28 February 2013

February doings in helsinki

i guess we got out and found a fair amount of things this month. i like the city, i really do.

kid-friendly stuff:
-libraries (itäkeskus, töölö, pasila, kallio, vallila): these are better libraries than the first few we visited. they had larger kid spaces and better choices in the (still small) english sections. the pasila library is the largest multilingual library in the city system (i think). when we went, the childrens librarian was dressed as a doctor at a book hospital station. she picked out a "sick" english book for X and helped her cut tape, fix torn pages, stamp the book, clean the outside, and then we got to take it home, for keeps. the kallio library was in a neat old building with the childrens section on the top floor, there were even two music booths for the kids to explore. overall, the book selection is still unimpressive for me, but the children section spaces are at least quite nice in most of the libraries weve been to.


(kallio music booth in kid section)

-tram museum. its free. they are celebrating 100 years of trams in helsinki. the museum has 3 trams you can climb on and explore, and 3 you can just look at. there is even an old fashioned tram ticket puncher.



-zoo (korkeasaari). its located on an island off of the city to the east. we did the zoo in the winter because they were having an ice sculpture exhibit on the grounds. we also enjoyed a buffet lunch on our visit (for real, the food was decent and healthy). we got to see mongooses, monkeys, poisonous frogs, lions, tigers, snow leopards, bison, and reindeer. as we were leaving it started majorly snowing. i would say it wasnt a super successful/impressive trip, but i think it would be lovely in the summer.

-indoor swimming pool. a new friend and her daughter (anna and ella, respectively) took us to a pool near daves work (mäkelänrinteen uintikeskus). great activity.

notes: nudity in the locker room is expected, you stick out like a sore thumb if you do not partake (remember as a kid living in fear of the old naked ladies at the YMCA who would shower and then take their time getting dressed...yeah that, only people of all ages. but actually, its a great equalizer, and frankly [not that i was staring] its a great reminder that only 0.001% of the human population have model figures/bodies). you are expected to shower before entering the pool (bathing suit on is okay). ive heard a few people say that swim diapers are not required for kids. im not exactly sure about the full explanation on this but i think its mostly aimed at disposable diapers. weve always used a cloth swim diaper, so thats what i will continue doing.

the pools are saltwater, not chlorinated (not ocean salt water levels, just salted so that it keeps germs from growing)! it was wonderful to not reek of chemicals afterward and to not have to breathe all that stuff in. there were 3 different kinds of warm pools where we went. one was definitely a baby/toddler pool. mid-shin deep and there was a mini, mini water slide, so cute and fun for X. the second pool was for toddlers and younger kids learning to get comfortable in the water, not over chest deep for adults with a graded sloped floor. the third pool was like a very large therapeutic pool (water jets and powerful waterfalls), kids were welcome. all this and the experience cost 6€.

*additional note: in the city center there is a historic indoor pool that hosts adults-only nude swimming. men and women on separate days. im actually interested to swim here. anyone who ends up visiting, if youre up for it...im game to visit this place.

-leikkipuisto activities. so, i mentioned last time about the leikkipuistos (open daycares) and that once a week they have a "family cafe" (the cheap breakfast day). well, on those mornings they very often (at least at the leikkipuistos weve been to) have other services going on too. sometimes moms can get haircuts, kids can get seated photos taken (for a low price), people bring adult/child clothing to sell, people sell tupperware, there is free crafting sessions for the kids, etc. its quite impressive and a nice convenience. i wish i had known about the haircut day, that would have been ideal.

-sea life aquarium. apparently this place is a chain that does aquariums in other countries, so for that it loses a few points, but their displays and layout is very nice. happily, you do get what you pay for. X had a blast. she went through the whole place 3 times (its laid out in a circle). of course you are funneled through the gift shop and cafeteria and kiddie rides at the end, but you could spend a whole day here. glad we checked it out!

  

nature:
-kumpula gardens. on the way to the pool, anna took us through the kumpula gardens area. of course it was winter and hard to see where all the greenery would be, but there were lots of trees, and well chosen paths and lots of potential space for restorative, calming beauty in the warmer months. im honing in on this and surrounding areas for the next place we live.

  
(duck pond in the garden area)

-kallio neighborhood. the whole area is up on a hill (kallio translates to "the rock") and is the hippie/vegan/artist area. the center of the neighborhood has a cool church and the side streets all go in weird directions due to the rocky/hilly area. i guess this doesnt exactly belong in the "nature" section, but it did seem peaceful and like it would be quite green in the warmer months. id like to explore it again.

errands/shopping:
-verkkokauppa. the biggest electronics store in europe apparently, aka male fantasy land. the place is organized into sections by eletronic company and seems very smoothly run. it was a bit of a challenge getting the printer we bought home in the winter on public transit though.



