31 August 2013

End of summer in the city

lots of beauty and nature, this city has so much to celebrate in the summer months. we barely got to know our area, let alone even visit the entire west side of the city or the eastern edge. so much left to experience next year.

-leikkipuistos: arabia, seppä, intia. arabia: this one is in the mix with nature, several schools, playing fields, apartment buildings and one edge of the playground looks out to the water. seppä: this one is in a posh southern helsinki neighborhood, right next to a pretty church with lots of nice trees. a big space with lots of play variety and even a small treat and flower shop at the edge of the playground. intia: this one is a huge playground with all age levels and styles of play areas nestled in the forest. gosh, so cool. i hear its one of the oldest playgrounds in the city.

-childrens festival. X and i checked this out one weekend, it was behind the opera house and was mostly a product placement festival, but we saw some rhythmic gymnastics, made crafts, ran an obstacle course and shared a huge piece of rope liquorice. so, in the end, a nice afternoon.

-mini golf in kaivopuisto. this is a 20 hole putt-putt place on the waterfront. its nothing fancy, and certainly not cheap, but its something fun to do on a nice day. X was somewhat interested, but 3.5 is still too young id say.

-savela playground. between a forest and the river, this is built for older kids, and is constructed well enough to be fun for adults too.

nature (*new* click here for a map of where these places are):
-small park on vantaa river in oulunkylä off käskynhaltijantie road. found this nice park after running an errand one day. it has open grassy areas with trails along the river. there are two docks on the river and a tree across the way that we saw people jumping out of into the river. the minnows were friendly (we hand-fed them) and the river wasnt that cold (for dipping your feet in). on another day, we walked from our neighborhood up along the river to this same park/spot. that walk was filled with flowers and calming trees.

(cattails in the park)

-kaisaniemi botanical gardens (the outside part). we just walked a small part of it and then went out to the water. it was a quiet, grey day but the cafe and greenhouses looked inviting. i think we will come back in the winter.

-suomenlinna beach. on the fortress island of suomenlinna there is a beach cut away from some high-ish rocks. the beach is tiny and crowded on a nice day. in fact the whole island is littered with people in a nice day, not surprisingly. id like to go back and find the quiet, out of the way nooks of the island though.

(the inlet to the beach. the beach is actually off a bit more to the right. you can see the city far off in the distance of the picture)

-malmi cemetery (malmin hautausmaa). finlands largest cemetery. it has lots of flowers and trees and serene hideaways. it almost makes me want to be buried instead of cremated. it is a place we get to visit often because it is a nice shortcut to the nearby recycle center. there is even a cafe for lunch on the grounds, with a terrace in the summer, which i hear is actually a decent place to eat.

-kumpula botanical gardens. this is just behind and down the hill from daves campus. set on and below a hill, this botanical garden is on an old estate i think. there are some nice mansion-type buildings, a cafe, walking paths with different areas of gardens and a lovely pond. X and i caught water boatsman bugs there and had a great time despite the threat of storms that day.

-malmi-to-pihlajamäki walk along a creek. we took the bus up a few stops to the malmi neighborhood, found a path along a little creek and wandered our way along it back toward home. we stopped to play in the water a few times, found a playground, discovered an enormous and vibrant community garden area, and found an area with a heap of wildflowers growing along the waters edge. definitely a nice sunday morning stroll.

-winter gardens outdoor rose garden. in front of the greenhouses, this was a beautifully manicured rose garden with secret hiding spot bushes. children were running around and having fun too.

-annala gardens and mansion. this estate and farmland is in one of our favorite areas, arabia and the vanhakaupunki bay and nature area that we so love. this is just another reason to gush. from the road this appears to be a mansion set on a rolling hill with a well groomed lawn and flowers in the front, but its much more, there are thick woods, exposed boulders to climb, bridges and trails on the land surrounding the mansion and there is a food and flower garden behind the mansion with a few small areas for horses to roam. it is such a lovely place, and to find it in full bloom in mid-august was divine.

