Thursday, June 24, 2010

sunset, sunrise

The sunrise/sunset in Jyvaskyla at 1am on the longest day of the year.

The sun does dip below the horizon, but not far enough to make it dark. We have twilight for an hour or two, then the bright light returns!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jill and Kalee's new favorite bread

Kalee has had a whole series of strange little health problems for the last 9 months or so. We decided to make some dietary changes to see if that helped. So far it is. We have cut out refined grains, sugar, yeast and anything aged/moldy/fermented. This is a real challenge for a family with such a fabulous and prolific bread baker as Charles. This soda bread is one of the breads we have discovered. It is dense and chewy and really yummy. Kalee likes it best with some cream cheese and olives.

Whole Grain Irish Soda Bread

1 2/3 cup (400ml) whole wheat flour
2 cups (500ml) other whole grain flours (we like to combine spelt, barley and rye)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup (300ml) rolled oats
1/2 cup (100ml) natural bran
2 cups (500ml) yogurt
1/4 cup (50ml) milk
1 tablespoon butter to brush on top of baked loaf
  • Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
  • Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Stir together.
  • Add yogurt and milk. Stir until a soft dough forms.
  • Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and kneed 5-6 times until smooth.
  • Shape into ball. Pat to 8" round. Place on parchment paper or greased baking sheet. With sharp knife, cut large deep cross on top.
  • Bake 50-60 min, until golden and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on base.
  • Brush with melted butter.
  • Wrap in clean, dry towel to cool. DO NOT CUT until nearly cool. While it is hot the center of the loaf is still cooking.
Note: I usually make a half recipe or form it into two small loaves. I think it cooks better that way. For a 1/2 loaf, cook about 35 minutes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"When a Finn talks to you in an elevator ...

"When a Finn talks to you in an elevator, either it is spring (and they can't contain themselves) or they are drunk."

So says my hairdresser, and I think he is right. Someone spoke to me in the elevator in our building last week and I was so shocked I almost didn't know how to respond. Then I realized the man was Chinese and staying in a University apartment like us. I guess no one told him about Finnish elevator etiquette.

He told me another joke, too. This one is about the Finnish Easter delicacy of Mammi, a mushy-textured thing made of rye malt and rye flour (my conclusion on tasting it was that one would have to like beer to consider liking mammi. I am not a fan of beer, nor mammi.). Anyway, here's the joke that my hairdresser's children say about mammi and other dark Finnish food: People think Finns are so poor that we have to eat our food twice! (Here's a nice post by another blogger if you want to read more about mammi:

So now we know that scatological jokes are funny in other cultures, too.

While he was on a roll of self-deprecating Finnish humor my hairdresser also told me about how older Finns are very interested (concerned?) to know what foreigners think of Finland. "And they don't what to hear about the cold, the dark, and the silent people, either!" I really had to laugh about this because I have been asked twice in almost identical words What do you like most about Finland?

The question confounds me because the words "like" and "Finland" don't usually occur in my head at the same time. OK, that is an exaggeration. There are lots of little things I like about Finland - the toilets are all duel flush, the hot water in the shower is instant, the sauna's are great - but I suspect they are expecting larger answers, something more like "I love the architecture, the weather, the food, the people." Or at least they might expect ONE of those things. But truly, none of these come to the top of my 'like' list, some of them I downright 'dis-like'.

Mostly, being here is interesting.

It is interesting to live without a car and it is great that this is a pretty easy city for doing that (and that LOTS of people do that).
Experimenting with new foods is interesting but I am getting tired of having such a sparsely equipped kitchen for said experiments.
It is interesting to be the foreigner, to feel lost and confused and amused by so many things, to notice how much mental energy it takes to take care of the basic details of our lives, to imagine what it is like to be a foreigner in the US.

But like????

About Jyvaskyla one of Charles' colleagues says "It's a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit here!" We sort of live here and are sort of visitors, which just may be the worst situation.

This all sounds much more morose than I feel right now. Today is warm (mid 40's) and sunny, tonight I am singing with the Lutherans and this weekend we have a birthday party to go to. Today I feel connected. But those other thoughts above weave in and out of my days here so I decided to give them a little space to come out.

