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.**