Finland’s National Bird, The Whooper Swan

The Whooper Swan is Finland’s National Bird. You can also see the swan on the Finnish 1 euro coin. The Whooper Swans pair for life.




Recently I had a friend visit me that I had not seen in 20 years and I took her to Iittala. Iittala is a Finnish glassworks company. I have collected several pieces, but one of my favorites are the Birds by Toikka. We also visited Stockmann and currently during the tourist season they have a theme going on the 5th floor called <Feels like Finland. This display is going on from May 31 – August 24, 2013. The really cool part was that they have Heikki Väisänen, an Iittala glassblower blowing glass objects right there in the store on certain dates in June. See Stockmann’s website for more information. We were able to watch him make different objects. My friend, Jennifer and I both picked up Swans that Heikki had blown and signed. Together we will remember being reunited in Helsinki when we look at these birds on our shelves – a pair for life.. Also for Jennifer this was her first solo adventure in Europe. I am so happy she took on this challenge to rekindle a friendship!

20130605-124450.jpgJennifer and I - Reunited after 20 years in Helsinki Jennifer and I – Reunited after 20 years in Helsinki








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Giro d’Espoo 2013

This past Sunday we enjoyed cheering on all the cyclists that took part in the Giro d’Espoo. It was a windy day and comfortable temperatures. The cyclists seemed to not care. The 111 km route ran along the Espoo first saattoajona rantaraittia, then moved to Kirkkonummen side. Kylmälä and Veikkola through the route returned in Espoo, Kauniasten and back into the end zone.

The riders went right past our house in Tapiola. We stood out there with our coffee and cheered. Christian even had some Tekla riders taking part. We even had one notice Christian and he waved and gave greetings as he rode by. Later in the day we headed to the finish line which was Espoo Sports Center. We cheered on lots of cyclists as they came across the finish line. The girls were wishing that their Uncle Chris was here with us to watch or so we could cheer for him. Here are a few pictures and a video Christian put together from the event.











Visit the Giro d’Espoo web page here

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Lily of the Valley – Finland’s National Flower

One of the most beautiful parts of Finland is when Spring finally arrives. Finland truly comes alive with so much lush green beauty and then dabs of color with all the beautiful flowers. One such flower is Lily of the Valley. Most people might be familiar with its sweet fragrance. It is a wonderful smell to come upon as you walk through the Finnish forest and there is a light breeze. I will have a different picture in my mind the next time a soak in a tub with Lily of the Valley bubble bath.

Lily of the Valley grows in the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere like Asia, Europe and the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the USA. The flowers look like little tiny white bells. They are very popular with weddings and can be quite expensive. The thing I did not realize was how toxic Lily of the Valley is. The entire plant and the red berries are very poisonous. Lily of the Valley has about 38 different cardiac glycosides. (Drugs used with treatment for congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia)

We happened across the plant when riding our bikes on a trail. We saw an older couple and the Finnish woman was picking something. We kept going and stopped to take a break and the couple caught up and I noticed she had a small bouquet of white flowers in her hand. I was guessing on what I could see that they were Lily of the Valley. My grandmother (Granny) would be so proud of me knowing my flowers. The next day I confirmed what the couple was picking because I noticed the same plant across the street from our house in the small forest. I was so excited! I started picking the flowers so that I could try and have that sweet fragrance fill our home. It was all of this that caused me to do a quick research – thank you Wikipedia for all your information- on Lily of the Valley. The girls were not pleased to hear how toxic the flowers are. I think they were a little upset that I let them pick them.

The other really cool thing we learned was that Lily of the Valley is Finland’s National Flower. Fun to see in the wild in our “front yard” and to be able to pick them and have them in our home.

Below are some pictures of us finding Lily of Valley in our forest.





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Cinco de Mayo or Viides toukokuuta Celebration in Finland

Many Finns have asked us, “What is Cinco de Mayo?”

I ask my American friends What is Cinco de Mayo?

