Sunday, February 19, 2017

In Finland, We Have This Thing Called Sandwich Cake (Voileipäkakku)

One of the strangest, most traditional Finnish celebratory foods is a thing called Voileipäkakku. I am convinced that there has never been a wedding, funeral, confirmation, or graduation in the history of Finland where this "cake" wasn't served.

Voileipäkakku, or sandwich cake, is white or rye toast slices that are layered with mayonnaise or other creamy condiments, fish, cold meats, onions, olives, or other sandwich vegetables. The "cake" is then topped with more mayonnaise and fillings and then served in the style of a sweet, normal, actual cake.

Like many Finnish foods, the dish has Swedish origins.

Today I attended a sandwich cake brunch at a pub on Reposaari. They had everything from traditional sandwich cake to a vegan option smothered in hummus.

Though everything was delicious, I had somehow forgotten that eating a giant plate of mayonnaise and toast would leave me with one mighty food coma.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

On the end of Parasta Ennen!

Ever since the first time I saw the A*Teens music video for "Mama Mia" on Nickelodeon, some time in 1999, I have been fascinated by eurodance and pop music in Europe,

I know how ridiculous that might sound, but it's the truth. I spent hundreds of dollars of my parents money importing CDs, singles, and posters of my favorite European artists, since very little of it was available in the US: I would spend hours upon hours on forums and chat rooms, talking to people from Europe about their music and about their lives.  I felt so isolated living in the United States, despite constantly being told at school that we were the "greatest" country and that we had everything.

I did, eventually, find American music that I loved, and ended up devoting a portion of my life to organizing concerts and tours for those bands, but my love for music from the other side of the world never went away. It just wasn't something anyone around me understood, or wanted to understand.  That music gave me hope. It reminded me, through all of the terrible things that happened to me at such a young age, that there was a place where things were better, even if it only existed in my head.

One of the things I was most excited about when I first came to Finland was the idea that I could be at the post office, or a grocery store, and a song that I recognized from that time would come on.  This has happened countless times since I've lived here, yet every time I am just as excited. Last week, for example, at a cafe in Tampere - Westlife's version of "I Have A Dream" came on, and even though the friends I was with were probably embarrassed at how excited I was, I still loved every second of it.

When my boyfriend showed me Parasta Ennen!, a 90s-themed radio show on YleX hosted by Matti Airaksinen, about a year and a half ago, I remember feeling so...understood. Every week, there were songs I remembered, songs I had forgotten about, and songs I'd never heard. I learned so much about Finland and Finnish music, but also about myself. The show gave me a chance to reflect, and in some ways come to terms, with what I'd been through, while still offering some level of escapism.

Parasta Ennen! has also changed my social life. I've met close to 30 people through this show, many of whom I now consider close friends, and who I've had terrific experiences with outside of PE-related events. They have made me feel like I'm wanted and accepted, which is a feeling I so rarely get to feel.

The show also gave me a sense of security during a very uncertain time. In January of 2015, my two-month old daughter had her first eye surgery. The following months would involve more surgeries and sometimes twice-weekly checkups at a hospital three hours away in Helsinki. I began to ask the hospital staff to have Friday afternoon appointments whenever possible, so we'd still be in the car for Parasta Ennen! and the show before it, Disko2000.  I needed the routine. I needed something concrete that I knew would be there. PE became my rock.

Matti Airaksinen also deserves credit, in that not once has he tried to make me feel bad for preferring to participate in the show in English(this does happen sometimes in Finland in other groups), or for my seemingly-nonsensical enthusiasm about certain songs. Matti is an incredible person.

So, while it may be true that I don't love this kind of music the way I did was a child and young teen, and while I'd almost always rather listen to my punk and emo records whenever possible, for two hours a week for the last year and a half, I've been able to feel like I was part of something I'd always dreamed of being a part of.

One day I'll be comfortable writing about the things that happened to me in detail, and maybe then all of this mushy garbage will make sense. Until then, all i can say is thank you, Matti. Thank you so very much.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mental Illness

There's a stereotype about "millennials", and how we're more open about our mental health issues than the generations before us. It's usually talked about in a negative way, with the stigma associated it with being mentally ill seemingly dripping through the holes in every letter of every word in the sentence. We're either just whining for attention, or we're unhinged and unable to be trusted.