-vekarakirppis. a kids consignment store (translates to kids flea market). this is where the better used clothes and toys are, much better selection than the thrift store fida. people really seem in to "flea markets" (kirppis) here. new, full-priced stuff is just too pricey to create an entire kids wardrobe. i think we'll be stocking up on clothes for all of us back in the states, but the option of the flea markets for X stuff is nice.

-haircut. got my first one here! my lady apologized for her english, but we got along just fine. there is a place at the bottom of the hill from us that does walk-ins and is open late on mondays. sweet. it was 44€, but they dont do tipping. since i only get my haircut once every few months, this place is great.

-stockmann. i love this place, anyone who visits will be subjected to seeing basically all floors of this establishment. we recently discovered the 8th floor is filled with cafes/restos/buffet lines. the 6th floor is kids clothes and toys with a great snack area and kids bathroom. dave found a very useful mens section for clothes for work (cap horn and bodyguard brands). and their grocery store, prepared food area, deli, and speciality food items wow me again and again. since i dont really want to explore the restaurants around here (until, maybe, we get a babysitter), its great that this place has all i need and more.


(this guy plays beautiful music outside stockmann)

-alko flagship store. this is in kamppi. it is a two story liquor/alcohol store with an entire floor of wine, and their beer selection is decent. it was funny seeing a beer from warren, mi there. many of the danish beers they carried seemed excellent (according to ratebeer).

food:
-ravintola mountain (nepalese food). they had a fish tank and were kid-friendly, but not good food really. the place was packed when we left though. i just really really miss the nepalese place in royal oak that was called "rockys". best nepalese ever.

-goodpie bakery/cafe. they had no sweet choices for X, but their bread is good. im sure an adult with time to relax would enjoy the space there.

-bar bakkari. i actually went here to meet up with a finn my mom randomly met in key west, and her roommate. they were nice, chill, "regulars" of helsinki. these are the kind of people who are good to hang out with for insider info and to get the real no-bull shit lay of the land. the bar was a smallish local-type place. i liked it. they also mentioned a place called "shakers" as being a nice cocktail bar, and a place called pacifico as being a great (and busy/popular) brunch place.

finn/finland notables:
-some people seem very helpful about getting up to let a parent and child sit together on the bus. even, swapping locations of seats so X can have a better view.

-it feels like "winter" is a moving target. the amount of light, temperature variation, snow amounts, are all noticeably changing in the short time weve been here. the outdoor activities are then dictated by those variances. and certain treats, sales, festivals and traditions are rotating through. there is always something new, changing or coming up. it makes the winter seem less stagnant and dreary. i hope it continues to feel like that.

-so far, when ive told people here that her name is X there is a painfully long pause, followed by either a change of subject or the end of the conversation. i cant tell what to make of this. i know the finns are not judgmental people, so maybe its just them asking a question without having the need to follow up with a "beautiful/pretty/unique/cool/thats different/how did you choose that name" type of judgement comment. its just been a little weird.

-there is no mail service on saturdays (as i see the u.s. is going toward). i think its fine. also, the post office has a service where you can electronically (i assume they open and scan it?) get your mail emailed to you while you are out of town.

-banking. people dont do checks around here, its not even an option. i was at an in-home "garage sale" and heard a mom offer to pay by bank transfer, later that day. this is acceptable and normal. especially the paying afterward part.

-government. it works here! every interaction has been quite pleasant. all the paperwork was done correctly and thoughtfully (our time/effort were considered) and swiftly. every delivery estimate given was accurate, or, often, the process was faster than expected. its rather hard to believe. you actually get what you pay for here.

-men. most men, out and about, are so silent and reserved they are almost non-existent. i think ive seen three handsome men since arriving, and by that i mean that they actually stood out to me...as opposed to being nearly invisible.

-newspaper/info consumption here is impressive. people read the paper front to back if they can, and the recycle bins are filled to the brim with newpapers that i have no doubt are read every day. at stores however, ive seen almost no gossip magazines though (part of their lack of judgement, desire for privacy personalities no doubt).

-im told finns have a massive obsession with creedence clearwater revival (CCR). why? i dont know.

