Browsing Category

Good Life

Good Life

Finnish Midsummer Night’s Dreams

June 23, 2016
Finnish Midsummer

Just look at the light and enjoy!

Christmas and Midsummer: the two most quintessential Finnish holiday times that mark the darkest and lightest times of the year (yes, you can hear me crying now…). I’ve been out of the country for couple of Christmas holidays and several Midsummers and it has always evoked mixed feelings.

My first Midsummer out of Finland was when I had moved to Amsterdam. Obviously, Midsummer is not a thing in the Netherlands. On the Midsummer evening, I had been working late (now you can hear me and the labour unions weeping and wailing together). I was biking home through Vondelpark when I saw a bunch of Swedes erecting a maypole. I almost joined them. Maypole is not even a Finnish Midsummer tradition, drinking beer and going to sauna is. I resisted, because … what a self-deception: a Finnish person barging into a Swedish Midsummer festival in Vondelpark and thinking, “I’ve come home”. Just to make clear: I do love Swedes, Sweden and the Swedish boats as well when they don’t have any of the nasty stomach bug epidemics going on.

Anyway, the next day, I wanted to barbecue to have at least a little piece of the painfully missed Midsummer experience. So we head to Vondelpark with our mini grill. I accidentally drink a whole bottle of Pernod, which I took with us that we could have small aperitifs while waiting for the food to be ready. Note: even though I enjoy a glass or two of wine, in general I’m really not a big drinker. We end up in a strange fight with a lady with two teenagers about how we should have rather shouted at her kids than kindly asked them not to kick their football into our grill. The absurdity of the discussion and too much Pernod makes me cry. We are ready to go home. However, instead of going home we go to our nearby restaurant stinking smoke (with the grill!) and have couple more drinks. When we get home, I feel like, I’ve just returned from war.

The next morning I realise, I managed to pull through a Finnish teenage Midsummer without even noticing. Now, I solemnly believe that wherever a Finnish person is during the Midsummer time, some version of the Finnish Midsummer experience will take over her/him and there will always be a Midsummer. God bless us all and let it not be the teenage version. If you have a feeling that could happen, seriously consider joining the Swedes for happy pole dances instead.

This year, I will go to the summer cottage. There will be a sauna and a lake. Barbecue, beer and sausages. There will be fresh food that has the unique taste that can only develop under the constant northern sunshine. There will be mosquitos and the smell, and unfortunately taste of mosquito repellent, because some of it always somehow ends up in your mouth. There might be a bonfire as well.

 

Here is my little checklist for Finnish Midsummer celebrations.

It is very simple, because that’s what Midsummer is.

 

Sauna and swimming

Barbeque, beer, sausages

Bonfire

Strawberries

Boiled fresh potatoes with butter

You can also stay in a city, check Helsinki Midsummer events here.

 

The nightless night will be there for you and keep you awake no matter where you are. Look at the light, enjoy and be grateful!

 

Good Life

When in Finland: Go to the Forest

May 25, 2016
hiking in forest

This is my kind of a forest! The pic is taken from Nuuksio National Park’s Haukkalampi trekking trail.

I have always found it extremely funny to land at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. I actually have to concentrate to refrain from not laughing out loud. The laughter I’m holding is laughter with a little bit of irony (as we Finns know the value of irony!), but most of all it is full of love. Let’s imagine together that we are now in a plane together going to Helsinki and the plane starts descending. We get closer and closer to our destination: the most densely populated area in Finland, the Helsinki metropolitan area. We reach out to the little window to see how our destination looks like. What’s out there? I can tell you what’s there: trees. Welcome! You have arrived to the forest!