That fear of being even more marginalized than I already was, as a visually-impaired person growing up in a small town where it was routinely made clear that I wasn't wanted, crippled me.

I was afraid that people's initial reaction would be "Of course she's depressed - she's blind!", despite my lack of visual playing no role.

When I moved to Finland, I tried to talk openly about my illness, but I quickly learned that here, too, it's not something people want to think about.

Every day is a struggle. No matter how much I love my job, my friends, or the people around me, I will always be battling these demons.  I have come a long way from where I used to be, but I have accepted the fact that I will never be "normal."

Not having to hide this side of myself is an important step in coping. I grew up in two households, one of which viewed metal illness as a weakness, and reacted to my diagnosis with "Well, yeah. We knew there was something wrong with you."(that's just the tip of the verbal iceberg).

This delayed any treatments I would have so desperately needed.

Now I'm 26 and trying to move forward.

Friday, August 12, 2016

31 Days Of Friends, Days 7-10: How Pokemon Go Messed Up My Blog Project

I had been quite proud of myself for managing to keep my 31 Days Of Friends going, but then, on July 6th, everything changed.

After coming home from meeting Ville, I was about to have a nap when I read that Pokemon Go had finally been released in certain regions, and that it would be easy for me to download it. SO, naturally I downloaded it.

And it was everything.

I spent the entire evening running around Pori catching Pokemon until my battery died. This was the game I'd been waiting for for 17 years, and finally it was here.

On the next day, July 7th, I'd arranged to meet my friend Jarkko from Kuopio, who was visiting his family in Pori for a few days. The weather was miserable and rainy, but Jarkko and I still managed to have a great time walking around, looking through records and catching Pokemon. We even managed to have a great vegan lunch with my friend Mikko at Spirit Bistro, since Jarkko is a vegan and Spirit Bistro is the only place in Pori with consistently reliable vegan menu options.

On July 8th, I was supposed to head to the Jysäri music festival in Jämsö for the weekend, but due to illness I had to cancel.  I was disapointed because I'd felt that I'd let my friends down, but in the end I knew I didn't have much say in the matter. That night, Yki's cousin Saana stayed with us, since she had come to see a Finnish baseball game here and thought she'd spend the night. We watched some track and field on TV and had a pretty calm evening.

The next morning, on July 9th, Saana and I had a walk down to the Jazz Street, since it was finally open. She picked up a box of fried vendace(muikku) with garlic mayonnaise, while I went for a bratwurst.  After Saana left, I stayed home for a few hours until Tommi and Ronja visited. Tommiis/was a mutual friend to Yki and I, and is actually the person who first introduced us. After Tommi and Yki left for the Irish pub, Ronja and I watched the world championships of Counter Strike: Global Offensive on Yle2 and had some much-needed girl talk.

The morning of the 10th, I went to check the flea market table and do a gym battle at the bus stop. Whilebattling, Yki's mom had called and asked if she could take Annikki to the beach. It was a welcomed offer, and we soon found ourselves child-free at a shawarma stand on the jazz street. I'm a huge fan of shawarma, but it's not something you see often in Finland. Sadly, though, this day didn't involve seeing or meeting any old friends, though we did end up on Beerhunters' terrace with Tommi for a little while.

It was a fun weekend, even though it didn't initially go as planned.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

31 Days Of Friends, Day 6: Ville

On Day 6 of my project, I spent a few hours sitting at Coffee House with Ville, whom I hadn't seen in three years. The last time I saw him, we were recording a voice over for a cleaning products advertisement in a warehouse in Ulvila.  Since then, we'd spoken through Facebook a few times but never managed to arrange a time for a coffee until now.

He ordered breakfast while I ordered cold brew coffee, something that isn't common in Pori (well, proper cold brew at least). I had been told this particular version had a similar flavor to a Tim Horton's iced cappuccino, my favorite coffee beverage in the universe, so I was obligated to at least try it.

The cold brew didn't taste bad, it just wasn't as delicious as I would have hoped.  Luckily my long, engaging chat with Ville made up for it all. We talked about the last three years, our jobs, working in our industry in Finland, and Finland in general.

After we finished our food, we walked down the walking street and popped in to my office, since I'd wanted Ville and my boss to meet each other for a long time now.  They got along just as well as I'd guessed, and I left feeling accomplished.

I'm already looking forward to when I'll see Ville again and I've asked myself every day why I waited three years to arrange a meeting.

