26 May 2013

Porvoo is pour-vous

for many reasons, we got out to a nearby town for some exploring today. a nice find.

we decided on visiting the town of porvoo* (pronounced poor-voh, with a rolled "r") this weekend. for one, its a little picturesque historic fishing/nordic town that is nearby (30 minutes east). for another, we wanted to try out renting a car and seeing someplace other than helsinki for a little bit. and lastly, i need to start getting my time in on finlands roads. apparently you need to have proof of driving in the country for 6 months before you can change over your valid drivers license from another country and get a finnish one. so, ive begun. and um, i can see why finland has so many formula 1 race car drivers...these people speed. though i suppose when your country is virtually devoid of people on like 80% of the land, there isnt much need or desire for life in the slow lane.

so, we drove to porvoo and parked the car. we walked along the river on both sides, first on the old town side with the pretty cobblestones, cheerily painted buildings, and quaint shops, and then we crossed the bridge and walked along the other side to look across at the dark red fishing buildings that line the rivers edge of the old town. very beautiful. it was like a mix of the rural coastal towns in nova scotia with the riverside part of dinan in france.

 (streets of old town, loved the building colors)
(along the riverside just outside of old town; looking across the river back at old town and its distinctive red buildings)
(flower garden at the rivers edge; one of many pedestrian bridges linking both sides of the river) 

after walking through a little flower garden at the waters edge we decided we were getting hungry. we first attempted the brunch at sinne, but it was something like 24€ per person and there was a listed price for children. gah. no. so we crossed the river again and went in to old town. we settled on a riverfront restaurant called johans. the tables were comfortably settled in a quiet courtyard off an old town street all the way down to the water. we sat against the building right on the water. there were a few other people there but we felt quite alone and able to relax a bit. thankfully the piles of tourists we had seen coming off tour buses earlier had dissipated and werent dining with us (i think we heard japanese, australian, american, and russian groups).

but anyway, our lunch was nice, though, as always, not super calm because of X. we did manage to watch some fish jumping out of the river while sipping our jaffa (this is like tang and orangina mixed, and is SUPER popular in finland and sweden apparently) and waiting for food. we also sampled their 3 housemade breads before our burger and fish dishes came. the food was nicely presented and tasted a bit above average, but it was still a bit pricey. i guess we just havent hit on much that was stand-out-awesome here (except that shrimp soup and toast from the market...). oh well, we'll keep trying.

(clinking glasses of jaffa)

after food, we wandered a bit more of old town, stopping in to local sweet shop skafferi for some candies for all. and with that, we headed back to the car. dave drove on the way home and we attempted to locate the nearby national park called sipoonkorpi based on not much information and some guessing. iiiiiiiittt did not work out. no major loss, we'll try again, having figured out better where it is.

in summary, porvoo is a cute little town, perhaps a bit touristy but worth the quick visit if its possible. we saw that you can actually take a river cruise from helsinki to porvoo, bet that would be lovely. otherwise, we very easily and pretty inexpensively (35€/day, which is cheap here) rented a car from 24rent.fi.

*porvoo is pronounced as i said above (poor-voh, with a rolled "r"), but when i first see it in english it looks like the voo in voodoo. that makes the town name sound like the french words "pour vous" which means "for you". so i was being a dork and trying to combine finnish, english and french into one entry title. lets pretend it worked. 

14 May 2013

Obligatory 8th anniversary message

very subdued around here this year. no babysitter, no energy (see mothers day entry).

dave gave me a sweet card and cleaned the kitchen, and i appreciated it whole-heartedly. i, however, 100% slacked (note: this is not the same as forgetting) and offered a future lunch date (once X is in daycare). i did notice that pottery is an 8th anniversary gift, so i decided to go literal this year, i want to pick out something from iittala or arabia (finnish design houses) to commemorate our love. i notice that the 9th anniversary also says "pottery", so i'll ditch creativity and do this again next year i suppose because i think we need an official occasion as a reason to buy this stuff, since we shipped so much of our other kitchen crap to ourselves.

anyway, the subdued nature of the celebration does not mean that i love dave any less. i am proud that his hard work brought us to finland. im really enjoying myself here so far. im proud that he is settling in, getting to work, making an impression and still coming home with energy and patience to spare (though perhaps not as much as he would like). we're still on the same page in all the important ways, and i know we'll continue to sit tight together while we weather the rocking of the boat that a huge move like this entails. together for 13 years now, and no corner of that time feels unlucky. and you know, if you tip the number 8 on its side...∞...but i'll leave the cheesy infinity reference for another anniversary i have in mind.

