Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The LGN plan

After becoming a commuter via public transportation and walking, losing weight, becoming smaller but softer, donating 1/3 of my closet, then spending an exorbitant amount on clothing in Stockholm to make up for it, sleeping, not sleeping, getting lost in Finnish culture, then crying over the American national anthem, I decided enough was enough.

I was going to get back into shape.  I was going to make myself better. I was going to initiate the LGN plan, or the Look Good Naturally plan.

This is a multi-step plan to feel good, look good, and be healthy. It's a state of mind as well as a state of behind. And starting two weeks ago, I put this plan into hearty action with my girlfriends. We are changing ourselves to be the best we can be, and to feel as wonderful as we ever have been. Beautiful and happy, inside and out.

In these times of uncertainty and a little bit of chaos, we're all just trying to find a little peace of mind. And this plan has allowed the three of us to find some of it. Maybe by sharing it will help others find some as well.

Healthy on the Inside

Being healthy on the inside requires a few different tactics.

Exercise. One of the most obvious is of course, physical activity and exercise. We vowed 5 sessions a week at 40 minutes minimum commitment to ourselves/each other. We check in with each other at the end of the week to see how many sessions we got in, trying to reach the general goal of 50 sessions at the end of a 10 week period. So far we've all beat the 5 time a week minimum. Most of us do more than this on a daily basis anyway.

Sauna. Another of these, though only recently implemented and realized, is going to the sauna on a weekly or multiple-time-a-week basis. Sweat out all those toxins and relax in the process. The Finns believe very strongly in the power of the sauna and I'm starting to as well. It also relaxes and opens up your pores, which invariably helps your skin. Double bonus.

Food, food, food. Naturally we all need to eat. I'm not such a huge promoter of diets, since I think that by limiting yourself you're really just setting yourself up for wanting the things you're telling yourself not to eat. I say everything in moderation, including moderation. And my body seems to follow in suit. So though I am trying to make smarter choices about what I eat (more fruit, little less of the delicious creamy stuff...maybe a little less of the fried...if I can resist), generally speaking I still eat what I want, just maybe not in as large a portion. And more times a day. After nearly passing out the other day from low blood sugar I have realized I'm quite bad at remembering to eat, and therefore, need to remember to eat on a regular basis.

Healthy on the Outside

This one is going to sound a little bit funny, since it has to do with things that I was mostly unfamiliar with until fairly recently. But bear with me. I've still managed to deal with it, so I imagine you can too. :)

Face. Treat your face with care and you will look the way you do for a lot longer than you'd ever imagine. Wear sunscreen everyday. Exfoliate every so often, moisturize like a mofo. Even if you're a guy (especially if you're a guy!) your face will appreciate you for it. I've been using sunscreen for years but other than that I've been a pretty lazy bugger. I've recently implemented a skincare regimen and my skin has never looked so good. I'm pretty sure in another 15 years I'll see the benefits of my care. Take care of your body and face - it's the only ones you've got, and will ever have.

Body. Same way you treat your face well? Treat your body well. Why not treat your body skin just as well? Lotion, scrub, give your skin some comfort. I've never lived anywhere with harsh climates, but now that I live somewhere with an actual climate, I know that maintenance is actually pretty key. My skin was suffering until a week or two ago and I actually invested in it. And now it's doing great again. I'm a lot more comfortable as well.

Clothes. This is a subject I've never been that fussed with. As I posted about previously - I have never really cared what people thought regarding the way I dressed. If I like it, then why should I care what people think? It makes me happy. And I still march to that drum beat. It took me awhile to recover from the initial culture shock of being surrounded by well-dressed people all the time, but you know what? Bugger them. I love who I am and what I stand for. I'm not from here, so why should I dress like I am? They already know I'm not one of them, so why should I try to fit in? March to your own beat - you'll wonder why, at the end of your life, you spent so much time trying to fit in when you could have spent that time just being yourself. Believe in yourself, believe in what you love, and the rest will fall away.

Healthy in the Mind

There is no easy way to say this: some people are just more self-aware than others. Blunt, honest, a little mean. Maybe. But it's true.

To help be as self-aware as possible though, there are things you can do.

Be alone. Spend time by yourself every week. Dedicated hours where you are just by yourself. Completely by yourself. It could be walking alone, being home alone, doesn't matter. Just be by yourself, doing something where you won't be interrupted. You'll learn more about yourself than you ever imagined.

Think. Take time each week to just sit and think. I call this dedicated contemplation time. You'll be surprised all the things you think of, figure out, sort through, and generally just realize when you just take the time and lay/sit somewhere quiet and think. I do this for a few hours a week, usually straight after I get home after work. It does wonders for figuring yourself and other things in life out. And it makes you feel centered. Gives you perspective. Try it and see what happens.

Ask. Be always willing to ask - questions, for help, for anything. The curious are the ones that further us, and the curious are the ones that see the most. Thinking you know everything will only get you so far. Be curious. Explore. Continue to be curious.


And that is what the LGN plan is about. Health on the inside, outside, and mentally. So far it's been going great, and I imagine we're going to continue this as long as we are aware we should. I'm really hoping it will become a lifestyle, rather than something I'm consciously thinking about, and I think I can do it.

I've already seen some pretty spectacular results...so I can't wait to see what happens as I continue forward. Hopefully this post has helped you in some positive way.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I am that Finnish neighbor

So here in Finland you get your mail delivered right to your door. Actually, to be technical, it gets delivered through your door. There is a little (well, actually it's quite large) slot in everyone's door and this is where the mail person comes every few days (not sure that it's actually everyday) and drops in mail. My post person delivers sometime in the early afternoon, usually around 2-3pm.

Likewise, this is where ads are delivered. I've seen these people hard at work before, carrying large bundles of newspapers or shiny grocery store ads. Their MO is to deliver as fast as possible and at the most inconvenient hours possible. This is why all Finnish apartments have inner and outer doors - so you can muffle the sound of heavy papers being dropped into your home. This is a fact, I am not making this up.

After being woken up and scared that someone was trying to break into my house at 3 or 4am over the past four months, I decided that I'd finally had enough.

I took my phone, opened the translator app, and went on a hunting trip in my apartment building to find the perfect Finnish words to express how I felt. And I found exactly what I was looking for:

"Ei mainoksia - kiitos."

Or, "No ads - please."

Armed with my bright purple permanent marker I crafted a beauty of a sign and gleefully secured it to the outside of my apartment door, knowing that I would no longer be woken up by scary newspaper drops in the middle of the night, wondering if someone was coming to rape me.

My next door neighbor saw me giggling with glee as I was taping the sign to my door, and I'm pretty sure he now thinks I'm slightly deranged. Or a closet drunk.

But whatever. I have secured my happiness. Now I just need to make a Finnish welcome sign. Already on the docket. :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The real cost of dentistry

So apparently dentistry really isn't free in this country. Socialist medicine? Slightly different than originally led to believe.

I thought I had gotten off scott-free when a few weeks later, I received a bill in the mail:

So that's why they really scan your medical card...it's to get all of your information...including your address, where they send you a bill later on. It's all so convenient - not needing to give your credit card information there and dealing with the receptionist again after a procedure is done. But really what they're doing is waiting to see what you really had done THEN charging you for all services rendered.

Really, it's an incredibly intelligent system.

And what makes it more intelligent is that you don't even need to send them anything else in paper - you just transfer money electronically to their bank account. The city health bank account. And then you're done forever. Your bill is paid. You owe nothing else.