I can also confess that I haven’t always felt like laughing when I’ve seen this view. I might have cried too. I never really thought of what forest means to me, but when we lived in the Netherlands, I really started missing the Finnish forest: those thick, dense, messy forests, with fir trees and the actual possibility of getting lost. Not that I would really want to get lost in a forest. I’m too urban for that and would most likely die after walking around in circles in a blueberry overdose. Anyway, the only time I have run away from my parents was when I was 7 years old and they refused to go picking blueberries with me… at 10 pm in the evening. I grabbed my berry bucket and bike and went for the adventure alone. They found me in the nearby forest and I got not only a small bucket full of berries, but pancakes to go with them as well. If you ever tasted a fresh blueberry straight from the bush, you will understand the motivation behind my escapade. I have spent countless hours in the forest playing and building huts out of leaves and sticks when my mom has been picking berries and mushrooms. The tradition was first to fill in the buckets with berries and on the way back to the car take off your shirt and fold it into some kind of a bag where you could pick the mushrooms that you simply could not leave in the forest (for your neighbour’s delight).

I often felt in my bones the contrast between my two beloved home cities Amsterdam and Helsinki, but was not able to put my finger on the fundamental difference in these two places until recently when I moved back to Helsinki. Here I have found myself constantly wondering where all the people are. Woohoo, anybody home? Is there an ice hockey match on TV that I don’t know about? And let me remind you: I live right in the centre of Helsinki.

With this feeling I went to see the population density statistics and it became clear that I have moved between one of the most densely and least populated areas within Europe. I, of course, knew this already, but never really put any thought into it. Wikipedia tells us that whereas the Netherlands has 393 people per square kilometre Finland only has 16. Goodbye people, hello nothingness!

And then to the good news: Wikipedia also tells us that 72% of Finland’s land area is covered by forests. Netherlands’ corresponding number is 8.79%. Finns often explain negative or difficult phenomena in our culture with the fact that it is such a short time since we came out from the forests. I do not like it when we mix up our complexes with the forest. Forest is our superpower. It brings out the best in us. In the forest we show respect and carry our responsibility. There is no reason to leave the forest, but rather we should invite others to join us too!

If you spend time in Helsinki, you can easily go explore the Finnish Forest in Nuuksio National park:

http://www.nationalparks.fi/nuuksionp

If you drive around in the Finnish countryside, you can find forest basically anywhere (and more national parks as well of course). Read here about the Finnish everyman’s rights so that you know your rights and responsibilities when roaming in the wild:

http://www.nationalparks.fi/hikinginfinland/rightsandregulations

PS. If you just booked your trip to Helsinki and hate going to the forest, do not panic! Helsinki is a peculiar, lively and amazingly beautiful little city that has a lot to offer for forest-haters too. 😛

trekking in Nuuksio National park

What a pretty view! Forest and water, the most fundamental elements of Finnish nature. The picture is taken in Nuuksio National Park.

Good Life

How To Use a Sauna

May 17, 2016

sauna pic

A lot of things have been difficult and are driving me crazy now that we have moved back to Finland, but a sauna is not one of them. The sauna situation is absolutely fantastic here!

First, there are plenty of saunas and it is ok to talk in a sauna… not too loud of course, but that’s just a general rule in Finnish culture that applies always and everywhere, except for when you are drunk in the public transportation during weekends after midnight. I also like it that in the public saunas there are no exhibitionists, nor hourglasses on the wall that people desperately follow and do not leave the sauna unless their time is up even when they are about to faint on the sauna benches.

I’m especially grateful to this dark, cold country that here it is not possible to end up in a sauna where you can find neither a water bucket nor the stove. You can just hear the electric ticking of the sauna stove somewhere, but there is no access to it for the sauna goers. This type of a sauna makes a Finnish person wonder if he/she is actually on the candid camera! It feels like some kind of a cruel prank: there you sit in a sauna that’s a little too cold and there is nothing you can do about it. This type of sauna should not exist.

The years we lived in Amsterdam, I got to know a little bit of the Dutch sauna culture, which is quite different from what I am used to. First, I went to the sauna in our gym. It was a mixed sauna where people wore towels and it was the first time I learned that the sauna is “a quiet room”. I think the sign appeared on the sauna door after we had been there a couple of times with my husband just talking about how our days went, like you would talk over dinner in some other countries. It’s not an easy thing for a Finn to admit that you have been too loud or talkative, because we never are. Anyway, I adjusted and kept my mouth shut so that people could go do their sauna in peace and quiet. However, it took out some pleasure from going to the sauna.

