28 February 2015

February 28 - kalevala flag day

this flag day is in honor of the first publication (1835) of the national epic poem, the kalevala. it is also generally celebrated as finnish culture day.

it was 'written' by elias lönnrot, a physician, botanist and linguist. apparently, he collected the finnish folk songs/stories for the kalevala in between his studies and various posts as a doctor. from what i gather he made about a dozen trips to the karelian (western) border area of finland. apparently he didnt so much write the epic poem as weave the bits of songs/stories he collected together.

the collected work of finnish mythology has 50 poems. there are stories of creation, magic, love, war, etc. i havent had a chance to read a translation, though apparently 5 english versions exist. its on my list, i just couldnt get to it in time this year. maybe next year i can ramble a bit about my reading of it.

we have, however, read a childrens book that turns one of the poems stories into a picture book (illustrated by barbara cooney, of 'miss rumphius' fame), called 'louhi, witch of north farm'. beautiful book. i bought it and highly recommend it to anyone interested, its definitely very finnish.

it should be obvious that the poem is very important to finns and their culture, it tells the tales of them and their lands and beliefs after all. it still influences modern finns and finland and im sure it will continue to do so for at least another 180 years.

22 February 2015

Oscarsss Ssstyle: sleek, sophisticated, safe

and weve come to the close of another awards season. the oscars dresses were lovely this year, but its certainly a polarizing time when people tend to either go safe or stupid. this year most people went safe, and thats okay. id say perhaps more than most years people looked very mature and sophisticated, demanding that they be taken seriously. i'll bite. but, it did make it hard to find anyone to call a favorite standout.

(cate blanchett nails the hair, makeup and gorgeous necklace. i wish i could see more detail on her dress but its a lovely silhouette; rene russo just popped back on the scene for a minute with her feminine waves. i like it. and keira knightley has schooled everyone on how to do award season while pregnant. she wins.) 
(other notables: rosamund! THIS is how you dress a body, post-baby or otherwise. the hair, makeup, and dress work for you. not a big fan of the slit, but i can get over it. and emma stone, i dont know what to do with the color exactly, but it goes nicely with your coloring and lipstick. love the dress detail and hair. and gwyneth paltrow, youve gotten so weird in recent years and this color is obviously a nod to your iconic [and boring, in my opinion] 1999 dress. but, the fit of the dress and the color work for you. the flower reminds me of charlize therons 2010 flower boobs, or paula pattons 2014 fabric waves, but its not totally offensive here) 
(jlo, it was a step up from your golden globe dress and i thought it was lovely...and then i saw it on another person and felt a little bad that it had to share the spotlight [with robert duvalls wife])
(couples were just kinda 'meh' this go around. sophie hunter [plus baby bump] and benedict cumberbatch looked sleek. channing and jenna tatum looked sleek and sophisticated as well)
  (jen, this dress looks like chic beach wear. blah. reese, the waist area is nice but the rest is blah and the slick-parted hair looks kinda greasy. julianne moore...come on, this is shapeless and looks like a disease under a microscope)
 (musical mistakes aka red herrings. singer lady gaga terrifies with those radioactive-protective red gloves. singer solange knowles looks like a she-devil. behati prinsloo [with singer husband adam levine] also looks like a disease under a microscope)
 (post-baby bodies. again, i dont want to point fingers, i want to applaud them in other ways, but their dress choices arent a reason. scarlett looks lovely in green and i like the hair and makeup, but the necklace and boob area are not doing it. zoe saldana just had twins. her hair and body look great, this dress color and boringness arent flattering. her vanity fair party dress was much more lovely.)

19 February 2015

End of the feline era in our household

our cat, nutmeg, has died.

only 8 months after dave and i started dating we thought it would be a good idea to embark on pet ownership (if only i had a time machine...), and that 14.5 year journey has come to an end. she lived with us in our first apartment on main street in ann arbor, and since then, apart from a few short stints living with others when it wasnt possible to be with us, she has been with us in two other apartments in ann arbor, to wyoming, two apartments in canada, and two apartments in finland. for an animal who cowered at the thought of change or travel she was really quite worldly.

but we loved her because she was not the typical cat in that she always wanted to be near people, to be touched, to be noticed, to be loved. she was a nice non-child household companion and an even better friend to the kids. she happily embraced both of them as soon as they came home from the hospital, always staying near them and being ever so patient with the hair/tail pullings.