It's incredible. And I dig it. The only thing to be scared about is that you'll never actually know how much you'll owe until that bill shows up in the mail. There is no catalog of procedures dictating how much things cost, they just assume you'll be able to pay for it once it arrives, since you already had it done.

From what I understand, things are at reduced cost as long as you go to a public place instead of a private one...so I guess this should be reasonable. Should be. My procedure (less than 30euros) is less than it would have been in the States (where it would have been maybe $100-200, depending on insurance coverage)...but still, there's no way to know how much this varies on a case by case basis.

So I guess I still give this entire thing the thumbs up, though it's a hesitant thumb. Let's just hope that no more procedures are necessary, so this situation can be avoided in the future. It's great to know the system works, and it works pretty well, but in general, I'd rather not have to use it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Finnish cereals

Or should I say...horse food.

For whatever reason, this past weekend while I was grocery shopping at Lidl, I decided I should invest in some cold cereal for my sustenance. Cold milk and sweetened cereal sounded like a perfect combination (considering how hot it's been lately...not), and so when I was done perusing the meats section (where nothing was purchased), I made my way to the cereals section and took a look at what my choices were.

The answer, at least at Lidl: not much. I could either go with the type of cereal where you give yourself a total body cleanse (i.e. grains with dried fruits and nuts), or I could eat kiddy cereals. And not of the fun Cinnamon Toast Crunch variety. You're lucky if you're getting Honey Nut Cheerios here. Nothing fruity. Or chocolaty, for that matter.

Not wanting to gyp myself in the nutritional department, I decided to be an adult and go with the grains. Something healthier, more bang for my buck (or euro, in this case), and more likely to last me a lot longer because I could only eat so much of this stuff before feeling like throwing up or being too full to consume any more. At least with the fruit I should get some semblance of sugaryness so I should have my bases covered.

Happy with my decision to make an adult choice, I bought my cereals (I decided to buy two - Fruit & Fibre and a luxury museli mix of some kind) and went on home to eat my bounty.

First observation upon opening the box of Fruit & Fibre - no, no sugar to be found. Those flakes? Definitely not sugared. Bland, bland as bland can be. We're not even talking the nuttiness of Raisin Bran. We're talking rabbit food status. Hard, thick, crunchy...flavorless.

Knowing that I was in for some hearty disappointment I decided to open my museli mix at the same time and eat a delicious bowl of both together. Hopefully the luxury mix of extreme fruit would help me down the extreme amount of fiber I was about to eat. I nibbled a little, to see what I was getting myself into. A hell of a lot of oates with some fruit and coconut shavings, but generally speaking okay.

...I sprinkled some sugar on just for good measure anyway (bad bad...I know ~_~).

The verdict: not bad, actually. Really grainy and oatey and really like eating animal food of some kind...but fairly alright considering the massive amount of dried fruit in it. The whole nuts in it were a little disconcerting but I dealt with it in stride.

The few times I've eaten it since have been a lot better, and more pleasurable. I've not even added sugar. :)

Now due to the name and relative reputation of cereals of this variety, I expected a complete evacuation of all other foods from my body the next day. But no. The colon cleanse didn't happen until two days later. And yes, it did happen. Fruit & Fibre, you do not lie.

In general my food interests come in cycles, and I think once these packages are finished my cereal cycle will be over for another several years (last time I ate cold cereal was probably more than 5 years ago...if not more). So I will enjoy this while I will. But bottomline: Finland, your cereal really could be better.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Swedish summer cottage

If you find yourself fortunate enough to have a Swedish friend with a wonderful family who invites you over to their summer cottage - take the opportunity immediately. Because man oh man, if you don't, you'd be missing an opportunity of a lifetime.

For obvious reasons, I imagined Swedish summer cottages being very much of the status of Finnish summer cottages - that is, they are a place to escape the hectic "city life" and enjoy the fruits of nature. You grow your own produce, fish if you happen to have a body of water nearby, and otherwise enjoy the short-lived beauty of summer weather that exists here in the north. Except that unlike in Finland, the Swedish have eternally better weather...and their summer houses are actually large...and have electricity...and people actually live in them year-round. Crucial differences in seems. But whatever, who's splitting hairs anyway. ;)

When Sweden told me that her parents were living in their summer cottage for the summer and had invited me to dinner I was absolutely thrilled. The notion is incredibly sweet and one that I would never have expected. Something that I am learning about the world - people are more wonderful than you could ever imagine (don't listen to everything you see or read on the news...it's not what most people are like...learn to trust again...the world really is that beautiful, and so are the people in it).

They accepted me with warm, open arms, and I was invited into their home as though I had always been there. Had always been part of their family, just gone away somewhere and was returning.

And boy, is their home gorgeous.

This is one of those few times where I wish I had a good camera to capture the beauty of a space that I cannot put into words. A home that was built with generations (literally) of love, memories, and the happiness of a family that does nothing but make wonderful memories in its spaces.

Here are some inadequate photos of it:

The house from the back, down a little hill. When the weather is good they eat at a large table with benches on the back deck and eat in the sunshine. It's a gorgeous area. The area I am standing in leads to their dock, where they have a little boat they can take out onto the water. Hilariously this is the only dock for a little ways around so their neighbors also use it. It has a little diving board for swimming as well.

A view of the water that you can see from their backyard. Gorgeous view. The air is clean and fresh.

Another view of the water from the backyard. As you can see they're sort of on the side of a hill, so the views are pretty expansive. The body of water is also quite large (not sure what type of body of water, didn't bother to ask). Their little boat must go pretty far.

Views from inside the house. An Apartment Therapy dream of interior decorating and atmosphere. Everything is sweet, warm, and cozy. The first two photos are from the old sections of the house (i.e. the first sections of the house built from the older generation), and the last photo is from the newer section of the house, which was added on later when the house was expanded.

View from the white bedroom's balcony. Almost all of the bedrooms have views like this since very few (if any of them) face the front of the house. The master bedroom has the best view of course, but I refused to take pictures of such a private place.

After my tour of the house they plied me with amazing homemade food. We had homegrown salad of butter lettuce, arugula, bell peppers, feta cheese, tomatoes, and homemade salad dressing. Followed by homegrown nu (new?) potatoes - they are these absolutely adorable little potatoes that are a special treat during the summer...all of my expat friends rave about them...and they are fantastically delicious. Homemade ovenroasted bell pepper relish and bernaise sauces. And steak. Glorious glorious steak. Cooked to absolute perfection because Sweden's mom insisted on knowing my preferences and refused to accept that I was fine with eating whatever style they were fine with (apparently Sweden had already told them beforehand that I love absolutely rare, basically blue steak...and this little fact made it to her mom before I could help it). It was divine.

We all drank sparkling water, red wine, and beer, and conversation was lively and wonderful all around. It was a full group that night - Sweden, her parents, sister, her sister's friend, and me, the strange addition to the family who was welcomed.

After dinner we had homemade berry dessert. I don't know what it's called exactly, but it was sort of like an icecream that had been frozen into a log shape and covered in berries. Delicious, whatever it was, and refreshing. Sweden's mom was saying it was supposed to be elderberry flavored but we all realized about one bite in that this must have been another one because it tasted like vanilla. Wonderful, either way.

A little while later, after some clean up, Sweden's parents took leave of us and left us kids to our conversation. They set out a trio of amazing cheeses (a brie, bleu, and hard cheese) and left us with the remaining red wine. Conversation flourished for another several hours before we decided to pack it up and head back to the city (a convenient half an hour drive away).

Welcomed back anytime I was in Stockhom, this is an experience I will never forget. It seems I have a third family in Sweden. :) And how wonderful it is.