I also don’t like to go to sauna wearing a towel. It gets all sweaty and it just does not feel right, but anyway I was ready to live with it, because I really needed my weekly sauna. I stopped going to the gym sauna after sitting on the sauna bench with bunch of guys wearing their sweaty boxer shorts after a workout, because… God knows the reasons. Anyway, it was too much. I could not adjust.

After that I went looking for the perfect sauna in different spas. The first shock – surprisingly – was that many Dutch spas are no-swimsuit & mixed-sex spas. In Finland public saunas and pools have different dressing rooms and saunas for men and women, and in the pool areas you always wear swimming suits. I got over the shock relatively quickly, because, well, I needed my sauna. Talking about my “naked” spa surprise with the Dutch, I discovered that many Dutch wanted to go to spas but the fear of running into their boss or colleagues naked was too big to overcome. I also realised the interesting difference in Dutch and Finnish sauna cultures: for Finns it is ok to go to the sauna with your family, friends and yes, even colleagues, but the idea of a mixed spa with people you don’t know feels weird. I guess for Dutch the idea of going to a mixed spa is still more ok than going to sauna with friends, not to even mention colleagues.

I went regularly to spas in the Netherlands and learned to enjoy the abundance of services and different kinds of pools they offer. I also found couple of ok saunas. The most ridiculous things I saw in Dutch spas were people laying naked outside on the spa lawn in the fall when temperature does not support this kind of behaviour (I think they were either having sex or dead, I did not go check) and exhibitionists who place a chair just in front of an entrance so that everyone who comes through the door can enjoy the view of their carefully exposed penis. I’ve also had a fight in a spa sauna…. on a Christmas eve… because apparently I threw too much water on the stones. I’m not proud of it, but just that you know: I threw less than half of the amount I wanted to as a nice Christmas gesture towards all the meditating, hourglass-watching sauna amateurs.

But back to where we started. Now that I’m back to my original sauna environment I do have to say, I’m really enjoying it. I’m sure there are people who struggle to adjust to Finnish sauna habits or are wondering if they dare to take the first step and go to the sauna in the first hand. For all those people, here are my tips on how to do Finnish sauna:

  1. Go naked, nobody really cares how you look like.
  2. Always when you go in or out of the sauna, CLOSE THE DOOR. Only children leave the door open.
  3. Go with friends, they love you the way you are and don’t really care how you look like.
  4. Talk, but not too loudly. Talk about fun stuff. Talk about difficult things. What you talk in the sauna, stays in the sauna.
  5. Drink water and beer, but not too much.
  6. Go out to cool down and then back into the sauna. Talk and drink while doing this. Repeat several times. Also consider: swimming, rolling naked in the snow, dipping yourself in a hole in the ice.

Good luck!

 

Good Life

On Honesty and Openness

May 3, 2016

merisatamanranta

You might not believe what I’m going to say now, but I will say it anyway. I have come to the conclusion that Finns are actually very open bunch of people. I will tell you how I have come to this conclusion.

I went to several mama groups when I was living in Amsterdam and as much as I loved them, I often had a feeling that in a big group you don’t really learn to know anyone and the relationships stay on a superficial level. The fact that 90% of the time you are running after your child, feeding and changing diapers combined with months of not sleeping also does not exactly help you to connect with new people. I talked about this to my Finnish friend (expat in the Netherlands for a long time) and she said to me: “That is such a Finnish thing that you want the relationships immediately to go to a deeper level or alternatively nowhere.” This comment really made me think.

Both Dutch and Finns are famous of being honest. From a Finnish perspective a friend or colleague who is always “ok” and “doing well and fine” is suspicious. People become real only at the moment when everything is not ok. And no, I don’t think, it’s the famous vahingonilo – a joy for another person’s misfortune (yes, we have a word for it!) – but a moment when you see a little deeper, a little more of somebody else and understand that we all have our own little struggles. It hit me that Finnish honesty is actually openness to reveal yourself and your life relatively easily to the outside world. Finns are often disturbingly honest about themselves. Answer to the question how are you, can be “I have a shitty day today” and it is ok.