24 February 2013

Oscars: fashionably late

i got oscar fashions, commentaries, youtube videos all on the day after the fact. so out of the loop over here, better get used to it i guess.

i had missed the golden globes this year since we were still dealing with jetlag and i just had no idea what day it was, let alone the award show schedule. i still couldnt actually watch any of the oscars live (the red carpet started at 1a my time) and youtube was pretty sparse the next day. :( i am still not going to easily give up my award season stalking, though it will be severely hampered. here's my take...

hot:
-jennifer lawrence (she is so cool. she's young, talented, gives off a strong woman vibe, yet is sweet, humorous, and humble)
-naomi watts (her after-party dress was gorg too)
-octavia spencer (where was this dress for her all last years award season?)
-catherine zeta-jones (she normally looks matronly but this was nice)
-sally field (she makes aging by an 'average' looking woman look desirable)
-norah jones (loved the lines and the fit, the hair could have been a little less prom-ish...and she could work a bit on her posture)
-amy adams (the ruffles on a dress like that get me every time, otherwise, she would be in the 'meh' bin)

    
    

meh:
-reese witherspoon (but great hair, great dress color, and kudos on post baby bod after 3 kids at age 36)
-jennifer garner (but i loved the color, and kudos on the post baby bod after 3 kids at age 40; yawn to the rest)
-jen aniston (the red color was a nice change, but her classic lines can be rather boring)
-anne hathaway (the color, the nips, the cut of the dress. blah)
-charlize theron (boring. though white is a little edgy, at least in my book)
-renee zellweger (didnt realize she was still around)
-kristen stewart
-the men (i didnt see even one interesting tux that stood out)

    

yuck:
-olivia munn (her after-party dress was yuck too)
-salma hayek (loved her makeup though)
-melissa mccarthy. yes, shes a heavy set lady, but come on, there have been more than a handful of other full figured women finding decent stylists in the past years. for goodness sake, octavia spencer made it on my "hot" list (see above). come on melissa. i like you. i liked your hair. theres got to be something better than a poorly draped sweatshirt toga as an oscar dress for you.
-there were also two ladies who tried to show us way more of their boobs than anyone really wanted or needed to see. sad. trying so hard to stay relevant. i wont bother to post their names, but here is a good boob article/pictorial from the night that includes them (first two "ladies").

    

side notes on the night:
*im so tired of stacy kiebler with george clooney
*jennifer lawrence was adorable after tripping up the steps to her acceptance speech
*host seth macfarlane (from what i could find on youtube) at least brought something different to the awards show. not sure if theyve ever had a cartoon voice comedian do the show. i had never seen what he looked like, but when he talked, all i could hear was peter griffin. a little distracting, but i suppose thats a hazard with animation-to-real-life appearances.
*i skimmed through the after party dresses too, and nothing really stood out to me except for miss natalie portman. nice.

X files - 2 Years & 10 Months Old - Finn-ding our way

so much change and newness going on around us and happening to us probably makes for a less than interesting "X files" entry. it was hard to note changes with her because so much else around us was drawing our attention. she did seem to take to finland quite quickly, maybe she was meant to be here.

foods: clementines, lingonberry, cloudberry, lactose-free dairy products, oat-based "yogurt", rhubarb, baltic herring, passion fruit
obsessions: picking her nose, eating yogurt, riding public transit, making cat noises to express her displeasure about something
             
(pippi horse and house and moomin chairs at the itäkeskus library)
  
    
(with papa outside the central train station in helsinki)

X-citing developments:
1. sleep. she sleeps in her own room in her own bed now. she had major issues with the adjustment for the first week or so. now it has settled in to the inevitable calling us in to her room 1-4 times before settling down, taking forever to go from settled down to actually falling asleep, waking up 1-4 times every night for various items, waking up too early and yelling or talking to us from her bedroom. ugh. and why again do parents think its so magical when their baby sleeps through the night? i guess it gives you several months (if youre lucky) in a row to re-fill your sleep tank from being totally wiped with a newborn, before the toddler and beyond years of irritating sleep habits begin.

2. food issues. finland has tons of lactose/milk/soy/gluten-free foods, and restaurant and grocery store labeling is pretty phenomenal. as a result there are lots of new food "groups"/options available to X. thus, she has been willing and excited to try all kinds of new food since arriving. we also cant believe how well her stomach has done. finland is well suited to her system i guess. :)

3. physical/fine motor skills.
- she has been walking all over and very active here. its nice to be outside each day. she loves the snow as much as she loves the water. so far, im always the one saying "lets go inside".
- she can (with much supervision) actually cut clementine pieces in half with a real paring knife. it was her idea to try, but its good to teach her kitchen/knife safety early on i think.

4. personality.
- she loves riding public transit of all varieties, but she wants her own seat and to be near the window on the road (not sidewalk) side of said transit, or else...
- she is doing lots of pretend cooking, and imagining with her car and animal friends.