Laziness means out of order

Apologies but there will likely be a few posts coming to you out of order (chronologically) in the next few days, possibly over the next few weeks. My inability to write anything of creativity over the last week has stalled my normal publishing process and therefore some posts may seem oddly dated or otherwise out of order. Sympathies but it was either that or you'd never see them. :)

Bear with me and I'll get my bearings again sometime soon. :)


You know you're NOT becoming a Finn when...

...instead you're becoming a sap and miss your country.

Despite all odds, I have started to notice that I miss my country in ways I never imagined. Mostly in awkward ways, but also in manners that would have never occurred to me. Here are some examples on how I know I'm not actually becoming a full Finn:

  1. I take the time to explain my nation's healthcare plan to others even though I know it's not the best. (Yes, we are actually aware that our healthcare system is flawed and yes, we do know that it's dumb that people are fleeing to Canada to escape the ObamaCare plan.)
  2. I look upon products from the States with a new love and familiarity. (Though balk at their 10x more expensive price and still refuse to buy them.) From what I understand from my other expat friends I will soon cave and buy them anyway. We will see. 5euros for that box of Betty Crocker cake mix? ....maybe.
  3. I cry every time the national anthem is played. Literally. I never used to do this back at home. I would think nationalistic things every time it was played, but never was I really teary-eyed. Now I actually slightly weep. Real example: I cried when they played it during the new Batman movie this last Friday. I was that embarrassing moviegoer who cried during the part where nothing was yet happening.
  4. I actually miss American football. Everytime I see it now I get excited. This is actually twofold - first, that I started to actually watch American football with regularity before I left the States, second, I've started to enjoy sports a lot more in general. But still, everytime I see American football specifically, I get a little nostalgic.
  5. I enjoy American design more than ever before. Relatively speaking I used to scoff at most major-brand American designers. Don't ask me why - probably had something to do with being too familiar with them and thinking they were cheesy, but now I have a newfound respect and enjoyment of them that I never had before. 
  6. I covet the products I brought over with me. It's true - yesterday morning I took a picture of the last roll of American toilet paper I shipped over with me. This is likely the last time I will have American toilet paper except when I'm home. Somehow it felt wrong not to document it. Silly, yes, but somehow, it felt like I was letting go of something. (Picture at the end of the post).
  7. I actually enjoy wearing the colors red, white, and blue. Together. This was banned during my early childhood years for some reason, (chalked up to something something gang colors or something of the silly notion), so it should come as no surprise that as an adult I had a natural aversion to wearing these colors together. No longer. I actually enjoy wearing these colors together. A little nationalistic? Maybe.
  8. I really do wonder the next time I will be home again, and really look forward to it. This goes without saying, and generally speaking has always been the truth, but I've never looked forward to it so much. Before, whenever I was out of the country I just sort of always knew I would go back, so it was never a question. Now I'm not really sure when I'll be back, and that scares me. Sure I'll be back for the holidays, but what about before that? Suddenly not having an end date is a bit odd, rather than liberating.
I'm sure there are more reasons pointing out how I'm definitely not becoming a Finn, but these were the ones I could think of for now. I'll add to the list as I think of more.

And here, for your enjoyment, is the picture of my beloved last roll of American toilet paper:

I believe it's the Safeway brand - nothing particularly special in it of itself...but it does mean something to me.

It does seem true...I do love Murrika. (Say it outloud and you'll get it).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The sweet taste of Burger King

When I went to Scotland a few weeks back I told my friend British A that I wanted Burger King. BK, unfortunately, is one of the types of fast food (of many, many types) that didn't make it to Finland. Apparently BK went to Finland, did its whatever market study, and decided that it just wasn't worth the investment of opening restaurants there. So, because of some marketing hotshot, I have to live without Burger King for my foreseeable days.

...unless I visit other countries.

Unfortunately when I went to Scotland, British A shamed me into agreeing that since I was in Scotland, I should have Scottish food. Now, I absolutely and totally agree with this. Under normal circumstances I completely agree with having the local food and cuisines in order to fully experience a local culture. 

However. It's been about 3+ months since I moved to Finland, and it was at least a month or two before then since I'd had Burger King. And nothing makes you want something like when you can't have it. The lack of choice makes it even worse. And the BK Whopper is my absolute favorite burger in this world (well, from fast food places, anyway).

So when I went to Sweden, another glorious country that decided it was a good...nay, fabulous idea to get Burger King to invest in them, I insisted. And luckily my friend Sweden was more than obliging. Our first night out, what did we have for our late night snack? Oh yeah, we totally went for Burger King.


Glorious, glorious Burger King.

I, of course, ordered my dream Whopper. I also got onion rings (which hilariously come in 6 and 9 ring sizes...totally unheard of in the States, where you can order medium, large and King-sized...no one counts anything...how odd), a small Fanta, and Sweden got a large fries (which looked oddly small to me). We also ordered bernaise sauce and something hilarious called hot cheese sauce. They mysteriously were lack of my favorite sauce of choice: honey mustard. Disappointing, but I figured I would try something new (the hot cheese sauce looked a lot like my second favorite thing in the world: nacho cheese).

Onion rings? Taste-wise they were similar to the ones I'd had back at home but they were less crispy and had a lot more dough, some of which was slightly undercooked. All in all not bad, but not what I was used to. They were also slightly bigger (like bigger rings in general, though the same general width), which was also surprising.

The hot cheese sauce was indeed a variation of nacho cheese - more delicious than any nacho cheese I'd had in Finland, at least. It actually had a little bit of spice in it! I was pleasantly surprised. :)

The fries were really good, as BK fries always are. :) They, paired with the bernaise sauce, were a big hit. I can see why Sweden always gets this combination. The bernaise itself was like a creamy sweet mayo with spices in it.

And now for the main show, the Whopper.

Beautiful out of its wrapper, I was so excited. Sweden said she'd never seen someone so enthralled by a burger before. Clearly she's never seen someone half-starved and mad with craving. 

And is tradition with me and Whoppers (just Whoppers), I cut it into my traditional quarters before digging in:

And man was it good. Just as good as in the States. This one might have tasted even slightly better, but that's because I hadn't had it in such a long time. There was nothing different about this one - it had everything it would normally have...nothing regionally different or special. Same delicious flame-broiled patty. Same mayo. Same lettuce, onion, tomato combo. Glorious.

And so I finished, half an hour later, feeling more satiated than I had in a long long time. There is nothing like filling a craving you've been having for months.

It is true that I did pay out of the nose for it - all of the things we ordered came to a whopping 131 kronor (about 13euros, which is about $17 for a burger, 6 onion rings, fries, 2 drinks and 2 sauces - the sauces aren't free here). But so worth it. Always worth it. I used to scoff at the fact that Norway charges close to $20 for a Whopper value meal. Now I'm starting to think that I would probably pay it anyway. It is that good. And they know it.

And so I am satiated for now. I think I can now go another 5 months until my next taste. :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

tSH goes to Sweden!

To visit her friend, Sweden!

All the things people tell you about Stockholm are completely true. It really is a beautiful city filled with gorgeous architecture, friendly people, and wonderful, wonderful shopping. Yes, it's just as expensive as Finland (relatively speaking), but man do they get stuff there that Finland will never see in its lifetime. Why, you ask? Because their people will actually buy/wear/use it! Conservative is not a word anyone would ever use to describe the Swedish, and good on them for it.