-alppipuisto (alpine park). this park is behind the amusement park (linnanmäki) and sits between the train tracks and a working class neighborhood which would be fine except that being a huge outdoor concert venue does nothing to help keep the park clean or free of graffiti, and so it then seems the perfect place for boozy male lay-abouts to sun themselves in the middle of the day. it wasnt at the level that i felt unsafe (im not sure finland even has that level), but it just really wasnt the kind of park that i would return to, which is a shame.

-latokartano park. this area has a lot going for it in the summer: trails and greenery, wide open grass, sports fields, schools and playgrounds, streams, and a boulder hill with a forest behind it. im not sure it would be of much interest in the winter, but the apartments bordering it looked very nice interspersed with so much green and garden space.

-eiranranta. the south-western waterfront of the helsinki peninsula. a nice beach, coastline, and park/walking area. it follows around the east of the peninsula to kaivopuisto. all along the way are ice cream stands and cafes and the citys wealthy people and young families out enjoying themselves. there are a few nice playgrounds down this way too. its quite crowded though so its not my favorite place in the city, but good for visitors.

-viikkinranta coast/forest. this was the connector part of the pathways between vanhakaupunki and the viikki arboretum that we hadnt done yet. my. goodness. what beauty. this is certainly a place to come for a fall walk, without the stroller perhaps. the trail we took started out big and wide but definitely was not a stroller trail in the middle. but we encountered few people and kilometers of natural beauty. all capable visitors will be shown this area. bring your walking shoes.

-pihlajamäki cliffs. a 360 degree view of several of our surrounding neighborhoods. this is a cliff area with exposed rock, trees, low vegetation and is a place for many different kinds of people to enjoy.

-aseanic. an asian food market. everything japanese, chinese, thai, vietnamese, korean and perhaps otherwise that you could imagine. we got our rice wraps here for a new dinner meal to make for guests.

-kanniston leipomo. a bakery and treat shop in the busy city center but the place seems like a little hidden nook. we got a tasty blueberry bar and some simple, yet delicious ginger cookies.

-world bites festival. held in the teurastamo (abatoir) courtyard in east downtown helsinki. a nice hideaway area where food and community and urban seem to be evolving together. i always see interesting things going on over there. we had some african dishes and a dutch stroopwafel (syrup waffle) as dessert. yum. and there was music too.

-international market at kamppi. this was a gathering of international tents. mostly stuff we didnt need, but a french bakery, austrian strudel tent, german pretzel tent, and german grilling tents did entice my tastebuds.

-yobot. a frozen yogurt do-it-yourself place opened by an ex-pat american. this frozen yogurt, however, tastes like actual yogurt that was simply frozen. its not overly sugary, thats what the toppings are for, you can do it up kid-style or keep it really healthy. i like that. we will go back again.

-k-rauta. a finnish home depot. fun to go through the bathroom showroom area. such different cabinet, sink, and tub designs.

-eurokauppa. like a dollar store. mostly junk, but decent to browse on rare occasion.

finn notables:
-all lost and found items from city transit and otherwise get funnelled to a private company called "found finland". its kinda weird, but i guess its easier to keep it organized and functioning well if its managed by a company in a central location. but, you have to pay to even ask about a lost item, however, they will ship it anywhere in the world if it is found.

-july is really the time when finns flee the city (to their secluded forest cottages [mökki] on a lake). you arent getting "real finland" if you come to visit in july. june and august assume a more relaxed summer schedule than the other fall-winter-spring months, but july its just eerily quiet around here.

-the second weekend in august is the unofficial end of summer around here. the first leaves actually started turning yellow and falling this weekend. before my birthday!!??

24 August 2013

And dave goes off to germany...

our first separation in finland. dave to germany, X and i keeping to our regular life in helsinki. it went well.

dave attended a 4 day himalaya/tibet conference in tübingen, germany. he gave a talk and led some of the conference sessions and enjoyed the work trip for the most part.

meanwhile, back in finland, X and i did great. dave was kind enough to leave us with 4 dinners worth of food, so we had little to stress about while he was gone. and, with daycare to provide some "me" time in the morning and the "me" time after X went to bed, i had nothing to complain about. id say it was a success for everyone.

