Sunday, July 31, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 10--Kayaking and Grass

We only have a one-man kayak here at the cabin. The kids have been wanting to try it, so I decided to give them a ride with me after my daily paddle. It was a squishy fit, but they had fun.

Last week we planted grass. It took a lot of prep work, but we've enjoyed babying it and watching it grow. As soon as it grows a bit stronger we'll be able to play yard games and such.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 9--Conquering Fears

One of my biggest irrational fears has been of swimming in lakes. I swim an hour or more every day in a pool. Back in college, I swam 12,000 yards in one session. It took just over four hours. Water itself scares me in no way. Deep ends of pools do not scare me. I do not fear drowning. I do not lack confidence in my swimming capabilites (quite the contrary, actually). But lakes, with their murky, unknown depths and contents, freak me out. I cannot explain it.

Up until last summer I was only able to go about waist-deep in the lake. Last summer I conquered my fears a little bit and swam out a couple hundred meters. I have continued that this summer. BUT, I cannot put my face in the water with my eyes open. I cannot submerge completely. I cannot even try to put my feet down. I try to stay as horizontal as possible, with my feet as near the top of the water as I can get them. I don't want to know how deep it is or what is at the bottom. I definitely cannot try using goggles. In fact, knowing what's there freaks me out even more. I just can't think about it. So that means I am stuck swimming breaststroke, sidestroke, or elementary backstroke. Which is fine. It just means I can't swim quite as fast as I do when I swim freestyle in the pool.

Last summer after I left, my dad and brother swam across the section of lake in front of our cabin. (Just so you know, Lake Saimaa is HUGE.) Ever since then, I have been determined to do it. This was the day. Andrea, Jokke, and I decided to do it together. For safety sake, my dad rowed the boat nearby with the kiddies. See the land mass in the background? That's where we swam:
Here we are, about halfway across:At the other side:

The kids joined us for the last 1/3 on the way back:


We made it across in just under 25 minutes, and back (with the kiddies, who slowed us down tremendously) in 31. Even though I swim that much and more every day in the pool, I have never swam that much doing any stroke other than freestyle, and it was all in a lake. Major accomplishment for me!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 8--Town Day

The inevitable town trips usually occur every 3-5 days. I usually go just to get off the island every 4 or 5 days. This time it was 8 days--my longest stretch ever. I think I prefer the longer stretches between town trips.

Spencer stayed behind with Pappa, playing coyboys and indians, legos, and master and slave. They also went fishing, had a Finnish language lesson, and Spencer practised rowing on his own. Of course, part of the concessions for being left behind (not enough room in the car) meant that we would bring him an ice cream cone and candy king from Prisma. Here is Spencer rowing and playing master and slave. Guess who is who:

I think he had a better day than us. It was so hot--about 30 degrees C, and no air conditioning in the stores or in our car. We hit some of the usual spots, and then some.

Here are some more stores I forgot to mention last year:

Robinhood Säästötalo: The latter meaning "savings house." This is another store that most Finns hate because there are too many Russians. It has a weird assortment of items (it seems that most mega-stores around here do). Kind of like a mini Wal-Mart, but with only the basic foods, not like in the super-Walmarts. While here, we heard a Russian lady approach a sales clerk and ask for something. The clerk responded, "Do you speak English? I don't speak Russian." There was so much disdain dripping in her voice, I almost laughed out loud.

Biltema: Another euro superstore. An interesting cross between a hardware store and a sporting goods store. Finns view it as a "cheap" store, probably the way most Americans view Ikea.

Kodin Ykkonen: A home store--seems to me a cross between Ikea and Crate and Barrell. We like the stuff in here, but it's a bit pricy.

Then on to Lidl and Prisma we went.

Something I've always admired about Finland is their infrastructure for bicycling. All the cities have bike paths criss-crossing throughout them. You can get anywhere in town on a bike path. Many Finns bike and walk more than they take cars. This was instigated years ago when the Finnish government urged Finns to get more exerice--they were finding to many early deaths due to sedentary lifestyles (long winters) and high cholesterol diets. I really wish America would get on the ball with this--we are encouraged to take public transportation and carpool, but they should really come up with other means, such as bike paths and walking paths. I would walk to the stores if it were safe to. But it isn't.

What I really like is that the bike/walking path are completely separate from the road, and plenty wide:

Unrelated note: The 27th of July is celebrated here in Finland as "Sleepyhead's Day." Usually the title goes to Evan, but with him not here, this year it went to Spencer.