But I digress. You may ask what I did during my glorious weekend in Stockholm. A few words (and most likely the entries I will write about): city sights, cathedrals, Burger King (YES), summer cottage, and shopping, glorious shopping.

This entry will be about the city sights. Stockholm is one gorgeous city. Sweden, with its lush and victoriously rich and wealthy history, definitely lets it show (though politely not in an overly ostentatious way), and its city shines all the brighter for it. Here is a smattering of some of the things I saw, and hopefully you will think it just as beautiful as I did.

Gorgeous view from Sweden's apartment. Luckily the forecast was totally wrong and we got almost no rain during the weekend. In your eye, weatherman!

Walking around the city.

My favorite cityscape from the trip. This narrow alleyway is somewhere near the Old Town.

This is a snapshot of what Stockholm is like. Naturally there are many more things to see, but I was so jazzed by the city I wasn't taking photos a lot of the time. Forgive me, and go see it for yourself. :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Finnish sushi

There are many foods I miss since leaving California. Many. I'd always known that California was a wealth of variety and quality that was available in few other places of the world, but never did I stop to wonder what it would be like to be devoid of everything I could want, and especially at any time of day. Well, now I know.

One of the foods I miss the most is sushi. Any person who loves the taste and texture of raw fish can attest that good sushi is something to crave. In California it's abundant, and we tend to go a little nuts over the different variations we can come up with - each restaurant tries to outdo the others, so we end up with cheaper, higher quality combinations. Sure this deviates from the old stock standard, but boy is it delicious.

So when my circle of girlfriends suggested we go for sushi as one of our meetups, I quickly agreed. Having not had sushi in eons (i.e. since the last night I was in San Diego...yes, I do remember the last time I've had sushi, it's the kind of thing you don't forget), I was dying for a taste of something familiar. Something that was not all-American, and something that was hopefully not Finnified.

I'd been told ahead of time that sexy fancy rolls were out of the question (these are the main focus in California, unless you go to more traditional places or specifically order nigiri/sashimi off the menu), but I was okay with that - I just wanted something familiar.

And so familiar is what I ordered:

Just your standard nigiri assortment with an extra order of California rolls. Yes, they do have California rolls here! :D The exorbitant amount of ginger is due to the fact that my friend doesn't eat it, apparently, and I certainly wasn't going to let it go to waste (love that stuff).

Overall, it was actually pretty good. Fresh fish, pretty high quality. Not chewy or otherwise hard to eat. Pretty stock set of goodness. From left to right:

  • salmon (sake)
  • white fish
  • shrimp (normal, cooked - ebi)
  • sweet shrimp (amaebi)
  • sweet tofu pouch (inari)
  • unidentifiable fish, probably what they were calling grilled salmon with a cream sauce on top
  • cucumber rolls with sesame seeds (kappa maki)
  • California rolls (8 of them - had shrimp instead of krab, but otherwise had avocado and mayo)
All in all very tasty, and pretty filling, all things considered. Just took half an hour of waiting for take out and a whopping 20euros for this small tray, but hey, it's Finland. :)

One thing that was a little odd - the soy sauce. It tasted like it was likely low-sodium, first of all, but it also had the lingering flavor of something else. Almost like it was fermented or something. I didn't see the bottle it was being poured from so I can't confirm, but next time I'll have to take a look at what this stuff is. Definitely not your normal Kikkoman soy.

Another thing of note - the wasabi. Since the Finns are notorious for not being able to handle things of spice, I noticed that although my ginger was smeared with what looked like wasabi, it wasn't spicy at all. In fact...I'm not sure what the green paste included technically was. It sort of tasted like...toasted nothing. It was clearly a paste, and it had a sort of toasted bean flavor, but other than that, nothing. No horseradish taste, no heat, no spice. I've had real wasabi in Japan before, and this was not that either. I guess what it really is, will remain a mystery for now.

I give it my thumbs up. Should I have another sushi craving, I know I'll not go insane. And lucky for me, this place is just a 5 minute walk from my apartment (whoo!).


Thursday, July 12, 2012

I spoke to a legend!

Okay, maybe just a legend within my company...but that counts for something!

Since July is the month that all Finns and their mothers (literally) take vacation and run for the hills (if Finland actually had hills), our site closes down one of the two cafeterias and forces everyone to use the large dining hall (much to my coworker's chagrin). It was in this mightily overcrowded eating arena, that several situations collided, and I was met by a legend.

Under normal circumstances, Finns will refuse to share tables with anyone else. People eating alone will sit at entire tables by themselves and generally speaking people will leave them alone, opting instead for any other available table rather than potentially disturb them and ask them to share. Such is not the case when there are is a situation of overcrowding, as there is now, in the summer months.

I had already gotten my tray of food and spotted a table with a lone diner. Asking if I could share his table, I sat down and waited for my teammate. It was during this waiting period that our table was approached by...my company's CEO.

Now, at first I was not quite sure it was him. He was dressed in a casual denim shirt and wasn't wearing a visible badge (appropriate I would say, given the circumstances), but he's a pretty distinctive looking guy, so, it only took me a second to confirm that it was probably him. And when he started asking around the table what departments we worked for, my suspicions were confirmed.

And then the most awesome thing happened. We had a conversation like normal human beings. I made the comment that he must be busy right now and he launched into how they were just finishing up the last quarter's figures which was like seeing what the past, present, and future would hold. Then he asked me design questions. Me! He asked me about design. And he was well-informed. I had an intellectually stimulating conversation about design with my CEO for 25 minutes. It was glorious.

And just like that, he finished his meal and was gone, wishing us good day. I've never been so at ease with an executive before, so able to just express my thoughts and get witty commentary back. This guy knows what he's talking about. He's no half-wit relying on other people to make his decisions. He actually knows something about the decisions he's making.

Thank goodness. Because at times like this, it's good to know you're in the hands of someone who is not subpar. Especially when tough decisions are being made and times are hard.

Thanks, Stephen, for reassuring me that someone made the right choice in getting you to the top. My faith has been somewhat restored.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The search for pants that fit

Since moving here I've noticed many disturbing changes about myself. These have mostly been outlined in the "You start becoming a Finn when..." entry. Some of them perfectly acceptable (being able to sleep like the dead when the sun is out), others...not so much (thinking the taste of salmiakki is actually acceptable...sigh).

Well over the past several weeks another observation has caught my attention. And it has offended my design sensibilities.

As a general principle, I am someone who does not terribly care for fashion. I have my own sense of style (i.e. I am odd and I don't really care) and it's never really bothered me what people thought about what I wear. If I like it, then I wear it, and that's as far as it goes. Whether or not it's in season or particularly "in" has never really crossed my mind since maybe middle school.

Boy has that changed since I arrived here. I expected that it may change somewhat, since this is Europe after all, and no longer San Diego (where you can get away with flip flops and shorts for a great amount of the year and barring certain clubs and lounges no one will care), but I didn't expect a change of this magnitude. I didn't expect to feel...ashamed.

Me! Ashamed! O_O

No longer can I stroll down the streets in whatever I please. I do actually have to put some actual thought into the clothing I wear past just what I like and what may be comfortable. It's bullsnatch to an extent but however it happened, I've started to buy into it. I can't believe it. I've become one of those people.

Well, to an extent.

Another contributing factor to this feeling of ashamedness is the fact that I have lost some amount of weight since coming here. A combination of needing to walk everywhere, public transportation, a certain lack of car, late nights, and the expense of food, have all caused my sudden loss of muscle mass. Which means I am smaller. Smaller than I was before. Which means my clothes fit differently. Which means they fit less well. Even less well than they did before.