Most would guess it might be Mexican Independence Day or some might say it is an excuse to drink Mexican beverages and eat lots of Mexican food. Both of these are incorrect. Their Independence Day is actually on September 16. Actually, Cinco de Mayo is only a national holiday in one area in Mexico called Puebla. Cinco de Mayo was American created back in the 1860s in the American West. It has to do with a battle that took place in Puebla, Mexico where their army unexpectedly had a victory over the French. Latinos in California celebrated this day and up until the 1950s or 60s. It spread to the rest of the US. In the 80s the beer marketers got involved and made it what it is today. Basically a drinking excuse, but I like to think of it as away to celebrate our neighbors to the south and their culture and heritage.

Christian and I were drawn to a marketing poster here in Espoo from what we thought was a Finnish beer company, OLVI. A brightly colored beer can so we thought . I had cooked up some quesadillas and tacos and I picked up some fresh limes to go with our Mexican beer and then to my surprise it poured out red. We quickly learned that our beer was some sort of exotic fruit drink. We now mix three cultures and learn that Lonkero means long drink in Finnish. A long drink or tall drink is a mixed drink. They typically tend to be a gin drink in a can. This lonkero beverage originated in Finland and is one of my favorite new beverages here and now we have adopted to our American-Finnish Cinco de Mayo Celebration!
So Feliz Cinco de Mayo!


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Breakfast OUT

One thing this American Family misses most is a good American Breakfast! Of course this not healthy, but here it is truly just once in a long while. It took us 17 months to find. Part of the problem is the €€€ to eat out in Finland. This has been brought to our attention even more after spending 9 days in Central and Eastern Europe (France, Germany and Turkey).

I don’t think American breakfast sausage exists and I’m sure scrapple has never been heard of as probably most Americans for that point, but we Mid-Atlantic peeps know what’s good!
Some of you might not think of bundling up and hopping on your bike to head to local petroleum station for breakfast or for that matter lunch and or dinner. Although I recall heading to the Iron Skillet (Truck Stop) for many lunches when working for W.L. Gore in Newark, Delaware. On Sunday, we decided to hit the bikes in the rain and head to the ABC Deli for breakfast.

We got two pancakes, loads of bacon, one over easy egg, a panini, orange juice and a coffee for €7.99 ($10.48). Good news we did not eat it all. we took lots of bacon and the paninis home. This meal was almost a Blue Ribbon Special like at Tom Jones Family Restaurant in Brookhaven, PA. This was a favorite for me and my old college friends especially after the party nights. The special there included 2 sausage, 2 bacon, 2 pancakes, 2 eggs (any style), 2 pieces of toast (white, wheat or rye), orange juice or soda and coffee or tea. All back in my day for $2.49(€1,90)and now it is $3.89(€2,97). Available all day and Tom Jones was open 24 hours!!

We enjoyed ourselves! We even told the cashier this was our first breakfast out. She told us she has never had breakfast out. We felt a little at home yesterday. We are very spoiled in the US with the availability to eat out inexpensively. Now that I did the currency conversion I’m not sure what a great deal it was, but it made us happy and a little less homesick.


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Siberian Flying Squirrel Encounter

About two weeks ago we were on an evening walk home from a birthday party and we were grazed by what we thought was a bird, but when we looked at where it landed we realized we were brushed by something you don’t always get to see in populated areas. It was a squirrel! This squirrel is called the Siberian Flying Squirrel. They can be found in Southern Finland and Estonia. They look different because of there big black eyes and the membrane that connects between the front and rear legs called the furry glide membrane. The other type of squirrel you see a lot of in Finland is the Red Squirrel. He looks different then the squirrels we see in Georgia, USA because it has very pointy, furry ears.

Here are two pictures I found on the Internet of the two kinds of squirrels.



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Finnish April Shower

Spring has sprung? Is just over 0C really spring? Maybe it is more that we are now at 14 hours of sunlight and yes that makes a HUGE difference. Last week we broke out the lighter winter wear. We thought our heavy down parkas might be done for winter #2. Saturday was beautiful +4 – yes Finnish spring weather!

Lots of playing and the girls even fell asleep at 7pm on a Saturday night. Could this be true? Christian and I watched about the French Revolution on YouTube to prepare for our trip to Paris in a week.

