Street Food Finland

Flag_of_FinlandWhile we were munching on upscale-hipster-foodie hot dogs the other day (hers had goat cheese, pickled beets and mint; mine had sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese, and thyme) Katie pondered what street food in Finland was like. It turns out it’s not that much different than American street food.

I’ve already written about the popularity of pizza in Finland, and how the specialty of the largest chain, Kopipizza, is topped with smoked reindeer. It turn out that street food staples consist of hot dogs and hamburgers and fried. Kababs are popular, because there’s a sizeable Turkish immigrant population, but they’re not the chunks of meat on a stick that most Americans think of; they’re more like Greek gyros, beef and lamb served on flatbread.

Finnish street food specialties include porilainen (POH-ree-lie-nen, which is a sausage shaped like a hamburger patty and featuring typical hamburger condiments (ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, etc.) but served on white bread rather than a roll. Lihapulla (LEE-hah-pool-lah), Finnish meatballs similar to Swedish meatballs, are popular and served with fries. Graavilohi (GRAHH-vee-loh-hee), smoked salmon served on rye bread as an open-faced sandwich, seems pretty ubiquitous.

So we’re pretty confident that we’ll find mixture of foods that are both familiar and appealing. It will be nice to be able to fall back on some favorite comfort foods, especially as we’re becoming acclimated and encountering the inevitable stresses of living abroad and seasonal depression of a long, dark winter. But I’m far more excited to try the things that are different, and experiencing authentic Finnish cuisine.

Minor Dilemmas: The Second Screen

Flag_of_New_MexicoOver the past few months I have grown accustomed to having a second monitor hooked up to my laptop at home. While I’m writing, with Scrivener or Word on the laptop screen itself, on the second screen to my left I have reference material displayed. When writing papers for school, it’s been handy to have research material there to glance at. When working on tabletop roleplaying game material, it’s been a boon to have a PDF of the rules right there. And when I don’t have references there, it’s been nice to be able to play a DVD playing on the second screen while I update my calendar or my journal, or bang out some blog posts.

My dilemma is whether or not to take the second screen with me. It wouldn’t fit in my carry-on, but it could easily be worked into one of my checked bags. It comes completely apart. The cables could go in my carry on, with all of my other electronics. Th screen itself is flat, and could be wrapped in a shirt and tucked into the middle of my clothes. The stand is rather small, and could also be wedged in among clothing. That’s not the concern.

As usual, what I’m worried about is the TSA. Even if the second screen would fit in my carry on, I’d be worried because it doesn’t have an independent power source and can’t just be turned on to demonstrate that it’s not some nefarious device (I worry about my external hard drive for the same reason). I’m led to believe that electronics in a checked bag is grounds for a physical search, especially if they see wires on an x-ray. Which is why the cables would be with me, but I’m wondering if the cables being separate from the screen would be more, or less, suspicious.

It all boils down to what I want more, the screen or a lack of hassle from the TSA. I’m sure I can find a cheap monitor when I get there, but I’m trying to save money. If it fits, why not take it rather than replace it? Ugh. This culture of fear is a huge pain in the ass, especially when I end up more afraid of being harassed by the people who are supposedly protecting us from terrorists than I am of the terrorists themselves. The odds of running into an actual terrorist is relatively small; the odds of encountering a TSA agent is 100%.

An Update on Finnish Health Insurance and Obamacare

Flag_of_FinlandAfter doing research to determine that it’s absolutely, positively true, it does turn out that we are exempt from the terms of the Affordable Care Act while living abroad. We are required to carry Finnish health insurance while living there, which for the two of us will cost about $50 per month, but that insurance will not have to cover everything that the ACA dictates a policy much cover. This makes sense; if we’re not insured, we’d be placing a burden on the Finnish health care system and the Finnish taxpayers, not the U.S. hospitals and people. Of course, I don’t expect the law to follow any sort of common sense.

My fear was that we’d end up either having to carry dual insurance, which would be a waste because we’re not going to be in the U.S. to use U.S. insurance, or pay a fine. I’ve seen a lot of disinformation about that fine for not having ACA-compliant insurance, or no insurance at all. A lot of folks say “I’ll just pay the $95”. Well, it’s not $95. It’s $95 per person in your household, or 1% of your income. For a single person in New Mexico making that average annual income of $24,000, that’s $240. It’s bad enough that we’ll have to pay double taxes on our income while we’re abroad, to both the U.S. and Finland (we’ll get most of it back, if we file the paperwork for both tax returns correctly). I didn’t want to have to budget to meet the requirements two countries while we’ll be living full-time in only one..

Discover this one weird trick to get an A on your next paper!

zen-categoryThis week I’m finishing up a class that I’ve really been looking forward to for months. It’s on international business law, which interests me because I’m moving abroad and taking my business with me. It’s also about business ethics, and after my tenure in the corporate world I’m truly, deeply into the topic of business ethics, or as normal people call it, “ethics”. And it has been a good class, with good material, and I’ve done a lot of reading and research that’s been educational and edifying.

My problem has been with the instructor. I am in my senior year taking 400-level classes, so I’m used to writing academic papers. This guy doesn’t want that. I actually got dinged on my first assignment for following the APA format to the letter, and using “big words” like Latin legal terms. He basically wants bullet points. Instead of writing a summary of a situation, then writing a section or paragraph answering each question posed by the assignment, with a logical flow and a professional tone, he wants and answer sheet. Header: question 1, blah blah blah, Header: answer 1, blah blah blah.

 “Discover this one weird trick to get an A on your next paper!”

-my friend Shawne, when I told her about this class.

It kind of makes me nuts, because I hate dumbing things down. Having to dumb things down is what’s wrong with the world at large, and in education it sets me teeth on edge. What I’m doing is writing “listicles” rather than academic papers. For a paper on anti-trust legislation, I was tempted to give it a click-bait title such as “These two large companies attempted a merger. What happened next will astound you!” or “11 Historical Corporate Buyouts. #7 Left Me In Tears”. It leaves me with the impression that the instructor is kind of lazy, and only wants to skim papers for keywords rather than actually read them.

For my personal standards, I always look at every academic paper I write as a possible portfolio piece, and I treat it as a resume. “Are you familiar with this topic,” someone may ask. “Why, yes, here’s a paper I wrote for college, which I happened to get an A on.” I’m not writing papers and doing assignments so I can get a good grade and move on to the next class; I actually want to learn this material. This format-forward nonsense doesn’t really end itself to much depth.

My friend Ralph made a good point, though, that put it into perspective. A good writer can tailor material to the audience, and write in a variety of styles. It’s not just about honing my skills in the topic of the class; it’s about developing my overall communication skills. He’s right. What I ended up doing for this class was writing an academic paper that I was satisfied with, that hit all of the academic standards and covered topics in the depth that I was comfortable with. I saved that version for myself, then began to cut and reformat and craft a version for the instructor. Simplified formatting, short paragraphs, plain language without jargon. It still bothers me, though, that all of the comments I get back on my assignments are about the formatting, and not the content.

Katie’s Last Craft Show!

Flag_of_New_MexicoIn two weeks we do our absolutely LAST craft show in New Mexico before we leave! On Saturday, May 3rd we’ll be at the annual La Cueva High School Craft Show, one of the largest in the city and probably the largest show we’ve ever done. And everything must go! Katie will have dolls, doll patterns, jewelry, and all sort of other cool handmade stuff for sale, at ridiculously reasonable prices! All proceeds go toward the Finland fund!

Pitkäperjantai / Pääsiäispäivä

Flag_of_FinlandGood Friday / Easter

I’ve been trying to find out what Finns do for Easter. It’s a major holiday there, and it appears that everyone gets a four-day weekend. Good Friday and Easter Holiday are listed as national holidays in my source material, but it still doesn’t tell me how they celebrate.

The only thing I’ve been able to determine for sure is that it’s traditional to eat something called mämmi. It’s a baked porridge made of rye, a glop of which is served in a bowl of cream, and sometimes covered with vanilla sauce (which looks like custard or vanilla pudding) or sugar. The flavor of the porridge itself is akin to molasses, but less sweet. You can make your own, but most people buy it pre-made from the freezer case of the grocery store.

What I’ve gathered about mämmi (pronounced mammy, just like the Al Jolson song) is that it’s sort of the Finnish equivalent of fruitcake. It’s a tradition, but it’s not necessarily people like to eat, and it become the butt of jokes. Some of the expats I know speak of the stuff as if it’s poison — but they eat it anyway, because hey, when in Finland…

How to Pack the House (Part 2)

Flag_of_FinlandIn the first installment I talked about applying one filter at a time when dealing with all of our possession as we get ready for the big move. Start with the things you’re definitely not taking, then sort the things that definitely are going, and deal with the “undecided” pile last. You can go back and read the first part here. Today I want to dig down into the sub-filters.

Apply One Sub-Filter at a Time

Now you’re got the stuff you’re taking, and you know that’s going to get packed or shipped or otherwise flung in the direction of where you’re moving. You’ve deal with the things that you’re not sure about, so there’s no doubt as to what you’re keeping and what you aren’t. Now you can begin to tackle what to do with the things you’re not keeping.

Things to throw out or recycle: Again, I recommend dealing with low-hanging fruit first. You know the things that clearly have no resale value, and no sentimental value. No one wants the clothes that you wouldn’t wear in public, but are good enough to wear around the yard. No one wants the cracked dishes or the cup with a chip out of it. No one wants the half-empty bottle of ketchup. If it can be recycled, put it in the right place. If it’s not recyclable, just put it in the trash.

Things to donate or give away: If it’s something that can be used, or something that someone might want, but it has no actual value, donate it. Find the thrift store run by your favorite charity, box it up, and drop it off. That’s all those clothes that are in good shape but in excess of what we’re taking, almost all of the dishes, even things like picture frames.

The exceptions are the things that have no real value, but do hold sentimental value. If its worth it measured in precious memories but you just can’t take it with you, consider giving it to a friend or relative. Approach this delicately. We already have a couple of people that are acting like we’re joining a cult or need to be put on suicide watch because we’re so gleefully divesting ourselves of material excess. There are also people who may be offended because you’re not taking that tchotchke they gave you for your birthday 17 years ago. Ask those people to hold onto those items for you. Explain that you’re not able to take it, but you don’t ant to just throw it away, so will they please hold onto it for you? You spare their feelings and avoid an unhealthy dose of guilty.

Things to sell: This can be broken down into a number of sub-filters by venue. What can be hauled over to the used book store? What can be sold on eBay? What should be listed on craigslist? My caveat here is that the amount you get for selling it has to offset the time it takes to deal with it. It takes time to write up eBay listings and craigslist ads; is the money you’ll get from the sale of that item worth it?

Try to group sales whenever possible. We it comes time to start getting rid of furniture, we’re going to run ads and list what we have and a block of time, rather than listing each item and dealing with individual buyers. Drop by at this time, first come, first served, get this out of here. I’ve been taking a box of books at a time to the bookstore, and I’m going to list bundles of like items on eBay rather than individual items. Oh, you only want to buy the one thing? Sorry. These three items together will generate a price that makes it worth my while to pack and ship it.

One Room at a Time

This is the final filter, but it shuffles in among the others. If you’re back at the beginning and pulling out the things you know for sure you’re not taking, pick a room and finish it before you move to the next room. Don’t pull a few things from the living room, then grab something from the bedroom, then do one cabinet in the kitchen, then go back to the living room. No. Start in one room and apply one filter, before applying another filter or moving into another room.

There are probably good arguments for doing one room at a time, and running though all of the filters in that room before moving into a another room. For a start, it empties a room and creates space for staging areas. An equal number of arguments can probably be made for picking one filter and then applying it to all of the rooms before moving to the next. Gathering everything that’s going to the dump so you only have to make one trip, for example. This is where I shrug and say hey, adapt this system to whatever makes the most sense for your situation. Just find an order that works and stick to it.

Why This System is Important

When I first started going though the house and thinking about how to deal with all of our stuff, I felt overwhelmed. It was a lot of possession, and I didn’t know where to begin. This system gave me a plan – pick a room, apply one filter. The reason

Finnish University Survival Kits

Flag_of_FinlandOne of the options available to us from student housing services is a “survival kit”. This contains a blanket, a pillow, and bed linens; 3 plates and flatware for 1 person; a pot with a lid and a ladle; a mug, and a glass. All of it is used, but clean. If we want the kit they’ll loan it to us, for a €60, of which €40 is refundable if the items are returned clean and in good condition.

I can see how this might be a good deal for a single exchange student visiting for a semester, or a year. I don’t know that it works for us. Yes, it would be nice to arrive in Jyväskylä and have some basic items waiting for us. But for two of us we’d need 2 kits, and for €120 we can go shopping and buy these things and then some (like towels, soap, shampoo, and things we’ll have to go shopping for anyway).

Exploring the city and learning where the shops are is one of the things we’re looking forward to. I kind of expected that we’d be “roughing it” for the first couple of days, while we acquired some things. I figured that at least our first couple of meals would entail going out to eat until we acquired some groceries and the kitchen accoutrements to cook it and eat it off of.

So while I like the idea of the survival kit and am glad that they offer it, I think we’re going to pass. We’re going to be there for two years, so I think just buying at least a few things well use every day outright is a better deal. I also think that, psychologically, after getting rid of nearly all of our stuff in New Mexico, there will be a sense of comfort in knowing that we at least we own the pillows we lay our heads on the the pots we cook with.

Getting Finnish Health Insurance

Flag_of_FinlandThis week we need to look into getting Finnish health insurance. As legal residents, our understanding is that we will be covered to some degree by the Finnish heath care system, but we are required to purchase supplemental insurance in the event we need care for something catastrophic or expensive. Our preliminary research shows that will cost us the equivalent of about $50 US for the two of is. That’s incredibly reasonable.

What I need to find out this week is how this will fit in with the Affordable Care Act. Will it count as being covered under the rules of Obamacare, or will we end up paying a fine out of our taxes? Will we have to carry U.S. health insurance, even though we’re not going to be able to use it because we’re in another country? I don’t know, yet. That’s what I need to find out, ASAP.

Staying Present Amid Future Plans

Flag_of_New_MexicoOn most days I have at least half a dozen things going. I need to work on long, higher word-count projects, because if I don’t nibble at them them every day they’ll never get done. I have shorter projects, most of which get banged out in a couple of hours. I have school work, which includes reading, research and writing. I have a list of tasks related to the move to Finland that I need to pick at if I hope to be prepared. Then there are posts for the two blogs, and two newsletters, to craft. While I try not to multi-task, and focus on what I’m doing when I’m doing it, the broader scope of any given day looks like chaos as I hop between roleplaying games, business law, Finnish language and culture, and any number of other things.

Last week, everything aligned so that I had a day where I could just do one thing, work on one project, all day long. All other deadlines had been met, school assignments were all caught up, I could buckle down with a large block of time, several hours, without thoughts of the next thing, or the thing after that, or the thing after that, that I’d have to get to as the day wore on.

It really got me thinking about how present I’ve been, in my work, and here in Albuquerque in general. In short, I haven’t, not really. I need to get ready for a major move and a whole series of major life changes, yes. Yet I also need to pay attention to what’s going on right in front of me, right now. I need to appreciate and enjoy and savor the moment that I’m in.

That’s why I’m trying to maintain some semblance of work/life balance. Katie and I are trying to have small adventures around Albuquerque, spend time with friends, and see the things places we love one last time. I’m trying to take a little time out of each day to look up, to walk around the neighborhood, to talk to friends.

I’m aware that my focus on getting to Finland borders on obsession, and while it is the theme of the blog, I’m trying to not be too annoying about it. If there are other things you’d like to see me writing about, send me questions. I’d much rather be present and talking to you, than up in my head and merely talking at you.


From Albuquerque to Jyväskylä

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