5. learning.
- we changed up our bedtime routine again, and we are now reading before bed. we have actually started chapter books (send ideas if youve got em). its been as good as anything (read: not super good) for winding her down at night, plus we get to talk a bit about new ideas, words, behaviors.

(pascal campion art of mom/child bedtime reading)

- she is very interested in different languages. not surprising since every time we are out she hears different languages and most of the books at the library are not able to be read by me. also, aunt megan and uncle courtney got her some cars 2 wall stickers for christmas. we do most of the characters voices for her, one of them is french and one is german. she asks them about words in their native language. i guess its great that she is aware and has the interest. i hope it makes daycare a twinge easier to swallow (we are choosing to put her in a finnish daycare, though most of the workers have functional english so they would be able to help her through frustrating situations. otherwise, its basically full immersion. i hear it takes about 6 months to be fluent for kids in that kind of situation).

6. anecdotes. (M=me, mama)
- during breakfast one morning: X-i would like some oatmeal and a clementine. M-okay, you dont want the clementine in the oatmeal though do you?, X-no, that would be "peh". M-thats what i was thinking. X-but i could try it though. [we eat and are done. she climbs down] M-let me wipe your hands, X-be careful with my chin mama!

- after coming in from playing outside: X-mama i need a tissue. M-okay, you know how to go get one yourself. i can help you with it if you bring one to me. X-no mama, i could get the tissues by myself in canada, but here in finland i always rip the tissues. i need your help. M-(long pause) yes, i guess thats true. lets go take a look and try to figure out how you can get your own tissues here.

- while drawing pictures, X is telling me about what she is drawing: X-heres her butt...im drawing all the parts she needs. heres her head, to cover her brain. her eyes, nose, pee pee part, and bumhole. she needs those...and she needs a dog. he plays in the yellow snow. M-(gross face) does he take a bath afterward? X-yeah. thats why its not so gross.

momma mentionables:
1. winter. the snow that sticks around here is beautiful, and as long as i wear snowpants everywhere, i dont mind the cold/winter. this also means i get to wear fleece (as my under layer) at all times. winter has its perks. the trickier thing is dressing X. especially when we are doing indoor and outdoor things in one outing. she gets hot and irritable indoors easily, so we try to use her warm one-piece snowsuit for just lengthy outside play, and her two piece snow stuff when she are going inside somewhere.

2. transitioning. it is humbling to see how having X did, in the end, make the moving transition in finland much more smooth. it was kind of a hinderance having her around while we orchestrated the move, and i felt guilty about all aspects of that. but once we arrived, i had about a week of "holy crap. what am i going to do and how am i going to do it with a kid in tow!?" but the government stuff was so easy and most of the official duties were put in daves hands because he's the breadwinner here. everything beyond that was for X and me to discover, and get used to together.

3. work. i gave myself about two weeks in finland, but we felt as settled as we were going to get for a while so i agreed to start a bit of work on projects with both of my halifax bosses. i think it will be okay. im committed to nothing that requires a short time table and i would still have time to take a finnish language class once X gets in to daycare.

4. daycare. its looking like it will take four months to get her placed somewhere. she will start with half days first and then we would work her up as she is ready. they seem very willing to adjust to whatever we need. she does need a doctors note for her food sensitivities though.

5. yelling. i do this. ive noticed its only when im tired (which is not ruling out too many potential time windows). for the most part, im able to handle tantrums, etc somewhere on the spectrum of calm to "get over it, im unimpressed" (not that i say those words, its the vibe i give off). i can usually avoid yelling. but, cut me off from semi-regular sleep for too long and by the end of the week youve got a person who can yell with the freakiest banchies. i wish i didnt go there, ever. i always feel it was absolutely avoidable and was totally the fault of me and not whatever child action brought it on. im working on it for sure.

6. bored. the bulk of my challenge of being with X all the time everyday is that we arent even busy. we dont know anyone. we have no pressing errands or visits or appointments. this applies to the weekend too. and our apartment is so small that cleaning it and taking care of household things just doesnt consume much time. i have always believed in a healthy amount of "busy". not super stressful busy, but enough to keep your day, your life flowing. we are stagnant here. it makes me feel lazy, grumpy, and lame. in high school my grades would be dropping right about now. whenever i was on a sports team, working, and in challenging classes i was able to juggle and do great. there was no time for lazy, but i always fit in time for fun. when i have all the time in the world everything is slow and boring and depressing. as ive said before, i like figuring out the puzzle of how to accomplish everything i need to in a day/week...where i do not thrive is in blank slate mode. im trying to create artificial routines and activities for us, but its still driven by me. theres no friend/family/boss/obligation expecting you to be there. i guess this means im undisciplined, or some form of it. i guess thats true. im much happier balancing. like how i balance the adventurer in me with the strong homebody urges. give me too much of either experience though, and its not pretty. i need and like and thrive in a balanced life, and in doing the balancing. in a few months i think this aspect of life will change, for the better (fingers crossed). 