Sunday came and we broke out the bikes to prep. Let me remind you there is still plenty of snow and ice on the ground. However, we are seeing pavement and the street sweepers even started to pick up the gravel and the excess of dust from this and the chemical they spray to make the streets and paths accessible all winter is quite abundant. This phenomena causes a lot of excitement for the Finns! You start to see more bikes even the elderly are started to hop on the bikes. I prefer to wait for the gravel to disappear so little tumbles off the bikes or scooters don’t turn into huge drama. I have the band aids ready. That is one nice thing about snow and sledding, you really don’t need bandaids. The girls started a little rusty on the bikes, but got the hang of it pretty quick.

We had seen the the weather forecast predicting snow for Sunday afternoon and the hourly stated 2pm it would start, but that came and went and no snow. 4pm came and we started to see flurries. No big deal, but by 5pm it was snowing and Facebook of my Finnish friends were all posting the snow. I think everyone has had it for the winter white stuff and since we had a lousy wet summer, we are hoping for an excellent 2013 summer and it is deserved! I do have a much better appreciation why July shuts down in this part of the world.

As we went to bed I would say we got 3-4cm. Last winter we got the last snow that seemed to take the rest of the snow away. You could feel this last year. I’m not determined this time, but I’m hopeful this is it.

I will say I love the pure white snow and how it is in the trees. The backdrop of the bluest sky just like the cross on the Finnish flag is so beautiful and then there is the sun that was up at 6:30am making all the fresh white snow sparkle light diamonds. Makes for a peaceful and refreshing walk with oneself. Some like Yoga, but I’ll take this!

April 8th Snowfall






And then you finish off your beautiful walk with one of these – gotta love Finland!


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Isovanhempien päivä

Isovanhempien päivä!
Today Natalie’s Finnish Preschool is celebrating Isovanhempien päivä/Grandparent’s Day! They have been preparing and practicing song and dance. They are going to have few other surprises I’m sure, like coffee and pulla.

Natalie has been a little sad and not wanting to go to school since her grandparents are not here. The teacher in me came out and I worked with Natalie on making this fun for her. We got daddy to bring home some lanyards from work to borrow for the day. We took some pictures of the grandparents and Natalie and placed them in the lanyards to be her special necklace.

The bell rang and Natalie gave me her usual hug and kiss and then in the classroom she went with her necklaces. The children were immediately curious and came over to check out Natalie’s unusual necklaces. They were a hit! She had a huge smile and I think she felt very much apart of the event. She was telling the children in Finnish about the pictures. Her teacher walked over just a curious and turned and gave me a thumbs up and said, “Excellent idea!”

Mommy job done and I am satisfied she will be happy when I return!


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Hyvää Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday children around Finland dress up as little witches and equip themselves with willow branches decorated with colourful feathers and crepe paper. The little witches tour the neighbourhood, knock on doors and recite an old poem that promises health and youthfulness for the coming year and asks for a reward. Whoever opens the door gets one of the decorated willow branches as a gift and the reward is usually a chocolate egg or other seasonal sweets.

Here is what the little witches recite:

Virvon, varvon,
turceks’ terveeks
tulevaks’ vuodeks!
vitsa sullepalkka mulle!
Rauhallista Pääsiäistä

For fresh, for health
for the coming year!
The branch for you,
the treat for me!
Have a Peaceful Easter.

Hope all our friends And Family have a happy Palm Sunday And Easter!


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Northern Lights

When is the best time for witnessing the Northern Lights? They say it is from September to late April. Cold winter nights tend to provide the highest chances of seeing them. The best time to see them is around 23:00 pm (11pm) – 2:00 am. Most seekers are bundled up and out in cold weather between 22:00 pm (10pm) – 4:00 am. A lot of hotels up in Lapland will call your room and alert you if they are spotted in the night sky. I was starting to think my chances of seeing this phenomena were going to be slim to none. I have talked to many Finns that have lived here all their lives and have never witnessed them. They say you have a much better chance of seeing a shooting star.

Well this American Expat is determined to see them before exiting this country! I want to see color and lights in the dark, cold winter that seems to never end here in Finland!

There are 3 natural phenomenas and last night I got to witness one of them! The three phenomenas are the Midnight Sun, the Polar Nights and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). I finally got to experience the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)! The best part was that I did not have to spend many euros to go to Lapland to see them. I was able to see them inside my home in Espoo, Finland. It is quite rare to see these and actually they say it is more luck when visiting up around the Arctic Circle and to be able to say we saw them in the Helsinki area is even more rare.

