We took our kids ski jumping (yes … you read that correctly).

I imagine your reaction is similar to my mother, and mother-in-law – and perhaps this the image running through your head:

The ski jump was at the Puijo ski jump base.  This is a serious ski jump hill.

We had received an email from the kids’ school that the local ski jumping club was having (introductory) training lessons for kids – so why not?

We did feel a little like the odd ducks here – we were the only English speakers at the lesson, but the teacher Nico did speak English well.  He was patient and fun.

Perfecting the ski jump form
The first lesson of ski jumping is to have fun.

Basically the lesson was having the kids go down a small ramp many times, learning the basics.

They all loved it and want to return next week.  C, the adrenaline junkie, had huge smiles on his face, G was super focused on his form and trying not to stick out, and P was worried that she would have to ride the ski lift.

One hill at a time.

  Maybe by the end they will attempt the big hill?

The greatest snow on Earth?

When I lived in Utah for my graduate studies this was (and still is) the tagline for their tourism campaign.  I was thinking of that yesterday as I took the kids skating in the evening.  Perfect stellar dendrites were falling down from the sky. It certainly did feel like this was the greatest snow on earth.

skating rink in snow
Walking to the skating rink. It felt like we were in a snow globe. Somewhat surprised at how white the photo turned out for how yellow the lighting was.

I don’t want to pick any fights about the “greatest” snow, but some observations.  The temperature in Kuopio seems to be uniformly constant as a rule (rather than an exception).  Having the temperature stay in the mid to upper 20s (Fahrenheit) means that the snow is uniformly fluffy.  The type of snow is so variable for a given snowstorm in Minnesota – mainly temperature dependent (heavy-wet, dry, sleet, etc).  In terms of amounts, we get a little over a lot of days, rather than a lot over few days.  That makes a difference.

Living in an apartment and not having a car also means I do not have to shovel every day and navigate the roads.  That helps.  Although I wonder how much this tractor costs – it can very quickly clear snow.  #goals

huge snow tractor.
This would clear any snow quickly…. Hmmm.

Exploring Finnish Foods: the Pastry Edition

Let’s explore Finnish foods!  I love eating sweets versus savory for breakfast, so I went to the bakery section of the grocery store sample some pastries.

The bakery section has the usual selection of donuts and rolls, but I am going to pick two that seem unique to Finland.  So the two candidates are:

Dallaspulla (about .99 euros)

By appearances this looks like a sweet roll with a cream cheese (danish like custard).  When we cut inside the middle is dense, outside is flaky and buttery. 

The filling on top does indeed taste like a cream-cheese danish.   It is good, more like a bread.  Definitely filling.

Kermaviineri irto (about 1.75 euros)

On the outside looks like a sweet roll dusted with powdered sugar, but does feel a little dense (and comes with a nice paper plate).

Ok, let’s cut inside.  WHOA – what do we have here?  Well hello to some surprise yummyness!

There is some surprise filling inside here.  The picture may not show it too well, but the filling is white at the center, and perhaps ringed with jam on the outside.  Intriguing.

The outside tastes like a croissant (and is flaky to boot!).  Love the addition of the whipped cream and (strawberry?) jam.

Overall, both are very yummy.  If I were to pick one as a winner, it would be the kermaviineri irto.

Looking forward to trying more food!

Comparing COVID-19 here & away

People back in Minnesota have been asking “what the COVID-19 situation is like”.  After a few weeks on the ground, here are some (mainly anecdotal) comparisons.  I tried to find data/sources where appropriate, but recognize this is an incomplete analysis.

  Minnesota Finland  
Size/Area 5.6 million / 87,000 square miles 5.5 million / 131,000 square miles From Wikipedia
Current new cases (as of 1/19) 922 LINK 217 LINK Minnesota numbers are decreasing from a second wave LINK.  Finland numbers have been hovering around that point for several months.
Total vaccinated (as of 1/19) 200,000 LINK 56,000 LINK Approximate values – I believe Finland has just administered one dose.
Mask wearing Statewide mask mandate Region dependent?  In any case, wearing a mask in public is highly encouraged. Finland seems to use more disposable masks more*
Everyday life Shops open, restaurants to half capacity Shops and restaurants open  
Schools / Universities Elementary moving to in person. LINK / Universities are mainly online. In person / Universities are all online.  

*For example, we received a general message from their school that high school students in Kuopio will be required to wear a mask.  The school would provide students with disposable masks that they needed to monitor to make sure they had enough for each school day, assuming they use 2-3 per day.

From what we have seen there is more of an acceptance of the public health measures here – as I was told once “Finns do what we are told.”  As a country, I think Finland buckled down early and kept numbers low.  Overall there is concern about the new COVID variants – but the recommendations to the epidemic varies by region.  (Kuopio was recently classified in the accelerating phase).