Friday, July 15, 2016

SuomiAreena Go

Every year, during the second week of July, Pori hosts an event called SuomiAreena. For this one week a year, all Finnish eyes are on Pori as almost every major politician, political figure, media personality, union, and association converge upon our quiet city to debate, discuss, and demonstrate various topics, ideas, and innovations.

It's also the worst week of the year to be visually-impaired, but that's a different blog post.

This year, between queuing for free coffee and accidentally walking into members of Parliament, I decided it would be fun to play Pokemon Go with augmented reality mode enabled, to see what kinds of images I would be able to come up with. So, I present for your approval SuomiAreena Go.

Huomenta Suomi

Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat

31 Days Of Friends, Day 5: Angela and Hanna V

Even though I'm on summer vacation, I've kept my daughter in daycare. I have a few reasons for this, with the two biggest being that I don't get any kind of discount if I keep her home for a week, and the fact that at least in daycare she gets to socialize with other kids and doesn't have to do boring adult stuff with her mom all day. So when my friends, Hanna from Lavia and Angela from Rauma, said they'd like to visit with their kids, I let them know that Annikki wouldn't be around to play. They were fine with that, so the plans were made.

I hadn't seen Hanna since she left her job at Satakunnan Monikulttuuriyhdistys, a place where I was volunteering(and would later work) at roughly a year ago. A lot had changed in both of our lives since that point, so it was nice to catch up. I also finally got to meet her twins, who seemed like happy and healthy four-year olds.

Angela, on the other hand, I saw about a month ago. We try to organize semi-regular playdates with her son and Annikki, since they're only a few months apart and since both of our families are Finnish and American.

The playdate was fun, but tiring. We walked around a little, but since it was so windy I invited everyone into our apartment. The kids had a blast playing with Annikki's toys, and it was nice to talk with the girls, but at the end of the day I'm very happy that I'm only a mother of one. I don't know how anyone can handle twins.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

31 Days Of Friends, Day 4: Ronja and Vilho

My body did not want to get out of bed on Monday. I slept on and off until about 13:00. I dragged myself down to Petra's Cafe to see if coffee would keep me awake, which it did even though it was awful Juhla Mokka. 

When my mug was empty, I went outside to meet Vilho and check our flea market table. While at the flea market, Ronja called and asked if we'd like to go to Burger King. Normally, I don't eat any kind of fast food. However, it was the fourth of July, and a Whopper Jr. with friends was the closest I was going to get to proper American food. 

Ronja was kind and bought us all Oreo milkshakes. I really love this picture of her without context. 

After our fun lunch, I went home and looked after Annikki while Yki put some of our furniture together. I really like this lamp I bought.

I'll admit, I was a little disappointed when I woke up on Monday because I wanted to have an American-style barbeque and I knew it wasn't going to happen. But Ronja and Vilho did a great job of making the day feel important, and I really love them for it.

31 Days Of Friends, Day 3: Ilari, Emmi, and Samuli

On Sunday morning, we left Annikki with her grandmother and headed off to the Ikea in Tampere to do some shopping.  We arrived slightly after 12, and were confused why the parking lot would already be as full as it was, since the store had only been open for a few minutes. We quickly realized once we got inside that it was some kind of family day. The restaurant area had been open for a few hours, and some newspaper or advert had given away free meal vouchers.

It was a zoo.

I quickly texted Ilari and Emmi, the friends whom we'd agreed to meet for lunch, that we'd accidentally picked the worst day ever for two adult couples to meet for meatballs. We decided to brave the storm, and after 15 minutes of queuing with screaming children, we were able to enjoy a nice meal and some good conversation.

After lunch, we browsed around the showroom. We all found what we needed and were in and out in under two hours.

While Yki was loading flat-pack boxes onto our dolly, I heard a man call my name. He came over and shook my hand. At first, I didn't recognize who he was at all, but then he said his name. Samuli. Samuli is one of my oldest online friends and one of the first Finnish people I'd ever spoken to. He had no idea I was going to be at Ikea, since I hadn't told anyone other than Ilari, and it was just a crazy coincidence that we were both in the warehouse at the same time. We talked for just a few moments and then went our separate ways. I was in shock for a few hours.

Sunday was a lot of fun, minus the screaming children. It's unfortunate that I don't get to see Ilari much because of distance, but we always have fun when we're out together.