Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Living the Medieval Life

I think my boys were born in the wrong era.

Archery J

They just loved all of these weapons...

Archery S 1 real swords

Medieval Joey

and claw hands.

Sam and THE CLAW

We were in a space the size of an average sized American bedroom. It was difficult to keep a real fight from breaking out in medieval Tallin.

Joey and Dad fight

And Wesley, I sooooo wish you were here to experience this with us!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Old Town Tallinn

We took a boat to Tallinn, Estonia this weekend. Estonia is just south of Helsinki, about 1.5 - 3 hours by boat depending upon how much you want to spend on the boat you take. Need I say our boat took 3 hours?

Old Town tower 3

Old Town Tallinn is a medieval walled community with lots of towers, thick brick walls, medieval ambiance, wenches, jesters and souvenir shops! If you like old architecture (like me) Tallinn is your place to be.

We had beautiful weather--72 degrees and sunny and not a cloud in the sky. I took a lot of pictures.  However, some of these pictures were taken the weekend before our trip when I got to explore Tallinn with the American Womens' Club of Helsinki.  It was cloudy and chilly that day.

 Old Town Tallinn's towers, turrets, tunnels, tall walls and tumbled cobblestones tickle my fancy. 

Old Town wall walk 2

Wall arch

Kiek de Kok
Kiek en de Kok (A Peek in the Kitchen)  It is said that from this tower you could peek into many kitchens.

You could walk along some parts of the wall.  I never really thought I had a fear of heights, until I watched my children scamper along the wall with a wobbly, 600 year old wooden fence the only thing keeping them from a head injury and the cobblestones below.  (I'm sure the fence has been replaced at some point in time!)

Old Town wall walk

Old Town wall outside 2
This is the view from below. 

The stairs on the inside of the towers weren't any better.  Every stone or wooden step was a different height and many of them were half as tall as Lily herself.  I was sure she would roll down the stairs at any minute.  Lucky for us we had that sturdy rope to hang on to to help pull ourselves up the stairs!  It was quite a thigh workout running up and down towers all day!

Old Town tower steps

This photo was taken while walking along the wall.  See?  It was perfectly safe--except for those windows behind them that they kept crawling into in order to look at the ground and the people below.

Old Town Wall kids

Honestly, every time I turned around, there was another beautiful tower.  . 

Old Town Wall Tower series

Old Town Wall clouds

Old Town Wall Tower clouds

Gorgeous weather and a gorgeous place!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seaside living

Wherever you go in Helsinki, the sea is not far away.

As you can see from this piece of a map of Helsinki, the sea surrounds us, so most residents are just a short bus or tram ride away from the water.

mappa_helsinki text

Lucky for us, we are less than a 10 minute walk away from the water!  (This is a photo of our neighborhood beach.  We live right by the church with the green steeple on the right.)

our beach

Living close to the sea has many benefits.

You can sun yourself on the rocks on the shore while eating a sandwich for lunch.

lily on rocks

You can take a ferry to one of several islands and explore the island with friends.


kids by fort

kids by water

boys on cannons

You can take a family walk on the seashore at almost any time of day!

sam on rocks

bridge on tervasari

Of course, there are a few drawbacks.

Crazy, dive-bombing seagulls will snatch an ice cream cone right out of your hands. (I managed to survive one of these attacks, but did not escape without a new-found, healthy respect for these creatures.)

Crazy gulls will also build their nests wherever they find it convenient (even if it is in the middle of the sidewalk in front of a door). I did not get a good picture of mama gull because, due to my recent  attack, I was too afraid of the squawking mama to get close enough to take her portrait.

And sometimes, a beautiful day will be temporarily dampened by a little fog.

flag in fog

But all in all, the benefits FAR outweigh the drawbacks.

Living by the sea is one of the things we will miss most about Helsinki when it is time to go home!

Thursday, May 17, 2012



Swing, swing high.

joey flies

Swing, swing low.

lily swings


Swing, swing high.

lily swings disc

Swing, swing low.

lily and kenna

Like the robin in my window,
feel like I could fly away,
on a cloud or on a rainbow
I know, I'll go.



Swing, swing high.

jump swing

Swing, swing low.



Swing, swing high.
Swing, swing low.

long swing

Like the moon up in the heavens,
Like the balsam growing tall,
Like the tides that move the oceans
I know, I'll go.

Swing, swing high.
Swing, swing low.

