30 June 2014

Reading/watching - First half of 2014

books:
-i read bestsellers 'whered you go bernadette' and 'me before you' but thought they were just fiction filler. unless its a certain kind of funny, thought provoking, or romance (when im in the mood), fiction just doesnt grab me as much as non-fiction. and even then non-fiction has to be the right kind of interesting person or subject to draw me in. ive noticed that christopher hitchens and kurt vonnegut are the kinds of writers who i will read whatever they write, regardless of subject matter and always have a good time. so perhaps rather than going after the latest bestseller i should really just find what i like and bathe in it, letting those stories guide me to new ones.

-stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers. 4/5. non-fiction with about 13 chapters of information on various things that dead human bodies get used for or have had done to them throughout history. i thought it was interesting, and was presented with humor as well as respect. michigan was mentioned several times in various chapters pertaining to cadaver use and disposal. it really turned out to be an interesting topic for a book.

-the edge of never. 4/5. this was a good relationship book, but id be hard pressed to call it a typical romance novel. i really enjoyed the use of the greek lovers story of eurydice and orpheus too. i would recommend this to anyone who just wants a good solid love story to read.

-welcome to the monkey house. 4/5. a collection of early kurt vonnegut short stories. he has written about all manner of random topics, but most of the time with a special twist that always makes you think, usually in such a way that your horizons are broadened and your acceptance of something that is 'other' comes more easily. i need to get more of his books.

movies:
-don jon. 4/5. joseph gordon-levitt wrote, directed and starred in this one. love him. good story about the reality (or non-reality) of romantic movies and porn and about finding and making real connections with people. it was something different in a genre littered with formulas.

-blended. 4/5. another romantic comedy starring drew barrymore and adam sandler. their first two movies together were so great that this one couldnt beat those, but it was still fun. they have a goofy, sweet chemistry that just works in whatever off-beat plot they wander through. it started out a bit too silly, but they reined it in and it was really cute and sweet. there were tears and laughs and an adorable 'blended family' story. adam sandler hasnt done much well in the past several years, but i think he must see he needs to stick with drew.

20 June 2014

End of spring 2014 - city summary

weather: we had a super lovely early-arriving spring with unprecedented sunshine and warmth. whereas last year we were still waiting for the snow to completely melt into may, this year we were seeing wildflowers and tree buds in april. it was great. later in the spring we actually gained more cool and rainy days. sometimes it hardly feels like summer is around the corner. i think its really been frustrating the finns. we had snow for a few minutes on june 18! for me, this one particular year, i must say im enjoying it. to have the mix of sun and clouds, warm and cold days, its keeping me from being a sweaty, hot, uncomfortable, grumpy pregnant lady. so this year i am okay. and if we want to have an indian summer later, once kiddo is born. i am ALL for that. :)
(spring evening family walk)
kid-friendly:
-petexpo. this was held in the messukeskus and had mostly purebred cats and dogs, but also lizards, frogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, hedgehogs, and a whole host of other exotic pets. there wasnt much for the uninterested adult, but X and her little friend who went with us loved it. X wanted to go up and down every aisle of cat carriers and peek inside. we were pressed for time so we couldnt see all the exotic animals which was a real bummer for her, we will have to return next year.

-samba carnaval. this is a music and dance festival that takes place on senate square. in the later afternoon there is a parade through the downtown. thankfully X dozed before the parade because then she had the energy and patience to handle the nearly 2 hour parade extravaganza! wow, its been a while since ive seen one that long. but with all the music, dancing, feathers, and costumes, it was definitely a worthwhile time, perhaps not something i have the stamina to do every year, but it was fun.


adult-friendly:
-helsinki fashion house. this is mostly a wholesale place, i think, but they have big sales open to the public here a few times a year, we went in mid-march. a friend invited us so we took our girls and wandered around looking for deals. we ended up with some nice kid accessories (winter hat and mittens, a few princess items, and some nail polish). we also had a nice post-shopping break in the downstairs cafeteria with a sweet treat. it was crowded, for finland, but absolutely NOTHING compared to american-crowded. i can handle that any year. in fact, it might be a fun mother-daughter thing.