Not speaking Finnish, and getting a limited (in other words, translated) view on Finnish news I can’t speak to what public attitudes really are on the epidemic – if they are as divided as they are in Minnesota.  Each store here has sanitizing stations as you enter, and people line up to use them. A lot of the work has moved online (or people find clever ways to network outside).  Finns that I know are taking it seriously by rearranging meetings to online or if eating in a restaurant picking a time where it isn’t as busy. 

I appreciate the concern in Finland that daily new cases have increased 20 fold (from single digits in the summer to 200-300 new cases).  It can’t help but wonder how Minnesota would celebrate these numbers (and we were at a scarier place in December 2020).  On the same hand, there are lessons to be learned from Finland in the acceptance of what needs to be done for public health, and to channel some Finnish sisu to work together to get through this.

This post is mundane (which is a good thing).

We left Minnesota just over two weeks ago, and the news to report is that things are … mundane.  Mundane in a good way – (1) my kids finished their first full week of in-person school since March of last year, (2) this weekend we took our kids to a trampoline park to burn off some energy, and (3) we spent some of Friday evening working on a puzzle. We’ve been able to video chat (Facetime or Facebook) with our parents. In many ways our lives seems normal-ish, with the exception that we are half a world away.

Friday night puzzle building.
The start of a 1000 piece puzzle. One of our typical Friday night activities.

On skating and teaching by children

“So do you want to purchase a pair of skates?”

My spouse – S — is asking me this question in Prisma, a megastore that could best be described as a cross between a Super Target and Walmart.  We had walked a half hour at -12C to get the kids sleds, and also decided to pick up skates for the kids (we were told they would need it for school at times).

But the real question is whether or not I would want a pair.

A confession: I don’t know how to skate.  I grew up on Lake Vermilion, tried skating 2 or 3 times – didn’t really like it.  (In college walking back to the dorms – finishing graduate school applications NOT partying — I slipped on ice late one night, followed by knee surgery a week later.  Those formative experiences probably have a more than unhealthy fear of ice.  But I think a little pagophobia is a little justified.

Primsa haul – ready for winter fun!

So, when in Finland ….

Later that night I got to try them out.  I went with the kids to a hockey rink about a 5 minute walk from our house (nearby their school).  Thankfully no-one else was on the rink, it was just me and my kids.

I could describe those first few minutes on the ice, but perhaps this would better:

This was not going well.

But as I was shuffling along my kids were spinning circles around me.  How did they get so good?  They have my genes!  All three of them came over and said “We will teach you how to stake dad!  Just follow us.  Your first lesson is Push, push, glide. You can do this!”  I do remember teaching them that the time I took them to the rink, but just wore my boots because I was too scared to skate.

And so they gave me gentle encouragement, taught me how to improve my form, and were cheerleaders the whole way. It was a rare moment of unity and graciousness for my kids, and perhaps a turn of the tables.  That realization was caused me stop (and almost fall flat on my face).  With this trip we are asking so much of our kids – living in a country where they don’t speak any of the language, attend a school where they are complete outsiders, and force them to be away from all that is familiar for six months.  Too often the power dynamics with children are unidirectional and asymmetrical, so having them see me as vulnerable (and willing for them to be the teacher while I am taught) is a valuable lesson.  My heart was filled with pride.

I finished my kids’ “Beginner” lesson (my grades were an A+, A+, and an A; tough crowd), and I needed to practice for my “Expert” lesson.

I first went skating four days ago; each night we go out skating.  I am seeing some improvement – undoubtedly I won’t qualify for Beijing 2022, but in my mind my kids are all medal winners.

P.S. You can also follow adventures along on my spouse’s blog: https://shannonofthezteam.tumblr.com/ (A lot of the pictures were taken from there. 🙂 ).

First day of school; insurrection

We brought our kids to school today. In many ways it felt surreal – in person school, students don’t need to wear masks. It also feels surreal being a world away from the US. We went to bed last night as the insurrectionists were breaking into the Capitol. I would have continued to follow it, but the jet lag was catching up to me. Simply put, this is a disgraceful day and a stunning display of white privilege.

Sisu, sidewalks, and sleep

We have been in Kuopio the for two days now, getting settled into our apartment and finding our way around town. The kids start school on Thursday, so a few extra days of break for them.

Doing some reading ahead of time I learned about the Finnish concept of sisu – loosely translated as inner strength. I was familiar with the term growing up in Northern Minnesota, which had one of the largest groups Finnish immigrants. What I remember is that sisu was used as a substitute for “Finnish” (maybe used as an adjective (“I am sisu.” Or “Sisu proud.”) than a noun or concept.