*Photos on the "Viking" swing from my friend Stacy.
Songs lyrics frome song Swing by Raffi, a song I listened to many, many times with my children over the years.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Finns love sauna. 

According to Wikepedia, there are over 5 million inhabitants and over 2 million saunas in Finland.  That works out to about one sauna per household!

(Photo from Flickr is not mine.)

Vacation properties (summer cottages) often have sauna buildings close to the water so that it is easy to take a dip.

(Photo from

Apartment dwellers (like us) can schedule a weekly time in the building shared sauna for a small fee.

We have a weekly sauna time too! Only I'm quite sure that our sauna experience doesn't look much like the typical Finnish sauna experience!

We try to make it a relaxing experience, really we do. But our three kids have not been brought up in the sauna tradition and it is a bit difficult for them to sit still and sweat. (In all fairness, it is difficult for ME to sit still and sweat!) 

So our sauna experience involves a few Superheros and a lot, I mean A LOT of coming and going.

super heros

In Finnish tradition, sauna works something like this...

After taking a shower, you enter the sauna (naked or not--usually naked in Finland--NOT in our co-ed, family situation) and sit on one of the wood benches. The room would be heated to about 170 - 220 degrees Fahrenheit.

heat element close

We are still sauna rookies, so we keep the room relatively "cool," although we are able to withstand higher temps. each time we go.  (My pictures are terrible.  There is virtually NO light in our sauna.  We've been told our sauna is quite old and dated--but what do we know?)

You pour water on the rocks, as Joey demonstrates here, to fill the room with heat and humidity. You need to repeat this a few times throughout your sauna time to keep things steamy. Our sauna is electric, but there are other kinds such as smoke or wood saunas.

put water on

If you need a break, you can leave the room and take a cool shower in the adjacent shower room (or jump in the lake!).  For most Finns, this might happen two times during a 60 minutes sauna session.  At the beginning, our kids were constantly running back and forth between the sauna and the shower and it was difficult to keep the room hot. That's when the Superheros made their weekly appearance.

Sam and Lily play with the little dudes in a basin of water inside the sauna. This keeps them inside the hot room for longer periods of time and they only leave when they need to take a break from the heat.

lily in sauna

There are a lot of health benefits to sauna. For one, it is supposed to be relaxing and lower your blood pressure. I have yet to experience even the briefest moment of relaxation in the sauna. The kids all fight over the chance to pour water over the rocks and where they get to sit. The higher you sit, the hotter it is. Of course we all fight for the bottom bench!

Our sauna

We aren't quite sold on the whole thing yet.  I just don't get the whole sitting in a hot room and sweating concept, but I'm really trying to learn to love it.  Well love might be too strong of a word. 

At one time, women in Finland gave birth in the sauna.

Oh. Dear. God.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Before moving to Finland, I did a lot of research about life in Finland.

I felt like I knew what to expect and what our challenges might be. Sure, there were a few surprises (like Sam having school for only 3 - 4 hours a day), but in general we have been able to meet our challenges and move forward.

But...(you knew there was a but coming, right?)

...I didn't know that it is very uncommon for 5 year old Finnish children to stay at home with Mom or Dad. And so, our biggest challenge here in Helsinki has been finding friends and activities for Lily and I.

We gave it the ole collge try--we really did. We tried Expat play groups, but even the expats take advantage of the child care system here--most of the children at the playgroups were 2 and under.

We looked for schools/day care for Lily, but the waiting list was always too long--she would have been able to start, well, right about now. Since we return to the States in 2 1/2 months, it just didn't seem worth the wait.

We looked for activities like gymnastics or ballet, but the prohibitive cost and the scheduling just didn't work out.

Then, we met another American family.

And let me just say, are we ever glad we met the M Family!

It's so much more fun to explore Helsinki when there is someone to play with!

Lily and Kenna swing

lily and kenna play

(Lily is wearing a scarf because my thermometer, which sits in direct sunlight, led me to believe it was really warm out before we left the house. In fact, it was NOT warm, AT ALL! I refuse to buy another winter hat, so in desperation, I had to buy something to cover her cold little ears!)

And isn't it much more fun to play "throw-the-dinosaur-up-the-slide" when someone is actually at the top of the slide catching the dinosaur?  (The catcher would be Sam, or in the case of the first photo, my forehead--ouch).

Izak throws dino 2

Izak throws dino

Brothers and sisters are fun to play with (sometimes),

Sam and lily play

but it's also nice to have a new friend to hang with at the park!