Much more than the "What do you like about Finland" question, I really like the question a friend asked me this weekend: What will you be taking away with you from your time in Finland? I don't think I'll be able to really answer that until we've been home for a while. More than anything, I have probably learned a lot about myself. Being here has been hard in many ways, but I am glad we did it. I just might even want to try it again for Charles' next sabbatical.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Vappu and other spring things

May 1st is Vappu here in Finland, the festival of May Day. According to the newspapers, Vappu is the biggest holiday in Finland. It starts Friday evening with lots of parties, sweets and alcohol and continues throughout Saturday with picnicking and lots of Certainly one can understand that after the loooong winter, the arrival of spring is worthy of great celebration.

Our Vappu celebration started on Friday with a party at Kalee's play-school. All the kids dressed up (just like Halloween) and parents brought sweet foods to eat. Our costume options were a bit limited since I have no sewing machine here. Kalee went as a pot of flowers: brown clothes for the pot, flowers we made from felt, pipe cleaners and buttons around her neck.

In the afternoon we walked through downtown. All the restaurants had their tables outside, tents full of candy, crafts, and foods lined the pedestrian street, and Mylar balloons were for sale for 10-15 euros each (!?!) Crazy expensive for truly ordinary balloons. Kalee understood why we didn't buy one. Her comment was, "I thought that since they want everyone to have fun today they wouldn't make things so expensive." I love her innocence.

At home we blew up balloons and decorated them.

Saturday our friends Jo and Vessa (and kids) invited us to their "Mokki," (cottage). It is only a half-hour away so it is easy to spend the afternoon there. We started with a hike along a river (are those children or garden gnomes?)and saw evidence of LOTS of beaver activity.The area around the river was made up of at least two layers of very large boulders, covered with heavy layers of moss and lichens, birch and pine trees growing up where possible and lots of places for feet to find deep holes for things to live in (and feet to get stuck it). I felt like I was walking on another planet. From the road the landscape of gently rolling hills, forests of pine and birch surrounding plentiful lakes reminds me of northern Minnesota. But the forest floor ... it is a whole different thing: spongy to walk on, a riot of texture and color from all the mosses, lichens and berries.Oh, I haven't mentioned berries yet, have I. I finally understand about everyone (I mean everyone) going berry picking. You literally cannot walk around in the forest without treading on the berry bushes. Mostly it is lingonberries (the low-bush cranberry Nordic countries are known for) that are underfoot (here is a borrowed image of a lingonberry bush). There are also blueberries, wild strawberries, and lots of juniper (the stuff in gin). Charles tasted one of the juniper berries and confirmed it has that gin-ish taste.

The kids sorted all the treasures they collected on our walkand had a snack.

Later they dug worms and did a little ice fishing (didn't catch anything), we all ate a fabulous meal, and Vessa fired up the sauna for us.

The day vacillated between sun and rain all day, which brought us the most vivid rainbow I've ever seen.
The highlight of the day for Kalee was the balloon hunt. Vessa hid balloons, the kids found them, then Vessa and Charles took turns shooting them with the air-gun.
All in all it was a lovely day. The girls had so much fun together. These are friends we will miss when we go home.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Finnish Easter Weekend

Easter in Finland means everything closes for 4 days (from Good Friday to Easter Monday) and half the population leaves town for cabins, relatives, spas or other holiday fun. The remaining folks go to one or more of a myriad option of Holy Week worship services.

We, in our typical "got the holidays all wrong" experience in Finland, are home for the holiday while everyone else is gone, but are leaving town next Wednesday for our own "escape the rain, gray and melting snow" holiday in Barcelona with my dear friend Dawn and her two kids.

Here's how our long Easter weekend went:

Thursday -
After school Kalee opened the Easter package from Grandma Ann to find some Dove dark chocolate eggs (Kalee's favorite), a note that said this was just a little something "eggstra" for Easter (eggstra is now Kalee's favorite word), and a little thing called a "Wonder Knitter" with which Kalee can knit bracelets, necklaces, and other long thing things. She loves it!

