Friday, October 28, 2011

Me olimme Helsingissä / Vi var i Helsingfors / We were in Helsinki

Finland only has flags out during certain flag days, otherwise the pole is empty. Most of the flag days are in spring and summer but there were two this month so I managed to catch a photo!

Also I thought I'd post a photo of a Finnish crow. Black AND white.:)

I went to Helsinki this past week to take care of some paperwork at the US Embassy. Here's what Helsinki looks like:

Driving in Helsinki is not fun. Which is why I wasn't driving. Most of the roads in the city are two way but then there are giant train tracks in the middle separating them. So in most places it's impossible to turn left and absolutely impossible to turn around if you miss a turn. Plus, some of the lanes on some of the roads are actually on top of the train tracks so you always wonder if there is a train behind or in front of you to watch out for.

Fall weather is almost over and winter weather approaches, snow has been in Lapland for over a month now, Finland is lowering the speed limits all over the country to ,winter speeds, and soon drivers will have to switch to their winter tires. It's already  below 0 C most nights and not much warmer during the day. Novita magazine already came out with their winter issue, while I'm sure in the US winter knitting magazines won't be out for some time. Fall colors here start out orange and then switch to yellow and then that's it. Occasionally there is a red or brown but those are quite rare. The birch leaves have already turned and then fallen to the ground, so now all around are bare bark birch trees.

After Helsinki we stopped by IKEA in Vantaa to pick up a few things while we were in the area.

I am always amused by the IKEA in Finland because everything is in Finnish and Swedish. But it's not exotic because those are the two national languages so everything is in Finnish and Swedish anyway, from street signs to food and drink, etc. I do enjoy the Finnish accent when they try to pronounce the names of items in Swedish. Also interesting is that Helsinki has it's own dialect and words that it uses so I enjoyed walking through the store and hearing those.

The first thing when we walked into the showroom that we saw was an IKEA sewing machine.

Don't get excited, it's not real, IKEA does not make or sell sewing machines. I got a kick out of it anyway.

Thanks for reading!

Helsinki/Helsingfors (finnish/swedish)
ruska - autumn colors
isä/faija (finnish/finnish dialect)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You know you live in Finland when...

you have to buy your pants one size up, just so you can wear leggings and thick socks under them

there are more bikes than cars in your apartment complex

you see the brightest rainbows in your life, only because it rains so much

you get your IKEA catalog from the gas station

you are not confused when you walk in IKEA and see swedish everywhere, to you its part of daily life

you collect smurf points at the supermarket

you are excited when the library opens on saturday

cash on delivery is a good thing

you sms and get sms from everyone, including businesses and the thought of a phone call seems like a foreign idea

after you wash dishes, you place them in the cabinet above the sink

you close two doors when you come home

you dont go to the market for ibuprofin, but have to find an apteeki that's open

you drink Jaffa rather than Fanta, and eat at Hesburger rather than McDonalds

yarn is named after nature found especially in nordic countries like heather and northern bilberry

a bottle of listerine costs 8 euros ($11 dollars)

cabbage is the food of the month

you dont even question drink flavors like strawberry and pear

you define fall as when the snow starts and when the temperatures are below 0

the library doesnt have a book drop because the European Union forbids it

you can identify ice skating rinks even in summer

the baking paper you buy in the market fits your oven tray, because its the same size everyone else has

half the people you know are named Antti

you know the name of your city in Finnish and Swedish

but you still arent sure if its a town, city or part of some other municipality

you own a K-card, an S-card and a bonuscard and you even know what other shops, gas stations and restaurants are co-op'ed with them

you know the different between a market, a supermarket and a citymarket

your shopping basket has wheels

you never see a price ending in anything other than 0 or 5

you hear about a finnish celebrity, and by celebrity they mean tango dancer or tango singer or someone related to Iskelmä

you walk into a computer lab and your choices are Windows or Linux

every ATM is named Otto

you make an appointment for the dentist and the next availble is two months from now

and it only costs 18 euros

people bring their dog on the bus

you know what day of the week and time your sauna schedule is

the sky is dark blue and you cant believe how dark it is outside

you know whose ,name day, it is by listening to the radio

you can see a graduation cap and not think ,sailor,

you know what subject a person studies by what color pants they wear

a pub is not a pub and a restaurant is not necessarily a restaurant

your pizza is 100% guaranteed made by someone Turkish

Marianne is not a name, it's chocolate and mint

the only Halloween candy you can find comes from Germany and Italy

you see a giant panda wandering around the supermarket and understand completely

Hope everyone is having a great fall!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I'm Back! ...but I've moved!