We found out about a site early on in our adventures here, that will alert you when there is Northern Light activity. March 17, 2013, it became apparent that we might have an opportunity to see them in Southern Finland. We had a high forecast of a level 5. Basically a level 5 means weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Tromsø, Norway to as far south as Sundsvall, Sweden and Arkhangelsk, Russia, visible low on the horizon from Edinburgh and Valga, Estonia. On March 15, 2013, we had a solar event. Due to this event it has put us on active alert for the next day or two. This solar event interacted with the giant magnetic bubble surrounding Earth, the magnetosphere, causing a G1-class geomagnetic storm.

Here is a video model from of the solar event that took place on the 15th of March:

In order to see the auroral display here in Southern Finland the Kp index has to be at least 4 for Northern Lights visibility on the northern horizon, or 6 for the Northern Lights to take place directly overhead. Here is an image of the kp and what it looked like on the 17th.

March 17, 2013 - Aurora Forecast Level 5 for Europe

March 17, 2013 – Aurora Forecast Level 5 for Europe

The first warning came in around 19:00 (7pm). The second about an hour later. This is the one that started a little buzz in the social media in Finland that the Northern Lights were being spotted in the Helsinki Area. We started looking after this and even sent a instant message to a friend out in the National Forest to see if he had spotted them and the chances of seeing them again. He did see them when that second warning was sent out. Patience was his recommendation and they tend to be earlier when spotted this far south. I was determined and pretty much planted myself at the window trying to figure out which direction was north. Pretty easy once I recalled the setting sun. Around 21:00 (9pm) another warning was issued. I started looking at this point a little more. Jumping from front and back windows of my house.

Finally, very close 22:00 (10pm) I noticed something in the sky. It seemed like a band or wave just below a star I could see in the sky. I was not sure if this was it. I was calling out to Christian to come look, but he was in the bathroom brushing his teeth and did not hear me. By the time he did hear me I could not really see the band anymore. I received this warning on my phone NUR_XYDERIV= 72(2013-03-17-20UT). So we knew we might get a chance. He continued to look out the window with me and then we started to notice it again. Christian has seen the Northern Lights before with his brother, Stephen in Lapland, Sweden. Christian confirmed what I was seeing and then we started to notice more color of faint green waves. We quickly ran outside in our pajamas in the freezing weather at least -12C. It was a little more noticeable once stepping outside and as we looked around you could see it stretching across the sky and dipping down. We even saw it at one point have what looked like wavy fingers. The entire time is kept a green tint. My thought was if we didn’t have the light pollution from street lights and Helsinki how much more vivid would they have been? I didn’t care! I was witnessing something that not many ever get to see and almost very rare to see this far south of the Arctic Circle. We both had our iPhones out not really realizing they were not going to capture what we were seeing, but they did capture my excitement with seeing them and to me was totally priceless!
Here is a clip of video darkness, but my excitement caught on video!

We were unable to get pictures, but I have found a few videos on YouTube that people were able to capture from the 17th. Here are few of my favorites.

For future information on how to capture The Northern Lights here are photography tips that I found:

BASIC EQUIPMENT: A tripod first of all, preferably used with a remote trigger so you don’t have to touch the camera. The camera should be a 35mm SLR camera with manual focus (set to “infinity”), which works well for Northern Lights photography. Digital cameras will need to have manually adjustable ISO and zoom settings.

RECOMMENDED PHOTO GEAR: Beyond the basic photography equipment, you should bring the following gear for great results: A wide-angle zoom lens, f2.8 (or lower numbers), will give great results photographing the Northern Lights. A wireless trigger is also very nice, so you don’t nudge the camera at all. If you have a prime lens (with fixed focal length) for your camera, bring it.

TAKING A PICTURE: You will not be able to take good pictures of the Northern Lights with short exposure times. Good exposure times for this are 20-40 seconds per picture (the tripod will help you eliminate shaking of the camera – you can’t hold the camera by hand.) A sample exposure time for ISO 800 film with f/2.8 would be 30 seconds.

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