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 7--Laundry and Teepees

Today was laundry day. Despite having electricity and well water at the cabin now, we don't have a washing machine, so we still do some things the primitive way. Click on the link above to learn and/or refresh your memory on what it's like with no washing machine and dryer. This time I made the mistake of going an entire week before doing any. I've learned in the past that it's easier to do a little bit every few days than to do a huge load once a week. I find the opposite is true at home.

Something interesting we've noticed here is how labor-intensive it is just to live. But we enjoy that aspect of it (for the most part). At home, we just throw stuff in the wash, push a few buttons, switch to the dryer, push a few buttons, remove and fold. Here we have to fetch the water, put the clothes and soap in, agitate by hand, scrubbing where necessary, wring out soapy water, rinse in the lake, wring out lake water, rinse again with well water, wring it out again, hang them out to dry, and then hours later, remove from the clothesline and fold. And that's just laundry. Dishes, bathing, cooking--everything requires us to haul water. Just walking to the outhouse is a distance at least three or four times to that of walking to a typical bathroom. Add to that all the work we put into this place, improving it, and it's no wonder we're so tired at the end of the day. It's also no wonder we have obesity problems these days--life is too easy, physically.

On to a completly unrelated topic--Pappa decided that Spencer and Waimea needed a teepee to play cowboys and indians. He played that growing up and said that it is an essential part of his childhood. So he and Spencer built one, and have proceeded to play coyboys and indians with it. Today was the first day I let them watch a movie on the portable DVD player. They haven't even asked until today. 7 days of absolutey no tv or electronics of any kind. I'm pretty darn proud of myself. Of course, now that I let them do it once, they are asking for it again. But no--I know they can go 7 days without it, so now they will go at least that before watching anything again. I'm hoping I can continue this at home--I really want to unplug my kids.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 6--Finland Forests

I was going to spew some interesting facts about the Finnish forests, but decided I'd give you a link instead: Finnish forests. If you're interested, read it. If you don't care, then just go away from reading this entry with this: forests cover 74.2% of the land area of Finland, making it Europe's most heavily forested country.

They are everywhere. And I love it. And the forests regenerate so quickly. We've seen areas close by where the forests were cut down, and already, in just a few years, there are trees growing back, the underbrush is thriving, and you'd never guess it looked so desolate so recently.

We had quite a few trees cut down on our property this last fall to make way for the well digger's equipment. Add this to the stockpile of logs and firewood here when we bought the place, and we've got fuel for a decade or more. And there are still plenty more trees to cut down if we need them. And more popping up each year (especially behind the outhouse). I think this is where I'd like to be if a major disaster struck--fuel and water a-plenty. Fish to catch. Berries everywhere.

Our job on this day was to gather all the logs from the cut trees around the property and pile them behind one of the storage sheds. The kids even helped (I wish I had taken a picture of that). Apparently, this is the best way to stack them to "season" them and let them dry out. After that, you layer them to store. My dad is saving this pile for Evan to split next time he comes. Are you excited, Evan?

One of our assignments in the coming years is to make a new storage shed for the wood. The previous owners piled it under the house. It's kind of creepy down there, fetching wood. We've been coming for six years now, using 30-50 logs a day, and we've just barely made a dent in the woodpile below the stairs. What an amazing natural resource when managed properly.

Heard enough? Here's today's sunset:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 5--Sunday activities

I get a lot of people asking what we do about church when we're here.

There is a church building and a ward in nearby Lappeenranta. Ironically, it's the same church building that my dad used to steal potatoes from the field when he was a young boy, before he became a member of our church. It's a boat ride and a 40-minute car ride away. My parents attend quite often. Think what you want of me, but I don't even bother bringing church clothes anymore. I found that with my kids it's just too hard. They don't understand. They are restless. I am busy keeping them quiet (because it's REALLY quiet there), so I can't even try to understand. Besides, there's not enough car room for all of us to go, anyway.

So we try to find Sabbath-appropriate activities instead on and around the island, instead. We don't do sauna like we do every other day. We don't go fishing. We don't go kayaking. We don't work. But here are some things we do:

We make Finnish pancakes in the grilli for breakfast.