Long time no post because I moved cities and apartments and everything and have been super busy! But I am back to give you your regular dose of Finnish culture.

The first thing on the list is mölkky, or in English, lawn bowling.

How it works is there are are 12 pins each with a number 1-12 on them. You set them up in a specific order, kind of like in pool, all close together. Then you take the möllky pin, which is a bit longer than the numbered pins, and throw it at them. The goal is to reach 50 points EXACTLY. How the scoring works, is that if you hit ONLY one pin, you get the number of points on that pin. So if you hit the 9, you get 9 points, 12 then 12 points, etc. But if you knock down 2 or more pins, your points equal the total number of pins knocked down, regardless of the numbers written on them. So if you knock down 2 pins you get 2 points, 3 pins are 3 points, etc. And the pins have to be completely flat on the ground, no leaning on each other or anything. Each time you hit the pins, you go over and set up them in the exact place they fell. So each round, they generally get farther and farther apart, as you can see in the photo example (which shows 3 points by the way).  Sounds easy, but the strategy is tricky, because if you go over 50 points, your score automatically is reset back to 25. And as you get closer to 50 points, it's harder to knock multiple pins down since they are farther apart and still hard to knock any specific pin down too. And if you miss the pins entirely 3 times in a row, you are out. It's a really goofy yet fun game and can last from a short to a long time. It's great to play outdoors, at the park on a nice summer day and I highly recommend everyone play it at least once. Great fun.

Or if you are more the sporty adventurous type, you can always participate in the commonly seen on the sidewalks of Finland activity of rollerblading WITH NORDIC POLES. (Are they nuts? I think yes.) I'd always heard of Nordic Poles and seen them rarely in the US and they are quite true to their name in that it's extremely common to see people walking down the street with them, all year round. But I never expected anyone would be so crazy as to try to rollerblade with them. They are quite speedy too. Me, I think I'll pass for now.

I prefer a less death-defying activity like playing board games. And Niko for my birthday got me Alfapet, which is the Swedish-made version of Scrabble, using the Finnish alphabet! This is great for me because it's very fun to begin with, but also improves my vocabulary and Finnish skills. And the interesting part to me is that I win sometimes!!! Against a native Finn!!!
In my opinion, Finnish Scrabble/Alfapet is much harder than English Scrabble because there are a lot more words in the English language and because in Finnish words are modified or declined by their endings. Also Finnish has a grammar rule called Vowel Harmony (Vokalharmonie auf Deutsch) where the letters a and o and u always go together and ä and ö and y always go together and there is no word (that's not a compound) word where those letters are combined. (good examples in the photo) I and E can go with either set though. But if you have letter tiles on your tray and no vowels to match the words on the board, then you are out of luck. So the game is much more challenging, but a fun challenge.

As I stated, I am now in Lappeenranta. It's in the south-eastern part of Finland and while the size of the city is probably medium size, the population density is quite high. It's also a university city so there are a lot of students. It has two shopping centers, a bunch of markets and supermarkets, a ton of Turkish pizza places and grillis, and even a sewing shop/craft store. There are buses that run every hour from the university to the city center and a few buses that run that go to the supermarkets and stores a bit further out. In Finland, buses run on tickets and when you get on the bus you tell the driver where you are going. This is because ticket prices are based on how many kilometers you are going. So if you are just going to city center, it's cheaper than going to the further out markets and stores. The buses are quite helpful in winter, when it snows too much to walk or bike a long distance, and it's also good when it rains. Which it does. A lot. Almost every day. Almost every time I look out the window it is raining. But that's always a good excuse to sit down with a  nice warm cup of Lämmin Kuppi book or some knitting or maybe some Project Runway Season 9.

And afterwards you get to enjoy a nice Finnish rainbow.

Until next time.

T. Kati

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Sounds of Finland

ice cream truck's song... 

It is summer now and the ice cream truck can be heard now and then going through the neighborhood. It has it's own little tune, recognizable by all. Last week, we decided to track him down.  What's interesting about the ice cream trucks here, is that while they have a few types of ice cream that you can go up and buy one piece for a euro or two from the truck, most of what you get is big boxes, with 10 or so ice creams inside. We bought Toffee-Vene, little ice cream boats with vanilla ice cream, chocolate topping and caramel sauce in the middle. Nam.