-helsinki university great hall. dave and i went to an award event here (he had won a grant earlier in the year). its one of the universitys oldest and most formal buildings. it was a pretty space, but i think having UMs law quad buildings to compare them to meant it wasnt especially impressive for me. and the event itself was un.believably. boring. the monotone of the administrative speakers and the contrived speeches that the guest speakers were forced to take part in, coupled with the weird interlude of a jazz ensemble was almost too much for me. afterward there was an appetizer/champagne reception. we grabbed some food and bolted. i told dave he will fly solo if he is invited to one of those again.


(reception food; dave liked the practical champagne glass holder that was attached to each dish)

nature:
-håkansbölen kartano in vantaa. our landlords invited us to lunch the day after easter and we happily accepted. after eating our tasty meal (hungarian goulash and 'american-style' cheesecake) we went for a walk on the beautiful, natural, public, estate lands that border their backyard. rolling hills, a mansion, stables, streams, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing trails. very serene.

food:
-sandro. this restaurant is in the artist/hipster neighborhood of kallio, but had quite a varied clientele when we went for brunch. the atmosphere was really nice, there were beautiful spreads of food (tasty north african/middle eastern dishes) bursting with really great flavors. its definitely worth the price every so often.

-kaski. this is in the latokartano neighborhood nearby. we were too strapped for time to shop or cook one weekday dinner, so we tried this place. it had a nice atmosphere, friendly waitress, decent food choices/prices and it tasted pretty good.

-ristorante dennis. this is a local chain of pizza restaurants with gluten-free options. the pizza was tasty, there were lots of choices, and its a nice place for kids too. im happy to find another good eat-out place.


(she loves her pineapple/ham pizzas)

-manteli lounas. this is the cafeteria for the business park across the street from my work. the full lunch buffet is close to 10€, but the food is good. its too pricey to be a regular choice, but if there is nothing palatable at the university cafeteria at least i have a second option.

-koti pizza. a local take-out pizza joint, great for those times when we just dont want to cook. its in the next town over so we still have to make the plan to either do the bus round-trip (at least you can pre-order your pizza on-line) or choke on the 8+ € delivery fee.

-kosken ranta. a cafe/restaurant at the waters edge in vanhakaupunki. it has outdoor seating and overlooks our favorite nature spot in the city. X and i stopped in to have a dessert after a picnic one fine spring day. i have to say, this place is great, we will be back.


(post-dessert happiness in the wildflowers)

-martina. a generic cafe/bistro place. we had an average lunch here one day. we had wanted to try the place around the corner, but it was closed and this turned out to be a tolerable alternative.

shops:
-punavuoren peikko. a kids clothing store in the downtown design district. they carry finnish and some other nordic country designs. some of the brands are at decent prices, others are pretty pricey. but its on a nice block in a nice neighborhood, so its worth a stop-in anyhow.

-international market on hakaniemi square. this occurs the first sunday of each month. tents on the outside market square of hakaniemi are set-up selling a number of things, mostly food. its a nice place to walk through with the family.


(actually not international, these are fried finnish fish at the international market)

re-visits:
-falkulla farm. we went here on a sunny sunday afternoon with friends. we had a picnic and X and her friend rode their bikes, they fed the goats copious amounts of greens and everyone had a lovely time...despite the heat and sunburns (on the adults, not the kiddo).


(feeding goats)

-arabian street festival. we did this neighborhood block party-type thing again this year. the weather was totally perfect this year (last year it was rainy). the yard sales, music, dancing, street performing, graffiti artists, art students crafts and wares, children and children activities, treats, and the sales at the finnish home design stores were so fun. and being able to do them all in basically a one block area was great. i think we'll be doing this one every year.