Which in this country, is unacceptable.

Because whoever thought that skinny jeans were a good idea, also decided that Finns needed to wear them. And Finns absolutely love skinny jeans. And skinny pants. Of all colors. Easter colors. Pastel colors. All the colors of the rainbow. Skinny, everywhere. Teenage boys wear skinnier pants than I do. It's that kind of shaming quality.

So I decided to give it the 'ole one-two punch-kick. First, I made room in my limited closet space for clothing that fit. This meant going through my three-month-old newly-shipped clothing stash, and getting rid of anything that didn't fit appropriately or could be deemed appropriately fashionable in my newfound homeland. This ended up being four plastic trash-bags worth of clothing and shoes. To be fair for the shoes it was more about whether or not I could actually wear them comfortably for long distances, since I actually walk places now instead of getting in and out of my car. Anyway, three bags of clothes, one bag of shoes.

I then walked my bags (with the help of German K) to the local donation bin, and upped my karma levels for the next few weeks. Someone might as well make use of my over-sized and as-yet unfashionable clothes. From what I've seen of the second-hand clothing stores here (hilariously named "UFF"), they seem to go with themed clothing as is, so my stuff will fit in quite nicely.

Closet cleared and ready for clothes that actually fit. And hopefully are more culturally acceptable.

This past weekend I was able to drag my butt out and actually get into a store or two. Or eight. Four and a half hours of shopping later, I had achieved one of my goals. I found pants that fit. Pants that I could walk down the street in and not have to wonder if I was somehow insulting people just by being.

To be honest I found four pairs of these pants, over two stores. One pair of black pants (plain, could be dressy or casual), navy blue pants, a ridiculous pair of Yves Klein blue pants (this was one of my goals...I've always wanted a pair of pants in this color), and an even more ridiculous pair of jeans in plastic Easter grass green.

I decided I wasn't cool enough to carry off the hot red pants that every Scandinavian seemed to be wearing this season, and thought green might be a good segway into the fashion world that I was otherwise unfamiliar with. Also, it allowed me to stand a little clearer from hipster territory, which I was falling dangerously close to.

Ridiculously expensive? Sure, in comparison to the States. But everything in Finland is, and I decided I would just roll with the punches in order to not feel sad about my clothing.

And so it is, the girl who otherwise cares little about fashion finally has, at least, pants that fit appropriately. At least according to the Laws of Finnish Pants (LFP). (I think the quote goes, "If you can still stick a salmiakki candy in there, it's not tight enough.").

Stay tuned for more of my adventures into Finnish/Euro fashion...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

OMFG my toof!

So my tooth. (Or toof, as I will jokingly call it to make light of a situation I was not feeling light about at the time...or over the next 30 or so hours that followed the discovery of the piece of toof).

As I held it in my hands, panic definitely started to set in. I could feel the little gap where that little piece of toof used to be, and man, if you've ever experienced anything similar, you know how odd that feels. The discomfort. The feeling of being...unwhole. Of being...somehow similar to a gap-toothed hill billy. In other words: the situation was completely, and utterly, unacceptable.

I snatched my phone up and started dialing anyone in my local phonebook who could potentially help me. There is no panic like the panic of being in a country where you don't speak the language and you have no idea where you can get help (lamely I don't even know where the closest hospital is). And generally speaking those you would normally call for help are 30,000 miles away.

I dialed German K, but she failed to answer - legitimately she was fighting a 100 degree fever and happened to be slowly sponging herself in the shower when I called. I would have dialed Hong Kong P but she was out of the country in Turkey and I didn't know when she would be back. As luck would have it, I then called Finnish Irish T, and thank god I did. Because she was quick on her feet and knew just how to handle my situation.

She quickly got the appropriate numbers I could call. She also explained to me that because it was a Sunday I would likely need to wait until the next day unless I wanted to see a private place and pay out the nose for a procedure. Paying out the nose is not something I wanted, especially having spent 125euros on pants that fit earlier that day (I'll get to that later).

So, we calmly made a plan that at 8am the next day I would call the appointment line and beg for an urgent appointment to get my toof fixed. In the meantime I would take deep breaths and try to keep my anxiety from taking over and convincing me to pay out the nose and get it fixed before the appropriate time.

It was admittedly not an easy night.

After I hung up with Finnish Irish T, I quickly ran to the mirror and tried to assess the damage. Being a sort of toof-crazy person in general (I've only had one cavity in my life - it's tiny, and since then I've sworn to take crazy care of my teeth to ensure that no toof-related procedures would ever need to happen in the future, ever again), I have a mouth mirror with an LED light, so I used that to check out the hole. In my state of panic it took me about 25 minutes to remember I owned such a thing but once I did it gave me some comfort, knowing that I could now see what was going on (silly, I know).

Another thing I took solace in - nothing hurt except my head, which was likely from all the stress and not from anything physically wrong with me. There was no weird soreness or aching, so I figured there was no rotting or nerve damage. Good, this is good.

And so my night ended as such - me, checking my hole every 2 minutes to see if I had dreamed it (with and without the LED mouth mirror), and a night of fitful sleep.

At exactly 8am Monday morning I called the Finnish dental line and...

was greeted with an entire 5 minute message...completely in Finnish. F$*^%.

I call back Finnish Irish T to get some assistance. She assures me that it's a voice message asking you to do simple tasks like press 1 for Finnish, 2 for Swedish, 1 for cancellations of appointments, 2 for making appointments. She puts in the appointment request for me and eventually, after some back and forth we get an appointment for me that day a few hours later at a hospital located just 10 minutes walk from my apartment. Oh man, relief is in sight.

I am told to arrive early to fill out paperwork and to leave some time to potentially get lost. Since it's located somewhere in a hospital I leave an hour early to make sure I will definitely get there early and definitely not get lost. Knowing my luck and navigational skills it's likely I'll never find this place and end up only 10 minutes before the time.

Wrong. I find the place with relative ease and end up checking into my appointment 45 minutes early. Oh well, from what I understand this is normal for Finnish people. You tell them the party starts at 9pm and most of them will show up at 8:30pm. No joke; this actually happens.

Anyway, I fill out my paperwork (one side of one sheet of paper, thank goodness in English) and wait maybe 20 minutes before being called in.

Fearing the worst I step into the office. It's clean, professional, and completely...new. In fact it looks like one of those operating rooms from a science fiction movie it's so clean, new, and modern. I am shocked.

I am asked to sit down and explain why I have made the appointment. I explain the ganky toof. The doctor examines it and says it can be fixed. I shakily ask what the filling will be made of. She answers, "composite." I say, "so not metal?" She laughs at me.

The procedure commences...and ends. It actually was very similar to what happens in a dentist's office in the States. Same equipment even - nothing unusual or scary. Extremely efficient, and extremely fast.

The doctor tells me I am done. I ask her if I need to go back out to the receptionist's desk. No. So I don't need to do anything else? No.

I leave in a daze. I look at the clock in the hallway as I am leaving. It's still before my actual appointment time. The procedure took less than 15 minutes to complete. My toof is completely fixed. It's like the hole was never there. I am whole again. It took less than 15 minutes. And it costed absolutely nothing.

My faith in the Finnish health system has been boosted even more. A procedure of this kind in the States would have only been partially covered by insurance, probably still costing an out of pocket amount of around $100. Here? Free. Not even a co-pay or an appointment fee. Just free.

And now I am free. Free of the anxiety, and free of the worry that I look like a hill billy. I am just once again, tSH.