Kukkuu, kukkuu, KÄKH...

One night, I kept hearing a bird outside. At first I wasn't sure if it was an owl ,hoo hoo, or a pigeon ,coo coo, but I was later told it was a cuckoo bird. Apparently they are real and exist here in Finland. But they don't call them cuckoo birds here (that would be too obvious). They call them käki birds. The käki bird sings a long (and constant) song of kukkuu, kukkuu, but then at the end of this song they give a sharp KÄHK sound. And that's the sound they are named after.

Click clack of knitting needles...

I finished my last dishcloth of the summer.  Currently I am working on a headband, but the pattern isn't the greatest so I am modifying it and trying different ways of knitting it, which means I have started over about 4 times so far and will probably continue to do so until I find the right fit.


I found a set of badminton rackets and birdies at the local Robin Hood for 1,50€. We spent one afternoon in the back of the apartment just hitting the birdie back and forth. It was a nice day and a good way to spend an afternoon.


Yesterday was the Pioneerifestivaali in Koria, a little town nearby. My favorite band was playing there so we decided to buy tickets. Uniklubi is one of the first Finnish bands I ever heard of  when I was learning Finnish and about Finland. They play rock and all of their lyrics are in Finnish. So we went and had a great time listening to the show. They played well and it was a good evening listening to good music, and of course, seeing my favorite band live. 

After the show, the band went back to their restricted area and the next band started to play on the second stage. I had brought one of my Uniklubi CDs and I decided I would walk up to the security guard and ask if they would sign my CD for me. I expected him to say no, or at best, to take my CD and bring it back while I waited at the gate. I was told one of the staff would ask and I would wait at the gate. Then a couple of minutes later he waves me inside the restricted area. I follow him and chat with him and he leads me to the Uniklubi tour bus. I'm asked to stay there a moment and the next thing I know Pasi and Jussi (the guitartist and lead singer of the band) walk off the tour bus! Vau! So I actually got to meet them in person and chat with them and they signed my CD! A minute later, Janne, another guitarist comes off the bus and chats and signs too! Uskomatonta! Quite an unexpected adventure!

And a little Uniklubi for your listening pleasure (and a good look of what Finland looks like)...
(if this doesn't work in your country, just search on Youtube for Uniklubi Maalima Puhaltaa and click the one that looks like the CD above.)

Thanks for reading.
(Kiitos lukemisesta.)


Sunday, July 3, 2011

It's still summer in Finland (though the newspapers here state that summer is soon over) and so the ice cream adventures continue on. This past week we tried...Blueberry Pie ice cream. It was one of the best ice creams Niko and I had ever tasted. It truly tasted like blueberry pie. It's vanilla ice cream with blueberry swirls all throughout and on top were little crumbles, like a pie crust. Mahtava.
 This Saturday Niko and I went to Vantaa and visited Ikea. We bought many things including bed, sofa and dishes. Ikea is great because everything comes in flat boxes, so our move to Lappeenranta next month should be relatively easy. 

On the way back, we stopped by an ABC. For those not in Finland, ABC is in general a gas station and then inside can be a number of things including a small supermarket, cafe, lunch buffet, Hesburger, post office, etc. This one, since it was on the ,highway, had all of those but the posti, so we grabbed some lunch. ABCs are also open later than most supermarkets, and this one is apparently 24h. Juhannus was last week, the mid-summer day, and all of the supermarkets and the entire city was closed. The only thing open guessed it, ABC. 

As we got closer to our little city, we passed by another ABC and I had to take a photo. On the front of ABC's, they have big signs announcing what is inside. Hesburger, Market and this one announced in the blue sign to th right...Novita. YARN. Novita is the most common brand of yarn here in Suomi, to me it's like the Finnish version of Lion Brand in that it's cheap, has fairly good quality and has a wide color variety. And it's found everywhere. Including supermarkets and gas stations. I got a kick out of seeing a sign for it though and wish that every place that sold yarn had a sign announcing it on the front of their store. Wouldn't that be convenient?

