Pirate Beach, and Other Foibles of the Expat Life

a photo of the beach
This is Helsinki, but it's not real life...
When I went to live in France as a student in 1996, I had the choice of living on the International floor in the dorms, living with a host family, or living in an apartment with French students. At a time when I was particularly interested in asserting my independence, but still keen to immerse myself in French culture, I chose to live in an apartment. It was an amazing experience, not just because my roommates were quirky, artsy types who did things like going about their business in the apartment communicating only by pantomime or bundling me off to a French improvisational theater where they performed (best thing that ever happened to my abilities with the French language!), but because I was absolutely thrown into French life with only sporadic emails or even more infrequent phone calls to root me to my home and family back in the United States.

I expected an easier transition when we went to England in 2001, in part because my favorite partner-in-crime was in tow, in part because of the lack of language barrier. For a variety of reasons, September 11 and a much longer stay among them, it was much more difficult than my time in France. It was almost like the hint of familiarity brought the differences into sharper focus.

I have to admit that I had very little idea what to expect when moving to Finland with the children. Read more

Demystifying Finnish Flour *Updated*

I like to bake. People have been known to covet my pie and my pancakes have garnered acclaim on two continents. And then there’s my bread and my pizza dough. I mean, when it comes to baking, I know what I’m doing, right? I have conquered high-altitude baking. I unraveled the mysteries of British flour from strong to self-rising. And yet, after seven months, I’m just starting to figure out Finnish flour, and doing a lot more research on it than I was expecting! Oh yeah, and here I am four months later revising it again to include even more info!! Read more

Turku with Children

Turun tuomiokirkko (Turku Cathedral)
Turun tuomiokirkko (Turku Cathedral) is the center for Finland's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

When we announced that we were moving to Helsinki, we got quite a variety of reactions, one of which, sadly, was “Where?” Admittedly, Finland is not a typical vacation destination for Americans, but that’s a shame considering all it has to offer. Likewise, stopping off in Helsinki for a day on the way somewhere else–which is common practice for tourists who pass through here–means missing out on one of the gems of Finland: Turku.

Turku was Finland’s capital city from its founding in the 13th century until Russia decided to move the capital east to its present location in Helsinki in 1812. As such, it contains much of the medieval history of Finland that is absent from much-newer Helsinki. Situated on the coast at the outlet of the Aura River, it is accessible by the boats that travel between Helsinki and Stockholm and a short & scenic 2-hour train ride from Helsinki. The small scale of the city, as well as the abundance of parks and green-space, makes it easy to explore Turku with children on foot.

The immense tower of the Turun tuomiokirkko (Turku Cathedral) dominates the center of town and both the interior and exterior of the church tell of the long history of the cathedral and the city itself. Started in the 13th century, and rebuilt multiple times during fires, the cathedral sustained significant damage in the Great Fire of 1827, which destroyed most of Turku’s town center. This allowed German architect Carl Engel, already famous for his work on Helsinki’s Cathedral and Senate buildings, to participate in the reconstruction by designing the high alter and the pulpit of the newly-remodeled interior in the mid 1800s, and necessitated the reconstruction of the church tower. Over a period of years, the tower was rebuilt to 101 meters above sea level, making it visible from quite a distance and reinforcing its importance to Finland and to its Evangelical Lutheran Church. Read more

No Buns for Jesus

Misunderstandings are a part of expat life. Language barriers, cultural differences, and a desire to attribute meaning when sometimes there is none–all of these are experienced on a regular basis. Such was the case when I posted the following in my post, Easter in Finland:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday in Finland without it’s own special pastry or bun, and Easter is no exception. These buns are like an elephant ear–crispy and covered with powdered sugar. They’re our least favorite so far, especially since they’re competing with the yummy raspberry jam in the Runbergintartut (in celebration of the birth of Finland’s most famous poet) and the cream filling of the Mardi Gras pastry (Laskia pulla). Once we complete our first year here, I’ll have to report back on the highlights of this year of pastries!

I should have been suspicious when I couldn’t locate the Finnish name for this delicious little sweetie Read more

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

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

Letting Go

The Joy of Less
One of the many books that inspired us to let go!
I’ve been absent from the blogging world for almost six months, but once again, I’m back! You can read more about why I’ve been gone on ChezArtz, but suffice it to say we’ve been busy. The turmoil of job insecurity and an upcoming trans-Atlantic move helped us begin the process of evaluating the choices we’ve made and the stuff we’ve accumulated in over 13 years together and start letting it go.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. Not only had a rather misplaced fear of not having enough money led me to work at a job that I didn’t love for the first five years of parenthood–years that I had always intended to spend at home with the children, but a fear of not having enough space for our growing family spurred us to buy a home that we now realize has more room than we could possibly need. Don’t get me wrong, I love our house. We built it, chose every detail of it, and still think it’s awesome. But it came with a price–a mortgage that kept us feeling like I needed to work when we both knew what was best for our family was to stay home. Read more