Easter in Finland

Traditional Finnish Easter Arrangement

Easter (pääsiäinen) is a big deal in Finland. Maybe it’s because it’s a major religious holiday for Finland’s 4.2 million Lutherans (yes, that’s nearly 80% of the population), but it also marks the first holiday of spring and a sort of precursor or warm up, as far as I can tell, to the major party that is Vappu (May Day). Regardless, I don’t really need an excuse to enjoy a four day weekend when the sun is shining at long last, and the Finns don’t seem to mind either.

The week of Easter, shops fill with the expected bunny/chick/chocolate kitsch, and at the same time flower shops and market stalls begin selling a lovely arrangement of palm leaves, pussy willows, and daffodils like the one you see here. Read more

Finding our School Groove

Gabriel & Lily on the first day of school this year

Like many American parents, I spent a great deal of time the past two years completely freaking out worrying about sending my children to school. Public school? Broken, underfunded, full of bullies, a little scary. Private school? Long commute, overpriced, not feasible, full of rich kids & drugs, a little scary. Home school? Holy shit. Lots of fear there too (Am I good enough/patient enough to do it? How will I get them social interaction? How will I have a life?!).

At the time I had no idea that I’d be taking the easy way out of this debate by moving to Finland two months into Gabriel’s first year of school. The school was already chosen (most of Nokia’s expat families send their children to the International School of Helsinki, Nokia foots the bill, it’s one of the few options for English-speaking children, and they had a spot for Gabriel.). Whew! Read more

Paris with Children

Considering what a huge role travel has played in my life, it was with a surprising amount of trepidation that I booked our Winter Break tickets to Paris. Trying to live in a foreign country with a four- and a six-year-old somehow felt less daunting to me than trying to enjoy a vacation in a foreign city, especially when that city is one that holds so much meaning for Matt & I.

We were pleasantly surprised, however, and have some tips to share with regards to visiting Paris with children in tow. Read more

Dr. Manny Got it Wrong

On Tuesday, Fox News published an article by Dr. Manny Alvarez titled “English-Only Bills Are Not Unfair to Immigrants“. A friend posted it to her Facebook page, and I’ve been stewing about it ever since. I knew as soon as I read it that I disagreed strongly, emphatically, with his stance but it’s taken me a few days to put together coherent thoughts on a topic that provokes strong feelings on both sides of the debate.

Dr. Alvarez is Cuban-American, so Fox News certainly hit gold in getting him to take this stance–he’s been there, a foreigner in America, and he chose to learn English. How can anyone argue with him? Well I’m going to. Read more

Cultural Identity Crisis

Since I just admitted that I’m suffering from some degree of SAD, perhaps now is not the best time to ponder my cultural identity. Then again, perhaps it is the perfect time, especially as several catalysts (MLK Day, the recent shooting in Arizona, and a US identity-related assignment for Gabriel’s Kindergarten class) have conspired to bring this recurring personal crisis to my attention today.

I was born in the United States and have lived there most of my life. Even including the fair bit of global wandering I’ve managed to fit in, I’ve still only spent about three years out of almost 36 outside the United States, so there is no doubt that, by every conceivable definition, I am American. I hold a US passport. I vote rather religiously. I cry during the National Anthem more often than not and nearly always sing along.

And yet I struggle to self-identify as American Read more

Light Therapy in a Dark Land

If this is broad daylight in the wintertime, can you see why I'm feeling a little SAD?
I’ve known for quite some time that I am affected by winter’s short days and lack of daylight. Even in sunny Colorado, the lack of light gets to me in December & January, so I knew I’d have some issues when I moved a good deal further north. Not surprisingly, nearly 10% of Finns suffer from some sort of Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I’m not alone in feeling blue even now that we’re gaining 2-3 minutes of sunlight per day (thank Akka!).

What I should also have accounted for during this particular dark winter is that I would be experiencing culture shock, dealing with the rest of my family’s culture shock, and dealing with SAD all in one fairly concentrated period of time. Uh oh. The good news is that I’ve made it through the shortest day without killing anyone. The bad news is that I’ve been sleeping 10 hours a night, carb loading, and feeling downright sluggish most of the (very short) day. Read more

Country Mouse, City Mouse

a picture of me in my straw cowboy hat
Country Mouse headed to the big city...
You remember that children’s book about the country mouse who trades places with his big-city cousin and ventures to the city to see what it’s all about? It occurred to me this afternoon that I am that mouse. Despite having a rather big-city penchant for the opera, fine wine, fancy restaurants, and shoes, I think at heart I’ve always been a little more John Denver than Lady Gaga.

Growing Up – Definitely Country Mouse

I grew up in strip mall hell the suburbs of Indianapolis. It is by far the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, and (apologies to all my Hoosier friends & relations) Read more

First Impressions of Finland

A photo of our coat collection here in Finland
You'd think we moved to a cold country or something. All those coats for 4 people???
Yesterday, the kids & I arrived in Finland for good. A one-way ticket is always a little bit of a scary thing, but it didn’t really hit me until I checked in at the airport and the guy asked me when we were returning. I told him we weren’t, then proceeded to freak out a bit. I mean, what were we thinking moving to a country where we don’t speak the language, a country that I know next-to-nothing about in terms of culture, history or tradition, a country where it is dark for so much of the winter (it’s 3:50pm here and almost completely dark).

As with most things, my sense of adventure won out over the doubts and I got on the plane. I’m not yet qualified to make any grand pronouncements on Helsinki, yet, but here are a few of my first impressions: Read more

Traveling with Children: Jet Lag & Beyond

Yesterday, the kids & I flew to Helsinki to meet Matt. That means I was solo parenting for the kids’ first international flight, and that I had to deal with baggage, customs, and a 3+ hour layover in Frankfurt without assistance (beyond the lovely staff of Lufthansa, who were quite helpful).

The kids were fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that the woman sitting next to me across the aisle said I should write a book about traveling with children since I’d obviously figured it out! I’m chalking this up to beginner’s luck and hoping I’m not ruing her comment in another few days when we fly home. And yet, despite encountering no major meltdowns with the children, I realized that traveling with children, even well-behaved children, is different. Read more

Moving Abroad Again, This Time with Children

For the third time in my life, I am about to leave the United States and move to another country. This time, I’m Helsinki bound (previous trips were to France & England). Unlike my previous two adventures, this time I’m not just uprooting myself, but my two young children. We leave for Helsinki next month and although I am about six months away from being an absolute expert on this topic, I’ve been researching it like crazy. There are lots of good tips out there, so I thought I’d share our experiences and the resources I’ve found. Read more