Friday - Daddy made biscuits for breakfast. Usually this is a sign that it is Saturday so it got us all off to a confusing start. The day was beautiful, clear, sunny and up to 48 F by mid-day. We got Kalee suited up (to stay somewhat dry) and walked over to the park to play on the playground. The playground is much more accessible now that there is only about 8 inches of snow left on the ground. Last time we were at this particular park there was at least 2 feet of snow, it was bitterly cold and we were ice skating. Much more pleasant this time, though Kalee wished we could skate.

She mastered crossing this part of the playground even though she was scared to try. Once she did it once she kept doing it over and over and over.
On the way home we visited the last vestiges of the cave Kalee and Charles made three weeks ago.
In the afternoon we colored Easter eggs.

The tulips are from our guest, Suzelle. The box of grass Kalee grew at school (a traditional Finnish Easter project). Later we started watching E.T.! Such a great movie. Kalee is loving it.

Saturday - Kalee popped awake at 6:15 with the sun. I am counting the days (and hoping there are not too many) until the sun wakes up early enough that Kalee will go back to sleep after it has awoken her. We went to our English play group in the morning (so nice to have English speaking kids and moms).

After Kalee went to bed I went off to the Kuokkalan Kirkka to sing with the Finnish Lutherans for their 10pm mass. The service starts with the lights dimmed and everything shrouded in black.

Within the first 5 minutes of the service the music changes mood, the lights come up, all the shrouds are removed and the celebration begins. I understood for the first time that all the Holy Week services combined are really one long ritual expression of death and rebirth. I know, I'm a little slow on these things sometimes. Not understanding the words helped me experience the ritual without my head getting in the way. The head, the intellect, rational discourse and skepticism are all great things, but it is good to set them aside on occasion for a different kind of experience.

Sunday - The Easter Bunny came! Kalee nearly exploded into our room saying the Easter Bunny had left little chocolate eggs all over the living room and kitchen! There was even one at the entrance to the lego-airport.
Charles made Sticky Buns for breakfast. Oh my goodness they were rich! Kalee could only eat half of hers, then asked for some regular cereal. So sensible. Charles and I each ate two of them. An hour later and I still only wanted to drink warm water to cleanse my mouth and body.

Kalee seemed to need some down-time after breakfast. She shed her PJs, crawled under her blanket with Brownie and stayed there for an hour. She choose this activity over going to the spa for swimming. She is in her tomb, perhaps, and will arise ... here she comes ... wrapped in a cape! Ahhhh, it is a fever, not the need for solitude. Bummer. (A little Tylenol did the trick.)

Charles made quiche for our Easter dinner and whole wheat crescent rolls from my childhood. Both were delicious.

Monday - Yes, the Finnish Easter Weekend just keeps going right through Monday. We had guests for dinner so spent the day cleaning and cooking. Entertaining in our apartment is a challenge. For example, we only have 4 chairs. With our 2 guests we needed to seat 5 so Kalee got to sit on swivel-y desk chair. It was a very nice evening and a nice ending to our long Easter weekend.

Tomorrow we head off to Barcelona where the forecast says it will be 63F and sunny all week.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fun in Finland

Some more pictures from the past month. Kalee and I have new hats for spring. I learned how to crochet from a YouTube video.
The whole family is having fun with legos. We built a three-room house complete with furniture and bathroom.

Here you can see the living room with couches, chairs, lamps and a flat-screen TV ...

... another view of the living room ...
... the kitchen with table, chairs and fridge (the white thing)...
... and, the real triumph, the bathroom ...

... including storage cupboard ...

Another day Kalee and daddy prepared for a birthday party with clay.

Photos from Kalee

We got Kalee a camera for her birthday last August. Here are a few of the pictures she has taken in Finland. Self-portraits are, perhaps, her favorite:

Here is a view from our living room. Post-modern photography, hay?

We had some fun with clay one afternoon.

And Kalee loves playing school with her friends.
Finally, a portrait of Kalee's very best friend in the whole world.

Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa