Taylors in Finland

The Grand Adventure

Mary Ann's Fulbright Exchange to Oulu, Finland
August 2001 - June 2002

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27 December - 1 January 2002
Reflections of our Holidays after Christmas

27 December 2001, Thursday
Sunrise/sunset 1026/1413
Hi/Low -16°C/-25°C (3°F/-13°F)

John and I headed to Oulu for the after-Christmas sales. Yes, everyone goes, just like in the States, but they start on the 27th since the 26th is Boxer Day and the stores were still closed. We bought two of the Finnish wooden candelabras and found a Swedish candle chime to replace the one we purchased during our honeymoon in 1967.

After shopping we were off to Thorben Juffer’s home, he is one of my students, for a concert at 1500. Thorben and his two brothers play the recorder. The musical treat included other students in the recorder class, the recorder teacher, her husband and the mothers doing different musical arrangements.

The program was concluded with Dutch Apple Pie and many other tantalizing goodies.

It was great fun visiting with the guests that were of Dutch, German and Finnish backgrounds. The Juffers are from the Netherlands.

We drove home to visit our neighbors Pertti and Marjo Isotalus for a holiday gathering. Pertti works at the Oulu Airport, about two kilometers away, and Marjo owns a day-care center two short blocks from the house. With two children and her business, her days are twenty-five hours long!  We enjoyed catching up on how we had each spent Christmas and watching Kalle and Ossi play with Santa’s gifts.

Then we moved our conversation into their comfortable kitchen where we learned how to make Finnish open-faced sandwiches with ham, apple, mustard, blue cheese and a slice of Monterey Jack cheese on top. Then Pertti slid the tray into their brick oven to toast them. They were delicious along with some salads and home-made fish delicacies. The evening was topped off with homemade Christmas cookies, cloudberry pastries and tea.

It was a special evening!

John - an amusing story we just heard, that points out the subtle differences between our languages.  Pertti had taught his boys how to say "hello" when they saw us. One day, early August just after we arrived back from shopping, they came to the side of the yard and said "Hello" and I answered "Hi".  "Hi" sounded like the Finnish "Hei" (hello) and they ran inside telling Pertti and Marjo that we weren't the Americans!

28 December 2001, Friday
Sunrise/sunset 1025/1414
Hi/Low -21°C/-24°C (-6°F/-11°F)

We went to Oulu to buy John a pair of mittens at Kaamos Paja. Then we went to the library for some books, and next we went to the Kauppahalli looking for Anise extract. John is making Biscotti and the Anise flavoring makes them distinctive. No luck!

Life is full and our experiences wonderful. Right now I just looked out the window and am seeing something called a Blue Moment. It is right after sunset and the snow looks a lovely shade of blue.

Around 1500 we headed for Outi Tuovinen’s. She had invited us over for dinner and to teach me how to make Karelian Pies. When someone serves us homemade Karelian Pies in the future, I will appreciate them more, because I now know how much work is involved in making them. Sami arrived in time for dinner and then we had a great time looking at some of Outi’s photos of Lapland, Sweden and Norway. We talked about possible places to visit when we visit Scandinavia at the end of the school year.

Another wonderful evening.

29 December 2001, Saturday
Sunrise/sunset 1025/1416
Hi/Low -23°C/-27°C (-9°F/-17°F)

We were invited to spend the evening with our neighbors Maarit and Kari Salin and their children Susanna and Mika.

We caught the end of the ice hockey game. Oulu’s home team has moved up to sixth from twelve in the standings. The game ended in a tie.

Then we were invited to join them in an evening meal of sandwiches, wonderful Christmas cookies and tea. Then we toasted with cognac and shared a bottle of wine. We talked about each other’s families, how they built their home and Kari’s travels to India.

I feel we are very blessed to have such fabulous friends and neighbors that are including us in their lives during this special time of the year.

30 December 2001, Sunday
Sunrise/sunset 1024/1417
Hi/Low -15°C/-25°C (5°F/-13°F)

This evening we were happy to have Ralf and Birgit Marbach, with their children Ritchie and Katharina, over for dinner. We had a great evening visiting and learning about their experiences, while they lived in Pennsylvania when Ralf worked there. We also learned about some of the differences between German and American educational systems.

John - I was successful in making some ice candle shades. You put out a bucket of water and let it freeze partway. Too short and it falls apart; too long and you have a block of ice. You have to "guesstimate" within a few hours (8-10 hours at -25°C); bring the bucket in, turn it over, pop the ice "cube" out and use a knife or ice pick to open a hole in the top (was the bottom of the bucket). Then set it outside until you need it. The candles have a beautiful flicker through the ice and people use them to mark the house and/or the way to the front door, when having guests.

31 December 2001, Monday
New Year's Eve
Sunrise/sunset 1023/1419
Hi/Low -17°C/-27°C (1°F/-17°F) (in Oulunsalo)

We picked up Kate Munro and Merja Pääkkonen and headed to Harri and Maryvonne Sillanpää's home along the Oulujuki (Oulu River), about ten kilometers southeast of Oulu. They live in a charming home that was built in 1891.