The concept of a Finnish ,highway, is interesting, as there really aren't many cars, most of the roads are two lane (one coming, one going) and you don't pass through any metropolitan areas. Most of what you see when you look out the window (in summer) are trees, grass, rocks, farms and fields. (In the winter all you see is snow snow snow). We kept passing by these giant fields of yellow and at first I thought they were just flowers or weeds or something, but I learned that what I was seeing was actually rapeseed fields. Now I know where our cooking oil comes from. Nice to see such active agriculture going on and a very pretty view too. 

In other news, the cow eggs are have been laid and are waiting to be hatched. For those of you that have no idea what I am speaking of, please read here. Yes, Samu, in my country, we have cow eggs.

Thus concludes another week in Finland. Knitting continues ever onward. A hat turned table mat is now completed and a new dishcloth will jump on the needles very soon.

Also, if you have never seen Hachiko I highly recommend. Two paws up.

Mustikkapiirakka : blueberry pie
Mahtava : awesome
sänky : bed


Monday, June 27, 2011

Picnic in the Park

Nyt on kesä. It's now summer (officially) and to celebrate, Niko and I had a picnic at a local park. I found a nice roll and store blanket at Antilla, and for food we brought potato salad from LIDL, patongit (baguettes) from Picnic (how appropriate), Pringles from S-Market (yes we have Pringles in Finland), and I got  a pear flavored drink from S-Market. I should explain that in USA, I never had anything pear flavored, but here in Finland it seems to be almost a national flavor. Pear ice cream, pear drinks, pear candies, you name it, it's everywhere. And none of them actually taste like pear, but they all have the same flavor that is associated with ,pear,. I find it extremely tasty.

In addition to it being summer, it's bright all day and all night. Sun set here is right before 11pm and sunrise is around 3am. But it never gets dark. The above photo was taken on the longest day of the year, somewhere around 1 or 2am. That's night, folks. That's as dark as it gets.

Knitting is continuing. I finished a dishcloth this past week and my other projects are getting quality time.

T. Kati

Friday, June 17, 2011

Taita ja Nauti

International Knit in Public Day was June 11, so Niko and I grabbed some yarn and needles and found a bench and just sat and knit. It was nice weather and quite relaxing to just sit outside and knit. I ended up finishing the Taivas Varjele shawl later that afternoon, which had been in progress for over a year.

Every month our local supermarket chain puts out a 35 or so page booklet that you can pick up for free at the entrance of the store. Inside are recipes, specifically ones that use the Pirkka brand, which is found all over the store. On many of the recipes is a date stamp. And if you turn on mtv3 everyday at various times of the day, you will find a show called Mitä Tänään Syötäisiin? (What can we eat today, loosely translated).It's a five minute show and in it, the guy picks a recipe or two from the booklet and shows how to make them. While you can't make a meal in 5 minutes, you do get to see the cooking techniques involved, which tools are needed and the show pictures of the ingredients so you can find them on the shelves. And lately I have actually managed to watch a few of the shows and made a few of the recipes.

For starters there was a watermelon ginger drink.

Then I made a pesto-egg spread to go on top of Karjalanpiirakka. These little pies are traditional Finnish food and often topped with munavoi, an egg and butter combo. But the pesto variation was also quite good.

And lastly, I made some Hedelmäropposet, which I will extremely loosely translate as Fruit Tarts. They are pastry dough covered with a cream cheese-vanilla-nectarine combo and topped with strawberries. These are quite good.

One interesting food item we bought this week was Pullava. The word pulla is a general term that means some sort of dessert bread. It can be as simple as a bread roll with cardamon or can also have fruit with it. But this Pullava is a specific brand item from Fazer and has individual pieces you can break off and eat. On the top is some sort of fruit on one side and a custard on the other. If that wasn't exciting enough, the edge pieces are also filled with custard.


 In other news, Niko and I had an offer on an apartment which we accepted, so we now know where we will be living in August and beyond. It's a nice 3 story building, centrally located and has a little market right behind it. And of course, it has sauna. It is Finland.

Until next time...

t. Kati

Friday, June 10, 2011

Residence Permit!!!

Today was a huge week because my residence permit was approved and I am now officially a legal resident of Finland. In case you've forgotten, this is good for one year and can be renewed each year. And after 4 or 5 years I am eligible to apply for citizenship, though most people wait much longer and just keep renewing their permits. 