We go for boat rides:
We help Pappa steer the boat:

We find round rocks to add to Mummi's round rock garden:

We admire the views from other vantage points:

We help Spencer practice his casting:

We pick blueberries. Look closely--they are everywhere:

We take walks in the back woods (boots a must--there are no trails)...:

...picking blueberries, and eating them, along the way:

We listen to Andrea read Harry Potter to Spencer:

We light fires in the fireplace and roast our makkara dinners.

We make blueberry pies.

We visit relatives.

And of course, we watch sunsets:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 4--Who needs the Jersey Shore...

...when you have a better shore at your feet?

Call me spoiled, but between Finland and Hawaii, the Jersey Shore has absolutely no appeal. Why drive an hour to sit on the beach with thousands of other people, not be able to swim because it's too cold, lug a week's worth of junk from some far-away parking space, watch your kids play in the sand when they could do it in a sandbox in your backyard, and to top it all off--have to PAY to do it? I just really don't get it.

But like I said, I guess I'm spoiled. I have this:

My kids can come and go as they please. They can play in their swimsuits, or stay in clothes (or do it Finnish-style--bare naked). The water is shallow, there are no waves or currents to worry about. I don't have to cart stuff down to the beach, and I can leave it there, rain or shine. And best of all, I don't have to share it with thousands of people. I can sit in my hammock and watch them play, or I can put their floaties on and swim out a couple hundred meters into the lake with them. Who could ask for anything more? No freaks to worry about, either. And even though my dad may look like one in this picture, I know better. He's just like me--so unphotogenic. (Plus he's wearing my sister's old bug-eye sunglasses that were so in a few years ago because his are broken).

Lastly, you can't watch sunsets from the Jersey Shore. But I can here. Every night. (Are you sick of them, yet?)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011, Day 3--Well Water

Dowsing. Ever heard of that term? Maybe doodlebugging, water divining, or water witching? Apparently there are people who can somehow sense underground water through the use of fresh-cut, y-shaped willow branches. Here in Finland they call them "kaivonetsija," meaning "well searchers."

I had never heard of it before until a few years back when I was here in Finland. My parents were in need of a well. I heard all this talk of a well witch and just laughed. But apparently they exist. And somehow my parent's talk of needing a well brought secrets out.

My aunt is a well witch. Water affects her so much that she can't even sleep with her bed near any walls because the water running through them disturbs her so much. My parents didn't know she was a well witch until she came forward and told them she could find them a well.

And then my dad found out that his best friend is also one. He said the same thing, "I can find you a well." And he did. He even gave a demonstration to my family members and found three possible locations for our well. My skeptic brother, Erik, didn't believe it would work. But he saw my dad's friend walk all over the property, and in those three locations, he saw the y-shaped willow dip down. Erik even went behind and felt it, and there was an undeniable force pulling the stick downward. Weird, I know.

I'm not sure I'd believe it if I didn't have such close connections to them. And if my family hadn't had the experience of watching it happen.

But we have a well now, and it sits in one of the areas that my dad's friend located. Up until now, we have had to rely either on lake water for washing clothes, dishes, and bathing, or have brought water in from town to drink and cook with. Now we have no such need. Here it is. It's not very attractive right now. But thanks to the electricity that we now have at the cabin, we even have a pump to make it easy to use:

It was dug last fall. The well itself is about 5-6 meters deep, and the water is pure and cold--about 41 degrees. It springs from some underground location. When it was dug, they found this type of rock when the water started to flow:

Apparently, this is the best kind of rock to find when digging a well. It indicates the best water. So I'm told. It appears to be quartzlike, and it's the pinkish-red veins running through it that mean the water will be good. (Not very scientific sounding, but this is the info I was given). My parents had it tested for Evan's sake. After Russia he doesn't trust just any water. But apparently it is about as clean as you can find. No impurities:

I'd drink this water over tap water any day:

Here's the parting shot:
And my big question for the day is this: Do you believe in well witches?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Blog Cabin, 2011, Day 2--Adjusting and Working

Spencer and Waimea slept until nearly noon. I guess that's what happens when you get only about 2 hours of sleep the night before. We held off making Finnish Pancakes until they woke up. They are best cooked over the fire stove in the grilli. While they slept, I got my morning kayak session in, and then worked, helping prep the ground for a new area of grass--hauling rocks, sand, and soil.

Here's Spencer, pretending to kayak:

And Mea, having a one-on-one with Pappa.

No day is complete without sauna and a sunset:

My day was done by 9:30 PM. I was beat. I fell asleep before the kids, before the sun even set.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blog Cabin 2011-Day1--Time is a funky thing

I thought too much about time this trip. And that can really mess a person up in the head.