Hesburger's Arizona -ateria

So I finally figured out what "-ateria" means: it's just a very odd abbreviation for "hampurlainen," which means hamburger. Not sure how "hampurlainen" goes to "-ateria" in abbreviations, but however it does, it does.

After a full day of shopping for pants that fit (there will be another full blog post about that sometime this week), I decided to reward myself with the burger that I'd been coveting for the past week or so: the Hesburger Arizona -ateria.

Glorious in its poster ad with two beef patties, what looked like onion rings and chipotle mayo, I knew it would probably be a winner. All of the special advertised burgers I'd had from Hesburger had been (read: Nacho Grande), so I might as well try it. Especially because it had onion rings (note to reader: I absolutely love onion rings...debatably more than fries).

So on my way home from shopping, I stopped by my local Hesburger (not the one below the bus station) and picked up this sammich of glory. I even picked up the "value" meal, because after ordering a small fries with it, my small Fanta was only 45euro cents more, and that totally seemed worth it (think of it this way: that's 10% of a McChicken here...yeah, ouch O_O).

Since I took it home with me instead of eating it in the restaurant, the girl behind the counter gave me some extra goodies I may not have otherwise received. This equals a strange Finnish package of ketchup, little packets of salt and pepper, and something I had never seen before:

Something called, "grillimauste" sprinkle. I could tell before opening the package that it was some sort of spice sprinkle, but I wasn't sure what it was for. Generally speaking they enjoy this word, "grilli," but it's overused - they have it on things like sausages/hotdogs (which are relatively the same thing in this country, just one is bigger than the other) in the context of "Grillimaster" etc. So it's never been made clear to me what it actually means, just that it connotes bbq of some kind. Or grilled flavor, I guess, more generally speaking.

So I opened it up and decided to sprinkle it on my fries:

I figured it couldn't hurt. Especially since the fries were under salted this time and I didn't have British A to yell at me. :)

It was good, though not what I was expecting. It actually didn't add that much flavor on its own, and had almost no salt in it at all (if any, maybe). It tasted like a lite version of that delicious fake powdered cheese you sprinkle on popcorn nowadays. With maybe a little ramen powder thrown in. Just a little. Overall: not bad. Would definitely sprinkle it on my fries again, if only for the visual effect.

And then for the main event: the Arizona -ateria. I rubbed my hands together in anticipation. Boy oh boy!

Gorgeous. I dunno what they pay these Hesburger employees, but it's clearly more than the McDonalds employees. That or they just care more about quality construction. Something. Just look at how well-made that is! I actually slid the top bun a little so you could see what was inside - it wasn't like that when I unwrapped it. Beautiful!

And the first bite? Yeah, just as amazing. It was everything I had expected and more:

Double onion rings, double meat patties, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and chipotle mayo. Exactly as it promised in the ad. I was in heaven for the next half an hour (yes, it actually does take me that long to eat a burger...that doesn't include eating the fries, which take me longer). I savored every single bite of that glorious sammich and I sighed with satisfaction at having found another favorite amongst the Hesburger menu. Unfortunately probably another seasonable catch, but still, glad to have found it and enjoyed it.

But then something terrible happened. Something unexpected. Something...wrong.

I was chewing on my last bit of fries and downing my last gulps of Fanta when I felt something weird get stuck in my molars. Felt like something was wedged between my teeth. I continued to chew and finish my meal, but when I was finished I went to the bathroom and flossed, since it was a bit uncomfortable.


Something weird came out. Something hard, something, unnatural.

I felt around my mouth with my tongue.

Oh. My. God.

Part of my tooth had chipped off somewhere along the eating process. And now I was holding that little bit of tooth in my hands.

To be continued in the next blog entry...

Monday, July 9, 2012

My big fat Finnish wedding

Or rather, my friends', but why split hairs? :)

This past Friday I attended my first ever Finnish wedding. It took place on the gorgeous island of Suomenlinna (refer to earlier posts about something something military island where that one guy went down in history for waving the white flag for no apparent reason) after a beautiful day of sunshine and lunch at Finnish French F's restaurant. What a great start to the weekend.

Dressed in my Sunday best, I met my group of friends at Kapelli, a sweet terrace bar located off of the very trendy and touristy Esplanade (read: expensive, manicured garden area with lots of designer shops and nice restaurants/cafes). As we gathered together to make our journey over to the ferry, we sipped on strawberry skumpa and beer, laughing away the afternoon sun and wondering what the wedding ceremony had been like (technically speaking we were only invited to the after party, but whatever, a wedding is still a wedding).

We then made our way over to where the ferries departed. This was the first sign of potential disaster. Much to the ladies' chagrins (mine included), cobbles were the pavement of choice for the builders back in the day, and I can tell you right here and now, cobblestones are no friends of high heels. All ladies involved were walking like OCD dinosaurs in order to safely make it to the dock. There were a few close calls, but we did indeed make it there in one piece. This was only the beginning though.

Safely on the dock, waiting for the ferry, the unimaginable happened: I got pooped on. That's right, I got pooped on in my Sunday finery by a freakin' seagull. Now, this isn't the first time I've been pooped on by a seagull. In fact it's not even the second, or even the third. For whatever reason those suckers love to divebomb me at the most inappropriate of times. I've been told almost every single time that it's lucky to get pooped on. Well I must be filled with luck because this is getting ridiculous.

Luckily, one of the girls carries an entire package of napkins with her (no joke, it was even in the cellophane still). And whatever my dress was made out of had some sort of stain resistant coating on it, so the poop actually wiped basically clean off. I was super impressed. As the girl with the napkins (aforementioned Finnish J from the previous McDonalds post) attacked my hair, I swiped my dress and transit pass clean. Within 5-10 minutes I was actually presentable again, and not too worse for wear. Incredible.

So, we continued on our journey. As fortune would have it, no one had any disasters on the rest of the way to the island. We unanimously decided to sit inside the ferry though, rather than risk the bombs of any more dreaded sea birds. F'ing seabirds.

We got to the island in one piece. This is where more fun began. Because Suomenlinna, if you remember from my pictures, is the very picture of cobblestones. Large cobblestones. Round cobblestones. These weren't the flattish square cobbles of the dock, these were cobbles from back in the day. The kind that break horse's hooves if not properly shoed. The kind that can also twist womens' ankles who are wearing heels. And so it was, unsteady on our feet, that we made slow progress towards our beloved friends' wedding hall.

Most of us had actually preempted and packed safeties for situations like these - i.e. the womens' Mary Poppins bag of health and safety. About a third of the way there just about all of us with these bags (me included) ripped off our heels and took out our stash of flats, glad to be temporarily relieved of our awkward footwear. Several in our party, though, were not so lucky, and had to continue waddling their way there. One of these especially, in 6 inch platform heels, recounted her tales of previous broken ankles. Fortunately we didn't have to see that this time around.

But it did make for slow progress. But progress we did make, and eventually we did find the right hall.

...And awkwardly arrived in the middle of the best man's speech. We had arrived half an hour later than we were told to, so we had expected that we would be late enough to miss everything, but apparently not. So, trying to be quiet, we waited outside until hailed by one of the bridesmaids to come in and put our gifts in the appropriate place. The children's table was then dashedly cleared for us so we could have a place to sit in the corner until it was our time to dance and sing (not literally).

It was a beautiful reception - good speeches, lots of "here here" and the like. And thus the union of our friends - Finnish K and American J, was finalized. And the booze poured and the cake was cut and the band started to play. This is what our group was invited for - to get the party started and to keep it rolling.