Dutch on the other hand are honest about others: “Oh, you are married and have taken your husband’s surname, that is so old-fashioned!” Or midwife at the maternity hospital: “Oh, you have the same surname (talking about the mother and father of the yet unborn child). Are you related?” At this point I was already used to the Dutch humour/directness and replied: “Yes we are, Finland is a very small country” and then we all laughed together. It would have been even funnier if I did not have those damn contractions coming and going.

Dutch honesty was a lot more difficult for me to digest than the Finnish honesty is, because I’m not born with it, but do not get me wrong: there are a lot of benefits when people are not afraid to speak up their mind.

I personally realised that the more loose and superficial friendships are also significant and important just the way they are. You cannot expect people to open up their hearts after the first “howareyous” unless you are in Finland. Not to be completely delusional about Finland and Finns: the challenge here is more in how to get to the “how are you”-part. But be aware, once you get there, the Pandora’s Box is open and there is no turning back. 😀

Good Life

On Running

April 27, 2016
Running in Westerpark, Amsterdam. I remember it was sunny and windy. I remember being surprised I could still run 8 kilometres!

Running in Westerpark, Amsterdam. I remember it was sunny and windy. I remember being surprised, I could still run 8 kilometres!

I never did sports when I was a kid. However, I did run around the fields, climb in trees and jump in muddy puddles and ditches all day long. To shock a little all the non-Finnish readers: I also never went to kindergarten and started school only at the age of seven. By high school I had obviously stopped playing catch outside till midnight and tried to start jogging – that’s how it was called back in the day – to have a little bit of counter balance with spending time indoors and reading. Running felt terrible and I always barely made it to my grandparents’ house, which was two kilometres away from my home. My grandmother offered me an extensive meal and my granddad drove me back home in his car. During the visits my grandparents would point out several times what a tough girl I was to run such a long distance (I think in their eyes I was still two years old) and they also always praised me for all my small achievements in life so far. As a result, I never felt really bad after these failed attempts of trying to become a runner.

Then I entered the university. I was reading more and more and gaining weight at the same time. Finally my boyfriend gave me a gym membership as a birthday present and against all my prejudices, I went to the gym for the first time of my life. It turned out that I loved it and after a while I also started running on a treadmill. I think I started from six minutes at a time, but the day came when I could run on the treadmill for half an hour and it felt good. I started running outside and longer and longer distances. This was probably in 2003. For years I ran almost every day. I never checked on my pulse, I never knew exactly how long or far I had run. People were always very surprised to hear that running was my hobby and most of the times the discussion went around the reasons why they don’t run: “I have bad knees” or the other legendary “I get this terrible ache in my chest if I run”.

Running in Eiranranta, south of Helsinki in March when the ice in the sea has just melted.

Running in Eiranranta, south of Helsinki, in March when the ice in the sea has just melted.

For years my hobby continued the same way: a solitary exercise that nobody wanted to talk about. Then something strange happened. Other people started running too and completely new topics to talk about arouse around running. Now the first thing people asked was: which race are you training for? I had never run to prepare for a race. I have participated in some, especially now that there is such a big selection of running events: you can rock and run, nightrun, mudrun, run in the forest, highways or mountains not to even mention all the marathon races. This is of course absolutely fantastic! Let all people run and be healthy! However, it made me think my running had become somehow inferior and still I had nothing to talk about my running with the other runners, because I was not interested in measuring my performances or going to a lot of crowded running events and eating the gels that make your stomach go upside-down.

Now I have had a long, long break in active running, so I can just tell everyone I run when I can and that’s it. It’s difficult not to add that I was actually the first original running hipster and now that running has become so mainstream, I stopped. What a blessing that I can write it here that you all know! The break and decreased quantity of running, however, made me realise what my running is all about. I run to feel my body is alive and not to go crazy inside my head. It is meditation: an exercise of letting go of all the troubles I happen to have in my life. If I add there any elements of competition or performance – gel or Vaseline – the meditative part is gone. It is not about how fast or far, but about going. I like my running!

Good Life

Don’t Talk to Me. Let’s be Really, Really Quiet.

April 21, 2016
Kamppi Chapel, also called the "Chapel of Silence" on the side of a busy Narinkka square in Helsinki: music to your ears and eyes!