This was truly and unforgettable evening. It was a international affair. We met friends of Harri and Maryvonne from France, Poland, Australia, England, India and Finland. The couple from India, Aruna and Mahesh Somani, cooked a fabulous Indian dinner; I tried everything and liked it all. It was wonderful to visit with everyone and learn about them.

The couple, visiting from France, have three children and their two sons provided entertainment before the new year arrived. The older son played a bagpipe and the younger son played the accordion.

Then most of us bundled up to go outside and watch the fireworks. It was a very clear evening, full moon and -30°C (-22°F) - like the proverbial “postcard” - with the snow-covered landscape and the frozen river spread out before us. We could see fireworks being set off on the other side.

I had said on our drive to their home – wouldn’t it be terrific if we could see the Northern Lights.

Well, guess what? When we stepped outside for the fireworks show we looked up into the heavens and saw our first shimmering Northern Lights, since arriving in Finland. What a way to make a lovely evening complete.

The children and Harri then set off a terrific fireworks display of rockets and mortars. It was like our Fourth of July. Finland celebrates New Years with fireworks. (JMT - Certainly a safe time to do it since everything is snow covered.)

When we came back inside, Harri started melting small tin horseshoes in a ladle. Each person would pour their melted tin into a bucket of water. When he pulled the tin from the water he would tell each person their future based on the shape and the shadow it made. John and mine both showed wealth. I can handle that – maybe we can retire early. Who knows?

Our fabulous evening was concluded with champagne, Polish cheesecake, Australian fruitcake and Indian cake and plums.

What a memorable New Year’s Eve. After dropping off Kate and Merja we arrived home around 0300.

1 January 2002, Tuesday
New Years Day
Sunrise/sunset 1022/1421
Hi/Low -19°C/-29°C (-2°F/-17°F)

We slept late. I was determined we would start the New Year right with a nice walk and I finally talked John into it. It was “only” -23°C (-9°F) so I put on four layers and we headed out. I was planning for at least a thirty-minute walk, but after twenty minutes our eyebrows and eyelashes had icicles and our cheeks were bright red, so we headed home.


We are so happy that we decided to stay in Oulu for the holidays, and experience the Finnish holiday customs. The memories will be in our hearts forever.

Mary Ann

John - Comments on Winter in Finland

(Those of you who live in Michigan and other cold climates - please forgive this California kid for bringing up the ordinary for you.)

In Finland winter means other changes as well. You cannot wash your car outdoors. You either rent a stall at a station or use a car wash, which unlike California, has doors on both ends so the freezing air is kept out. The car wash we use is brushless but uses high pressure streams of water to knock the ice and dirt loose. It is very noisy inside the car as the eight or ten jets of warm water work their patterns along the car. At one point, when a stream hit the sunroof seam and some water came in, Mary Ann remarked "I'm glad this machine is on our side!".

Winter means you spend longer, after the car wash then you spent in the car wash, opening all the doors and wiping all the seals and edges dry; or else the doors freeze closed and you won't open them again till the spring thaw. Of course, you get back into the car and it is now as cold in as it was out.

Winter means allowing five minutes to slip into your boots, parkas, hat, scarf, ear muffs and mittens, unplug the car, and perhaps scrape the windows.

Winter means you always check for a house key in your pocket before you open the front door. Locked out here is chilly business.

Winter means you don't have to try to make your breath "steam".

Winter means that any slope becomes a slide for a child. Adults want to stay up and kids are looking for anywhere to slide down.

WInter means children are dressed to look like the Michelin man.

Winter means studs on your car, your bicycle and your feet.

Winter means the thunder that woke you up is only the rumble of the snow plow blade clearing the pedestrian paths at "o'dark thirty".


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The concert begins. (2112)

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Thorben and brothers performing. (2121)

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Pertti loading the oven with some open-face sandwiches. (2127)

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Outi and Mary Ann shaping the rye dough before rolling it into ovals. (2131)

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Outi putting the "pinch" on the Karelian Pies with the rice porridge filling. (2133)

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Mary Ann, Kari and Maarit Salin with their children. (2138)

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My first attempt at an ice candle shade. (2151)

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The front walk with my first four candle shades. (2153)

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Ralf and Birgit Marbach with their children. (2156)

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This was only the beginning of dinner. (2169)

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The first course is ready! (2177)

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Good conversation was the norm for the evening. (2182)

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Wonderful entertainment on the accordion and bagpipe. (2190)

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Kate, Merja and Mary Ann, in -30°C (-22°F) chill, waiting for the fireworks and watching the Northern Lights. (2200)

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One of the dozen sky rocket launches. (2201)

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Harri sets up for the "fortune-telling" with melted tin horseshoes. (2210)

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The water-cooled tin must be thoroughly examined. (2225)

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Delicious cheesecake was enjoyed by everyone. (2247)

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The Volvo doesn't lie! That's equal to -30°C as we leave for home. (2251)

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The neighborhood as we start our -23°C "afternoon" walk. (2260)

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Eight blocks and we have not seen anyone else outside. Perhaps we should not be out either. (2262)

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Winter means any smooth slope becomes a slide. (3154)

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Winter means even a "belly flop" works. (3163)

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Winter means even bicycle tires are studded! (3169)

Last Update 2002 01 06

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