Because apparently this is what we're good at. We're those loud foreigners who don't mind:

  1. Having a good time around people we don't know.
  2. Talking to people we don't know.
  3. Dancing to songs we don't know.
  4. Singing along to songs we don't know.
  5. Learning dances we don't know (there was a section where you could learn Scottish dancing...let's just say several of us "attempted").
  6. Trying foods and boozes we don't know.
  7. Trading shoes with each other (oh yes, this did happen).
  8. Getting the wind knocked out of us and getting back up (one of our group fell pretty hard on the dance floor but instead of letting it ruin everyone's night just shook it off and continued).
  9. Getting horribly drunk (to be fair this is also a Finnish tradition as well).
  10. Staying after everyone has left to clean up with the bride and groom (yes, they had to clean up their own wedding...terrible, I know).
It seems we're just good to have around, all-around. We were invited to the wedding party so there would actually be a wedding party.

And after the wedding party, there was an after party. Since most weddings in Finland force you to close down your wedding celebrations by 1am or so, most couples invite their friends out for a night on the town afterwards, and so this has become a custom. And so this is what we did. We went to one club, decided it was too slow, and went to another, closing it down. This answered the very confusing question many in our group had always wondered, which was why they always saw so many bride and groom sets in clubs when they went out on various Fridays and Saturdays. Once considered cheesy, now completely understood.

And so concluded my first Finnish wedding. Man, I hope they're all this good! I think we could all stand for a little more wedding in our lives. :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Udder candy fail

By now I've had a few types of Finnish candy. Usually these involve emergency purchases from the vending machines in the mess halls at work after particularly long days. They are always fruity, gummy, and somehow involve salmiakki. Again, welcome to Finland.

So when I was at the grocery store this past weekend, I decided to preempt my sugar drop and actually buy candy at an appropriate place - the candy aisle.

As I looked around the different varieties, I recognized ones I had bought from the vending machine and stared horrifically at others I had yet (and will maybe never) explore. Some were clear salmiakki varieties (which I am still not brave enough to buy in bulk), some chocolate of various kinds, and others are as-yet unidentifiable. My goal was to get something I would actually eat. So, gummy, fruity, and hopefully sour.

So when I stumbled upon these babies, I thought I had won the jackpot:

It even says "Sour and fruity" on the package! What more could I ask for?

So I grabbed the package, bought it, and left the store.

It was only a few days later, when I opened the package, that I realized my mistake.

On first inspection, things looked pretty alright. I mean, it was kind of a hilarious concept for a candy - fruity, sour cow udders, but whatever, there were stranger things out there I'm pretty sure.

One thing that didn't occur to me until later though was...why were they two-tone, and what could the flavor of the dark color possibly be?

Boy was I in for a surprise. And not in the good way.

As I popped the first one into my mouth and began to chew, a sneakingly familiar flavor started to flood my mouth...

Oh. Damnit.....


Those bastards!

I turned the package around:

Sh*t...should really have checked the package before I bought it...half of the flavors are half-salmiakki! Oh god...I am totally not Finnish enough for this.

Even though the other halves of the candies were something delicious (fruit of some kind), it wasn't enough to salvage the entire unit. The oddly crumbly gummy texture didn't help either (this is totally unlike the gummies I have been buying, which have been amazingly fresh and just the perfect gummy consistency).

Such a disappointment, especially after all of the successful fruity gummies I'd been buying from the vending machines so far! Who would have thought?

Just goes to show, you never can tell what you're gonna get, until you try it.

Hopefully my next candy purchase from a grocery store will be more successful. The lesson has been deeply learned though: next time I will definitely read the package.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Oh my god, I almost forgot, it's the 4th of July. The day of independence for my people.

So, Happy 4th of July everyone! :)

You may ask what I am doing in celebration of this momentous holiday? Well, well!

While my family and friends have the day off and are likely barbequeing in the sunshine with fireworks in their eyes, I slaved at work all day long (which included a 5 hour meeting about analytical frameworks...oh yes ^_^), plan to go shopping for a suit with a friend, and am going to a pub quiz at an Irish bar later tonight. Very American stuff.

But alas, such is my life in Finland.

So eat some delicious hotdogs and corn on the cob for me, folks! The corn here is oddly precooked and the hotdogs have cheese stuffed in them, so, some snarf some all-American potato salad in my honor!

Oh American goodies, you are sorely missed. :)

My first yoga session

I finally made it. I finally got my butt to yoga since moving here. It only took me a little over three months. It's true that I am slightly ashamed. Okay, more than slightly. ~_~

The yoga studio of choice was recommended to me by a friend because of its English-speaking teachers. Apparently there was a studio owned by Americans but it closed about a month before I arrived (total bollocks! If I had arrived just shortly before they wouldn't have had to close their doors, I swear it!). Anyway, this place is located a swift 8 or so minute walk from my apartment, so I was definitely more than willing to give it a try. And so try I did.

Naturally pictures would have been the most awkward thing in the world to do while taking a class, or even before/after a class, so you'll just have to imagine along with me. Apologies but...there are just some places too sacred for taking pictures. Yoga studios are one of those places. It feels like sacrilege. Totally fine with taking pics in art museums (where I swiftly get yelled at), or in churches/cathedrals (also get yelled at, or at the very least pointed to a sign)...but yoga studios are a no-no for me. Take it for what it is.

Anyway, this yoga studio was very inconspicuously placed in an apartment building that is undergoing outside renovations, which made it extremely difficult to find. Luckily, like a dupe, I was carrying my yoga mat with me, so a Finnish woman from the same class took pity on me and showed me the way when I was confusingly looking over the facade of the building with a stupid puzzled look on my face. Boom, found my way in.

Introductory class price (i.e. walk-in price) is 15euros. Not horrific, considering all equipment is included (which I didn't know otherwise I wouldn't have carried my mat all the way there) and the classes are an hour and a half.

Since it was my first time there I decided to take a Level 1 class to ease myself back into yoga. It's been 3+ months and despite the fact that I've been stretching every time I go to the gym, I can feel myself losing some of my awesome muscle and other special talents. But what I've lost in muscle I've gained back in unbelievable flexibility. Guess if there's nothing blocking the way my body just bends in whatever direction I tell it to. Awesome.

Anyway, back to the class. Definitely in English. Slow, steady English. Kind of hilariously over-explained English, actually. At one point the instructor actually pulled out a human skeleton and explained what part of the back we were stretching in order not to hurt ourselves. A bit too specific for my taste, especially considering I was going to recenter myself and hopefully get a work out. Recenter myself, yes, work out, no.

Unless you consider adult gymboree class a work out. Some might.

During the class we got use these things call pelvic swings. We attached straps to the walls and actually hung upside down from our hips. Incredible. Really good for beginners who need to know what inversions feel like, but otherwise just the lazy man's inversion. I could lay in that sloth-like position for hours (probably not a good thing). Absolutely hilarious though.

Anyway, that's one off the bucket list for Helsinki. I think I need to find a studio that is a bit more hardcore and a little less gentle. It was a wonderful reintroduction, but at this rate I'm never going to regain my flexibility and strength.

So, thank you, Studio Prana, but I think I'll leave the pelvic swing to the others.

Studio Prana

More local McDonalds adventures

I just can't stay away from McDonalds here. It wasn't even the drunchies this time, it was just plain hunger and cheapness kicking in.

A few friends and I were out celebrating the graduation of another friend (Hungarian Z) when a small group of us (Finnish J and British D) decided that we should probably go out to get something to eat before this went any further. So where did we go? Why, to the local Mickey D's of course!

