Wednesday, March 4, 2009

#5.0 New Years!!

Some of my Finnish friends invited us over for New Years. One of them had some how gotten his hands on some fire works, his brother worked part time selling them. So at midnight we went to the nearly frozen river bank on the city side of the river to watch the fire works. First there was the official fire works set off by the city. Then everyone started setting off their own. I was a bit surprised by this, given that they are completely illegal in Denver. But I guess in the freezing snow soaked conditions there was no chance of anything catching fire. We even got to set off a few ourselves. My friends brother set off an 60€ firework that he had gotten for free and it kept going for about 3 minutes. It was spectacular!

As I was standing there watching the colored sparks rain down against the for once clear black sky I felt a like I was in a dream world, like this was all too fantastic and far fetched to be happening. Here I was standing with my best friend in a small foreign city on the arctic circle on new years setting off fireworks with new friends that I know I'll always keep in contact with!! And the strange part was that it felt so comfortable and natural, like I was already home. I forgot to make a new years resolution that night, I was too busy being swept up in the moment.

We got home late. My dad was still up and waiting for us with a bottle of champaign waiting to toast the New Years. Kippis! (Cheers!) I hope you all had a great New years, cause I know I did!

#4.4 A Visit From Some Fellow Americans

You might remember at the beginning of my blog I mentioned my room mate in New York who was a girl from rural Kentucky who got placed in Helsinki, well I've kept in touch with her via the Internet and it turns out that she was thinking about going home early, but before she did that she wanted to visit Lapland and see some reindeer. So I invited her up to stay with me for a few days. We picked her up from the railway station and gave her the tour. One of my Finnish friends gave us a ride up to the arctic circle to Santa park where you can see reindeer. My Finnish friend was a little taken a back by my American friend. Shes more typically American than I am. Quite extroverted and social, but sweet. Its kinda funny, I know more about her even though I've actually only seen her a total of a maybe a week, then some of my Finnish friends who I've know for months now.

After taking pictures of the reindeer we went home and talked. She's had a very different experience in Finland than I've had, partly because were completely different people and partly because or situations are opposite as well. She lives in a big city and her host family is kinda up tight while mine is completely laid back, and we live in the middle of nowhere close to a smaller city. Sometimes she finds that Finnish people in general cold, unfriendly and sometimes even rude, but we both love them anyways. It was great to have her visit and just to be able to talk quickly with out sencsoring my vocabulary. Her visit was short but sweet. It was weird thinking that that might be the last time I ever saw her again...

After she left, I had another American friend over. My best friend Kathryn from Denver who is also an exchange student in Finland, only shes with YFU a different exchange agency. She's now living in Lappeenranta, that's in south eastern Finland a good 480 miles from me, too far. I wish we were placed closer together so that we would be able to see each other more often but no such luck. Since before we left we had wanted to meet up in say Helsinki and spend a few days with each other. Well now we were finally getting that chance! She would be coming up to visit me for New Years and then we would take a train together to Helsinki where we would stay at Päivi's for a few days and then she would go home and I would stay a few days longer and then go up to Oulu for an AFS meeting there. The whole trip would take a week and I'd end up missing a few days of school. I had everything worked out with train tickets, I talked to my host dad and I let AFS know.

As I was standing on the train platform waiting for Kathryn to arrive I was extremely excited! I hadn't seen anyone I had known from back home in over 4 months! But I was also a little nervous..what if I'd changed too much or she had? We had been really close back home, but what if now things were different? I saw her through the window on the train before she got out. We were jumping up and down and waiving even before she was out. It seamed to take forever before she got off the train. Then we ran and hugged and squealed and stuff, probably scaring every Finn on the platform by our blatant outburst of emotion. I don't know why I was worried, it felt like we'd never been apart, the only change that was visible is that she was skinnier then the last time I saw her.

She also received the tour of Rovaniemi. We went through the shops and had a little tussle in the toy shop :D It just was like always. I introduced her to as many of my new friends as I could. It was cool having my two worlds overlap just that bit. It made it seam more real, like when we go back I'll have some one who always knows what and who I'm talking about and wont get fed up with me when I start going on about "Well when I was in Finland..." I'm so glad that I have some one like that.

#4.3 My Christmas

I packed for five or so days of cold weather and no indoor plumbing. It was about a 45 minute drive through meandering snow covered dirt roads. When we got there there were some people already waiting for us. My Dad's girlfriend Tarja and her daughter Riikka and their dog and well as my Dads younger brother Timo and his dog. We had also brought our dog and 2 cats, so it was a bit cramped. My older half host sister Päivi and her 4 year old son Domi were going to come up from Helsinki and stay until Sunday. A few other relatives were going to be dropping by over the next few days also, so it was going to be packed. Which also meant toasty, which was a good thing considering the outside temperatures.
The day or so we were there before Christmas, we mostly spent getting the placed decorated and festive looking. A good sized tree was set up in the living room, and red curtains and tablecloths brought a lot of cheer to the usually rugged looking place. I helped cut some wood for the fire, our primary heat source. Later that day my Host dad dug out the old snowmobile and got it running. Mari, who has a snowmobile and moped licence, (you can get them at 15 in Finland but a driving license only comes when your 18) gave me a few rides through the windy woodsy back roads. It was quite exhilarating to zip through the crisp frozen air, but I felt almost guilty for disturbing the forests winter serenity. The crystalline frost clinging to the branches gave the forest an appearance of ethereal fragility that was only revealed by the two or so hours of week sunlight, so week that the sun could only stand to hold its head a few inches above the horizon. The light that it had the strength to shed was pastel, casting a fairytale feeling over the frozen land, adding for a few hours, pale pinks and yellows to an otherwise fairly monochromatic world. . (Picture taken at around 2pm on Christmas)

