we are on. she knows what are weekend days vs weekdays. she seems to know most of the months of the year and we certainly talk about seasons a lot and note all the differences and tend to talk about the name of the months with the seasons.

9. anecdotes.
-one day i found her singing to a whale book we had gotten from the library. the song seemed be entitled 'my humpback whale' and she spent a long time singing it to the pages in the book, complete with conductors arms.

-we were talking about translating finnish to english food words one day, and she said "porkkana". i said "carrots". and she said "not, its just ONE carrot". excuse me, i dont know all the grammar rules for pluralizing, geez.

-one evening, dave played a song he likes called "umi says" by mos def. one of the repeated lines is 'shine your light on the world'. X was listening to this and playing with our flashlight and she stopped to say "i AM shining my light!". lol.

-while lying in a hammock, with X, on a nearby playground in the shade, listening to the breeze rustle the birch leaves one day, X said "i laid my head down on her chest" (she likes to narrate 'stories' of her actions in this way sometimes).

-one day she got into her snowsuit and zipped it up all by herself and then put on her own shoes. she told this to dave and he said "alright, now you can move out" and she said "but i dont know how to cook yet!".

-we sometimes listen to the audio book of arnold lobels "grasshopper on the road". at one point, the grasshopper says "good morning" and a beetle says "every morning is a good morning". X came up to me and said "so, when the beetle said 'every morning is a good morning' he didnt know that grasshopper was trying to say 'hi'".

momma mentionables:

1. post-gluten-free diet. my mind is clear enough now that ive been able to make up stories for X on the spot. my mind could never think on its toes enough to do that before. i had even expressed this frustration to dave on a few occasions. very weird, it was like, before, i was panicky and tongue-tied and the idea of making something up on the spot was energy draining, even in theory. and, it was scary because my mind would literally be blank. but now, instead of telling her i can only read her a story, ive been able to make things up for her at the bus stop, while relaxing in the hammock, etc. and while its become energy draining in its own way (she now wants all moments of down time to be filled with stories. we have had to set some boundaries), im happy to feel like i have use of more parts of my brain now.

2. childrens book freak. this is what ive become. its partially because the english selection in the helsinki library system is, understandably, not as fleshed out as a native english speaking countrys library system. but its also partially born of boredom and lack of adult hobbies (i think), and of course the love of books in general, and the magical, adventurous fun that is childrens literature. i came upon (for better or worse, lol) a great site that has cheap used kids books that ships easily to finland (and currently shipping is free with two or more books purchased). its given us a great way to expand our library without paying an arm and a leg for english books purchased in finland, and we dont have to wait to stock up at thrift stores when we go back to the US. ive also got about a dozen different reading wish lists created for X on my amazon account, they make me unnecessarily giddy sometimes. and, im always searching childrens book/reading lists and comment sections and amazon ratings and other peoples recommendations and looking, looking, looking for new, good reads. if you ever want a kids book suggestion, on various topics or from various time periods (say 1940s authors up to present), im more than happy to point you down the worm hole. and please dont hesitate to pass along the names of your favorite kids books too!

3. halifax photo book. i finally got inspired and motivated to finish a photo book about all the trips and exploring we did while living in halifax.

23 October 2013

Fall (early) into helsinki

ah the beauty and fast retreat of early fall. it was beautiful here, and the feeling in the air made you want to savor every minute of wonderful weather days. it may have been short (compared to other places weve lived) but it was great.

to note for next year, peak fall color time was roughly the first two weeks in october. i cant tell if thats on-time or a bit late due to some warmer weather we had. it was also a dry summer so the colors seemed to be less brilliant than perhaps normal.

(peak fall right outside our door)

-helsinki festival/charlie chaplin shorts. the helsinki festival was perhaps 2+ weeks long featuring lots of music, theater and entertainment shows, but this one was the best for us. it was downtown at the orion theater and the show consisted of 3 charlie chaplin shorts with music accompaniment by kids. different age groups of kids did the 3 shorts so that the first group were young and inexperienced, the second group were older and better organized and played impressively enough that the crowd laughed where they were supposed to. unfortunately, X and i didnt have the patience to stay until the final (and no doubt most entertaining) short was played, but we had a nice time.

-"we love pihlis". this was a 51st anniversary festival for our neighborhood. the only thing we attended was the yard sale at the nearby playground, but it was a treasure trove and a nice place to see neighbors.

-library: munkkiniemi. this was an average library with a small, plain kids section.

-leikkipuistos: savela, unikko. savela: a nice playground nestled in a ring of apartments. what a compact little neighborhood with a set of all the schools, parks, and playgrounds you would need with highway access and a train station all super close. unikko: this playground had lots of variety, a large indoor building, trees and fencing to keep kids partially contained, but lots of areas to play.

nature (click here for a map):
-hertonniemi to viikki farm (part of vanhakaupunginlahti nature area). so now weve walked almost all the way around this bay. its such a lovely place. the hertonniemi path area was busier than i had expected. also, when we went it seemed that all the bugs and animals were acting strange, which i attributed to them performing their last activities before settling in to finding places to hibernate or die. but, it was a perfect weekend day for a walk, we found a frog pond to return to in the spring and we ended the walk through the farmland of viikki, just east of the arboretum. i really love this whole area of the city.