(first chocolate ice cream cone, ever, at the street festival. it was a hit. lol)

finn notables:
-i love hearing non-americans size up people of other nationalities. my doula was telling me that when it comes to work ethic and work behavior, norwegians are similar to finns. they get to the point, make a plan, and do what needs to be done. she mentioned swedes as being more wishy-washy and that you can come away from a meeting with swedes with pages full of notes that dont amount to much and still wonder what the plan is and what your role is. but her opinions on the danes were really amusing. as a people, in general, she said that since the danish people are from the oldest kingdom in europe, they tend to think and act as if they are superior. her opinion on their work behavior was that they will race to be the first to apply for project funding, describing some lofty idea, but when it comes time to put the plan in place they have no practical details laid out for how to actually get it done step-by-step.

-from work colleagues, (im learning all kinds of 'insider' tidbits. i love it) i was told more about drinking behaviors in finland. the finnish guys i ate with one day said that the purpose of drinking in finland is to get drunk. its not about pairing a well-selected bottle of wine with the perfect meal, or about that one glass of celebratory bubbly, or that high quality drink to wind down at the end of the weekday...no, you drink...to get drunk. this explains the VERY typical weekend drinking purchases i see of perhaps about 80% of people at the grocery store buying 8-12 cans of the cheapest/shittiest beer on the shelves. this is their serving size to get drunk. working people only do this drunk drinking on weekends because they dont want their behavior to interfere with their ability to do quality work. however, i am also told that, at least for the typical person, driving is taken very seriously surrounding drinking issues. if you have two beers, you know to take yourself out of the driving pool. even one drink of something stronger than beer and you are designating someone sober to drive.

-i think this alcohol behavior also helps crack the code on finns coffee consumption and other curiosities. along the same 'drink to get drunk' goal, i think their coffee goal is 'drink to get buzzed'. i have read that finns are something like the worlds leaders in coffee consumption, per capita, and yet all ive heard is how crap the coffee offerings are here. dont think that because consumption is high that flavor and quality rivals france, italy, turkey, or other countries where i hear coffee actually tastes like something worthy of being praised.

and then it got me thinking...well, this northern country has had a long history of harsh winters, isolation from much of the rest of the world (which includes the fact that waterways were iced over much of the year before the times of powerful icebreaker ships, so nothing could get in or out), and even once technologies were opening the world up to them, the world wars hit and there was lots of uncertainty for finns. when they made the goal to buckle down and pay off their war debts, it kept their behaviors in the frugal zone. since they werent importing lots of fancy foods from warmer climates they were doing what they could with their meat, fish, potatoes, and other root vegetable staples and basically eating to be full (to go along with drinking to get drunk and caffeinating to get buzzed, regardless of quality). armed with their traditions and sisu, they marched along accepting these realities, and actually made their country a wonderful place to be alive, even if it meant not having fancy, extravagant luxuries in food and frivolous indulgences (though this is slowly changing, of course). it certainly puts the people and their ways in greater perspective.

-easter dessert. so the traditional easter dessert here called is mämmi. its basically water, rye flour, and molasses. i cant try it because of the gluten but dave said it basically tastes like molasses pudding. not something he would crave, but edible. X seemed to think it was decent, though not awesome. i must say too that if you wanted to make something edible that looked like fake poo...this would be the stuff. very realistic. :)

-this year, with easter being late and vappu/may day (may 1) shortly thereafter, i think tons of people used this excuse (coupled with the unprecedented lovely weather) to just get the hell out of town. even the week before easter, over palm sunday weekend, people were leaving in droves. according to peoples behavior at work this was a good time to take 2-3 weeks off. i really want to get into this finnish vacation groove some year soon. also, with the month of may comes like 5 public holidays, so really its a quick (some might say bipolar) changeover from the hardworking, dull, hermit-like winter finnish behavior to the relaxed escape-ism of the warmer weather vacationing behavior.