16 August 2013

Birthday: balloons and breakfast

a simple birthday, but dave and X made it special.

with no babysitters around, it can be hard to find some adults-only time, but dave managed the feat. he got up early and made me perfect blueberry scones even though he had sworn off making them because the butter pisses him off, then he did the dishes. all before i woke up. X woke up happily and got ready for daycare and it was easy to drop her off. back at home, dave decided to go in to work late to allow for a short morning date. we ate breakfast together and watched an episode or two of Friends. at some point he told me he had secretly booked plane tickets and was in the process of confirming a place to stay in copenhagen for late october after his class duties are over. such a nice surprise, and while its a trip for everyone of course, its nice to have someone else with the excitement and enthusiasm to plan it. im looking forward to it, a chance for all of us to relax and have a little fun.

(the delicious scones; my birthday date)

the rest of my birthday was wonderful too, starting with the weather. we had just previously had a series of cool, grey, wet days but for my birthday we got 70F, sunny, breezy, and lovely. after dave left, i walked past Xs daycare to watch her playing on the playground during her daycares outside time. it was fun to see her enjoying herself with her friends. i then continued my walk, going through the nearby cemetery with its last bursts of summer flowers brightly cheering everything up.

(the cemeterys reflection fountain)

later, i picked X up from daycare and we took the bus down to daves work to have lunch with him. then, X and i headed off to linnanmäki (helsinkis amusement park) to find some rides we hadnt been on before and to ride our absolute favorite, the balloon ride. we also managed to share an ice cream cone with sprinkles before we left the park.

(at linnanmäki)

to finish off the birthday, in the evening, we all went into the city center for dinner (from burrito food truck "tortilla house") and the kick-off celebration for the two week long helsinki festival. on the main market square they had an "urban horn concert" complete with the icebreaker "urho" doing manuevers out in the harbor and blasting its horns in time to the other music (normally the icebreaker is parked for the summer, but this was a special outing, weird to see an icebreaker in clear summer waters) as well as at least a half dozen hot air balloons magically floating from west to east across the market square area (the hot air balloons were equipped with horns as well). it was a rather strange event, but it actually held Xs attention and we all had a nice time slowly walking home after a busy day.

(urho in the background facing the square)

06 August 2013

Fun finn facts #4: healthcare

weve had a few visits to doctors and dentists since being here and so i have some level of ability to discuss the healthcare system here, i think.

- your medical information is associated with your social security number. your health card has this number on it and a barcode (the health card is called the Kela card). some might say this is a centralized, government-directly-in-my-personal-business kind of thing and i suppose you could look at it like that, but it hasnt felt invasive at all so far. in fact, it means i dont have to keep as many records and be in charge of as many health related things as i would in another country. you arrive anywhere, with your kela card, and they can get your whole damn health file staring at them on the computer in a matter of seconds.

- it also means public health analyses are phenomenal (so ive heard), because the government has access to health data on essentially all of its citizens. theyve basically got census-level data on all health conditions, and can thus be very informed on the state and degree of health issues of their people.

- kids are covered for basically everything up until age 12, i think. this means eyes, dental, everything (as far as i know).

- there are health centers planted in each neighborhood (or sometimes a few neighborhoods share a health center), and while they used to require you to get non-urgent medical attention only from your nearest health center, they changed the rule and now you can go to any health center you want for your general health care needs. these centers provide walk-in/urgent health visits, prenatal monitoring, well-visit appointments, dental, and laboratory services all in one building. you call one number for children well-visit needs and another number for walk-in/adult well-visit needs. you listen to a recording and it saves your phone number and calls you back when a nurse is available (call backs have usually been within a couple hours, and have all been able to speak english). well-visit appointments for kids are usually scheduled within 1-2 weeks of calling. adult well-visits are usually within 2-4 weeks of calling (in my short experience). this was a tad longer than the waits in canada i suppose, but it feels fine to me. you are of course always able to go to a private clinic and get an appointment sooner.