There are a few main differences between the way Christmas is celebrated in Finland than it is in America. Everybody knows that Santa comes Christmas eve, so you have to wait till Christmas morning to open your presents. Then most of the main celebratory stuff happens on Christmas day, including a fancy feast and whatnot. Well in Finland most of the main celebrating is done on Christmas Eve, including the feasting, partying the traditional Sauna run and.. the opening of presents! I was puzzled by this for a while.. How come Finland gets to open their presents a day before the rest of the world? Then it came to me! Of coarse! Santa lives in Finland, so they are the first ones to get their presents delivered! And every one assured me that we would be getting a very special visit from Santa that night. So since all the exciting things happen on Christmas Eve, Christmas day is usually a day of rest where you get to eat all the left overs (of which there are plenty) try out your presents from Santa and see any relatives you didn't get around to seeing the first day.

The morning of Christmas eve, I was awakened by the smell of something delicious burning, don't you hate when that happens? I climbed down to see what it was (I was sleeping in the loft over the fireplace, so the rocky outcroppings that was the mantlepiece also doubled as a staircase.)Päivi was making 'joulutorttu' or 'Christmas tarts' little flaky pinwheels with a berry center. She made a few dozen of them, only to realize that I was about the only one who liked them. There was also pippuri or little ginger bread cookies. The real cooking started at about mid day. They made Finnish rice porridge, which I really like, its good once you get over the texture and add some cinnamon and butter. Then there was these two kinda umm.... well Idon't know how to explain them, there were the consistency of mashed potatoes only one of them had carrots in it 'porkkanalaattikko' and the other had some sort of potatoes. I liked the potato one one the other one...ew. The quintessential Finnish Christmas dish was the ham. they get a huge chunk of it and spruced it up and then sliced it up for everyone. I didn't try any, but every one tells me that its amazing. Instead I made some tofu and Päivi had made some stuffing which was also pretty good. Then there were some potatoes and gravy and a few kinds of Finnish bread and chocolate. All in all I was stuffed!

Päivi tipped me off when it was about time for Santa to come with the presents. Everything had to be set up perfectly for little Domi, who still desperately believes in Santa (who was to be played by his great grand dad) I Had agonized over some of the gifts I had gotten for people, but I gathered them all up and snuck them out to the shed so they could be stuffed into a sack and then dutifully dragged in and passed out by Santa. When he finally got there he seamed too frail to be able to drag the bulging sack of presents through the door, let alone fly around the world in a night, but it didn't matter, the sight of him was still magic to the young boy. He was maybe too thin for the role, but he was dressed at a traditional Lappish Santa, with decorative trim in the red coat, and the reindeer hide pointy slippers, He also has a mask, which I though was a bit frightening, but I guess it was necessary considering the wearers hidden identity. Domi was still shy, running to embrace his mom rather then Santa, but he had an expectant grin plastered on his face, and for good reason. for when I started passing out the presents (I was Santa's reading elf), Domi soon became lost in a monstrous pile of gifts. He was ecstatic, like a little boy at well.. Christmas! To my surprise I was starting to gather quite a pile myself, though it was nothing compared to his.

I was surprised at some of my gifts! They weren't ALL socks! I had gotten a few books, some by some favorite authors and some picture books about Lapland. I Also got some DVDs a T-Shirt, good winter mittens some good long johns as well as some make up and a surprise package from my mom! One thing that was weird for me was that i had no idea who any of my presents were from, since they had all come from Santa.

I watched eagerly as the others opened their presents, wondering if they'd like what I'd gotten them, especially my host dad, I had gone through a lot of trouble to come up with the perfect thing for him. I Knew he would like them, but I couldn't have predicted the childish look of glee that came over his face when he pulled his present out of the dented UPS box that they had been sent from Colorado in, even though he had been drinking since noon that day. (Some how he managed to be tipsy from about 1:00 pm everyday we were there. I don't know how he does it, Finnish men have a very special relationship with alcohol.) Inside the box there were a pair of his very own authentic American cowboy boots! He loved them!So much that he wore them inside (Finns NEVER wear shoes inside) AND he said he didn't want to go to the Christmas Eve Sauna because he didn't want to take them off!! That's a lot coming from a Finn. There was also a note from my mom in Finnish (she had help translating from a friend) which I though was a very nice touch.

The rest of the holiday was spent socialising and just hanging out. I got to meet the rest of the family, and my host dad introduced me as his 'new daughter' and made me speak Finnish to every one. I got a chance to talk to Päivi and I told her that I wanted to visit Helsinki some time soon and she invited me to come down and stay with her after New Years! When we got back home I got on the computer and started looking up train schedules and talking to friends and school to try and sort everything out. My plans worked out perfectly, plus I had arranged for two friends to come and visit me in Rovaniemi!