-further, any nice weather day along the way before true summer vacation comes is fair game for finns to leave work early. they really watch the weather updates and especially if cooler, grey weather is on the horizon, a sunny warm day will nearly guarantee people are leaving work early to be outside, have bbqs, take the kids to playgrounds, get out of town...it can almost make you feel like there was a hurricane evacuation issued, thats how many people have the same idea at the same time.

-work sabbaticals. (note: the exact details may be a bit off here, but the general program exists in finland). a finnish mom friend was telling me that in finland, once youve been in the work force for something like ~10 years, you can take, essentially, a sabbatical. this where you get 6 months off work with something like 75% of your pay while you are off doing whatever you want...vacationing, focusing on a serious hobby, watching tv, whatever. they take someone else out of the unemployment pool to fill your position in the interim and your job is held for you to come back to. you can take this sabbatical something like every 5 years or so. ive certainly heard of this in the academic world, however usually sabbatical there implies you are still doing work, but you are permitted to do it at another institution, as a way to further your collaboration bonds. its SO cool to hear about it as an option for all jobs here. and you get a real break.

-of all the salad bars ive seen here, ive never seen one with shredded cheese as a choice, despite their massive love of dairy here.

-we went to our bank to open a savings account and get advice on other investments. we got the savings account, but it turns out that due to u.s. regulations we are unable to get advice about how to invest our money in another country. to the womans knowledge, we are the only country in the world with this rule.

-i got my finnish drivers license. it took some paperwork and collecting some items before applying, but it only cost 51€ and expires in 15 years! awesome.

-id say that the longer daylight hours started affecting my sleep in mid-may, so i dug out an airplane sleeping mask. it helps, but in the weeks surrounding midsummer its just hard for me to get real rest. its a sleep challenge of a different sort, compared to winter, but its still a challenge i dont really enjoy. it seems my body is still most used to its american life, which is most closely approximated here in the months surrounding the spring and fall equinoxes.

-midsummers eve. this is the day before summer solstice. it is celebrated here in finland with lots of drinking, bbqing, and sitting around bonfires all day/night at your woodland cottage. the highways are packed the days before midsummer as people are leaving the city in droves to start their official summer vacation...to be back in early august, if theyre lucky.

15 June 2014

Turks out naantali is lovely but boo to moominworld

i really wanted to see one new part of finland before our summer and lives got crazy. we had a free weekend where we werent ready to prep for the apartment move yet and were able to easily get away, so we seized the chance and went to the western coast of finland, kind of in the middle of the archipelago region. what a lovely little getaway, but it only makes me want more. more. more!

saturday:
we rented a car, which we picked up after breakfast. the road west was nice, full of trees, wildflowers, and tunnels. plus, we got to test out a finnish rest stop (clean/nice), but when we got out of the car we were hit with more grey, wind, rain, and cold than we had dressed for. we werent quite to our destination (the weather hadnt been predicted to be this cold) yet so we hoped for the best. it was still grey when we arrived in turku but the temperature and wind were more manageable.

turku is the oldest city in finland and used to be the capital (until it was moved to helsinki in 1812, when russia was in charge). also, being on the western side of finland, there is more of a swedish-speaking population here, the citys swedish name is åbo. when we drove into turku it seemed like a hodge podge of building types and time periods, at least from the direction we entered town. we parked near the market square and made our way to lunch: china & thai palace. yum, the food was simple, fast, and flavorful. we hadnt had good thai in a while so we were pleased.

(lunch noodles)

after lunch we went down the block to the fantastic main library branch. since the weather was still kind of yucky we were happy to go in and explore. there were so many nooks and creative spots for kids and kids at heart, so much more than dusty books on shelves to intrigue the mind, and the library had one wall of all glass windows looking out onto an interesting courtyard with art sculptures too. the place was almost too interesting, we didnt actually get any reading in. lol.

