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.

Espoo Cathedral

The Espoo Cathedral was something none of us had seen before. Rob had found them in a guide book and thought that seeing it would be neat. It was.

This plaque honors men from the area who served and fell during World War I.

Above and below: interesting frescoes on the ceilings and walls.

The frescoes at a distance, looking toward the entrance.

The cemetery just outside the cathedral. The Espoo area was originally settled by Swedes, so most of the headstones have Swedish rather than Finnish names on them.

A monument to those who fell when Russia invaded Karalia, which used to be part of Finland.


Mom and Dad know me so well. Even though the temple is in a different ward's boundaries, they knew that come Sunday, I'd love to visit what was my home ward during those three years.

  • The brick paving the parking lot looks paler than I remember it. Either it's faded from a pretty pinkish to nearly gray-white, or I'm not remembering it correctly.
  • For rain downspouts, there used to be huge chains coming down from the roof that were then attached to concrete blocks on the ground. As weird as they were, it was a bit sad to see that the chains are gone and the chapel now has actual downspouts.
  • The interior looks the same as it always did, although some rooms are now being used for different things. The Young Women room and bishop's office have swapped locations, for starters.
  • I could practically see little ghosts of me, my sisters, many of the missionaries we knew, and several events (a wedding, a Halloween party put on for the English class kids, chatting with elders in the hall, a baptism . . .).
  • While we lived there, Bishop Eklund presided over the ward. Today it's Bishop Eklund . . . the son. Who was in Young Mens when I was a Beehive. How trippy is THAT?

Dad used to tell us girls that if we didn't speak Finnish at home, that eventually we'd forget it. I used to think, Right. I'll forget how to breathe, too. Lo and behold, several years later, it did start to fade away.

Sitting in sacrament meeting, I suddenly remembered why I fought the idea of speaking Finnish at home, at least during the mission. I could understand most of what was said by the speakers when I concentrated really hard. But if I let my mind wander for even a second, I'd lose it. And by the end of the meeting, my brain was nearly fried.

Back in the 80s, after spending a full day at school concentrating . . . HARD . . . on the language, my brain was little better than cottage cheese. I'd forgotten what that felt like. During the mission, when I came home, I just had to rest my brain. But dang, I do wish we'd spoken Finnish when we returned to Utah.

After church, Dad took me and Rob inside the temple to look around. The reverence Dad has for the temple is palpable. The temple itself is easily the most gorgeous one I've ever seen the interior of. And the entire place is infused with the Spirit in a way that I'd never felt before, even inside other temples.

On our way out, I teared up. I didn't want to walk back out. I could have stayed there for hours, just soaking up the feel and the beauty. But alas, all things must come to an end, and I knew I'd be back in a few days for an actual session.

The Laukkanens, some old family friends, came for dinner. We played some table games and chatted, and then we called it a night.

All in all, a great sabbath.

A Night with Katri & Antti

First things first: As part of school picture day in Finland, we had the option of paying a little more for a "kaverikuva," or a "chum" or "pal" picture. Katri and I did that twice, and here's the shot from 1985, when we were eleven:

Kaverikuva revisited, 23 years later:

During our trip back, seeing Katri once wasn't enough; we had to spend more time to together. She and her boyfriend, Antti, were generous enough to invite me and Rob over for dinner.

We had a great time talking and eating and just spending the evening together, talking books and music, catching up, and having a great time. One delightful discovery was a chess clock sitting atop the bookshelf: the same one Katri and I used when playing chess way back when!

(I'm still thinking I need to ask Katri for the recipes she served us . . . although, um, anyone know where I can get pike perch in Utah? Man, it was good.).

After dinner, Katri took me and Rob on a walk through her neighborhood while Antti went to get a car. It was a gorgeous area.

Katri showed us this piece of, er, art. It's auditory art, I guess. It's got a recording of announcements from the airport that come out of a drain. It's titled, "But I'm leaving."

Okay, then . . .

Here we are acting eleven again at Karhupuisto ("Bear Park," as evidenced by the statue).

The Kallio church as visible from Karhupuisto.

Antti picked us up at the park and drove us to back to Espoo, where my parents met us outside the patron housing (the yellow building on the right) and showed Katri and Antti around the temple grounds (in the background).

One of my favorite pictures from our trip: Katri and Antti in front of the temple.

They're such a great couple, and I'm so glad that I got to meet Antti and get reacquainted with Katri!


Yet another location from my book. (You can tell many of the things that impacted me as a kid, because they show up in it.) Here's me with Dad on the bridge leading into Seurasaari, which is an outdoor museum. It has lots of historic buildings and other structures brought from all over the country.

We brought bread and trail mix to feed the animals. The ducks and even some swans gathered around real quick when they saw us throwing bread into the water.

Not far into the park, we had birds following us. On a lark (no pun intended) Rob decided to try feeding them to see if they'd come. Several birds came and ate right out of his hand!

We had several squirrels following us as well, especially this little guy. He ate plenty that we dropped in front of him, but he seemed so comfortable around people I thought he just might eat from my hand. Waddaya know!

Dad and me strolling along the paths.

A neat fence: simple to construct, yet effective. Once we noticed them at Seurasaari, we noticed them in other historic locations we went to.

A tree that is protected and is considered a landmark of sorts because it's got a giant ant hill inside.

Hanging out by an old cabin.

I decided to use this picture as my computer wallpaper for a while. It's so pretty, and it's very Finnish. You can't go anywhere without seeing colorful flowers in windows, and seeing them inside a historic building has just that much more flavor.

A windmill.

A close-up of the windmill's construction. I can't even imagine how long it would take (not to mention the craftsmanship involved) in making this kind of thing.

An old wooden swing.

What food storage looked like for northern Finns long ago: high enough so bears and other animals couldn't get to it.

Weird natural phenomenon here: a perfectly round cut-out filled with water. As you can see, it even has its own sign announcing its bizarre presence. A close-up is below.