Kamppi Chapel, also called the “Chapel of Silence” on the side of the busy Narinkka square in Helsinki: music to your ears and eyes!

I think something’s gone really wrong in my brain when it comes to enjoying having people and life around me, and still appreciating quiet and silence to the extent that I cannot live without them. Having been born and raised in the Finnish countryside I’m used to having an audible silence descend upon my good night’s sleep in the evenings. In our new home in Helsinki the effect is very much the same – just a distant hum of the city in the background – and I have to admit I love it.

However, every time I walk out the door, I’m slightly disappointed by the absence of people, cars, bikes and urban troubadours who can only play that one damn song with their saxophone and are so lazy that for the three months that they stand playing outside your balcony, they cannot make an effort to learn at least one more song… Even for example Brother John or Mary Had a Little Lamb. Anything?! I think I’ve come to the age when you feel angry that you cannot have everything, including noisy and quiet at the same time. Who would have guessed that this is how your life turns out!

But seriously speaking, research shows that chronic noise is very bad for the brain: “Numerous studies now show that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills and have lower reading scores.” Read more here. I do not find this result very surprising, because it is extremely difficult for me to concentrate, learn or understand new things in a noisy environment, not to mention how it can mess up your sleep. Noise and sounds just get my attention immediately and it’s a struggle to block them off. I have earlier thought that kids do not mind noise as much as adults, but the first weeks when I took my girl to the daycare and when I picked her up and asked how your day was, she’d respond: “Don’t talk to me, let’s be really, really quiet!” We are all of course a little different in this respect (too), as my husband can have music on, watching football while reading.

What I find very interesting is that we also know that noise and sounds do not only travel from your ear to your brain, but the other way as well: from your brain to your ear. Because of this when you switch off sounds completely, you can still hear… what your brain wants you to hear. Spooky, right? Read more (intelligent comments) here. Whatever amount of silence you need, I think we all need it sometimes, so wherever you are, take a moment to find a quiet corner, sit down and listen. Or you could also hop on a plane and come and listen to what your brain wants you to hear in the land of silence and quiet called Finland. We have a lot of silence here: inside the amazingly well isolated houses, in the countryside, in the forests, in the parks, between people. 😉 And whatever you may think, I say there is a lot of beauty in that abundance of quiet.

Amos Anderson museum offers exhibitions primarily on Finnish 20th century art. There is also a small chapel where you can rest your tired feet and mind.

Amos Anderson museum offers exhibitions primarily on Finnish 20th century art. There is also a small chapel where you can rest your tired feet and mind. Quiet is a relative concept: in this chapel you can listen to classical music.

Good Life

Less is More

October 5, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have always cherished the idea that less is more. I have been able to take this philosophy into practice in varying levels, depending on my financial situation, stress levels and other personal ambitions.

When we travel with my husband we step into all churches that we see. I like to look at the golden ornaments and smell the incense in catholic and orthodox churches. I enjoy the feeling of as if you were falling down when you lift your eyes to see the very top of St. Isaac’s Church’s ceiling in St. Petersburg. However, I love-love-love to step into the Helsinki Cathedral and see and feel the white emptiness the church encases within. The Vilnius Cathedral and the Finnish Kaleva Church in Tampere give me the same effect of peace and calm. Don’t mistake this as patriotic praise. Russia is one of the few big loves of my life. I’m also not a religious person. This is about aesthetics of environment and architecture and the effect of “Less” on me. During my expat-life here in Amsterdam I have also thought a lot of how you learn to appreciate certain aesthetics when they surround you since childhood, in my case the Scandinavian clear-lined emptiness, and how those aesthetics give you the feeling of familiarity and home. But this is another story.

Now I would like my whole life to be taken over by the same feeling of calm and peace that those buildings give out. I know. This is a massive trend at the moment with yogas and mindfulness etc. and I really don’t like to follow trends. (I don’t want to hear about your low-carb-gluten-free diet now. I’m all ears if you’re still following it after two years). However, having less has hit a nerve in me. Why? How did it all start? I will tell you. Two major reasons A) having a kid B) I’m coming to the age when your brain is telling you, the only way to stay sane is to hike up a high mountain and meditate. A and B are interconnected in so many ways that I will not go into that except that A intensifies B with 200%.