On Tuesday we were just having a normal morning, doing things around the apartment when I get an sms on my phone. It reads ,You are kindly requested to deliver your passport to Kouvola police station,. Needless to say we immediately hopped in the car and drove over. And after a short meeting and some more form signing, I got an official stamp in my passport that says I am a legal resident. 

It is very surprising that it took such a short time. Luckily my case got handled solely within Kouvola and never had to get sent to the immigration office in Helsinki or anything. For most people, it takes 4, 5, 8 months to wait and wait and wait for the resident permit to even process. Mine took only 3-4 weeks from the time I turned the first forms in. 

 The next steps were to get Kela card (covers everything from social security, unemployment, health ,insurance, etc all in one system) and open a bank account. The Kela card is now in process and may take a few weeks but I now have a bank account (hello euros). 

Would you like to see what part of our city center looks like? There is a Kouvola webcam located on the top of a tall building that gets updated now and then and on one of our errands Niko had to go to the 10th floor of the building, so I took a photo while we were there.

 The tall building on the left is just apartments but there are shops in front of it. To the far left in the distance is the (now defunct) ski jump. And that cluster of buildings on the right is Hansa, our little shopping center that sells clothes, shoes and has some small food places in it, for example Arnolds, our donut place. 

As you can see the snow is now just a memory but I am reminded often that it will come back (how could I forget?), but for now and especially today, Finns are sweltering in excessive heat of 30C/86F. And may I remind you, here is no air conditioning. 

Here is part of the grilli menu
But wait, that's not entirely true. There is air conditioning in grilli! Grillis are like little kiosks where you just walk up and order food, usually burgers, sausages, french fries, standard greasy delicacies for a reasonable price. And then you can sit around outside at tables and eat or there can be a small inside section to eat in the cool air conditioning. The closest thing I can compare them to are those stands at pools or lakesides. The great thing about grillis for me is that every one I have seen thus far  has vegetarian options. All have veggie burgers and the one we went to yesterday while in city center had vegetarian pita, which was delicious. And what grilli food is complete without something to drink. I had orange juice with my pita and I really like the straws here that they use on these small juice boxes. They have two bends in them. Niko had milk in cute little cups. The fun part about milk here is the little cow on the front of the container. On these milk cups, the cow is riding a bike with a helmet on. But depending on what type  of milk (1.5%, fat free, whole) you buy, the cow is doing something different. Going fishing, rollerblading, all sorts of fun stuff. And the cow on the bike originally was riding without a helmet, the helmet got added later on. But the pictures and activities change on a regular basis so it's fun to see what the cow is doing next. This cow only exists on the Valio brand milk, the other brands just have basic cow or nothing at all.

It's ice cream season in Finland. Ice cream stands are open everywhere, ice cream shops opened their doors long ago and set out tables, and even the ice cream truck can be heard playing it's music driving down the street (at 9pm I might add). In supermarkets you can also buy individual ice creams and yesterday Niko and I got some on a trip out. There is one brand called Pingviini (penguin) and I have been seeing it's commercials on tv for some time for a popcorn ice cream. Intrigued, I had to try and I must say it was delicious.  It's vanilla ice cream with some yellow color mixed in that tastes like popcorn butter, in a sweet way. And then there is a caramel spot in the center that tastes like popcorn caramel. The cone is lined with chocolate and has that chunk of chocolate at the bottom. And at the top of the ice cream are little popcorn kernels, but they are soft and chewy like candy. Whoever created this deserves a medal.

T. Kati 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Polkupyöra, Knitting and an Award

Ah the time has gone by since my last post. My parents came and visited us for some time and before and after their visit, not much happened outside the usual studying, working, etc. The weather is warm now, in the 20s (that's 70s for you F folks) and so the windows in the apartment are wide open and there is green everywhere we walk. Lately I haven't even needed a jacket, which is exciting stuff.

The biggest thing to happen lately is that I got a bike! It's white, 28", Jupiter brand (made in Finland). It's quite retro but very sturdy. It's a 3 speed, which is great. In the front there is a little bell by the brake. In the back there is a small rack where I can put things and maybe in the future put a basket to transport groceries easier. There is also a pink flag with a reflector on it that can be pulled out (like in the photo) or just normally alongside the bike, so that if I ever would ride at night, people can see me easier. But the most fascinating thing to me about this bike is the lock. Most bikes in Finland don't use the coil or U-lock locks that I am used to, that you attach to the bike and then to whatever it is you are locking it onto. Instead, most bikes in Finland come with locks attached to the bikes on either the front or back (mine's on back) wheel, between the spokes, so that when it's unlocked it is out of the way and you can ride freely, and when it is locked, you can't move the tires at all. So you can just put the bike on a rack (this one is in front of the apartment btw), lock it and walk away. I like it.