(think we're gonna get this because we have no pitchers, and ive been using the one in the apartment a fair amount. dave chose the pattern, i think it evokes the whimsical finnish woodland vibe quite well. we also got a couple of red polka dot iittala plates. just because.)

12 May 2013

Mothers day melancholy

mothers day has yet to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. :(

each year, even though i try not to dwell, this day makes me feel like i dont want special recognition. i dont feel like i do a particularly notable job as a mother, and i also feel guilty that a real gift to me, for this 'holiday', would be a full day away from my regular life and duties. the day is meant for thanking those in our lives who take care of us, sacrifice, who often are the glue of a family and yet all i want to do is to remove myself from it. for one day just to NOT have to do or be the 'mom'. that desire makes me feel worst of all. not that i would wish to stop the holiday or not acknowledge it. a verbal thanks and hug or whatever is nice. a craft from school is fine. even, when X is older, doing a mother-daughter something would be nice. i suppose the best the holiday could be while still feeling like im IN my family would be if i could wake up in the house, alone, and mill around for the morning doing whatever i want. then i could attend a brunch with all other moms of the world who can laugh about what a treat it can be to be away from their families for a meal. then i would do something mother-daughter with X and again get some quiet time. at this point i would arrive at a family dinner that i neither cooked nor had to clean up after, and then we would all sit down to watch a movie. bedtime would be a breeze and i could spend some alone time laughing with dave. yeah. id like that day.

*a few days after drafting the above entry, i reflect to say this...in case it wasnt obvious, i have been experiencing a "down period", but i think mothers day was the beginning of the end of it, once i declared it as a "down period" (to dave and in the above) and daycare was on the horizon, things started looking up. i had about two/three weeks of "down" when we first arrived in january and then i hit a large "up" for quite a while until april arrived. blah. it was hard to do anything but watch tv shows in my spare time. i slacked hardcore on my canada work project and my blogging obviously. but, i hope to be back on track and that the next "down" wont be so large or long lasting. the first major "down" after a huge move seems to always be pretty paralyzing for me. im hoping things are gonna be manageable now. thanks for your patience.

(picture from this mothers day. what you would never know about this picture is that i wore this [basically my pajamas] all day, never left the house. i also had no bra on. but, its a surprisingly nice photo that will be there in the timeline as much as anything else) 

07 May 2013

Fun finn facts #3: Family

life in finland is subtly yet thoughtfully geared toward families^ (aside from the high cost of living), not only are the large, important gestures there from the government but its also the little gestures from society in general. kudos finland.

to start, a recent article rated finland as the top country in the world for mothers in terms of maternal death rates in childbirth and a few others measures. they dont have a super intense medical system here either, they just provide the right structure and it helps everyone have better chances. i like that. equality is a huge cornerstone of finnish society.

in terms of the large gestures from the government, here is what is offered:

-a pregnant woman is given the choice between a maternity package (a bundle with new baby clothes and other items) or a lump sum of 140€.

-a mother can start maternity leave as early as 2 months before the birth of the child, and (from what i can tell) needs to begin maternity leave at least 5 weeks before the estimated delivery date. you are then paid a maternity allowance for 4 months.

-a father (living with the mother) is entitled to 54 working days of paternity leave that can be broken up across 4 different periods (3 week chunks as the maximum length at any one time) while the child is under age 2. it can be taken at the same time that the mother is on maternity leave.

-parental leave. this kicks in after maternity leave. this is 158 paid work days (just over 6 months). it can be taken by either or both parents in various combinations. parental leave ends when the kid is about 9 months old.

-child home care allowance. this kicks in after parental leave and basically pays the parent (or relative) to watch the child, in-home, until the age of 3. a child over 3 may even receive this payment if there is another sibling being cared for at home who is under age 3.

-part-time child care leave allowance. this is something that can even be taken when the kid is in the first and second year of school. it supplements a parent who wants to work less than full-time to be at home when the child comes home from school.

-on top of this, there is also a child benefit paid for each child in the family until age 17.

*of note, no city daycares accept kids under age one (thus, it is quite normal to take your full year of leave without pressure).

other forms of aid for families:
*i dont know all the details, but a womans job is required to be held for her, up to three years post-partum (i think this is per child, though there must be some stipulations). a large percentage of women in finland are employed (but damn if i can find the actual statistic i read a few weeks ago, grrr), so i take that to mean that re-entering the workforce is pretty well supported by all.

*one parent can ride public transit (all forms: bus, metro, tram, local trains) for free when riding with a child in a stroller. all kids under age 7 ride transit for free.

