Thursday, December 31, 2009

happy new year

Happy New Year everybody from the north!

We've just done some fireworks (Sam, Steve and Mattias went out to brave the -10 temperature, while Stefan, Joel and I watched from inside - Sofia's sleeping . . . ) and our 2 older sons are still out there lighting their leftover firecrackers.

5 minutes and counting . . . here's to a Blessed 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas adventures

Here’s a run down on the last week:
Saturday the 19th – the kids had their last day of school before the break. In the evening we had Sam’s birthday party.
Sunday the 20th – Tuesday the 22nd – Stefan and I went on a business trip to Helsinki. The drive down was pretty treacherous, especially the last 150km when it was SNOWING like crazy and the 30km we were stuck behind a snowplow when we couldn’t see anything. On the way home, we stopped at the big mall in Tampere to finish our Christmas shopping but still were unable to complete our lists . . . Again, the snowfall made the drive home extremely difficult. I was so happy when we finally arrived safely home around 8:30pm. Sam’s grandpa took him to town earlier in the day to write his drivers’ license test, which he passed.
Wednesday the 23rd – I went to Vaasa in the afternoon to finish Christmas shopping (I have never been this late before – people who know me IRL know that I am very organized and this is completely out of character for me). It was so frustrating to have things on the list that I couldn’t find ANYWHERE (like G-Force for DS and Star Wars I, II and V). Anyways, the original plan was for both Stefan and I to go, but Joel was sick so Stefan stayed home with the kids. At 5:30, I was heading to the airport to pick up my brother and got the message that they had been unable to make their connection and were waiting in Helsinki for the next available flight (I already knew the plane was late leaving Stockholm and that this was a possibility). So, I waited at the airport for a few hours for Steve, Stefan’s cousin and her husband (who were all on the same flight). Good thing I had found a cheap Sudoku book!
Steve, arriving in Vaasa.

Thursday the 24th – the earlier part of the day was spent showering kids, ironing clothes, doing hair, wrapping gifts, etc. Stefan took Steve to the doctor because he’s sick and needed some antibiotics. At 4pm we went to Stefan’s parents’ house for a traditional Scandinavian Christmas Eve, with most of Stefan’s siblings and their families, which is something like this:
  • watching “Kalle Anka” (“From All of Us to All of You”) – a Walt Disney special that first aired on Swedish TV in 1958. The show is one of the most popular shows all year in Sweden. The following shorts are usually shown:
    • Santa’s Workshop
    • Clown of the Jungle
    • Pluto's Christmas Tree
    • Mickey’s Trailer
    • Ferdinand the Bull
    Small bits of these films are included as well:
    • Snow White and the 7 Dwarves
    • Cinderella
    • Lady & the Tramp
    • Jungle Book
    • Robin Hood

  • eating dinner – Christmas food in Finland usually includes: rice porridge sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, baked ham, meatballs, sausages, carrot casserole, rutabaga casserole, several sorts of fish (including herring and stockfish), potatoes, salads, etc.P1020830 P1020833 

  • waiting for Jultomten (also known simply as ”Tomten”, is the Swedish Father Christmas, who visits houses in the afternoon on Christmas Eve to distribute presents to children.) P1020842 P1020844 
 The youngest cousin LOVES Mattias – if she isn’t calling for her mom or dad, she’s calling “Tee-us!” Here, she had been trying to give him a smooch.
Usually, a family member or neighbour will dress up as Jultomten, often using a mask to disguise their face. The visit follows a traditional formula, with Jultomten asking ”Are there any good children here?” before distributing his burden of presents.
This year it was Stefan. (He looks a bit like a lost member of ZZTop . . .)

P1020854 P1020855
After, we went home and “chatted” with my Dad on the computer. P1020866 P1020867
The kids played Twister and then went to bed.

Friday the 25th – the kids woke up and were able to see what was in their stockings. When I awoke at 9:30, I first thought how lovely it was to sleep in, and then I panicked when I realized I was cooking turkey for 23 people and needed to get the stuffing started! We hadn’t taken all the gifts over the night before, so the kids waited until I was done with food preparations and then they finally got to open the rest of their presents, the ones that Santa Claus brought and those from family and friends.P1020869 P1020873
Steve’s gifts from Mattias and Joel.

At 5pm we had a traditional North American Christmas dinner, right down to the sweet potato casserole and brussel sprouts!
P1020874  P1020875 P1020876   P1020879
Saturday the 26th – today has been a day to sleep in and relax. We ate the leftovers from last night’s dinner this afternoon, and now they’re almost all gone.
Hopefully, I’ll soon have some time to catch up on other blogs and emails.
Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

pictures (with captions)

Gymnastics/Dance Christmas party.

