A Cold Dip in the Sea

A double rainbow from our recent trip to Florida.
A double rainbow from our recent trip to Florida.

I know it’s only week two of 2014, but I’ve already got a sunshine and rainbows sort of feeling about this year. It’s probably because, after a solid week of slate-gray skies and damp, the snow has returned to southern Finland and with it, the sun.

I know, I know, it’s Finland. In January. It’s still getting light at roughly 9am and is dark by the time I drag the kids out of school around 3:30. But in between those hours, for the last two days at least, there was real, bright, need-to-wear-sunglasses, sun! If you had told me in 2010, when I was sharing my First Impressions of Finland, that I would rejoice about the return of the sun in early January, I would have laughed in your face and told you that you should wait until March. Perhaps that means that four winters in Finland have addled my brain. Or maybe I’m just finally adjusted to the rhythm of life here in beautiful Suomi.

There’s an article that circulates through social media every few months along the lines of “You know you’ve been in Finland too long if…“, and although it’s worth a read and a giggle, it really skims the surface, when I think some of the bigger changes won’t come to light until long after I’ve moved on and have the space to reflect.

But a few musings have come into sharp focus during our month of travel and adventure. First, I’ve finally been away from the US to appreciate it. It’s no secret that my husband and I have complicated feelings about the United States; many Americans who choose to live abroad do. So Matt & I were pleasantly surprised to admit that our moments of culture shock during our stay in Florida were all positive ones along the lines of “Gee, people are really friendly here!” “Wow, the customer service is really outstanding!” “Look at all the different types of tequila at the liquor store!” “Oh my gosh, stuff is cheap here!” OK, I’ll admit it, I now get super annoyed with wait-staff who are overly chatty. I want to tell them to leave me in peace to eat my meal. Then I laugh because I’m equally annoyed when I have to stand and wave my hands over my head or do a dance to get a Finnish waiter’s attention.

Second, I really do believe that sunshine, cold temps, and snow make Finnish winter bearable. The lack of light is a problem for me. Not just an extra cup of coffee does the trick problem, but a Vitamin D + Light Therapy + Exercise + Fish Oil + Extra Sleep = just barely not homicidal sort of way. This may be part of the reason that this year’s Black Christmas (what Finns refer to a Christmas with no snow) was so depressing, especially as it coincided with the Polar Vortex, and the oodles of snow that it brought to the US.

Very cold after a dip in the sea.
Yes, I was as cold as I look!

Of course, as we dive into our fourth year here, it is with full knowledge that it will likely be our last year. So we’ve already put together a bucket list of things we’d like to do before we leave. I’ve already accomplished one of them.

Yes, I jumped into the sea when it was about 4C (39F). OK, it wasn’t frozen, but with temps so warm, I was afraid I wasn’t going to get the chance. It was…cold. And yes, this is going to count as all 365 of my Feminist Selfies for 2014 because I’m in my swimsuit and because I have a silly look on my (freezing) face.

It took over half an hour in the sauna to recuperate, but it was refreshing and fun and I’ll absolutely dip into the frozen sea if it ever freezes this year!

We don’t know what comes next after Finland and that’s OK. That is, perhaps, the biggest change in me. The uncertainty is no worse than a dip in the cold sea–it’s something we’ve chosen to do, and something that can be as exhilarating as it is painful.