Conveniently located down the block from our favorite bar, Teerenpeli, we strolled to the local prepubescent hot spot and put in our orders. What did I try this time, you ask? Why, the El Maco Jr.!

Yes, that is actually what it is called. It's on special right now, for 2euros a pop.

This, combined with my small fries, came out to a nice even 3.50euros. Not too shabby considering a McChicken costs about that much by itself (ridiculous, I know).

Something I didn't notice before since this was my first time actually eating in the McDonalds (and not just stumbling away with it in my hands (they don't always give you a bag, even when you ask for take away)) - they don't charge you eating-in tax. How nice!

Anyway, back to the sandwich. Upon first inspection, rather messy construction...something I've noticed as rather universal regarding McDonalds burgers:

Despite that though, it somehow doesn't detract from the overall appeal of their burger line. For whatever reason whenever one unwraps their burgers, this messiness doesn't mean it's low quality. Or that you don't want to eat it. I'm assuming this is because as soon as you unwrap it, you are completely and utterly engulfed by the chemically engineered smell of delicious. Oh yes, it was definitely engineered to make you think "delicious." And they're usually not wrong.

Now, I had no idea what to particularly expect with the El Maco Jr. They didn't do a good job in their advertising campaign to tell me what exactly this burger was supposed to provide me with, unlike the Nacho Jr. (though of course that was flagrant false advertising, since there was in fact, nothing particularly "nacho" about that burger).

What I discovered, upon biting into said burger, was that it was another Finnish-ized Mexi-burger:

Mayo, lettuce, tomato, slice of cheese, and...mild taco sauce. Like the kind you would get from Taco Bell.

Ohhh, I get it. El Maco Jr...as in "The Mac Jr." in "Spanish." Got it, got it.

Took me eating the burger to understand what it was supposed to be. Clearly their ad campaign was a failure.

The burger itself was tasty enough, and definitely soothed my hunger, but it didn't convince me that I needed to have it again. Worth experiencing once, but not a winner for reruns. Since I didn't have any expectations (since I didn't know what it was about in the first place), it wasn't a disappointment.

And thus continues my saga of local McDonalds. Not bad, not bad (or as my sister would say, "not bread.").

I have noticed that Hesburger across the street has released a new burger that I am definitely interested in checking out though - the Arizona -ateria (not sure what this word means but I will find out). Two hamburger patties (sitting next to one another, not on top of one another), onion rings, what looks like chipotle mayo, lettuce, tomato, and the works on a sub bun. Looks tasty. Will need to be tried at another time.

As far as the Hesburger vs. McDonalds battle goes...not sure who is really winning. Nacho Jr.? Fail. Nacho Grande? Win. McChicken? Always a win. Megahampurlainen? Fail. El Maco Jr.? Meh. Need to try more of the Hesburger menu to get a good comparison.

And thus the battle continues.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Just walking around town when...

So apparently when you live in a "big" city like Helsinki, sometimes when you're just walking around town you stumble onto amazing things that you didn't intend on seeing.

This happened to German K and I on Saturday evening while we were roaming the streets behind our neighborhood. She had just helped me lug four bags of clothing to a charity donation bin a few blocks away when we decided to go for a nice summer stroll (it was cloudy that day but whatever...it was a warm enough temperature and when you live in Finland, that's considered good enough).

We saw a lot of people walking towards what looked like a big free tourist event, so, being naturally curious, we followed the people there.

And lo and behold! We walked into the European Athletic Championship medal ceremonies. Literally.

Of course we knew the championships were happening in Helsinki right now (German K's grandmother had called her the other day while we were out to tell her she was watching them on her tv, and one of our friends is actually the host who is responsible for organizing where all of the athletes will be staying and making sure all of their needs are being taken care of), but jeebus, to walk into the medal ceremonies without at least being frisked by security? Unthought of!

We were even this close to being on tv because they panned over the audience each time one of the athlete's names was announced to see if they could find a fan from that particular country holding a flag. If we were ambitious we could have moved up and definitely made this a fact. But we decided not to be greedy and keep our distance.

Just goes to show, you never know what you'll find in this amazing city. Apparently one answer is your potential 15 minutes of fame on tv...by accident.

First concert of the summer

Glorious summer weather, finally coming my way. Apparently I was misinformed and real summer starts AFTER midsummer, so July and August, when the days are already starting to wane and the sun only sets at midnight, instead of 1-2am. Whatever, I'll take it. 

Such was the weather when I attended my first concert of the summer season - Garden Party. And what a beautiful way to start the festivus season - outdoors, just a 5-10 minute walk from my apartment, on a gorgeous Friday afternoon. I was even allowed to leave work early with permission and blessings from my boss. Booyah.

This is what I walked into, after buying my self-mandated concert tees:

The mini-version of Cirque du Soleil's Big Top. Sweet. Complete with tents selling food, candy (licorice and sour whips of your odd cream-filled choosing), Starbucks, and on the other side, booze tents of all varieties:

We're talking major sponsorship here - Copenhagen beers, a cocktail tent by Finlandia vodka, and some definite patronage by Carlsberg and some other famous names. I got a mini scumpa (read: sparkling wine) with a straw in it. Absolutely darling.

And this was just the foodness. I've not even mentioned the decorations outside. Lanterns abound in the trees, low tables covered in knit tablecloths, and little afghans sprinkled on the grass for your sitting pleasure:

This was definitely no ordinary concert. It was like someone actually planned a large scale garden party and invited 1000 of their most financially-secure friends. Apparently I was one of them. And it felt great.

As we waited for the bands to set up (we missed the first one or so) we lounged outside in the sunshine (fleeting though it may have been) and discussed the gloriousness of Finnish summer (also fleeting). What a wonderful way to pass the time between entertainments.

The actual music venue itself was not so bad either - it was set up over what is normally a dirt parking lot, but they did a good job refreshing it for a stage setup. The acoustics weren't that great, but what outdoor concert really does a great job with that, especially in a confined space? As the bands got better the sound quality oddly got better as well. Guess they learned what worked and what didn't along the way.

Down to the actual music though - we saw Little Dragon, The Shins, and of course, Regina Spektor. All were fantastic live, great stage performers. My personal favorite was probably The Shins though, since they are just incredible performers. Great live, in my opinion even better than their recorded albums. The lead singer has a beautiful voice that really shines through.

Silly note about Finnish audiences - they love to clap along in rhythm to just about anything. You get them started with a beat and they'll continue on like there's no tomorrow. It was a welcome change from most audiences I've been in, where you start something out and it fades 5 seconds later, but it was funny to behold.

Another observation - they're extremely polite. No one will touch you and they all stand the appropriate distance away from each other in order to observe this rule. Kind of like the general rule of the Japanese while on the subway - sure we're all packed in here, but that doesn't mean I'm allowed to touch you. Really appreciated. Even when they were dancing or otherwise jumping around to the music, everyone seemed to stay exactly where they should. Naturally this faded a little bit as it got later and people got drunker, but generally speaking, people stayed within their personal space bubbles really well.

And naturally...because I'm me, I got hungry near the end of the concert. So I bought food from one of the food tents:

8euros for this baby, but I couldn't even get near finishing it. Chicken, sauteed veggies, sausages with thick sliced bacon, and skillet potatoes with a large dollop of garlic mayo. Perfect festivus food. The bowl was literally the size of my face (there is a picture to prove it that I will not post here). Real down to earth Finnish peasant food. Great stuff.

So here's to the first summer concert of the season. Thank you, Garden Party, for allowing me to start off the summer right. Here's to more to come!