- doctor/nurse/lab visits done through the public health (kela card) system are free, theres not even a co-pay. and from what weve seen, for the most part you dont check in with an administrative person, you are assigned your appointment day and time and the room number that you are to wait outside of. the doctor comes out at the appointed time and takes you straight in and checks you in through his/her computer system when your card is scanned.

- for kids, well-visits are done by public health nurses at preschool ages (starting at age 4, we went this year for age 3, but its not a regularly scheduled year). they get doctor well-visits at certain ages too (4-6 weeks, 4 months, 8 months, 1.5 years, and 4 years). for sick visits, they assess the need on the phone and schedule an appointment based on urgency.

- for women with no history of issues, paps are only recommended every 2 years, or if you are a finnish citizen, they will call you every 5 years to remind you...if you let it go that long. for men they dont really do physicals until later years, unless there are smoking, heavy drinking, drug issues, or a family history of severe illnesses that would bring the person in earlier or more frequently. in the 30-40 year age range, men need only come in a few times for cholesterol and blood pressure checks.

- due to daycare, we required a doctor visit about Xs food sensitivities. the doctor ordered an allergy test and a blood test to be done. the allergy test was set up 2 weeks after it was suggested (the appointment info was sent in the mail) and was easy to reschedule to another upcoming day. once the doctor input the blood draw request into the system, it meant we could walk in to any blood draw station and have her blood drawn. the results of all tests become available for the regular doctor as they are processed (and we are sent a copy of results as well), and she had them at her fingertips on our appointment day to discuss results. it all seems so easy, and yet their doctor offices are not fancy, high tech spaces. they are comfortable and average, and i dont feel rushed, and so far having someone speak to us in english has been easy.

- as for the allergy test specifically, it was quick and easy and the lady was very kind. the blood draw in the same building was frightening though. i assume they must fairly regularly draw on kids, but the lady used an adult gauge needle and had it dripping into an open topped tube. it was bizarre and horrible. i was trying to stay cool for X but her poor arms were bruised (they had to poke the other arm to try for more blood) and they had to move the needle around a bunch to try to get blood to come out. i still shudder thinking about it, but a friends daughter needed blood drawn here and said it was fine, a little butterfly needle was used and it went well. so, i HOPE we never encounter that again.

- X had her 3 year old dental visit. this is a regularly scheduled visit performed by a hygienist (they do them at ages 1, 3, 5, and then more regularly as the children start losing their baby teeth). she basically makes sure all milk teeth have erupted and that no dental or orthodontic work needs to be done for the child yet. she surveyed our success at teeth cleaning and gave some standard, age-appropriate advice about dental care.

- i went for a check-up at some point too. the lady spoke english and was very helpful with answering my "this is my first adult encounter with the finnish medical system, how does this work" questions. i basically wanted the annual lady exam. *TMI alert * she had me get up on ye old medical table and take off my bottoms. it was different in that there wasnt a big charade with privacy curtains or leaving the room or getting out a huge drop cloth. she wasnt staring at me or anything and i felt like i had privacy to disrobe, it just wasnt a big production. also, though she did do other parts of the exam at this visit, i still needed to do the pap smear part down at the lab. so, she entered the pap request into the system and i just showed up later at the lab with my health card and they knew what test i needed. the results got put in the system so when my doctor called me back for our (pre-arranged) phone appointment in a few weeks, she had all the info she needed. easy peasy.

- my follow-up phone appointment was helpful and fast. she ordered a blood test for me as i requested (ive been inexplicably fatigued for several months). she also mentioned that i could go to the health center and sign a consent to allow for electronic communication with the doctor about the blood results. as it turned out i actually couldnt do the electronic message system because i have no ability to acceptably validate my identity in order to get on the secured health website (i would need to have my own bank account), but i was able to go to the health center and quickly get a print out of the test result message from the doctor.