*leikkipuistos (playgrounds with program buildings supported by the city) often have cheap breakfast mornings for kids and families, usually once a week. during the summer, apparently, they have one or more days per week where they offer a basic soup, for free, to all kids who want it. you bring your own spoon and bowl. i think adults can also purchase the soup for a small fee. you can also rent (for free or pay, im not sure) these places for parties/gatherings/etc. its a great resource.

*daycare. if you send your kid to a public/municipal daycare they are guaranteed to be admitted to a nearby daycare within 4 months (not exactly sure the radius of what "nearby" means, but ours is a 5-10 minute walk). also, the maximum that any family (even the wealthiest) pays is something like 254€/month for full-time daycare for one child. families with lower income get a reduced rate. although daves income is quite comfortable, apparently we are still in the bin of people who qualify for a [slightly] reduced rate (and this rate includes 2 meals and a snack at daycare).

other random finnish family notables:
-the city of espoo seems to be the family life area around here. you can get a single family home with a bit of yard for a fairly reasonable rate (or used to be able to)...in exchange for a longer commute to the city.

-most restaurants let kids under 3 or so eat free.

-many (though certainly not all) stores, banks, and restaurants are quite kid-friendly in terms of providing play areas, toys, or generally just being patient with parents and kids. and, many places have little kid potties in their bathrooms.

-the city airport has several lovely and well-equipped kid play areas too.

-just a small summary of popular kids books/characters (and their country of origin) here: moomin (finnish [muumi]), pippi longstocking (swedish [peppi långstrump]), mama moo (swedish [mamma mu]), the mole (czech [krtek])

-if you are interested in a day-in-the-life of a finnish mom on maternity leave, i found this blog entry.

^i do feel singles, older people, and couples without children would still feel that finland offers so much to them too, i just think that families feel, surprisingly, supported here.

06 May 2013

Stutt-garten of eden

we gave ourselves a full day (and a bit more on either side) in stuttgart just to see what we could see. so glad we did. it was a nice mini family vacation and it turned out to be an amazingly good time.

so, stuttgart. i didnt know anything about it. its the 6th largest german city (~5.3 million people in the metro area). its the home of porsche and mercedes-benz, so yeah, it has a bit of an industrial history, however, its nestled in between forests, hills, and vineyards. so beautiful. its also fairly famous for its mineral hot springs.

saturday (5/4):
we finally arrived, via an incorrect train connection somewhere between tübingen and stuttgart and had to take a subway ride to our hotel (so 3 separate trains when we were only supposed to do 2). im a little bummed by the terrible signage/ticketage of german local trains. the tickets and stations seemed to assume you were totally familiar with each trains stops and track numbering set-up and whatnot. i guess it was a little bit like that in france, though i havent felt like that in helsinki.

apparently too the 3 week long spring beer fest (frühlingsfest) was going on in stuttgart. held at cannstatter wasen (two metro stops from us), we saw an inordinate amount of bavarian bar maiden outfits and males in lederhosen (i actually thought the few women we saw in lederhosen looked adorable, and far less like they were trying too hard, like the massive amount of slutty bavarian girls we saw) and there were just droves of people arriving for the festivities, clogging public transit, but they were mostly orderly, thankfully (at least at the hours we were out).

anyway, we finally got to our hotel (brita) in SE stuttgart. the vineyards were right down the block from us, going up the hill. we settled in and went to nearby grocery store(s) before they closed because the next day was sunday and southern germany is fairly old school traditional in that most places arent open on sundays.

for dinner, we went to an italian place around the corner. it was just an okay dinner but we had great 0.90€ strawberry sorbet at the cafe across from our hotel.

sunday (5/5):
X slept in and we then did the hotel breakfast (not even bakeries were open); dave loves his bircher muesli. then we walked to the tram (light rail actually) and took 2 trams to the wilhelma zoological botanical gardens. this place is not to be missed. come far, come wide. i suspect the spring is a most glorious time of year to be here too. its a historic rolling hill park functioning originally as a botanical garden, now overlaid with a zoo. what could be finer. there are so many nooks and crannies in this place its astonishing. beauty was EVERYwhere. we hadnt meant to attempt seeing the bulk of the zoo (i figured it was too sprawling to be managed in one visit) but we ended up spending 4 hours there just wandering (we chuckled at the mini redwood forest where people were taking their picture trying to get their arms around the behemoths). we had packed a lunch, so we stopped along the way for that. we made two popsicle stops (best popsicles of my life, basically frozen orange juice) and lots of water breaks. we bought a new sun hat for the kid upon entering the zoo, and it was the perfect temperature and weather (sunny with a few clouds, not warm enough to drench me in sweat, not cool enough to chill me when the wind blew. aka ideal), so we were good to be there for so long and not feel burnt out. we even randomly caught the sea lion feeding at 3p that was super cool. i love when an unstructured day pays off big time.

