Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Finnish Christmas was awesome.  Our good friend Elina and her family did us the honor of inviting us to their house for Christmas Dinner (which in Finland traditionally takes place on Christmas Eve, as does the opening of presents).  We felt very lucky and happy to be there, since usually it's a family-only affair.

Dinner was two courses.  First was a fish course, featuring approximately every single type of fish ever.  There was cold smoked fish, hot smoked fish, raw fish, horseradish fish, cinnamon and tomato fish, lemon fish, cream cheese and dill fish, and probably several other kinds of fish that I'm either forgetting or got lost in the shuffle.  There was even fish that was not yet fish, in the form of salmon roe that you eat mixed up with sour cream, diced onions, and dill.  They pop when you chew them.  It's amazing.  The main course was turkey and ham along with several casseroles made from root vegetables.  I wish I had taken notes because I'm having a hard time remembering what exactly was in the casseroles.

This may be partially due to the fact that at no point in the night was I allowed to see the bottom of a glass.  There was red wine, white wine, beer, whiskey, brandy, mintuu, and homemade spicy mango vodka.  Mintuu is an amazing liquor that manages to be 40% alcohol while tasting like a candy cane.  At night it's the best thing ever; in the morning it's the worst thing ever.

And the presents!  We were completely surprised to be presented with gifts from the family that were either homemade or that had very clearly been carefully thought out and were pretty much perfect bulls-eyes.  I won't bother to list them all but they included a pair of knitted socks with the Finnish flag on the foot, handwarmers for Lyndsey made from baby alpaca wool, and an awesome old-school Batman t-shirt for me.

We had been talking about how it didn't really feel like Christmas, but being with the Kosonens on Christmas Eve is pretty much as close as you can get to a perfect Christmas without being with your own family.  They should open a business providing the Christmas experience to foreigners.  This being Helsinki, they could charge an arm and a leg.  Unlike a lot of expensive stuff, this would totally be worth it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I suppose living in near-total darkness has some advantages.  If I ever wanted to become a cat burglar I could do it pretty much around the clock.  Getting drunk at 3 in the afternoon seems much more socially acceptable.  But other than these two things, I don't believe I am exaggerating TOO much when I say that it is a non-stop battle against a soul-crushing dreariness that is constantly threatening to worm its way into your mind and eat your happiness.

The Helsingin Sanomat recently published an article on its English-language website that I assume is aimed at us foreigners who are having trouble adapting to the Mordor-like qualities of the Finnish winter.  Although I'm sure the writer has nothing but good intentions, reading that "unnecessary complaining only adds to the gloom" makes me want to bloody that person's stiff upper lip.  Last month the same newspaper advised us to shine lights into our ears for relief from seasonal depression. Basically what I'm gleaning is that there is nothing to be done and I should just let the Finnish winter wash over me like a gently lapping tide that is slowly eroding my will to live.

Haha!  Only joking.  It's really not that bad.  There's actually plenty to do, especially if you are into Christmas markets. (WARNING:  This link contains an offensive amount of Comic Sans.  Probably NSFW if you are a graphic designer.)  They've also opened the Railway Square Ice Park, which is not fenced off and for some reason I never see any drunk people on when I go to catch the late bus home.

On a completely different subject, Google Statistics tells me that someone reached my blog this week by googling the term "ambassadog," which you may remember from a previous blog post is the term that the American ambassador to Finland uses to refer to his giant poodle.  So, to whoever is out there looking for information about that dog, his name is Deckard.  You're welcome, and be sure to check out the the comments where Deckard gets solicited by a pair of weirdos intent on harvesting Deckard's genes to increase the population of Labradoodles in Helsinki.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The last 4th of July that we celebrated in the United States featured bicycle jousting with Roman Candles, people setting off bottle rockets while holding them in their teeth, an attempt to blow up a bottle of Mountain Dew with Black Cats, and at least one near-death experience when a mortar tube tipped over and one of the shells hit me in the shoulder and blew up all around my head.  There were also, of course, many cheeseburgers and hot dogs.

Yesterday was Finland's Independence Day and it was a study in stark contrast.  Finland has only been independent since 1917, and immediately after this achievement it plunged into World War I and World War II, which they consider (correctly) to be two parts of the same conflict.  There are still people alive in Finland who participated in the defense of the country against the Russian effort to re-annex Finland.  After the war the Soviets wound up with approximately 10% of Finland's territory and its second largest city, and there was severe economic depression because, like many other countries, Finland also had to pay war reparations to the country that defeated it.  Unlike any other country on earth, they actually paid them in full and five years early.  So one can understand why Finland celebrates their independence in a bit more somber, dignified manner than most in the US (including myself).

The typical way to celebrate independence in Finland is a dinner around the table with family or friends and the lighting of a blue and white candle, followed by gathering around the television to watch the official gala at the Presidential Palace.  Our friends Elina and Maija invited us to their house, where Elina made an awesome dinner of salmon, vegetables, and champagne.  At her suggestion Lyndsey brought a pumpkin pie, and also Chili Cheddar Pinwheels.  Then we retired to the television set to pass judgement on the fashion sense of Finland's rich and powerful.  Maybe the craziest dress was the Angry Birds-themed getup that the wife of the Angry Birds guy wore (thanks to Jacqui for the link).  Our friend Lyndsey Hoh also made an appearance on national TV when she performed with an orchestra in Espoo that was broadcast live all over the country.

Lyndsey and I realized the other day that we only have like 8 more weekends in Finland.  Then a quick stop in Paris, then back to the States.  I can't quite believe it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Usually I wouldn't blog again so soon after a recent post (creativity takes TIME people) but I thought I would follow up on last week's MMA cliffhanger.

Occasionally, I've been known to participate in backyard wrestling tournaments.  This usually happens after a night of boozing and watching a UFC pay-per-view and I get too wound up, like a seven-year-old who has just watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and has to burn off some extra energy by doing flying kicks onto the couch.  I've had some success against my equally boozed-up opponents, and I think that deep down, on some level, even though I knew it made no sense, this convinced me that I was still in something resembling shape.

MMA training rapidly disabused me of this notion.  It was 45 minutes of warm-up/cardio, followed by drills where we practiced blocking an opponent who is trying to kick you.  I summoned all the skills that I learned from the karate lessons I took in 5th grade and tried really hard not to look like a fool.  I only knocked myself down once, so I think I more or less succeeded.

Then the drills got a bit more realistic, and we were practicing takedowns (or something, I can't quite remember) and it involved a bit of light punching.  Everyone in the class was super nice and obviously recognized that I was a beginner, so they were very good about going my speed, but even when these dudes were playfully jabbing at me at about 5% punching power my brain had a really visceral reaction.  "WHAT IS HAPPENING.  THAT DUDE IS PUNCHING YOU IN YOUR FACE," it was saying.  Unless I'm not remembering something, I think that was the first time my face has ever been punched.  Guess I can cross that one off my bucket list.

Anyway after that there was full sparring, which I happily volunteered to sit out because there was an odd number of people and by this point I thought I was going to either have a heart attack or barf or possibly both and I thought that might make me look a bit silly.

So what did I learn from MMA training?  Keep your head up while trying to tackle a standing man, unless you want to get choked out.  Twist your hips when throwing a kick.  Getting punched in the face is by no means pleasant but is also not the end of the world.  And perhaps most importantly, unless I am prepared to do some serious exercising I should probably stick to wrestling people who are just as out of shape and drunk as I am.