In practice the Pandora’s box opened when I felt sorry for myself when packing for a trip and noticed that there is very little space for my stuff. Because I’m a mother. Little after that I got addicted to Pinterest – I blame motherhood for that as well – and found out about a thing called “capsule wardrobe” (my own space in the wardrobe is also shrinking) and a lot of instructions on how to pack as little as possible for travels as well. I felt great! I’m actually working on towards something better not just giving up on things like I felt earlier. Fine, my travelling “capsule” is still a 75-litre rucksack but listen: what I have there for myself is two t-shirts, one pair of extra pants, one long-sleeve, warm cardigan, socks and undies. Now I have used up my space no matter how long the trip is going to be. I’m so much better than anyone on Pinterest and I haven’t even started reading Tidying Up because my husband stole it (He needs it even more than I do, so it is ok)!

I have started my process of having less from clothes because it is one of the hardest for me. I love clothes a little too much. Packing is easy now because I’m forced to have so little. A bit like, it’s easy to spend little money when you don’t have any. Next I want to learn how to become a master of capsule wardrobe. Other things that I have on my list are: being more aware of how I use money and making a 2-week meal plan for the family. I’m not the biggest fan of routines, so especially the latter one feels like quite an unpleasant task, but I will try to find some kind of a balance between spontaneity and routine that would suit me. Are you trying to have less of something in your life? What methods are you using and how is it working out?

Good Life

Welcome to a Good Life Jar!

November 15, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was supposed to start a blog when I had a baby more than two years ago. But every woman who ever had a baby knows what happens to ambitious blogging plans when you have a child. Soon I will have my 36th birthday and it feels like there is no escape anymore. So here it is. I love writing, reading, eating, finding new ways of thinking, seeing and doing, the beauty in people and things. And sleeping. And those topics I will cover in my blog:

Mindstyle – thoughts and tips on a good life

Lifestyle – food, style, travel, home and books

And these I will reflect on my personal life.

When I came up with the title of my blog, I thought what a great name! I want that – a jar full of good life. I bought the domain and now I notice it sets the bar very high for my writings, like I should always be able to show what a great, great life I’m living.

I already googled and checked from Wikipedia “what is good life” and tried to memorize some wise words from literature on the topic. I have studied Russian literature and you would think there are plenty of witty lines about good life, but all I could remember at the moment was the eternal sentence of “We cannot live like this!” (I will not use references here, the ones who know where it comes from will and can feel superior and the ones who do not are most likely not interested and would find references too academic anyway).

So better to quote my own life and start with a cliché:

Having a child is a big change. And when things are changing it is not easy to lead a good life.

What I have found so strange is that the reality of your life changes very quickly and partly also so easily, but your head is running late: for quite a while you still kind of think that within a month your life will be back to normal – meaning back to what it used to be. When I finally realized IT WILL NOT GET BACK TO NORMAL, I understood I have to do some serious thinking to be able to adjust to the new life.

Like many other new moms, I was really puzzled how I could combine work and family (and still am!). And here comes one nice thing I did that I want to share with you. I was very impressed by a simple exercise on finding out what your values are and then thinking how you use your time and set your priorities and checking do you follow your values. And I know, when you are younger you think that by 35 you would have AT LEAST figured out what your values are and if you follow them.

Sorry, don’t count on that. Only count on that your values will change.

I used to work a lot and now I’m a stay-at-home mom out of my own choice. There is a lot of material in the web, but here is one simple and clear tool that you can check: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm

A lot of what you can find is very career focused, but I think those tools can be used also as a more general templates on figuring out “what the hell I’m supposed to do now in my life” -type-of-situations. After identifying the values, I thought about my life at the moment, how I allocate time between different things and asked do I follow my values in my life. It appears that I do. Thank you test, now I can have a peace of mind for a week or two – and some topics to write about.

There was a time (read: before having a child) when I would laugh at all sorts of coaching & self-help literature. Not anymore. This very first post will end here before I delve too deep into the topic and create a new crisis just before bedtime. And the next topic will be on lipsticks or other similar light themes.

Welcome to a Good Life Jar.