Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Note about Reading This Blog

My husband Rob and I went to Finland for two reasons: first, to visit my parents, who are serving as the first temple president and matron, and second, to revisit the country and places I'd come to know and love during the three years our family lived there while dad was mission president.

To follow the trip chronologically, start with what looks like the last post ("On our Way"). When you reach the bottom, click on "newer post" for the next one in the series.

Some posts build on one another and refer to previous events or terms, so if you plan to go through all couple dozen of them, I recommend doing so in the right order.

On the other hand, if you just want a general overview and a look at a few Finnish photos, then the order probably doesn't matter so much. (I couldn't remember the events properly or write about them backwards, so you're stuck with this format.)

Another note: For the handful of people out there who read (and remember) my second novel, At the Water's Edge, several posts include references to it and pictures of locations significant to the book, including the "Elephant Rock" and my old school. They're all labeled, so if you're interested in seeing just those ones, you can pull them up specifically.

Thanks for dropping by! Leave a comment or two so I know you've been here.

Final Thoughts

We left Finland with nearly twenty pounds of Finnish chocolate (and licorice and other candy), jewelry with the Finnish gemstone Spectrolite for me and the girls, cool Finnish knives for Rob and our son, and a boatload of memories.

I don't think there's ever been a period in my life where I've used the words, "I remember . . ." so many times in such a short span. They popped out constantly. It could be something as simple as driving along the highway and something sparking a memory, eating a familiar food I haven't tasted in two decades, or smelling a building or hearing a sound.

At times, I felt like the character Chuck from the TV show when he gets flashes of images and information firing in rapid succession from the intersect embedded in his brain. (That link is a montage of his "flashes." Ignore the obnoxious music.) For Chuck, the trigger for a flash is seeing the face of a bad guy or significant object.

During our trip, anything familiar sent off a flash of events and memories I'd often forgotten about, one firing after the other. It got emotional and overwhelming, but at the same time, it was wonderful to have so much come back like that.

Even the scents of the outdoors felt right. At first, I wished we could have come in the summer when it's warmer, but after a while, I was glad we were there as fall began to settle over the country. Not only was it more beautiful with the changing leaves and the pihlaja trees heavy-laden with their bright red berries, but the rain and cool air released scents I'd almost forgotten about: the fresh forest smells, the mist in the air, the tang of the wind coming off the salty water in the harbor.

In the end, I would have loved to stay longer, but we hit all the major locations on my priority list, ate all the important things and visited all the critical places, so I can be content. Some places aren't recorded in photos, like the mall (featured prominently in my book), our Finnish lunch at IKEA, and a few other things, but reading this blog gives a very good overview of what we did while there.

The time spent with my parents was precious. I'll treasure their generosity, all they did for me and Rob during our stay, and all the hours we spent together.

In the end, I felt that at last I was able to take a visit "home."

I wonder if I'll ever go back again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mom & Dad & the Temple

The day before we left, Rob and I had the opportunity to participate in a session in the temple. It was a sacred experience for me, something I won't elaborate on here, but one I'll never forget.

After I returned to the women's dressing room, a worker came by to ask whether I was going to the next session. (Patrons often do session after session, since coming to the temple isn't that frequent of an event for them.)

We ended up talking, and within a few minutes, several other workers had joined us. I got to hear wonderful things about my parents from these lovely women. I know my parents are amazing people, but hearing it from other people makes it particulalry special.

As much as I miss them and wish they were here for my kids, I can see just how needed they are and how important the work is that they're doing. That, and I know they have a little over a year to go. I can last that long.

The entire temple experience was rather emotional for me. At one point, one of the sisters told me, "You look like your mother when you cry."

That's something I'll take with me forever.

The Olympic Tower

Helsinki hosted the 1952 summer Olympic games. Back in 1980 when we visited for the summer, we swam at the Olympic pool several times.

The Olympic tower itself. Very cool to see. The ride up in the elevator is less cool. (Yes, it's the claustrophobia kicking in again. I'm such a wimp.) Most of the pictures below are from the top of the Olympic tower.

Several of the Olympic venues, including soccer fields.

A great view that shows the colorful and beautiful city below.

Looking out over Helsinki. I think the tall building in the center is Kalliokirkko, seen better in this post.

View of the train tracks leading into the station.

The kids have a Finnish puzzle at home from Grandma and Grandpa. It features famous images from Finland, and one of them is this statue of Paavo Nurmi, an Olympic runner. We had to stop and take a picture for their sake. I ended up being silly in the process.

Uspenski Cathedral

Here's a landmark I'd seen dozens of times but never entered until this trip: The Uspenski Cathedral, which, unlike most of the other churches we visited, is Russian Orthodox. (The others were Lutheran.)

You can tell the difference between Lutheran and Orthodox churches pretty quickly. The Russian Orthodox are far more elaborate with icons, gold, etc. They look more Catholic than the Lutheran ones.

The Mission Office

Time for another blast from the past: the mission office. The whole time I was there, it was much of the same thing I'd been saying for the whole trip: "Remember when . . ."

This is the street level and the Church sign out front. Just inside the brown gate there are the chapel doors (visible in this post). Go up a floor, and you reach the mission office.

As soon as we walked inside the building, Dad paused and said, "Smell that?" Boy, did I. It was the same smell as it had been for decades. I still can't get over how powerful scents are for evoking memory.

The interior has been totally remodeled since 87. Here I am standing in the doorway of what used to be Dad's office as mission president. It's now a room used for community outreach meetings and teaching investigators. The table on the right was where the elder who was Dad's secretary had his desk.

Here's Dad in his old office, sitting roughly where his desk used to be.

More community outreach stuff, looking at the room from the old office door. This area used to be where the office elders had their desks. Now, instead of elders, missionary couples work the office, and they do so in rooms down the hall to the right, an area opened up during the renovation. I think it used to be part of the office elders' apartment.

Inside what is now the mission president's office. Dad's explaining a map that shows the Finno-Ugric languages. (Language nerds like myself love this kind of stuff.)

Laid to Rest

This is the grave of my grandfather (Rudolf, or "Rudy"), his brothers Teodor ("Teddy") and Oskar, and a sister-in-law (Teddy's wife).

The cemetery is gorgeous and so well-maintained.