we were all so lucky to have had a nice start to the morning with her. she had been limping a bit for the past few days which had happened before, she was old. i had petted her and massaged around to see if it was causing her pain and it wasnt. this morning, she cried out in pain while lying down and suddenly her hind legs stopped working, apparently a blood clot became lodged and had permanently and instantly paralyzed her. of course she freaked out and started getting sick, so we got her in the bathroom and X was able to comfort her a bit while dave cleaned up. i took X to daycare and made a call to the vet, mercifully they had an appointment in 30 minutes. dave and i took Y and the cat in a taxi. it didnt look good, it was heart failure and permanent paralysis and lots of pain. thankfully the choice was easy. i stayed with her while she was put into the comfortable sleep and then the final 'deep sleep' meds were given. and that was that. she was gone. i hope she enjoyed living with us, and im sorry she wont get anymore sunshine naps on the porch. thank you for your love kitty.

(her favorite places in the early days)
(enjoying life at our second ann arbor apartment)
(summer road trip to live with me in cheyenne, WY)
(halifax apartment. me preggo napping, her post-butt surgery napping with head cone)

(love from X)

(X sleep guardian)
(X friend)
(X & Y groupie)

13 February 2015

Vacation puts one in a good tamper-e[h]?

dave finished writing a big grant. to celebrate and take a break from the busy, we rented a car and got out of town. our first trip away from home as a foursome. we went north to tampere.

tampere is the third largest city in finland and the largest inland nordic city. it is/was an industrial center (it is/was home to the finlayson textile company, back in the day the company had its own little community and neighborhood, kind of like henry ford created in dearborn). it is a beautiful place however with two lakes and a river running through town, and most of the buildings were either made of brick or were the traditional finnish wooden houses. tampere is also famous for the delicacy 'blood sausage' (mustamakkara, literally 'black sausage'), dave had some and found it was very good. all in all, we had a nice trip.

*lessons learned that were not shocking*: 1. with two kids you take even fewer pictures on vacation. 2. its harder to manage the flow of the day to suit everyone's hunger, tiredness and fun levels.

tuesday: we got a late start to the days drive and so we stopped in hämeenlinna for lunch at zante. this was a business person's lunch place, thus, it was low on variety, and was not that exciting. afterward, we went to the town's häme castle. its a nice structure, a small unfancy castle. the amount of restoration that has been done on the inside made it rather lackluster, but the medieval narrow staircases, window nooks and toilet were interesting. the knights workshop that was a space designed for kids was seriously uninspired though. i think the castle visit, overall, would have been more beautiful in the summer, as it was built on a lake that is frozen over in the winter.

(real, untouched medieval toilet, it was in a little nook off a room and the hole when down several stories to some mystery ending point; narrow staircase)

back in the car, we drove the rest of way to tampere. we encountered some annoyingly confusing construction as we tried to get to the peninsula our hotel was on, but, we made it. we stayed in a historic brick building on a marina. the inside of the hotel kind of felt like a cruise ship. our apartment/studio room was a nice sized loft and was tucked in a pretty quiet corner. we had dinner downstairs at the classic pizza place. dave and i made a mistake getting the garlic sauce on our pizzas though, yuck. afterward, the kids played in the hotel's toy room and we just walked around and scoped the place out. bedtime went well but we were all tired.

(pizza on vacation!)

wednesday: we paid for the hotel's hot breakfast (at the ravintola arthur). it was a decent value for the selection though there was not much for me. we talked to an italian guy while making our waffles, he was quite nice and stood out from the finns because he actually spoke to us(!). he wondered how we ended up living in finland, was there a 'lack of opportunity' in the US he wanted to know. and during breakfast, we saw, as always, the finnish men with piles of mini sausages/hot dogs for breakfast (i guess this is no different than american piles of bacon and breakfast sausages, but something about hot dogs for breakfast seems weird to me).

after eating we decided to check out a toy store downtown to get something X had been asking us for, unfortunately the place (BR-lelut) sucked so we drove to stockmann. of course. we then proceeded to have lunch there. of course. we did find new beers and DELICIOUS gluten-free treats from a place called bönna. plus, we were able to buy a couple 'trash pack series 7' guys in the toy department and made X's week. then we drove back to the hotel and while i rested with Y, dave and X went to the hotel's spa/pool. for dinner X and dave had sandwiches and i went to the cafe (lapinniemen ansari) around the corner for some chicken soup and desserts to bring back. what a LOVELY place: romantic, eclectic, charming, cozy, unique, friendly, delicious. for desserts we got a blueberry pie slice and a chocolate fudge brownie.