The actual ,getting, of the bike was an adventure. We found the ad in a local newspaper and actually called about a different bike listed. The owner lives in Valkeala, which is 11k from here. But the bike we called about wasn't in great condition when we saw it in person. Then the guy told us about a different bike he had that wasn't listed in the paper, namely, this one. This one was much much better. So we bought the bike but had no way to bring it  back to Kouvola. So we went out and got me a helmet (blue and white, like Finland flag), and then posted an ad in our building, asking if anyone had a bike rack we could borrow. But alas no one responded (I don't think anyone reads the board) so we planned our expedition. We would get a (car) ride to Valkeala and then I would ride the bike back while Niko jogged alongside. And we did. The whole 11k. In 70+ F temperatures, which in Finland is devastatingly hot. It was quite an adventure. But we made it and now my bike has a home on the bike rack out front and when it rains there is also a bike room on the ground floor inside where it can stay dry. 

I made this
Niko made this
For those who don't know me I am an avid craftster and knitter. I always have at least one project going at a time and it's quite common when I have free time to sit in a chair, listen to a knitting podcast and knit some project. When I visited here last June I taught Niko the knit stitch and this past week we went out and got some yarn and he got a refresher course and we have spent the evenings just sitting together and knitting. It's very nice. He is a very fast learner. He has already knit up a dishcloth and two sports wristbands. At the same time, I knit up a dishcloth too, so that he could see the same stitches. My next project is a hat, using circular needles. Hopefully it ends well.

Lastly, my friend and fellow blogger (and craftster) Anna has bestowed upon me a Stylish blogger award. Apparently those who get the award have to write 7 facts about themselves, link back to the person who gave it, and give it to 4 new ones. So here goes.

1. I live in a little town in Finland and Finnish is my fourth language. (The others are English, German and Danish)

2. My hobbies include learning languages (which atm is 100% Finnish), knitting, sewing, reading, watching movies and cooking/baking. I introduced cream of potato soup to Niko last week and he made us Pannukakku this week. It's like a giant sweet pancake baked in the oven and then covered with jam or fruit.

3. I am a process knitter. I find it more fun to plan a project, enjoy the project as I am knitting and then before I am even finished, start planning the next one. The opposite of a process knitter is a project knitter, those who know exactly what they want to make and then make it. Me, I could be happy with a hat or scarf or anything as long as I have needles and yarn in my hands. And if there's some interesting new technique involved, all the better.

4. I like supermarket ads. In any language, from any country. Whenever the mail comes, I always jump to check out the latest sales and just see the interesting food items available. The LIDL ones in Finland amuse me because you can see ads for bread, milk and hardware tools and paint all in the same ad. And it's a small store. I am also a pro at finding the good deals and identifying which ones are just spaving.

5. I like to watch movies (even in English) with subtitles. This works out great with Niko. :)

6. My favorite board game is Scrabble. I brought this travel version from the US and the tiles actually stick into spaces so you can close the board/folio anytime and open it back up to play later and the tiles are still there! It's super nice. Niko and I have also played Finnish Scrabble at the local library, which is also very fun. Unfortunately, the photo from our game is on my cell phone and I have no idea how to get the photos off from there. :)

7. I always order extra cheese on pizza (extra juusto, tupla juusto).

That's all for today, folks. Happy knitting!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest 2011

Easter is over, Vappu is over and spring is debatably here. Weather here in Kouvola has reached up to 22C (71F) on some days and one has to search for snow piles left over from winter. Shorts, skirts and tees are the norm and in a city where you walk everywhere, even that can get hot. The birch trees are blooming green leaves, flowers show up here and there and the sun shines often. And long. Sun rise here is currently around 4:30am and sunset hits around 9:45pm. And night is dark blue and getting lighter. I'm starting to wonder if the birds here sleep at all as they can be heard chirping and tweeting at all hours of the night. Ah, Finland.