Sofia’s in the red shirt.

Folk-dancing at the school Christmas concert (Joel in a green shirt, Mattias wearing plaid)
More folk-dancing.


Christmas cards and hairbows that didn’t get sold.

Tonight we finally had time to decorate the sugar cookies we made about 2 weeks ago . . .

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

oh boy

I can’t believe how busy it’s been around here. I’ve had so many posts floating around my head, but haven’t had any time to sit down and actually put them into words . . .
The last time I posted was Wednesday morning. That afternoon, at 2pm, Joel, Sofia and I piled into the car and picked up Mattias at his school, drove 25km to Nykarleby to pickup Sam, continued another 20km to Jakobstad. The youngest 3 sat in the car while Sam and I ran into the police station to fill out and drop off Sam’s application for his moped/tractor license. We had no idea what we were doing, so we didn’t have Sam’s “passport” photos with , nor Stefan who also needed to sign giving his son permission to drive. The nice lady helped us do what we could and sent us home to get the photos, signature and fees. On our way out, I saw that the lady who deals with us immigrants was free so I quickly stopped in her office to drop off my application for “temporary residence permit” and a covering letter composed by Stefan to explain why the application is late (insert dramatic background music) . . .  while I was doing a recent post reflecting on one year since court in St. Petersburg, I went back and read the post from last year describing our court experience. The judge had had some questions about my permit and I had explained to her that it was to expire in October 2009. OOPS. That date came and went without me even realizing it . . .  At this point, unfortunately, they’re not going to deport me and are telling me that I have to start all over: a 1 year permit, then a 3 year, then finally a permanent residence permit (I was supposed to get permanent residency this year). Stefan had been in with me after I found out I would have to start all over, and the lady suggested we write a letter to explain the circumstances and maybe it will make a difference. We’ll see. 15 minutes later, Sam and I ran back to the car, sent Mattias and his violin walking a block and a half to his lesson and I drove 20km back to Nykarleby where I dropped off Joel and Sam for haircuts (they were 5 minutes late for their 3:30 appointment). Then I drove the 20km back to Jakobstad (after running into the bank to take out some cash) to pick up Mattias at his lesson, turned around and drove 20km back to Nykarleby to get Joel and Sam. Joel was still in the chair, so I gave Sam some cash and sent him over to the local photographer’s studio (which is only open 2 days a week – luckily this was one of them – and they were still open for another 30 minutes) to get his passport photos. If you’re keeping track, you’ll have noticed that Sofia has been sitting in the car for 2½ hours by this point . . . . When Joel’s haircut was done, we went to the local pizzeria for dinner. On the way home, we mailed this year’s Christmas cards – I wasn’t going to do any this year and then Stefan pointed out that I would be totally disappointed with myself once I received the first one in the mail. I had tried to include a photo of the kids together, but after 35 shots I still didn’t have one that was useable, so I inserted their school photos into the Christmas letter. I had also bought some nifty sealing wax from a craft supplier – ya know, the kind that they used in the olden days to seal correspondence – but it didn’t come with instructions, so I didn’t do such a great job with the seals on the back of the envelopes . . .  At 7pm, I went to the first meeting of the group of “younger” ladies in our village (I’m at the older end of this group;). I got to meet some people that I’d seen, but never actually knew, even though I’ve been living here for over 4 years. Of the 14 ladies there, only 1 was originally from this village . . . the others have all moved here for love. Busy day it was.WHEW! Good thing my car works again.
On Thursday morning I went back to Jakobstad to drop off Sam’s application and do a bit of Christmas shopping. Joel phoned me while I was still driving home .. . “Where are you?” He and Sofia got home from school before me. OOPS. When I got home and started unloading the shopping bags, I found more dog poop tracked in the house that nobody else noticed! So, I had to clean up that, too. It involved throwing away the door mat and a pair of shoes. Didn’t I just recently have another dog-poop-mishap????? UGH! 20 minutes later, we were back in the car taking Mattias to Nykarleby for his haircut.
I missed doing a post last Friday which marked the anniversary of us arriving home from St. Petersburg with Sofia. It was a busy day (of course), so we didn’t do anything special to celebrate other than have nachos for dinner (baked in the oven with ground beef and cheese) – Sofia’s favourite – and drink pop with dinner (instead of milk, water or juice). I didn’t even take a picture . . .  I’ve been wanting to do a post of Sofia’s development, but that’ll have to wait for a bit until I have more time . . .
On Saturday, it was the Christmas party for gymnastics/dance. Sofia’s group danced one routine, and there were some demonstrations from some of the other groups, including the elite gymnasts.