(hertonniemi area; the viikki farm. migratory birds were resting in the fields)

-pikku huopalahti-meilahti. a nice water and trail area with lots of little bridges and playgrounds interspersed. X and i hadnt seen the west side of the city so we went over just to explore. while i would say there was nothing special that would make me come back specifically, it was a pretty area and i had a friendly, useful chat with a finnish mom in the sandbox of one of the playgrounds.

-munkkiniemi beach and neighborhood. we walked through munkinpuisto first, and that was kind of a bust; it was just open grassy areas and a disc golf course. we then went to the beach and that was great: a nice shallow sandy area on the edge of a forest and sauna buildings nearby for, possibly(?) year-round use. we then walked along the water back to the bus stop to complete the loop of the neighborhood. the coastal walk was pretty and we saw people quietly sitting soaking up the last of the days westerly sun. there was a fancy cafe at the end of our walk (cafe torpanranta) which looked inviting.

-tervasaari. a tiny island on the east of helsinkis downtown peninsula. it breaks up the marina area and has a dog park, playground, cafe, and walking paths on it. a nice little spot, but nothing fancy.

-seurasaari. this large-ish island in the westerly waters of helsinki is home to an open-air old fashioned museum, a fancy restaurant, a nude beach, and trails. it is only a pedestrian island and it has a definite forest gnome vibe. we went on a day when there was a small festival that included cookie decorating, so that was a hit. the island was rather crowded and being used in lots of ways by different people but it was a pretty place. with lots of little cafes/stands, im sure it is a great place in warmer weather, if you want to be in a busy spot.

(seurasaari museum buildings)
(on seurasaari, near the beach. last time of the year she got to go barefoot)

-katajanokka island/neighborhood. just off the market square in downtown this peninsula-turned-island is mostly not of interest for tourists. its mainly a cruise ship docking area and has tons of apartments and a few hotels but not even the coastal edges are that exciting. the prettiest area is right were the island re-connects with the city: the uspenski cathedral is a beautiful brick building (brick seems to be the material of choice in this area actually) and the marina area to the north of the island is pretty. we also found a fantastic cafe in the neighborhood (see below for details).

(uspenski cathedral)

-hertonniemi kartano. this is a nice wooded, water-lined estate to the east. one of the borders is on a noisier, busy road, but once we got onto the grounds it was a peaceful spot. i think it would be a great place for a walk in the summer. there was supposedly a beach nearby too, but we turned in a different direction.

-wooden houses and trails of käpylä. this seems to be a nice hilly, hideaway neighborhood in the city that has lots of nature and old wooden houses.

-ravintola makalu (nepalese, in malmi). this place has good prices and portion-sizes and is open on sunday, but theres nothing remarkable about the food.

-cafe koti (in munkkiniemi). this is a basic cafe with a decent location and nice little kids play area.

-doi thai. a nice thai place in the historic city center area near the eastern marinas. i had some good thai iced tea and the chiangmai noodles with chicken done northern style was fun, different, and delicious. our food was all flavorful but simple. we had a nice time.

-kahvi siskot (a food stand on hakaniemi square). this is a coffee and sweet bread tent. very popular with locals. ive gotten dave their dense, homemade cinnamon rolls. he fully enjoyed them.

-johan & nyström cafe. this cafe is on the eastern harbor/waterfront by a yacht marina in a historic brick building with wood rafters. this place is so cool. its got great decor and colors and smells inside, combined with gorgeous looking hots drinks and divine treats. i was beside myself when i found their treats were all raw, gluten and lactose free. its like a place made just for us. and just down the way is a lovely coastal kids playground. i think we will be back over this way quite often.

-wanha mylly (meaning: old mill). on the hertonniemi estate (kartano), this is a traditional scandinavian restaurant in an old wooden building. lunch was mid-priced and they were quite quick and good with children. id say its definitely a place valued by the older generation and families, something akin to michiganders and their zehnders and schulers restaurants.

-k-market mustapekka in käpylä. eureka! recommended by a friend, it was a wonderful surprise to find this grocery store. it has a huge selection and its not a gourmet/high end place per se, it just has a very large selection of all categories of food. certainly a nice place to know about for special events or holiday cooking.

finn notables:
-people here give sun worshipping a new meaning. in the last warm days of summer/fall i saw countless people sitting in silence, face turned toward the sun, eyes closed, soaking it up, being in the moment, being grateful. it certainly shows that the outdoors is their spiritual place, and one can hardly blame them.

-im finding that there are tons of nature areas in the city, but the parks with actual names (colored in green on google maps) are usually the groomed multi-use kind of places (sport fields, playgrounds, picnic areas, disc golf courses, etc), which is perfectly fine, but if im looking for a walk in the woods, these arent the places.

-calendars. ive found that instead of talking about "the week of oct 6-12", people here talk about week 32 or week 41. which, im sure is a much better way to do it, but when you say week numbers to me, i have only the vaguest idea of what month or time of year you are talking about. additionally, calendars here start on mondays, the two weekend days are together at the end of calendars week.

-dental appt. so i had my dental check-up, everything looks good. he said there is no need to come back for 3 years! is that ever a recommendation for adults in the u.s.? now im feeling like they are just trying to take advantage of people with dental insurance. hmm...

-im REALLY missing avocados. they always look terrible here. and even when you get them green and hard and patiently wait the week for them to ripen, ive found that most are moldy. so basically i dont buy them anymore. :( its the only thing i think ive really craved multiple times.