Finland is seven hours ahead of New Jersey. The flight from JFK to Helsinki is a 7.5 hour red-eye flight. What usually happens on that flight is that we take off (around 5:40 PM). As soon as we are situated in the air, the dinner service starts. A couple of hours into the flight, they dim all the lights and encourage us to close the window shades (it's practically dark out, anyway) and "sleep." About 3 hours later, they turn the lights back on, encourage us to open our shades, and "wake up." They serve a mini-breakfast, and then shortly after, we land at around 8:30 AM Helsinki time.

Usually I don't think too much about it. The kids are pretty tired and usually fall asleep pretty quickly after the lights are out. I follow suit. The kids sleep the rest of the flight. I get awoken with the breakfast service, and then stay awake the rest of the time.

But I made some errors of judgement this trip--I kept thinking about how, when they dimmed the lights and I was trying to sleep, it was really only around 9PM New Jersey time. I NEVER go to bed at 9PM. So, instantly, I wasn't tired. I also kept thinking that 8:30 AM Helsinki time is only 1:30 AM New Jersey time. Which is closer to my midnight (or later) typical bedtime. So why go to sleep on the plane at all?

Then there's the 3-hour car ride from Helsinki to my dad's cabin. I usually sleep at least half of it. After all, it is the middle of the night in Jersey. But then I am usually good until bedtime, Finland time, and sleep through the night, and am (almost) fully adjusted to Finland time. But again, I thought too much about it, and even though I tried, could not sleep the entire car trip. I made it until about 2 PM Finland time before I took a 3-hour nap. Then I went to bed around 11:30 PM. But now, here I am at 6 AM, wide awake, have been up since 4:30, yet SO tired, and STILL thinking about time too much. How weird it is--I lost 7 hours of my life (I'll make it back up when I go home, but still--what if I were to stay??). Combine that with light manipulation, meal manipulation (they served us dinner and breakfast about 4 hours apart on the plane--who eats breakfast four hours after eating dinner?) and my brain is just going nuts. What's killing me most, is that if I had just given in to the flight's attempts at time, light, and sleep manipulation, I'd still be asleep and would be perfectly adjusted. Grrrhhh! Maybe now that I've posted about it, I'll be able to let it go. Then I can go back to bed and fall asleep with everyone else.

On a brighter note--it's good to be back. That's an understatement. The sights, the smells, the food, the rituals. The anticipation of what's to come the next 3.5 weeks........

Here's just a smidgeon of what we did yesterday: My parents planted a bit of grass. It was just long enough when we arrived to "mow" it. But I had to assemble the push-mower first. I was really looking forward to mowing it, but the minute Spencer saw it, he wanted to do it. Whyever would anyone buy a lawn-mower with a motor? Get some exercise with one of these. And maybe your kids will want to do it, too. (I understand if you have, like, an acre or more of grass, but seriously--this thing was much easier to push than any other lawn mower I've ever used). In our new home we're totally buying one of these. We'll splurge and buy the Fiskars model, though. Of course.

Time to sign off. Here's the sunset from last night--Wednesday. The 20th. Not Tuesday, the 19th, like it felt like.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Finland, Here We Come...

A few months back, uncertain as to how our summer would unfold with trying to sell the house, I went ahead and bought tickets to Finland. Now, with at least 40 showings behind us (that was just an arbitrary number; I haven't been keeping track, but I know we've had way more than 40), distrust in our realtor's intentions, and frustration over the house not selling, I am looking forward to my 3.5 weeks respite away from all that is our house.

We fly out tomorrow--Tuesday afternoon. Get ready for daily (or at least nearly so) postings of life of a different sort--the fusion of old and new, rustic and ordinary. And get ready to see lots of these:
Goodbye, house. I will not miss you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Washington, D.C. from Waimea's Perspective

At many of our stops during our D.C trek, we handed the camera over to Waimea to keep her distracted from the heat. It turns out that a lot of her pictures are pretty cute. Future photographer, perhaps?

Jefferson Memorial:

Lincoln Memorial (there he is, behind that stranger):

Outside the Lincoln Memorial:

Capitol Building:

This candid shot of Andrea with the Capitol in the background is probably my absolute favorite:

Obviously the sites meant little to her; she just wanted pictures of the people she spent her time with. Love it.