On Sunday, my mother-in-law and I sold our wares at a Christmas craft fair. My MIL weaves table runners and has made things out of wire (baskets, candle holders, etc.). I had cards and hairbows (which is what I’ve been working on in any spare moments I’ve had during the past two weeks – moments I haven’t been driving someone somewhere or have had children home/awake). I’ll have to admit I was a little disappointed in my lack of sales – I only sold barrettes that were either 2€ or 1.50€, none of the bigger ones (good thing I didn’t have too many) and the only cards I sold were to some of my English students, who bought the English-text ones to send to Canada/USA next year. Maybe I’m just too avant-garde . . . (tongue firmly planted in cheek). Sunday evening was Stefan’s niece’s 11th birthday party. Oh yeah, temperatures dropped here on Sunday to about –10 Celsius. I’m pretty much cold all the time now.
On Monday evening, the music school (string section) has a Christmas concert with some of the students participating, including Mattias. So, except for Sam, we all headed to Jakobstad for that.
Tuesday, the elementary school had their Christmas concert in the evening, which meant the kids had the day off school (they do that here – not sure if the intention is to compensate the teachers for using their personal time, or what). Anyways, we had to go to Jakobstad in the morning to buy new pants for Joel (I had tried to get some last Thursday, but he’s soo skinny and tall-ish, I have to have him with). The afternoon was spent showering, ironing, curling hair, etc. Pictures and video to come in another post. Everything was going well as far as getting ready, but in the last moments things fell apart and I was racing to get myself ready . . . The kids were already in the car, as I was racing to put on my boots (did I mention it snowed ALL DAY on Tuesday?), my engagement ring caught on my brand new black pantyhose – it was just a tiny snag, the size of a pinhead, but I lost it because I knew what was going to happen . . . we were already running late, I didn’t have time to do anything about it except grab another pair and shove them in my coat pocket so I could hopefully change later. Then, when we got to the school and we were all changing from our boots to our fancy shoes, you know what happened? The zipper on my boot got stuck and I couldn’t get them off, so I trudged around the rest of the evening in my dress and boots. Since we were sorta late, the only seats left were in the back row. Unfortunately, I was kinda in a foul mood by this point and wasn’t really feeling very festive so I just sat, looking at the backs of heads and the 3 year old jumping on his chair, gave Stefan the video camera and let him do the filming (since we were in the back, he could stand, so that a was a good thing). I didn’t even bother taking any pictures of the performances because we were so far back and it was too dark for there to be any quality to any photos. After the intermission, I stayed in the kitchen to help clean up (the grade 5 parents were on duty) and by the time we were done I was in a better mood. Those of us in the kitchen missed most of the second half, except the last song and then the folk dances and the visit from Santa’s helpers. When we got home, I showed my family the 2 inch wide, 2-foot long run in my pantyhose. LOL! And, Sam was able to un-stick my boot’s zipper. (He had also shoveled snow while we were gone – without being asked!). So, by the end of the night, I was in a much better mood.
Today’s agenda involves a visit to my dentist so he can be a guarantor for my Canadian passport application – that’s something else I’ve been working on . . . . it expires in March, but because my residency permit goes in it, I’m getting a new one now – the lady in Jakobstad is holding my application until I bring in my new passport. And, I just have to point out that applying for a Canadian passport has been a thrill adventure unto itself – first, getting the photos because they are a different size than the whole European Union has (I think we were there about 35 minutes trying to get the size right) and the studio has to sign and date the back which was new for this guy. Second, getting a guarantor – I think they need to include more professions – it’s way too limited of a list. My dentist has been moose hunting so I’ve had to wait for him to get back. Third I had to get a money order because I have to mail everything away to the embassy in Helsinki . . . it used to be so much easier to just walk into a passport office. This is the first time I’ve had to send important, original documents in the mail, and it’s a little unnerving. Right. Then Mattias also has violin practice today.
I’m tired now. Maybe I’ll go back to bed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

very quickly

I’ve been so busy this week, that I let yesterday slip by without much of a fuss. Yesterday marked one year since Sofia was signed out of the orphanage and physically became part of our family forever.
Yesterday was also her Christmas concert for her music class . . . every Tuesday she has a one hour music class, after school at the school. Nine out of the 12 children in Grade 1 are in this music class.
They used sticks to demonstrate their rythmical capabilities.