(one of many views of the kids area)

our next stop was the 100+ year old toy store called casagrande. the shelf presentation wasnt anything to write home about, but the toy selection was wonderful, and the owner was chatty. we ended up getting a new animal toy for X (a snake) and some awesome kinetic sand (really cool product from swedish company, waba fun). we also found out we can email the owner to have toys mailed to us (even though the store doesnt actually have a webstore), so that will come in handy for unique things at gift-giving times.

then we started just wandering around. we made it into the turku market hall and got some treats (GF vanilla/cherry pulla, raspberry macaroon, gingerbread cookie, and an apple pulla) and then walked a few blocks along the citys central canal/river. there was certainly lots more to see, but we were ready to just settle into our cottage and relax a bit. so, we grabbed some simple dinner stuff from the grocery store and headed 15 minutes north toward the town of naantali.

(turku market hall. so far, all the finnish market halls weve encountered look similar)

we checked in to our little red cottage at tammiston tila, a nice piece of property with an old wooden farmhouse, gardens, and a few cottages. after exploring the grounds for bit, we had a dinner of fruit and sandwiches. then we headed into picturesque naantali in search of dessert and a nice end to the evening. we won on both accounts. the town was rather packed because it was the final night of their music festival and the sun had finally decided to make its glorious appearance. the little harbor of naantali is perfectly situated to soak up every ounce of the eternal summer sun of finland. the town seemed very much like the little coastal tourist town gems of northern and UP michigan. it was so lively by the water, and the place was filled with families and couples of all ages, it could enchant anyone. we got ice cream from a little window and sat in the sun by the docks people and animal watching. then we wandered around, played at a playground, and headed back to the cottage.

(naantali harbor; playground fun)

sunday:
in the morning, breakfast was served in the bright and comfy farmhouse dining room. the selection was perhaps good for most peoples diets but it was certainly not that great for people needing gluten free fare (probably the least varied offerings ive had at any nordic place weve been). to add to our leaving day experience, when we checked out we found out the linens we had rented for the cottage were 12€/person!! are you f-ing kidding me!? the cottage was quaint and the property was nice, but i cant possibly fathom going back there. nope. unfortunately this was just the beginning of our costly day because our destination was moominworld (the disney-like franchise of finland).

we did manage to dodge the 8€ parking fee for moominworld and just parked on the street in naantali. we did take the (free) moominworld train from the naantali town church to the bridge onto the island. the park entrance was 25€/person (only kids under age 2 are free)! while i will say that the island the theme park is situated on is very naturally beautiful and serene it is not worth the price, in general. when we first entered the park, we did the walking/exploring adventure through the moomin side characters storyland. and that was fun, though a little scary in tone at times (i have found that nordic stories/authors for kids are not afraid to be a little scary or 'controversial'). then we toured the whole of the moomin familys iconic house (up to the 4th floor attic and down to the cellar). and next was moominpapas area, that was fun because of the water play area.

(bridge at the end of the storyland; water play in moominpapa area)

lastly, we continued along the forested trail past moominpapas with little stopping points of other lesser characters play areas. there was a 'barefoot trail' where you were invited to take your shoes off and walk on sand, rocks, smooth stone, and through water. X loved that, but ended up slipping in the water and needing to change her clothes. then our visit descended to its dissatisfying (at least for the adults) ending. we had a nearly 40€ lunch at 'moominmamas kitchen'. it was a buffet place (which we thought would be better than the hamburger/hot dog/fries stands elsewhere) with mostly meatball, hot dog and mashed potato offerings with a few additional soggy or bland foods. and again there wasnt very much for me to choose from. sucked. then we zipped through the gift shop where there were thumb sized moomin figurines for nearly 5€/each. ha! we left that place empty-handed. and we completed our moominworld day by catching a moomin musical show that was going on by the entrance/exit of the park. what a dull and uninspired show. ugh.