thursday: oh, have i mentioned that i hate finnish showers? they are usually just a faucet spraying into an open space of the bathroom. the spray goes everywhere and you are expected to just squeegee the ponded water toward the drain after you are finished. the water swirls around the toilet, the shower is drafty because you need to heat the whole of the bathroom to be warm, and you generally feel worse afterward that before. i do not get it, except that it satisfies the finnish preferences for simplicity and ease of cleanliness (yes, its easy to keep a bathroom clean when you can basically hose the place down from top-to-bottom at your every whim), but its certainly not attractive or comfortable.

but i digress. i had to use the shower in the middle of the night with Y because he was congested and we werent getting any sleep. needless to say, the day got off to a slow start. we did end up at the vapriikki museum group, in a lovely old factory on the river, for the mineral museum and natural history museum. such beautiful bite-sized exhibits that were very accessible and interesting. we also ended up exploring the 'time to play' toy museum and the shoe factory museum and the museum shop. these museums grouped together in one building (we visited one in espoo over christmas break) are a great idea. we even had lunch in the museum overlooking the water. in the gift shop, X picked out an amethyst geode/crystal for a souvenir.

(fossils. photos by X)
(toy museum play area)

back at the hotel, we took it easy and went for a swim in the spa. 'spas' in finland are not what you think of a 'spa' in north america. they seem to mostly be a series of pools (pools with massage water streams, mineral pools, hot pools, cold pools) that are open for use to adults, children, seniors, handicapped people, etc to just relax in and enjoy. this place also had a baby pool, and the main large pool had a current that flowed every 20 minutes. Y had an absolute blast and X has been getting more impressive with her swimming. for dinner we all walked over to the cafe and had pea soup and finnish pancakes (it was thursday after all). it was such a beautiful little place, we were so lucky to have it nearby. before bed, X and dave popped out to a beer store to get some local brews that we cant get as easily in helsinki.

(traditional thursday meal: pea soup and pannukakku)
(he came for the bread)

friday: X and dave went swimming one last time before checkout. afterward, we drove to  vegetarian restaurant gopal for lunch. X tried all the things i put on her plate and raved about the meal (weeks later she still talks about it). im finding it is so nice to finish vacations with a vegetarian meal. then we walked to a bakery for some valentines treats and said our final farewell to tampere. everyone had a wonderful time. i think it is my favorite finnish city so far. the whole place seemed to be under construction though, it would be lovely to come back and see the improvements, and to see it shining in the summer.

05 February 2015

February 5 - runeberg flag day

happy birthday Johan Ludvig Runeberg!

so finland has a number of these 'flag days' that commemorate their most beloved/famous people. runeberg day is the first that comes each year and perhaps peoples most favorite, though i think this is primarily due to the dessert baring his name that can be found in the stores around this time.

anyway he was the national poet of finland and lived from 1804-1877. he wrote in swedish and mostly about rural finnish life and its hardships. perhaps his most famous poem of all is called 'the tales of ensign stål', about the finnish war of 1808–09 with russia (this was when sweden lost finland to russia). anyway, i looked to see if the helsinki library had anything by him in english...nope. this is a bummer, but perhaps i can read something in english from the other flag day people that come up throughout the year.

as for the desserts, it was said that he ate these 'runeberg tortes' (as theyve come to be known) each morning for breakfast. ive always seen them packaged as two, so im not sure if he ate two each morning or if its just convenient packaging. whatever, they are delicious. a dense spiced, almondy kind of cake with raspberry jam on top encircled by powdered sugar icing. i even found a gluten-free variety this year. devoured. i am however always startled by their nipple or breast-like appearance (being sold in twos doesnt help the matter)...then again, the favorite national snack of rice pies (riisipiirakka) looks alarmingly like lady parts...oh finland, you may not rival the french in tasty delicacies but you can match them for sauciness!

(gluten-free runeberg tortes)
(rice pies)

01 February 2015

February = Helmikuu

so here we are, at the top of another month. time is flying by.

this month (february) is called helmikuu in finnish. 'helmi' means 'pearl'. this refers to the ice on the snow and tree branches that form when things temporarily melt during warm spells and then re-freeze. of course its a perfectly suited description of the weather and scenery this month.