This is the instrument they are learning to play – the kantele.

This was our day one year ago:
It was “Gotcha Day”.
After greeting us, the first thing Sofia did was to check out what was in her backpack. “What did they bring for me this time?”

The children danced for her to celebrate her new life.

Sofia and a little boy (from another “groupa”) danced a traditional dance.

We had a feast with the children in her group, her nannies, the music teacher, the social worker, our translator, etc.

Friday, December 4, 2009

baking cookies

The Christmas baking has started in our house. Last week I made Jamaican Fruit Cake (not because anybody really likes fruit cake, it’s just so traditional . . .) and Cranberry White Chocolate Pecan Cookies – these are ABSOLUTELY the best cookies, ever. I got the recipe from a neighbour back in 2001, and I’ve made them every year since. I thought I’d share the recipe with you:
To Die For White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Cookies
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup softened butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup white chocolate chips
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecans
Combine flour, soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter, sugars and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate, cranberries and pecans. Drop by rounded tbsp onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake in 375 degree F oven for 9-11 minutes, or until golden brown. Let stand on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.

For some reason, the recipe says it “can be doubled, but don’t triple it”. I’m not sure why . . . pretty sure I have tripled it in the past . . . Anyways, this time I doubled it because I ran out of white chocolate chips which aren’t available here (that’s a hint for anybody who wants to send me some.
Yesterday, I baked Butter Tarts, Cranberry Pecan Tarts, Shortbread Cookies and good ol’ Sugar Cookies. It was Sofia’s first time cutting out cookies – she had a great time. Hopefully we’ll get to frosting them tomorrow night!
Isn’t she adorable? Life has been going really well around here lately – it seems as if she’s turned a corner in keeping her reactions in check (saving the drama for the more-warranted occasions). She’s been very cuddly, and all the kids have been trying to be more helpful around the house and less argumentative. Yay!
Our temperatures have finally dropped. Yesterday, Joel and his friend found this in the backyard.
Have a nice weekend!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

little christmas

On Saturday, we celebrated “Little Christmas” which is, as far as I can tell, an exclusively Finnish celebration. I looked it up and this is what I found on Wikepedia (in Swedish – it had to be translated to English):
Little Christmas (regionally also referred to as "lillajul") (Finnish: pikkujoulu) is celebrated in Finland and the Åland Islands, and occurs every year on Saturday before the first day of Advent.  Little Christmas is just like the name suggests, a foretaste of Christmas.  Lillajulgranen (the Little Christmas tree) is about 1m high and decorated just like the real Christmas tree.  The smallest children get little gifts that Santa's elves left under the Little Christmas tree. These gifts are often very simple. Later in December the lillajulgranen is replaced with the usual Christmas tree. In schools, children sing carols and eat gingerbread.
Our Little Christmas tree – why is it so hard to get a good photo of a Christmas tree???
Our local village, plus a couple other nearby ones, have further traditions . . .  instead of the gifts under the tree (or maybe in addition to, in some households?), the children pretend to be “elves” and throw bags of candies in their friends’ houses. Our kids love this, and look forward to it all autumn. Here’s how it works:
Once it’s dark enough, we head out to make the deliveries (I have to drive them because the houses are spread so far apart). I park someplace discreet and the kids sneak up to the house, open the door, shout something and throw the candy in. Then they sprint back to the car, trying to catch their breath in a fit of giggles.The key is to not get caught. The kids loved that this year I had a loaner car from the workshop, so no one would recognize us as we drove away . . .
Later, the kids had a blast trying to catch the “elves” as candy came flying in through our door . .  .
P1020738 P1020739 P1020740
I did manage to get a start on the Christmas decorations:
One of the kitchen windows . . . the electric candlestick is a traditional decoration in Scandinavia . . . I had the Advent candles on the table, but the kids think the wax stinks so I had to move it . . .

The Holms

Denmark Road Trip

The outskirts of St. Pete

St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg: Sankt-Peterburg, Russian pronunciation: is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991). Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. Celebrating the 300th anniversary of its foundation, Saint Petersburg was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Mannerheim and Saint Petersburg commemorative coin, minted in 2003. The reverse of the coin features a view of Saint Petersburg, with the Peter and Paul Fortress and its three turrets. In the coin the words "St. Petersburg 1703-2003" can be seen.