(a yellow tram ride to start the day; flower gardens in the entrance of the zoo; walking toward the sea lions)
(all of us near a circular fountain pool; admiring pufferfish in the aquarium area. the aquarium/terrarium building alone was worth an entry fee, the whole place was incredible)

after the zoo, we took the U14 tram down to the zacke tram line (the only line like this in the city, one of only 4 tram lines like this in germany) that climbs the hills of stuttgart at a grade of 18% (the rack/grooved track fits the trams wheels that have teeth to help it climb the steep grade). the view of stuttgart from the tram is lovely, such a pretty area. then we made our way back to the central train station. turns out there was some sort of car fair on the pedestrian walkway leading from the train station over to the citys schlossplatz, which was teeming with people. again it was the perfect setting for a lovely time. the weather was still ideal for lounging on the grass in the last of the days warmth and sunshine. i love springtime. we had bratwurst from a stand for dinner and dave had curry wurst with beer. we took the train home and had sorbet again and wound down. the kid ran around all day, smiling, laughing, hardly ever slowing down. we all had a remarkably wonderful time in stuttgart. happy memories. :)

(riding a rocking horse on the pedestrian walkway; fountain in the plaza)
(the plaza; digging in the dirt after dinner)

monday (5/6):
we were up early and caught two trains to the stuttgart airport. i'll say its not my favorite airport for organization or ease of use. oh well, cant win em all. to me, german airports havent been that impressive in design/thoughtfulness/organization in general, and i really i dont care for being bussed out to my airplane. im also neutral about the copenhagen airport. i love terminal A for all its serene design elements and calm beauty, but the other terminals arent as great, the kids area has no elevator up to it and no bathroom anywhere near it(?). the staff at the food places werent particularly helpful and the options for lactose-free were nothing like finland. i do like the danish stores Tiger and Noa Noa though, which you could browse at the airport (denmark is also home to Lego, also represented by a store in the airport).

when we got back to finland, we quickly and comfortably sank into the joys of quiet public transit, more considerate smokers, the more child-friendly set-up of society, the ease of use of english, and being able to easily deal with the dietary needs of X. finland lacks a few small things but has so much else to offer. it was bursting with sun when we landed and we didnt need a jacket! now all we need are leaves on these trees!

germany summary:
-i was reminded how very outdoor-sy the people are (as are the finns, but it just seemed different somehow)
-the germans love ice cream (possibly more than the finns)
-i had to actually learn some key german words [danka, ist das laktosefrei?; as well as to remember german numbers 1-10, as taught to me in middle school] because an unexpected amount of people didnt speak english (tübingen was better for english speakers than stuttgart surprisingly)
-young couples certainly displayed more PDA than in finland
-the german smokers were less considerate than finland
-the public transit is noisier than finland (though, i think few places are so quiet)
-i was most struck by how the men in germany were not invisible. im not sure if i noted this about finnish men before, but, and i cant put my finger on how or why, finnish men seem invisible in the city. i guess that means they arent attractive or stylish or something, which i dont think is accurate, i just cant figure out what it is. in germany i just suddenly felt like i was swimming in a pool of men. weird.
-however, i did feel that german women were either edgy or frumpy. i think i remember that from previous experience too.

**to view the more complete photo album of stuttgart click here.**

04 May 2013

A place to return tü-b-i-ngen and again

dave had some work to do in tübingen, germany, so we tagged along...we went "to europe", as the finns say when they go to mainland europe. so funny.

sunday (4/28):
our flights were kinda hard with X because she was tired. i managed to get her to sleep during our layover in the oasis of a hallway known as terminal A of the copenhagen airport, but she was still grumpy for the next leg of travel. but, we landed in brilliant, alive stuttgart, germany. we were kind of in green nature shock. everything was so lush (compared to still leaf-less helsinki). daves PhD advisor, todd, came to pick us up (he obviously has since moved from UM) and took us back to his house (where we were staying). todds house was like a glass palace, such a serene home in the glorious blooming garden of a town, tübingen. X met todds girls (anouk and zoelle, ages 8 and 5 respectively) and they got used to each other and we had dinner and settled in. we then proceeded to treat the whole house to the WORST night sleep in a long time, complete with massive stretches of screaming. youre welcome kind hosts!

monday (4/29):
anouk woke up barfing this morning. X and i were tired but we managed to follow directions to get to the altstadt (old town) of tübingen. on the bus ride we got to see the towns valley of terraced apartments and lush green and flowers everywhere. my mouth was dropped open in awe most of the time. we got off at the nonnehaus stop and wandered a little ways. a small river and the old buildings were juxtaposed in interesting ways and all i could think was "charming".