(barefoot trail)

so, in summary, the park was situated on a truly lovely island in a great little gem of a town...the rest...was crap. it was the most un-finnish place weve been to since we lived here, and if they were trying to take a page from american theme parks/tourism they only really seemed to have stolen the yucky parts, with just enough 'finnish'-ness sprinkled in to be offensive and feel manipulative. the moomin franchise has actually slowly been bugging me more and more since weve lived here. its the biggest literary export of finland and the characters are all over the country and are basically a symbol of childhood. the stories seem wonderful (they are for older kids so we havent gotten to reading them for ourselves) but the branding and usage rights for the commercial aspect of the famous family are distasteful, at least in contrast to the rest of finnish culture. its so off-putting that i think i will be avoiding pretty much all moomin things in the future, except for the books. thats where the real, original enchantment and value is.

anyway, to end our trip, we walked off moominworld and stripped off the yucky feeling to be re-wrapped in the loveliness that is naantali. its called the sunshine town for a reason. the sun brightens up its harborfront for pretty much the whole day in the summer. we absorbed the energy of the relaxing people, got ourselves another ice cream treat, and ended our mini vacation on a good note. heres hoping we make it back to the west coast sometime soon.

12 June 2014

Dave work update - 1.5 years on the job

upon winning his second grant funding, i think its appropriate to summarize whats been up with dave at work since the last update, last year (for those who care). i also like lists so this was fun to make, but it did feel like i was an HR person interviewing him for an employee performance review. lol.

scientific papers: 3 papers from previous dalhousie work got published, 1 PhD paper still in the works, 3 dalhousie papers in the works, several other dalhousie-based papers to come

grant money: 2 personal grants (funding for one PhD student and one post-doc) were funded [total: 600K €], as well as being awarded a grant for special computing time on a cluster. also, 1 of 2 collaborative grants applied for were successful.

research group: 1 PhD student in helsinki, 1 summer 2014 undergrad in helsinki, 1 future post-doc in helsinki, on supervisory committee for 3 students (1 PhD, 2 Masters) at dalhousie

courses taught: fall 2013 (geodynamics - grad), spring 2014 (introduction to quantitative geology - undergrad)

conferences/meetings:  germany (HKT workshop, gave a talk, august 2013), san fransisco (AGU, gave a talk, december 2013), espoo, finland (finnish national colloquium of geosciences, gave a talk, march 2014), austria (EGU, gave a talk and was a co-author on 2 posters, april 2014)

committees: 4 (co-coordinator for joint geo-physics program, co-coordinator for department seminar series, steering committee member for lithosphere 2014 symposium, member of "eco" [evolving continents] research community)

other notables: did 2 weeks of work at dalhousie in summer 2013, hosted dalhousie student for 4 days in april 2014, hosted PhD advisor todd (1 week) and todds PhD student (3.5 weeks) from tübingen in may 2014, in charge of departmental funding to design and purchase a high-performance computer cluster, a reviewer for a finnish energy project, a reviewer for 3 peer-reviewed journal articles and 1 NSF grant.

coming up in the next year will be: apply for ERC (european research counsel) starting grant in 2015, attempt to fund another PhD student, continue teaching his 2 courses for 2014-2015, plus he will add a co-taught course (fall 2014 - lithospheric structure and dynamics - grad), attend lithosphere 2014 symposium and EGU 2015 meetings, do collaborative work in pittsburgh, halifax, and norway. *

** his original work contract is for 4 years (until the end of 2016), at the end of this time he will be evaluated to be given a further 3-5 year work contract. at the end of that time, he would be re-evaluated and either given or denied tenure. he is currently meeting all or most of the expected tenure-track 'milestones'. over the past year he has been settling in more, finding his place, contributing to and participating in his academic community, and making research and casual bonds stronger. so its nice that both in family and work life things are going well for us here in finland, currently. **