I should also mention that spring comes almost overnight here in Finland and that's not an exaggeration. One day birch trees are bare and the next day there are green buds on them starting to show and the next, it's like the entire country has exploded in green full leafed trees. Niko commented at one point that because summer is so short here it's almost like the grass and trees and everything grows as fast as it can to take advantage of the time. I think it's true.

The big adventure recently is that my glasses broke. :( They were 3 years old and plastic and split right across the nose piece. But a place in town managed to glue them back together until I could decide on a new pair. And after a long search to various optometrist shops in city center I found a fun pair of Etnia glasses called Atlantis that are really fun and just my size. They are actually more comfortable than my last pair, which kept sliding down my nose everytime I looked down to read or knit, no matter how often I tightened them or had them tightened in shops. I had an eye exam while I was there since my prescription was old and so now I can even see better, which is fantastic. The actual lenses are thinner than my old ones too and don't distort my face or eyes either. And because Finland is such a small country, they arrived from Helsinki the day after I ordered them.:)

It's exam time at LUT, so Niko and I have had many trips to Lappeenranta. I sit and read library books while he is in exams and we usually find food before or after either at a Turkish pizza place or gas station or the university cafeteria. I should explain that gas stations in Finland are much more posh than in America and contain cafes and fresh sandwiches or hot meals and tables to sit and eat. The other day I had some skyr. Most food in Finland comes from either Finland, Sweden or Germany, but skyr is a yogurt that comes from Iceland! I'd never had food from Iceland but it was fun. It even comes with it's own little spoon that unfolds to eat with it.

The latest adventure in legal affairs is my residence permit. After I got my new (name changed) passport back from Helsinki (US Embassy) we immediately filled in and submitted the paperwork for my residence permit, which will allow me to legally stay here for one year and then is renewable after that. It was something around 16 pages in forms plus the paperwork we attached with it and included an essay. We turned it into the police station and had a short meeting with their international people there and within a week they called us back and we have interviews scheduled for next week. We will be interviewed separately and have no idea what to expect but hopefully all will go well. Everyone there seemed really nice and helpful. After the interviews, which will take about an hour and a half, they send my application and their comments to the immigration office in Helsinki and they determine approval. As a ,tourist, you don't need a visa to come to Finland unless you are working or studying here, but the limit is 90 days. Luckily I am allowed to stay here while they process everything, even if it takes months. Wish us luck.

 In other news, tv season is ending and so all of the finale shows are airing AND it's VERY SOON Eurovision. Martti won Idols, which was a good choice.  (To play video of winning song, load link and video will open automatically). Linda won Muodin Huipulle (Finnish version of Project Runway), though I think Jussi should have won. There are also more imports from American tv such as Jon and Kate + 8, Oprah, 30 Days and Friendit (Friends). But the biggest event of the YEAR is this Saturday and that's EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. I first learned about Eurovision before my year study abroad in Germany.

For those that don't know how Eurovision works, almost all of the countries in Europe participate and each send one representative or group and they sing and put on a show and compete against all of the other countries. And anyone can vote by mobile phone or SMS but they can't vote for their own country. So everyone has a fair chance. Think of it like American Idol, only for an entire continent. And it's a huge show with lights and costumes and lots of parties. Finland this year has a super contestant, Paradise Oskar. The first semifinals were Tuesday and enough people voted for Finland so he will be in the finals! Tonight is the second semifinals and then Saturday is the big event. This is actually the first year I've seen Eurovision in Europe and on television. Previously I have only watched it in America online. I was surprised to find that Finland subtitles all of the songs sung. Most songs btw are sung in English or the country's native language.

But the fun in Eurovision is not to watch the quality, well made songs sung by talented performers. No, the fun in Eurovision is that so many countries each year put out the most ridiculous and absurd and opposite of talented musicians and songs. Frightening costumes, random acrobatics, rap combined with opera, green pants, random lyrics like ,boom boom chaka chaka,. And this year, like every other, is filled with them.

So if you are bored and have time, please feel free to suffer through these:
Iceland (actually very good!)

and the worst of them all...

Portugal   :O

Tonight's semifinal features Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovia, Denmark, Israel and Sweden among others. France, Spain, UK, Germany and Italy all get a ticket for free since they are the biggest countries and pay the most for the show. Germany won last year, which is why it's held in Germany this year. Will Eurovision come to Finland next year? Euroviisut 2012 Helsingissä? Anything could happen...
Paradise Oskar from Finland

T. Kati