(little bicycle man statue near the nonnehaus bus stop)

anyway, we needed some things in a nearby shopping building, and we also needed cash to do all transactions (i forgot small town europe doesnt really dig credit cards, and we didnt have the same chip as german debit cards). i got X some medicine at the pharmacy to avoid another horrific sleep (if possible), we went to a walgreens-like place (called DM) for oat milk and dietary alternatives, and then we hit the grocery store for suitable snacks.

having completed our required errands, we went outside and through a tunnel and were on the towns old botanical garden grounds where we found a gorgeous rustic playground. once we had had our fill there, we grabbed lunchables at a nearby bakery (bretzels and a linzer treat) and located the bus home. on the walk back from the bus, X managed a small nap before fussing the crap out of my patience. we got back and read to sick anouk, explored the house and played outside with zoelle when she got home from daycare. thankfully we got a better night sleep (no screaming) but i still had to go to bed at the same time as her to be rested enough for the next day.

(the rustic playground; these tire swings must be popular in germany, we saw them in stuttgart too)

tuesday (4/30):
dave and todd stayed home to work and watch anouk (because she was still sick). i woke up with Xs cold (of course) and was fatigued enough to have no motivation to go anywhere either. we stayed in the house for the morning and played with anouk. after lunch, zoelle came home from daycare early so we took her to the playground nearby and went on a nature walk. everything was so lush, i was still in shock. back at home the girls made mud pies and "salad" from the treasures we collected on the nature walk. it was so fun to see X soaking up her time with the big girls. and then, i had a major headache for the rest of the afternoon/evening so i laid down for the rest of the day until bedtime.

(zoelle, X, anouk; zoelle and X on their nature walk)

wednesday (5/1):
today was labor day in germany. i guess its a day that kids play pranks and shaving cream neighborhood items (bushes, flowers, windows, etc), what a nice way to say "take a break from your job adults, you earned it, now clean up my mess". after breakfast, mirjam (todds wife) and the girls and i went to the new botanical gardens on university grounds. it was a close walk from their house and probably one of the best botanical gardens ive been to (austin, texas and wellington, new zealand had nice ones, but this one was quite impressive, and free). back at home the girls played outside and we read stories before dave and todd stopped work for the day (at 3p). for dinner we had a bbq with another american family with a 4 year old girl. all 4 girls got along fairly well and we had strawberry shortcake for dessert, yum.

(the botanical garden grounds)

thursday (5/2):
we walked to the neighborhood bakery, bäckerei gauker, for bretzels, pizza, and olgabretzel and got on the bus headed for the altstadt again. it was rainy, so we visited the town library (it had an okay layout, but not many english books). then we had our lunch under a willow tree along river, and we fed the pigeons. then we just meandered around the altstadt and found a toy store (X convinced me to get her a rubber snake) and a used kids clothing store (didnt find anything interesting). we looped back around to san marco for sorbeto (raspberry) and ate it in the old botanical garden park. after our treat, we played on the rustic playground again and went home.

(lunch spot complete with pigeons. the river was right under those little bridges in the background)

later we enjoyed the backyard as the day warmed up and the sun broke through the clouds (we had a TON of cloud and drizzle while here, i suppose thats how it got so lush). we then had dinner with everyone and afterward X squashed her hand in her travel potty (its a cool travel potty though, picked it up right before the trip) and the rest of the evening was shot since she had a hard time calming down.

friday (5/3):
total body fail. i had diarrhea and near vomiting all day. it must have actually been the flu though because it felt like there were lead weights on my body, so much so that the idea of attempting a shower might as well have been like asking me to fly to the moon. dave had to cut his work day short because of me. uck. horrible.

saturday (5/4):
thankfully my disease abated by morning and, while i was still a bit weak, i was able to enjoy a nice lunch and walk in the alstadt of tübingen with dave and X. it was drizzly but very beautiful and fun to walk around with all 3 of us. we acquired some (yucky) sorbet, nearly got attacked by swans, and watched a german protest. X loved all the car-free roads of the altstadt where she could just wander around without paying much attention. such a neat thing for a kid to experience. and then we got on the train(s) to stuttgart.

 (the little park island between the altstadt and the train station part of town)
(inside the altstadt. its half timber buildings remind me a little of rennes) 

**if interested, here is the more complete photo album of our tübingen visit.**