14 February 2013

Friendly french feasting

it looks as though we are again befriending every french(wo)man in sight. and happily. :)

dave made quick work of finding a geology post-doc (francis) in his department from france. we had lunch with him a few times and then his girlfriend, delphine, came to live with him here while she is in between job contracts (shes a speech therapist). he is very nice, and she is radiance and lovely personified (okay, maybe i have a girl crush). we had lunch with them a couple times, and then they invited us to dinner at their place. as with all french people who have ever made us food, they were very thoughtful of Xs food issues, and made us a very typical, simple french dinner.

1. an aperitif (appetizer/snack) of peanuts and tomatoes and juice
2. a dinner of roast chicken with potatoes and carrots
3. a dairy course of yogurt
4. a dessert of the very simple but YUM, gateau de savoie (like french angel food cake). delphine made them "hamburger"-style with raspberry jam in between and apple compote on the side.

being a magnet and a lover of all things french really has its payoffs. :) i like to think they are drawn to our francophile vibes, but secretly hope they also like us for who we actually are. :) anyway, they are a wonderful couple who i hope we can hang with from time to time. they are lovely, kind, calm, patient people. francis will be here for another 1.5 years, so, yay!

12 February 2013

Borrowed some lent traditions

love learning the local traditions and celebrations. this was an interesting one.

the sunday before lent is called "sledding day" (other activities heartily enjoyed on this day are: snowball fights, fort creating, snowman making). weve had tons of snow lately, some every day (apparently this isnt exactly normal weather) and for sunday we got an additional layer of the perfect kind of wet snow that is great for snowballs and snowmen. it was quite fun seeing everyone out enjoying themselves.

a couple days after that is "fat tuesday", which is called laskiainen here. its generally acknowledged by eating green pea soup and a pastry called laskiaispulla (a sweet bread filled with whipped cream and jam or almond paste). im calling them "paczki light".

 
(sledding; laskiaispulla)

01 February 2013

Fun finn facts #1: general factoids

i thought that since we are in yet another new culture here, id try to post a few sprinklings of factoids every so often. im thinking i will theme them, but for this one, just some general stuff about finland...

- english speakers call it finland, the finns call it suomi in their language
- it is the 7th largest european country, by area (717 miles tall, 336 miles wide)
- helsinki is the second northernmost national capital in the world
- there are 5+ million people in finland
- there are over 187,888 lakes in finland and thousands of islands
- it was one of the first nations in the world to give women the vote (year: 1863)

- national languages: finnish, swedish (my amateur take on this is to equate the swedish speaking finns with french-canadians. there are two national languages, yes. students have to learn both in school, technically. but the swedish speaking finns are only about 5% of the population and kinda form their own clique)
- national flower: lily of valley
- national animal: brown bear

- nordic vs scandinavian...if you want to split hairs (and/or act like you know what you are talking about), the nordic countries are: finland, sweden, norway, denmark, and iceland. the scandinavian countries are technically only sweden, norway, and denmark. this naming issue is similar to our region in canada ("atlantic canada" is comprised of new brunswick, prince edward island, nova scotia, and newfoundland/labrador...while "maritime canada" is only new brunswick, prince edward island, and nova scotia).

- sisu. the cornerstone of finnish life/culture, the word is said to lack true translation. if you want to try though, you could say it means "true grit", sustained courage, strength of will, perseverance, tenacity, endurance, determination, acting rationally in the face of adversity, and some might add stubbornness. you can see how having sisu would be an asset in this climate.

- finnish language. this is what ive read about it, since i have taken no classes yet. the language has: no articles or genders, no silent letters, all letter "r"s are rolled, nouns have as many as 15 different endings, and nearly all verbs have 128 different conjugations and personal forms. there is a joke i guess that finnish is the language spoken in heaven, because it takes you a lifetime to master it...just in time for you to die and use it to speak to your loved ones in heaven. also, you would think the language would be closely related to its neighboring countries (sweden, russia, etc). nope. its almost entirely alone in the world, loosely related to estonian and hungarian.

- famous. there are a few things that finland is well known for around the world. you can click here for a nice summary article, or ive listed here the things that stood out to me:

*the sauna (there are something like 2 million saunas in country; theres a saying: "first you build the sauna, then the house")
*nokia
*fiskar scissors
*angry birds (apparently during mating/nesting season the birds can actually get a bit "angry" here)
*marimekko
*arabia and *iittala dishware