Friday, February 03, 2012

This Change is Good

Some people have been asking for an update on things over here in Finland, so here goes! (Knitting content to return tomorrow.)

A year ago, I was putting my house on the market and packing things. Packing things for storage, packing things for Finland and packing things for Goodwill and the Salvation Army. After living in my house for 17 years, we'd accumulated things. I'm not even close to being a "pack-rat" but we had stuff.

Going through it all was my first lesson in learning to live "small". When packing my winter clothes to send to Finland I realized I had 4 sets of flannel pajamas. We were moving into an apartment that was less than half the size of our house, so obviously I had to consider carefully everything I sent across the pond. I packed 2 sets and donated the others. Same thing with sheets and towels and jeans. (And knitting needles!) The process of going through each and every one of my things - from articles of clothing down to cookbooks and spatulas - was time consuming but freeing. I started out with a lot. I ended up with a lot less. A weight lifted from my shoulders and hasn't returned. This change is good.

We arrived in Finland on the longest day of the year. The sun rose at 3:42 am and set at 23:12 pm (11:12pm). That's a total of 19 hours, 30 minutes, and 10 seconds of daylight. Even though the sun technically "set", it was never dark. I'd wake up at 1 am and look outside to see people fishing, walking, boating and running. Why not take advantage of the light and the beautiful weather at every opportunity?

Stop, relax, breath
We learned quickly that Finns are rule-followers. Have you ever crossed a street when the sign said "Don't Walk"? I have. That sense of stress and rush-rush-rush is not really seen or felt here. You can stand at a corner with NO cars visible for miles. If the light shows a red man, you can bet that every Finn next to you will be standing, and waiting patiently. 

The first few times I thought, "These people are crazy! Don't they have places to be? Things to do?" But then I, too, started waiting for the little green man. And guess what? It gave me time to think. Time to relax. Time to realize that it's much better to be LESS stressed about things. Isn't it better to stop and smell the roses in life? This change is good.

My kids are 12. They were scared to death to walk through a city of 300,000 people by themselves. They were panicked to have to navigate city streets and find their way on their own. They were terrified of having to take a city bus a few kilometers out of town to get to their tennis lesson all by themselves, without mom driving them. But things are different here and we've adjusted and grown. Kids take city buses to school by themselves at the age of 7. It's a common sight to see 8 and 9 year-old children meeting downtown after school for a snack, without parents in tow. My kids now feel comfortable doing things on their own and are learning the map. The 16 girls in their gym class walk with their teacher to the nearby forest and are then literally "let loose" to go orienteering or X-C skiing for an hour and a half, by themselves. Of course it's not safe to do this everywhere, but it is HERE, and that's made my kids so much more responsible and self-confident. They've grown in so many ways, yet they are still just 12 (and not 12 going on 18). This change is good.

We've survived the darkest days of the year, including the shortest on December 22nd, when the sun rose at 9:43 am and set at 15:04 pm (3:04 pm). That was just 5 hours, 20 minutes, and 41 seconds of daylight. Now we are gaining 5-6 minutes a day of daylight. Notice I say "day" light and not "sun" light. The sun isn't always out, but when it is, it is breathtaking. Imagine seeing a sunrise like this:
Sunrise over Lake Pyhajarvi, 9:30am January 16th, 2012. Air temperature: + 15 F
And a sunset like this:
Sunset over Lake Pyhajarvi, 4:58pm January 31st, 2012. Air temperature: - 5 F.
Because I went for so many months without seeing the sun or blue skies, now I appreciate them so much more than I ever have. This change is good.

Even though our temperatures have been milder than normal this winter, we are now in the midst of a deep freeze... a massive Siberian cold wave that's made headlines around the world. Yesterday's high was well below 0 degrees F. Even dressing appropriately for this does not make it easy to be outside for more than a few minutes. (And my 20+ years of living in Vermont are also no help!) Fortunately there are over 2 million saunas in Finland, and one of them is in our apartment. Taking a sauna is relaxing and makes you forget about the cold for just a bit. We all agree that if we continue to live in cold climates, we will need to have a sauna. I'm not sure this change is good on the wallet!

During the dark and cold season, we've realized that you can't just hole up inside and hide. You have to get out and enjoy your surroundings. Whether it's going with my friend to walk 2-3 times a week for exercise, XC skiing with the kids and Marc in the beautiful forests:
XC skiing. Sunny, but below 0. Brrr!
or standing there freezing on the sidelines while the girls improve their ice skating:
Ice skating - about 3 degrees F
you just have to force yourself to DO IT. In Vermont, where it was warmer and lighter, I didn't get out half as much as I do now. I always made an excuse. Now I don't. This change is good!

Many people have seen the news reports on the Northern lights and have asked if we've seen them. Sadly, we haven't. But here's a cool video to show you what they looked like last month in Ylläs, Finland, which is about 11-12 hours north of us. Hopefully we will see them someday.
The language here is really tough. Fortunately almost everybody speaks English. Even though I've been taking Finish lessons I will never be fluent, but I am able to recognize some key words. Because Finnish is a crazy language that breaks more rules than it follows, it's forcing me to be more calm about and accepting of things that I don't understand. This change is good.

All cultures and people have different traditions in things they do, holidays they celebrate and foods they eat. I admit, I've never been eager to try new things but here everything is so different that it's forced me out of my comfort zone. What a great feeling to try something new and then actually form your own opinion on it, one way or the other. My kids are trying (and mostly liking) traditional Finnish food each day at school, where lunch is provided free of charge. I've tried many foods too, including Glogg (ick) at Christmas:
and Runebergintorttu (Runeberg Tart) yesterday (YUM!) 
I have yet to try Mustamakkara (blood sausage, a delicacy here... hmmm)
or fried vendaces. Something about eating the fish... the WHOLE fish... doesn't sit well with me. But who knows, maybe I will try it?
We've stayed in touch with family, friends and the shop through Skype and FaceTime. Without the technology that's available today, living here would be really different, and so much harder. I talk to (and SEE) my family weekly.  I Skype weekly (or more) with Barb and Shawn at the office. They take me on virtual tours of the shop with our shop iPad and we can communicate about samples, displays, etc. I'm not actually there, but I'm almost there! I've even met with sales reps and bought yarns via Skype. Just because you're not used to doing something a certain way, doesn't mean it can't work. This change is good.
Previewing and ordering Berroco spring yarns in October
So while I am still "ME", it is true that I have changed a lot in the past 7 months. I've stepped outside my comfort zone daily and guess what? I've survived it! We've somehow managed to live life here in Finland in our own way, thanks to perseverance and a good sense of humor. Isn't that what we all need?


Elizabeth D said...

Still curious about what precipitated the move. . .and a little bit envious of your big adventure!

Jill said...

My husband got a job here for 3 years. It was an opportunity we just couldn't pass up.

elainepill said...

my nephew (who is from vermont!) is in finland getting his masters and gave us some glog at christmas...he explained what we are supposed to do with it but i can't even remember. you don't recommend it?

Jill said...

Glögg is a traditional holiday drink that is either served as a welcome drink before dinner, or with dessert. I'm not a fan of red wine, which is why I didn't care for it! They also make white glögg which I may try next year. It's quite popular!